MEDITATION SKILL 31
Relax the Eyelids
MEDITATION SKILL 32
Relax Frontal Lobes
MEDITATION SKILL 33
Learn to Decondition Mind
MEDITATION SKILL 34
Decondition the Mind
MEDITATION SKILL 35
Loving Kindness 1
Questions 36 - 40
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.
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 Meditation Skills 1-3.
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 Meditation Skills 1-3 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:
"You 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: What are the words that you are using in this meditation and how do I do it?
When practicing loving kindness using the loved one to generate the loving feeling we can follow two simple steps. During this meditation we can begin with ourselves, then loved one then our self again but these days I teach to begin with the loved one first as many people find it difficult to feel love and kindness towards themselves.
Step 1: Loving Kindness to a Loved One
Sit down comfortably, make a half smile on your face and bring someone you care for or respect to mind. Gently repeat:
“(insert their name) may you be well ........”
“may you be happy........”
“may you be peaceful ........”
Keep gently repeating these phrases to yourself, in no hurry, and really mean it. Smile when you say it. The key is to develop the feeling of love that comes from this wish of kindness.
Step 2: Loving Kindness to Yourself
Once you can develop the feeling of loving kindness to your loved one then you can transfer the feeling towards yourself. First start by developing the feeling on your loved one, then bring yourself to mind. The feeling will then carry over. If the loving feeling fades then swap back to your loved one again to re-cultivate the feeling. Apply the feeling to yourself again until you also are a loved one.
“may I be well ........”
“may I be happy........”
“may I be peaceful ........”
Your Question: My only difficulty with these meditations is that I cannot picture people, faces (or anything much), so I find it hard to concentrate and focus in that way. I just wondered if you might have any helpful advice.
Stephen Procter: Different people experience images in different ways - some see them, others feel them. I also do not see images of people when I bring someone to mind, but I feel their presence and I feel my relationship to them. The importance with practices of cultivating positive qualities of heart, such as Metta: Loving Kindness, is not the clarity of the image but rather the emotional feeling beneath them - in this case the genuine wish for happiness and peace.
This is why we first start with someone that we already feel genuine caring towards, such as a loved one or someone we respect, because it is easier to cultivate the feeling of genuine love and kindness towards them. The emotion behind the phrases is what is important, the person is just used to encourage the feeling to arise. Once the emotional feeling of loving kindness has arisen we then encourage it to grow, to fill every cell of our body - this feeling is the meditation object.
Once strong, then we can transfer the feeling over to our self, this then will start to dislodge any negative feelings we have towards ourselves and replace it with the positive feeling of loving kindness. When the feeling starts to weaken we then go back to the loved one and so on. In this way loving kindness starts to 'stick' to the thought of ourselves and the loving response becomes natural. We can then cultivate loving kindness on our loved one and ourselves, before transferring it to different people within our lives until everyone becomes a loved one.
Your Question: I can't feel love. I imagined my 3 years old daughter that I think I love very much. But I couldn't feel anything. The nearest thing to love was that I didn't want something bad to happen to her. I can see I am ready to put myself in danger to make her safe. But I couldn't feel love. I have a problem in seeing good emotions in myself. I can see anxiety and anger very clear in myself but not love.
This is quite normal, the feeling of love for others starts with our relationship towards our self. If we do not like our self, if we can not feel love for our self, then our love for others may be driven by fear and attachment but not from actual love & kindness. It always comes down to our relationship with our self, the ability to see the good within us, to embrace all parts including the parts we do not like. Mindfulness meditation is not about creating a better me. Trying to add more to our self is the trap of this life. Mindfulness meditation is a process of stripping back the layers of defensiveness that create separateness within our self. This feeling of separation within our self conