31/52: Develop Forgiveness
32/52: Develop Gratitude
33/52: Softening Door 1
34/52: Softening Door 2
35/52: Softening Door 3
MENU QUESTIONS 36 - 40
Your Question: What are the words and order of this forgiveness meditation?
Stephen Procter: Forgiveness acknowledges: “What happened may have been wrong, but it can’t be changed and I will not suffer over this anymore.”
Step 1: Ask Yourself for Forgiveness
Sit down, close your eyes and bring yourself to mind. Forgive yourself for all the things you have done to bring harm to yourself.
“(your name here), if I have done anything to hurt you in any way, knowingly or unknowingly, please forgive me.”
Say this slowly and gently with meaning three times and each time picture yourself gently saying back: “I forgive you.”
Step 2: Ask Another for Forgiveness
Now think of someone that you have hurt in some way. Ask for their forgiveness to allow healing by silently saying to them:
“(their name here), if I have done anything to hurt you in any way, knowingly or unknowingly, please forgive me.”
Say this slowly and gently with meaning three times and each time picture them gently saying back to you: “I forgive you.”
Step 3: Offer Forgiveness to Another
Now think of someone that has hurt you in some way. Offer them your forgiveness to allow healing by silently saying to them:
“(their name here), for any hurt that you have caused me, in any way, knowingly or unknowingly, I forgive you.”
Say this slowly and gently with meaning three times and each time picture them gently saying back to you: “thank you.”
Your Question: I struggle with my guilt and sorrow but made it through the tears to the end. Interesting that one listener felt the pace too slow, while I felt it rather quick for the amount of pain in my heart. I appreciate you Stephen.
Stephen Procter: It is helpful to understand that anything that arises as a memory about what you have done in the past tells you everything about the person that you were, but it tells you nothing about the person who is sitting here right now. What has been done has been done, it is fixed, the question is: What have you learnt from it? It is time to put down the pain of the past, learn from it and create the person you want to be 'now'. Your future is a blank slate, use it to create something beautiful.
Your Question: Thank you so much for this wonderful meditation. I want to be more grateful for the things in my life but am not sure how to put that into practice.
Stephen Procter: Start with being grateful for little things, quietly saying thank you for what is here now. You will then move towards letting those around you know how for fortunate you are to have them in your life, not just in words but by the way that you speak and act towards them.
Your Question: I found it hard during the practice to feel gratitude - I was in a place where I really needed / wanted the shift.
Stephen Procter: The foundation for gratitude is forgiveness, this is why forgiveness (MIDL 32/52) is developed before gratitude. While gratitude brings the mind from longing for the future towards what is being experienced now, forgiveness brings the mind from regretting the past to what is being experienced now. Between forgiveness and gratitude the mind and heart settle within the present experience.
Are there things that you or others have done within your life that you are not able to accept just yet?
This will remove the ability to feel gratitude. If you are unable to forgive yourself or others for past actions, then the overlay of your struggle with your past will make it difficult to see how fortunate you are right now.
Your Question: Could you explain a little about the purpose of lifting and dropping meditation?
Stephen Procter: Lifting / dropping is the method of retraining the mind through creating the desire to move a part of the body and then cancelling that desire. Not only does this training method bring about deeper relaxation within our body but it also develops the deep relaxation within the mind that arises from the abandoning of the desire itself.
This practice is particularly good for working with chronic pain and trauma when the stress response is over-vigilant and oversensitive making the person defensive towards any attempt to help them. Lifting / dropping directly challenges the habituated stress response and deconditions this reaction through the retraining of intention, allowing the mind to experience safety. Once the meditator learns how to abandon the desire to react fear subsides and stillness is experienced having a deep impact on a mind that is habitually in fight / flight.
On the deeper level it allows us to observe the resistance that arises in the body and mind when any intention / desire arises and also the ability to observe the peace that arises in the body and mind when that desire is abandoned. The practice of creating the desire to move and then dropping it also trains the ability to 'not do', 'not react' throughout the day. The deeper level of this training is the dropping / softening of any "desire to do". The creating of the 'desire to move' and then the cancelling of it gives rise to deeper understanding of intention and also the ability to abandon it at will in daily life.
It also allows us to experience not only the peace that arises in the body when the "desire to do" is abandoned but also the deeper peace and softness that arises within the mind when the desire is dropped.
Your Question: I have a hard time understanding and practicing this exercise, in particular the idea of lifting and dropping my body. Can you help me understand?
Stephen Procter: The first MIDL softening door of 'lifting, dropping' uses the engaging and abandoning of movement within the physical body to develop the skill of abandoning the mental intention 'to do' within the mind. While it can seem very complex in nature it is actually quite simple when understood. I will try to help you understand.
The deep relaxation that comes from this exercises arises from creating the desire to move and then abandoning that desire. 'Lifting' stands for the desire to move and 'dropping' stands for the abandoning of that desire.
There are three stages to moving our arm:
1) The desire to move the arm.
2) The tensing of the muscles as they get ready to move.
3) The lifting of the arm.
Try this now to experience these three stages.
Sitting comfortably, arms resting loosely on your legs. Create the desire to move your right arm and feel the muscles tense. Continue the desire to move until your arm lifts off your leg. Now abandoning that desire allow your arm to drop on your leg, relaxed. Notice that there is a heavier feeling in your arm after it has dropped. Repeat it again and experience the relaxation within the arm after it drops.
Now lets try this without the 3rd stage of lifting the arm.
During this meditation we abandon the desire just before the lift:
1) We create the desire to move the arm (lift).
2) We feel the tensing of the muscles as they get ready to move.
3) We abandon (drop) the desire to move before it lifts and feel the physical and mental relaxation. A sinking feeling.
Try this now to experience these three stages.
Sitting comfortably, arms resting loosely on your legs. Create the desire to move your right arm and feel the muscles tense. Now abandoning that desire to move before it lifts off your leg, feel the muscles in your arm relax. Notice that there is a heavier feeling in your arm after it has dropped. A sinking feeling.
Repeat it again without the lift and experience the relaxation within the arm after it drops becoming deeper. Notice that there is also a mental 'drop', relaxation that comes from abandoning the desire to move. In this same way we can move through our body 'lifting' and 'dropping' each part. This releases any habitual tension both in the body and in the mind leading to deep tranquility. I have found this softening doorway extremely useful especially in the case of chronic fear.
Your Question: I experienced how much holding up / on was already there with each instruction. Panic surfaced again when the instruction came to lift the chest - my diaphragm was locked tight. The panic seems it come out of nowhere when I focus on the breath. It had subsided for a long time but here it is again. Is there a reason why the unconscious resistance to freeing up such a fundamental thing as breathing should be so great and so entrenched?
Stephen Procter: Locking of the diaphragm and tightening of the chest / breathing is part of the defense mechanism of the survival part of your mind. MIDL Softening methods such as Lifting / Dropping are designed to remove these defense mechanisms. As the survival minds defenses are lowered it feels naked and exposed and quickly produces more defenses.
This is part of the deconditioning process, patiently working with the lowering and raising of these defenses. This is most efficient if paired with retraining your stress breathing patterns by practicing MIDL Mindfulness Training 3/52: Retraining Breathing Patterns daily for 3 - 4 weeks. in this way you can remove your experience of anxiety and this reaction will not happen when you turn your awareness towards breathing.
Your Question: Right now my relationship to my neuropathy pain is of aversion. I will work on the relationship part of it as you suggested. Perhaps instead of aversion I should "allow it to be". Release my desire to control it using gentle breaths. Is that what you mean by softening my relationship to it? It's really a change in my attitude towards my pain?
Stephen Procter: Your experience of your neuropathy pain is made up of two parts:
1. The physical, sensate quality of the pain within your body.
2. The mental relationship towards the physical, sensate quality of the pain within your body. In this case aversion: "I don't want".
You can not get rid of the physical pain because it is present dependent on conditions beyond the realm of your control. Since this is the case the one thing that you can do is change your relationship towards the pain. Dissolve the "I don't want" by softening / relaxing into it. This is the path of MIDL mindfulness meditation.
The protection mechanism within your mind of "I don't want" is part of your minds immune system attacking the perceived threat. This immune system when turned on by the survival part of your mind will constantly bring your awareness to the perceived danger and release an unpleasant feeling to make you want to fight or run. This constantly re-applying of awareness to the physical pain will develop concentration which then magnifies your experience of the sensations within the pain as well as magnifying the unpleasant feeling present.
As a MIDL meditator your task is not to try to remove the pain but rather to teach the survival part of your mind that right now is safe. The first doorway for this is to retrain diaphragmatic breathing (MIDL Mindfulness Training 3/52) and to develop sensitivity to any stress breathing patterns throughout your day as they are a sign that your mental immune system is turned on. (Breathing appears in your upper chest rather then deep in your belly). Learning how to re-engage diaphragmatic breathing throughout the day, turns off the stress response thereby lowering the magnification of the mental aversion within the survival part of your mind.
The next doorway is to learn to observe and soften your relationship towards the physical pain within your body, relaxing the "I don't want". Supportive meditations such as MIDL Mindfulness Training 34/52: Abandoning Intention and MIDL Mindfulness Training 36/52: Lengthening the Out-breath, will teach you how to bring about relaxation in your body when experiencing the pain and also how to abandon the aversion towards it.
Question: Could you explain how I meant to do these diaphragm breaths during this meditation?
How to Re-Engage the Diaphragm:
When Your Stress Response Turns On:
When you bring to mind a difficult memory during this meditation or are resisting something within your daily life you can use this second softening door to re-engage the diaphragm and interfere with the cycle of the stress response by asking one simple question:
“Where am I breathing now, is it in my chest or in my belly?”
If your breathing has moved up into your chest then the stress response has been switched on, you may be resisting something in your meditation or life. This is ok, it is habitual and happens automatically.
You can turn off this stress reaction by intentionally re-engaging your diaphragm in your belly. To re-engage natural, diaphragm breathing during the day, you simply place your palms just below your belly button, lightly pressing your finger tips inward. then by taking five, slow, gentle breaths in your lower belly, below your belly button, your diaphragm will re-engage in respiration.
After these three breaths you may feel a little light headed, this is normal when we re-engage the diaphragm, just allow the depleted C02 levels 10 seconds to re-balance and you will feel mental clarity and calmness return to you.
To completely remove the experience of stress & anxiety within your life, this is the game that you need to play. Throughout the day at first stress breathing patterns will come back again, you are dealing with habit. By noticing when you start stress breathing and bringing your breath from your chest by re-engaging your diaphragm you will start to decondition the habit of feeling stressed during the day. When this is supported by the breathing retraining meditation above, the experience of anxiety will gradually come to an end.
Your Question: How do I re-apply diaphragm breathing in daily life, do I take deep breaths throughout the day?
Stephen Procter: Now that we have started becoming more intimate with our breathing patterns it is time to increase this new found sensitivity in daily life.
Check your breathing throughout the day.
"Is my breathing in my belly or my chest?""Am I holding my breath?"
Look at the relationship between resistance towards what is and your breathing pattern.
Place your finger tips below your belly button and gently bring the breath into your belly, switching the diaphragm back on, with five slow, lower belly breaths.
Notice any changes in your body and state of mind.
Your Question: I'm having problems with calming my mind in this practice, and I suspect that I'm not sighing correctly. In particular, should the sighing produce sound? Currently my sighing introduces vibrations which make this experience rather unpleasant. Is the tire valve image presented only as a metaphor, or should I actually attempt to generate such a sound?
Stephen Procter: This Softening skill has its foundation within autonomous diaphragmatic breathing (MIDL Mindfulness Training 3 - 5/52). If chest stress breathing is natural to you then higher level Softening skills will be more difficult to do. For this answer I will assume that your breathing comes from your diaphragm.
Your question: "In particular, should the sighing produce sound?"
My answer: There is no sound made with the gentle sign out through the nose. This out-breath is not created through effort and comes from the movement of the diaphragm as it returns on the out-breath. The only thing we do is focus on the area of the nose and slightly slow down the return of the diaphragm to extend the length of the out-breath. This has a calming effect on the mind and relaxes all mental activity, the actual experience is a relaxing of the frontal lobes of the brain.
Your question: "Currently my sighing introduces vibrations which make this experience rather unpleasant."
My answer: This may be a sign of too much effort. This is a Softening skill, Softening always heads towards less effort, less participation, less doing.
Your question: "Is the tire valve image presented only as a metaphor, or should I actually attempt to generate such a sound?"
My answer: Yes letting air out of the valve of a tire is just a metaphor for slowly releasing the air. This is not a yogic practice, no effort should be made towards producing sound. What we are training here is natural breathing, we are retraining our breathing rate, once retrained the softening happens naturally. When I teach I no longer use metaphors such as this or use the word 'sigh' because of the possibility of a misunderstanding towards effort. The experience is of a slow, gentle releasing of the air through the nose as mentioned above.
Your Question: I don't seem to get similar calming effect from the sighed exhale as I get from the diaphragm inhale. I'll use it the next time I'm stressed and see what happens.
Stephen Procter: The calming effect that comes from this softening techniques require slowness of the exhaled breath, accuracy of attention towards the centre of the eyebrows and an intentional abandoning of all mental effort in line with the breath.
Your Question: I do get confused on the dropping because in the session associated with the first door, the dropping of the body was a sudden movement. The releasing of the breath is to be slow and gentle.I find myself thinking in two step in this process with a drop and then a sign that is slow and elongated. Which feels conflicting. I also find as I am not used to diaphragm breathing, focusing on this almost makes me physically tired after a prolonged period. Over- doing perhaps.
Stephen Procter: It sounds like over effort and not quite understanding the Softening skill. The first Softening door: Lifting / Dropping is not just physical, it is also mental. The cancelling of the desire to move a part of your body not only results in a deep physical relaxation but also a mental one - a mental 'drop' that arises when the desire 'to do' itself is cancelled.
The 'dropping' that is mentioned in the other Softening doors is a mental / physical 'drop', an abandoning of all mental and physical effort. This is done in alignment with the out-breath (deflation of the body) and is similar to sliding down a slide or pushing a swing. This means that the drop is slow and gentle as it 'rides' on the deflation of the out-breath.
The order of the Softening breath is 'breathing-in: in the belly - chest - lifting you up - out-breath - slowly through the nose - mentally / physically relaxing deeply. Understanding diaphragm breathing, strengthening the slowness of its movement and sensitivity to your breathing throughout the day is a foundation skill in MIDL. I recommend spending more time on MIDL Mindfulness Training 3/52 to develop understanding of this.
Your Question: I am not able to sigh SILENTLY through my NOSE. It is just not possible for me. Is it ok to sigh through the mouth? I think the "valve" - sound in the explanation at the end is also done through the mouth. I know that breathing out slowly through the mouth is extremely relaxing but maybe it is not good in this case.
Stephen Procter: The ability to let out a slow, gentle sigh through the nose is based on earlier training done in MIDL Mindfulness Training 3 - 5/52. These mindfulness training are concerned with strengthening the diaphragm and in learning to move it very slowly and gentle way to develop the MIDL Softening skill. The more slowly the diaphragm is moving the more gentle and refined the in and out breath are.
For most adults the diaphragm muscle is disengaged during normal breathing due to anxiety, this locking of the diaphragm under the ribs causes chest breathing to occur and also a weakening of the diaphragm itself. (this then creates anxiety symptoms). This then makes it difficult to take a slow, deep, relaxing breath and to use the full capacity of our lungs.
The sighing in the nose comes from the back pressure caused by controlling the slow movement of the diaphragm which then creates an exaggerated out-breath through the nose. If the diaphragm muscle has not been trained than this can be difficult. The in and out-breath are taken only through the nose for many reasons, from a health point of view the noses task is to condition the air as it goes into the lungs by filtering, warming and moistening it. Breathing through the mouth also leads to dehydration in the mouth, throat and lungs and drying of the teeth.
The small holes in the nose also create a back pressure which has a unique relationship to the movement of the diaphragm and the ability to take a slow, deep breath. This back pressure is needed to create a slow deflation in the chest to allow Softening Into to occur. With specific training the diaphragm unlocks and breathing with the diaphragm becomes natural breathing once again.
36/52: Softening Door 4
37/52: Softening Door 5
38/52: Learn to Decondition
39/52: Deconditioning Emotions
40/52: Soften Into Stillness
MENU QUESTIONS 41 - 45
Your Question: I am unsure why eyelids are so important... a sense door.. can you explain please?
Stephen Procter: Your eyes / eyelids and mind are interconnected, the eyes will always reflect the true state of your mind - they can not be separated. When the Fight / flight response is switched on the eyes tense looking outward and the eyelids tighten, opening fully in an effort to find the perceived danger. Though this can be one of the more difficult MIDL Softening skills to learn, the Softening skill of relaxing the eyelids has a direct effect on the stillness of the mind and switches off the Fight / Flight response.
Your Question: I am unsure about how to relax my eyelids and when to do it, can you help me understand?
Stephen Procter: Relaxation can be brought to your eyelids during meditation through a process of gently opening them and then allowing them to close. This is tied in with the skill developed in MIDL Mindfulness Training 34/52: Lifting / Dropping as we literally 'lift' and 'drop' the effort within our eyelids. Once developed this skill can be used at the beginning of your seated meditation to bring about initial stillness of mind and at a higher skill level of abandoning the desire 'to do' behind negative habitual patterns, within your daily life.
How to do it:
While sitting in your meditation posture bring your awareness to your eyelids and notice the tension / effort that you can feel associated with holding them open. Abandon, relax that effort and allow your eyelids to droop, become heavy, very heavy.
Your eyelids will then partially close.
Gradually open them again and then allow them to droop, becoming heavy, so very heavy. Keep repeating this by gently opening your eyelids and then allowing them to droop back closed again. The opening and closing of your eyelids will gradually become smaller and harder to do as they become more relaxed. This process will lead to your eyelids becoming relaxed, your eyes will be neither open or closed, just drooping. Their heaviness and relaxation will become clear to you, it will seep into your mind and you will mentally sink into deep stillness.
Your Question: I noticed as this meditation deepened that less thoughts came up in my mind. Is this softening of our frontal lobes and thinking coming up less related?
Stephen Procter: Yes it is. Thinking relies on tension in the frontal lobes to exist, it is its soil. Through using the MIDL Softening skill and relaxing the tension in the frontal lobes thinking collapses. This skill can be refined to one gentle sigh when accuracy of awareness is developed.
Once learnt this becomes a Softening technique that can be applied throughout your day to soften any thought process that arises, combined with sustained mindfulness you can then choose and abandon any thought process that will lead to separation within your life. Unlike suppression or distraction techniques such as thought replacement or concentration, MIDL Softening neither fights the thought process or runs away from it, instead it relaxes it, thereby removing the soil leading to deconditioning through mindful non-participation
Your Question: I'm finding this one less helpful as it is based on imagined, rather than actual, experience. Still good but I prefer the other softening exercises.
Stephen Procter: The practice of Softening the frontal lobes is not imagined but an actual experience that can be clearly perceived through Softening training. Conventional words such as 'frontal lobes' are used as 'pointers' to communicate that which there is no language to describe. Keep investigating this and be careful of becoming caught in the language used - such as the physical frontal lobes.
Sensitivity to the experience of the frontal lobes of our brain is an important part of MIDL 'Softening' training. The frontal lobes of the brain are closely linked to one of the more dominating functions of the mind - the production of thought. Whenever a thought arises within the mind there is a corresponding tightening in the area of the frontal lobes. This tightness and the process of thinking can not be separated - when there is a thought present there is also tension present in the lobes.
Through learning to experience the area tension within the frontal lobes and using slow, gentle sighing out through the nose, it is possible to 'Soften / Relax' the 'effort' in frontal lobes of the brain. With the 'Softening / Relaxing' of the frontal lobes comes the dissolving of the thought process - all thinking collapses. This happens because thought can not exist without mental tension, they are mutually dependent.
This technique is extremely powerful and I have have great success working with people with deep seated traumatic memories. Once learnt, the ability to collapse a thought process at will, gives the power back to someone whose life is being traumatized by painful memories. As with all MIDL 'Softening' techniques, then, through Mindful Non-participation, the habitual pattern of reaction deconditions.
Your Question: This seems like a wonderful way to become free from the past through meditation. I have many painful memories that I would like to remove the emotions from. How do I do this, especially in regards to painful memories?
Stephen Procter: (**A note to others who may want to try this MIDL deconditioning technique, do so at your own discretion. If you have not done the earlier training and developed your mindfulness, concentration and softening skills then you are likely to become lost within the emotional charge and resist the unpleasantness. In this case you either need to commit to the MIDL systematic training or have someone skilled in this technique to guide you to develop this skill.)
How to Decondition Emotional Charge
Before doing this meditation, select the memory that you are going to work with during the session. Memories are linked so your mind may swap from one to another while using this deconditioning technique. Whenever you notice that the memory has swapped, gently bring your attention back to the one you are working with. Always stay with the emotional charge within your body rather than the story contained within the memory. You could even write it down before starting to direct your attention.
Begin by sitting comfortably and bringing your awareness to the experience of just sitting in a chair or on the floor, this will be your grounding point to reality. Bring one difficult memory to mind and gently hold it within your awareness, starting with a memory towards which the emotional charge is not too strong. Notice the experience of emotion as it arises within your body, particularly around the centre of your chest.
Know that this is just a reflection of the past, it is not the reality of what is happening ‘now’, and cannot hurt you. Break the experience of the emotion within your body into sensations such as 'hard', 'tight', 'heavy', 'warm' etc. Notice the underlying feeling of unpleasantness that fills the experience of the emotion like a flavour / taste, and soften / relax deeply into your relationship towards the unpleasant feeling using slow diaphragmatic breaths.
In-breath: Belly button - ribs - chest.
Out-breath: Slowly out through your nose, mentally and physically relaxing.
Do not try to make the unpleasant feeling go away but rather deeply relax into it, holding it gently in mind and accepting it. Abandoning all participation, abandoning all effort. Do this for five softening breaths, allow your breathing to return to normal after the fifth softening and then gently open your eyes. Give your body a shake to release the residue of any physical tension held within your body. Then without bringing the memory to mind again, check the strength of the emotional charge within your body.
Is the emotional charge within your body stronger, the same or weaker than when you began?
a) If the emotional charge is stronger than before then this means that you had a desire for the emotion you were experiencing and its unpleasant quality to go away. In this case the pain attached to your memory is too great for you to be with and you should not try to decondition the emotional charge attached to the memory without professional guidance.
b) If the emotional charge within your body is the same as before after softening into it, then you were resisting its unpleasantness and need to develop your softening skill in MIDL Mindfulness Training 3-5/52.
c) If the emotional charge within your body is weaker than before then repeat this process of bringing the memory to mind and softening into your relationship towards it five times or until there is no emotional charge left on the memory.
Your Question: Sadly, the feeling tone of the negative memory bled into re-remembering the pleasant memory and the pleasant memory became less pleasant the second time. I'll have to revisit this. In any case, I still love your meditations!
Stephen Procter: What you have experienced is not bad but rather a deep insight into how your mind functions. The purpose of MIDL mindfulness meditation training is to become sensitive to how our mind sorts and perceives the sensory world and how our interaction with it influences the creation of our reality; what is actually happening below the surface of our normal level of our awareness.
What you have experienced is correct, this is how it works. The mind sorts the world into 'dangerous' and 'safe' based on past perception. It does this by attaching a 'pleasant' feeling if perceived as 'safe' and 'unpleasant' feeling if perceived as 'dangerous' to all memories. When a memory is triggered by a sensory experience it brings up the associated attached 'pleasant' or 'unpleasant' feeling to drive us to 'towards or away from' an experience.
You observing the 'feeling tone' bleeding from the 'unpleasant' memory to the 'pleasant' memory provides deep insight and shows you the path towards freedom from this. This is what happens; your 'aversion / dislike / desire for the 'unpleasantness' to 'go away' triggered a 'danger' response which gave rise to your mind overlaying the presently perceived 'pleasant' 'safe' experience with the 'unpleasant' 'danger' feeling' This then created within your mind of longing for 'pleasantness' to increase and desire for the 'unpleasantness' to end - this is the cycle of mental pain and suffering.
You have seen the very cycle that is happening within every moment of our lives and the very heart from which all likes and dislikes, fears and desires, violence and greed arise from. The key to breaking this cycle is to go back to learning the 'Softening Into' skill starting with MIDL Mindfulness Training 3 - 5/52 independent of a guided meditation playing and apply this refined skill by Softening Into your relationship to all experience whether in seated meditation or daily life - softening into your relationship to the experience of 'pleasantness and unpleasantness'.
Your Question: So wanted this to work. Unpleasantness felt far too overwhelming to dissipate. Marred any feelings of pleasantness. Really grueling! Guess it needs a little more practice and acceptance, maybe. Will try again, in time ...
Stephen Procter: When doing this practice one thing to be careful of is to never do it to remove the unpleasant feeling. This is very important in understanding how the mind works. I will repeat:
"We must never do this method with the desire to remove or get rid of the unpleasant feeling of the memory".
Your mind is producing this feeling of unpleasantness to protect you, any attempt to escape from it just tells the survival part of your mind that the situation is indeed dangerous, it will then just produce a stronger unpleasant feeling to make you fight or run. Trying to get rid of the unpleasantness means that you will strengthen it. This is what it wants you to do, it wants you to try to get away from it. If you resist the unpleasant feeling then it will create more resistance and embed the anxious cycle.
The way through is not to try to remove the unpleasantness but to accept it, embrace it, allow it to be, using slow gentle breathing soften into it, like you may 'soften into' cold water. Non-resistance / acceptance dissolves resistance. When you no longer want to get rid of unpleasantness, when you fully accept it, then the miracle happens - it dissolves. But to do this you need to retrain the habit of resisting / running away. In this way the emotional charge attached to any painful memory can be deconditioned.
Your Question: You say that stillness meditation isn't actually meditation. This feels like a kind of meditation. How is it different?
Stephen Procter: The Pali word for meditation is Bhavana, which means to cultivate. Meditation is mental cultivation and in the sense of mindfulness meditation the three main factors of attention that are being cultivated are investigation, mindfulness and concentration.
Stillness meditation does not cultivate investigation, mindfulness or concentration, actually it does not cultivate anything. We allow our mind to wander, to drift, we do not develop any factors of attention in allowing stillness.
This is why it can not be regarded as meditation. Stillness arises from not doing, from not even meditating. By allowing the functions of the mind to come to an end by not adding anything to them, allowing the mind to burn itself out.
While in the beginning there is doing in regards to abandoning effort within our body, once the deep relaxation of the body is entered we take this deep relaxation as the object of awareness and allow it to enter our mind. This 'allowing' is complete 'not doing', we allow the mind to return to pure awareness; but we do so by not cultivating anything.
Your Question: I do find that sometimes my mind is calm water, sometimes it chatters but I don’t notice or pay attention, and sometimes I get lost in thinking. Is this normal?
Stephen Procter: Getting lost within thinking is normal and is nothing to be concerned about. Stillness meditation is the development of the skill of 'not doing', of not adding anything to the processes of the mind. this can be likened to allowing a fire to burn out by not adding any more fuel to it.
When relaxing down into Stillness there will be times when your mind will be still and others when it will produce restlessness; this is perfectly ok. Just allow your mind to run around the room like a hyperactive puppy until it tires itself out.
During this process you will drift in and out of thoughts, as the practice deepens the thoughts themselves will start to become less directed and more without meaning. This is the settling process. Notice that every time your mind emerges from these random thoughts, if you do not concern yourself with them, that the experience of Stillness becomes deeper in those emergence's.
Your Question: I haven't gotten to where my mind gets quiet and stays there. I have to keep remembering and coming back. How do I make my thinking stop?
Stephen Procter: Stillness meditation is different to mindfulness meditation as in we do not have to notice when our attention wanders and bring it back. Stillness is experienced by not feeding the fire, learn to relax any effort or doing. In this way the fire of the mind burns up the fuel and settles in its own time. During Stillness meditation allow your mind to drift and wander, just don't add any value to it, it is as it is.
Your Question: It is hard not to fall into sleep when everything should be still and relaxed. I found I was searching for any kind of anchor my mind but not sure what this should be. Can you help me understand?
Stephen Procter: The searching for an anchor will stop stillness from arising, any doing will stop this - as my teacher said to me "It doesn't need your help". In Allowing Stillness there is no anchor, this is a training in not doing - not even meditating. There is no meditation when allowing Stillness. Your only task is to step out of the way - to 'Allow' your mind to return to the heart. If there is any anchor at all it is the experience of deep relaxation.
First start off by 'Allowing' your body to deeply relax - deeply - remove all effort. When your body is completely relaxed - deeply relaxed - heavy - then the next task is to mentally feel the relaxation within your body - 'Allow' it to seep into your mind - 'Allow' yourself the permission to sink into it.
Next, 'Allow' your mind to become the experience of deep relaxation, deeply still - mind will then return to the heart - reunite - any sleepiness will fade and deep stillness and clarity will arise.
Your Question: What is stillness meditation? How do I do this stillness meditation, what are the separate steps you guide us in?
Stephen Procter: Stillness meditation is the simple practice of sitting still and allowing the functions of your mind to slow down by not adding anything to them. Like a fire that can only survive as long as it is being fed fuel, the fire of your mind can only burn fiercely when fuel is being added to it. Through not adding to the activity of your mind it will naturally start to settle down and become still. As your skill in Stillness deepens you will notice a gradual lowering of defensiveness and anxiety within your daily life.
1: Create Your Posture for Stillness
For Stillness meditation it is necessary to create a balanced posture that you can maintain for the period of time without moving. This will give you the stability needed to allow your body to relax without fear of slumping forward. It is helpful in the beginning to un-round your shoulders by bringing them forward, raising them up, bringing them back and then dropping them down again. Also tucking your chin under slightly and extending the crown of your head towards the ceiling helps with balance. Once you have taken a balanced posture for your meditation, the first thing you do is to allow your eyelids to close slowly until they lightly touch.
2: Become Aware of Sounds
If there is any sound present become aware of it; allow the sound to start to anchor your attention. Notice your attention drawn out towards the sound. Focus on its flow, its changing nature. Allow the change within the sound to hold your attention present. This is always sad to hear, because the escape they are seeking is not found in more ‘doing’ but rather in learning how to ‘not do’, to actually be with what they are experiencing. Learning how to mentally rest, sit back and actually enjoy their life.
3: Warmth & Coolness
Gently bring awareness to the experience of warmth & coolness within your body as it sits. In a very general way, experience the sensations of warmth & coolness, keeping them gently in mind.
4: Touch of Your Hands
Within the experience of your posture start to include points of touch: The touch of your hands resting within each other. The touch of your body as it rests on the chair or floor and the touch of your feet. Keeping these points of touch gently in mind.
5: Experience Your Whole Body
As your mind settles, open your awareness to take in your whole body: warmth, coolness and touch. Your whole body just sitting here. Start to become aware of the general experience of heaviness that arises as your body starts to relax. Giving up all effort it becomes heavier, so heavy. Allow the chair or floor to take the full weight of your body. Allow your body to relax into this support.
6: Relaxing Your Forehead
Now gently bring awareness to your forehead and allow the muscles in your forehead to relax. Feel them becoming heavier, smoothing out. Experience the sense of ease as it arises.
7: Relaxing Your Eyelids
Allow the relaxation from your forehead to flow down into your eyelids and eyes. Relaxing your eyelids, feel the eyelids droop, becoming heavier. Allow them to become so heavy it feels like you’re falling asleep. Feel the mental relaxation arising from this.
8: Relaxing Your Cheeks & Jaw
Feel the relaxation flow down through your cheeks and into your jaw. Allow your jaw to open slightly. Feel the relaxation coming to the whole of your face, filling your face, becoming so relaxed.
9: Head, Shoulders & Upper Back
The relaxation starts to flow from your face around to the back of your head and neck. Slightly adjust your head if needed so that it feels balanced on your neck. Feel this relaxation flowing into your head and release any tension you feel, becoming so relaxed. The relaxation then starts to flow down your neck into your shoulders. Allow them to drop slightly. It then starts to fill your upper chest and upper back. Mentally feel the deep relaxation coming to your whole upper body. The sense of ease within your upper body.
10: Relaxing Your Arms & Hands
The relaxation flows down your arms into your hands. Relax your fingers. Allow your arms to hang loosely from your shoulders.
11: Chest, Belly & Breathing
Relax your chest & belly. Feel the breathing flowing freely within your body. The gentle flow of your breath. Allow your breathing to become calm. To become so relaxed that you can barely feel it moving at all. The sense of ease within your body deepens.
12: Relaxing Your Hips, Legs & Feet
Slightly release your hips and allow the relaxation to flow down your legs into your feet. You can use some gentle Softening breaths until your whole body feels deeply relaxed; so heavy.
13: Creating Your Meditation Object
This deep relaxation of your whole body will become your meditation object for your mind to access Stillness. Allow the chair or the floor to take the full weight of your body. Give up all effort within your body. Feel the effortlessness of it all, the effortlessness of not having to do anything. Feel this deep sense of ease fill every cell within your whole body. Allow the sense of ease to grow.
14: Experiencing Physical Relaxation
Bring full awareness to the deep relaxation and ease within your body and allow them to start to fill your mind. Abandon all mental effort at this stage; just allow. The deep relaxation and ease starts to fill your mind. Allow it to sink in. Feel your mind sinking deeper down, deeper as the sense of ease, of effortlessness fills it. At this stage allow your mind to drift, to float around. Allow thoughts to come and go. You will drift in and out of thoughts. Gradually the thoughts will change from directed thinking with a subject, to random, floaty thoughts without meaning. Allow yourself to bounce in and out of this mental activity.
15: Experiencing Mental Relaxation
Start to become aware of the mental relaxation and ease arising within your mind. Allow this sense of ease to fill your mind until it becomes the experience of the awareness itself. You can use a few gentle Softening breaths as learnt earlier to relax any effort that arises within your mind; to soften any desire to do. Your task at this stage is to not add anything to the processes of your mind, no longer feeding the fire; just allowing the fire to burn itself out. Allowing the processes of your mind to cease and Stillness to arise.
42/52: Stillness in Mind
43/52: Allowing Stillness
44/52: Remember Awareness
45/52: Mindful Seeing
46/52: Mindful Hearing
Your Question: Is the enchantment with Stillness something I should guard against?
Stephen Procter: Stillness arises when awareness is disentangled from sensory experience. Disentanglement arises through abandoning. Abandoning arises through disenchantment. The Buddha said that a mind that naturally inclines towards disenchantment / abandoning should be cultivated.
Your Question: I can can reach a state of deep relaxation in my body as in the previous meditation, but I don't understand how to bring this stillness into my mind. Can you please help me understand?
Stephen Procter: Once you have found the deep relaxation in your body then abandon all effort. As you do this the heaviness, feeling of stillness and sense of ease will start to grow. Bring awareness to the sense of ease, the feeling of effortlessness present within your body. This sense of ease is now your meditation object.
Start to mentally give up all effort to do anything at all and allow that sense of ease, the deep relaxation within your body to enter your mind. Let it seep in. As it enters your mind avoid doing anything at all. Focus on abandoning, giving rather then doing.
Allow your mind to think, allow yourself to become lost in thought. Allow your mind to drift around. Your only task is to not add anything to your mind, to allow the fire to burn itself out. As it does your awareness will drift in and out of thought, this doesn't matter. Each time awareness comes out of thought it will become more settled, more still.
At this stage you can introduce very subtle softening. Anytime your mind tries to engage anything - a thought or sound etc, relax the effort to do with a slow out-breath through your nose. As you do this awareness will start to disentangle form the senses, periods of stillness will increase and the thinking process will settle down.
At this stage give up the effort to be aware, removing all objects from awareness.
Your Question: Is this remembering of awareness the same as “seeing” my focus. Sometimes steady and sometimes all over. And is this “seeing” a state of mindful(ness)
Stephen Procter: Awareness is the knowing quality present with any sense experience.
Awareness itself has a centre of focus, it can be wide or it can be narrow in the same way that eyesight has a centre of focus which can be wide or narrow. We can call this focus of awareness: attention.
Remembering awareness is the effort to remember where the present centre of attention is focused. This may be towards your chosen meditation object but this also may also be towards the verbal commentary or fantasy within your mind when attention has wandered. The centre of attention can shift habitually without us even noticing.
Mindfulness is the remembering to remember the awareness of the present experience.
Your Question: This last one about remembering remembering is quite difficult to understand. It takes a genuine effort to follow, understand and implement. I’m working on it with positivity. As in the past, efforts towards good things take time and don’t come always so easy.
Stephen Procter: In this mindfulness training the attention turns from being mindful of the object of meditation to being mindful of the experience of mindfulness itself. Another way of putting it is that your attention turns from observing external objects to observing the observing itself. This is a necessary step in mindfulness meditation.
The aspect of observing the effort to 'remember to remember' is the key here. While practicing mindfulness meditation we are always dealing with 'remembering' and 'forgetting'. For example we sit down in meditation and remember what we are experiencing now:
The experience of our body as it sits, the flow of the breath as it comes in and out. Occasional sounds, thoughts coming and going, the slight feeling of sleepiness. And then suddenly we realise that we have been completely lost within a memory of what happened yesterday for the past 5 minutes, totally enchanted by it. We literally had 'forgotten' our body, 'forgotten' the breath and even forgotten that we were meditating. This can even happen in a room full of people, we forget where we are and what we are doing, habit takes over.
This coming back to our experience of now, after being lost within the memory, is the arising of mindfulness. You sat down in meditation and were 'remembering' what you were doing, being continuously mindful of it, then you then forgot what you where doing and slipped into habitual thinking. Mindfulness arose within your mind pulling you out of the memory and you suddenly remembered what it was you were doing again. "I am sitting here meditating in this room".
This training of putting effort towards 'remembering to remember' your experience of now creates a continuity of mindfulness that increases the clarity of the transitions between 'remembering' and 'forgetting' as well increasing the continuity of mindfulness thereby lowering the periods of forgetting during seated meditation and daily life. The training itself is simply holding 'remembering' in mind.
Your Question: Aren’t there times when we should look and not just see? By refusing to look aren’t we exhibiting privilege? There’s so much ugliness /injustice in the world — how can we ignore all of that?
Stephen Procter: In MIDL we are neither suppressing or running away, we fully experience anything that arises at any of our six senses regardless of whether it is pleasant or unpleasant. The world is full of suffering, this is the reality of it, we do not avoid it but we also do not suffer within it.
In this training we are not trying to suppress the eye sense but rather we are investigating the eye sense to develop understanding between its function and its the relationship with the mind and with the body. The important part is not the sight but rather our relationship to it, keeping in mind "How am I relating to this?".
It is at this point that we observe attraction towards that which is pleasant and aversion towards that which is unpleasant. It is at this point that all suffering arises and in MIDL it is at this point that we soften into our relationship towards what is being experienced.
Your Question: I fully understood your words about the happiness or suffering that not being aware of "seeing" can create, but I need to understand further how to just "see" in daily life and not judge or observe with a mental comment.
Stephen Procter: Being aware of the sense of sight in daily life is not done to stop the mind from producing mental judgement or commentary, it is used as a reference point for observing habitual patterns within the mind. Every time there is a mental participation through the sense of sight the eye will focus in on what the mind is interacting with, this interaction can be observed and softened.
Just as you have trained to use the sense of 'touch' such as your feet touching the ground, as an anchor point from which to observe liking / disliking, resistances, thinking etc in daily life. In the same way any of the Five Senses can be used to anchor your attention. You can use sight, sound, smell, taste or touch as an anchor point for observing the mind and its interaction with the world so that you can 'soften into' any resistance or longing that arises. All five of these senses can only be experienced 'now' making them the perfect grounding point from which to observe habitual patterns within your mind.
Your Question: Stephen, I find that I naturally drift back to closing my eyes while practicing the seeing. I am able to see, soften and take in sight, but after a bit i find myself having to reengage with the seeing. I am not sure if this is caused by the low light or early morning when I frequently meditate, or my state is just relaxing too far into a state of not being alert. What are your thoughts on this?
If you eyes are closing then this is due to relaxation. This is perfectly ok, allow them to close. You can also intentionally re-engage then relax back into seeing, this will help you develop skill and understanding.
The purpose of this mindfulness training is to mindfully observe the relationship between sight and our mind and to soften any mental engagement of the mind moving out through the eyes. It sounds like you are already doing this and because your mind is not being stimulated it becomes very relaxed and starts to shut down. This in itself reveals a lot about the nature of sensory stimulation and activity within the mind.
The next step is to take this understanding out into the world. Maintain mindful seeing when walking down the street or walking through a shopping mall. observe your eye being drawn towards certain sights and the commentary that arises in the background. observe any attraction or aversion towards those sights and how some sights are just scanned over by the eye with no interest at all.
And soften / relax this engagement and mental judgement. Train your mind towards not clinging onto visual sensory experience.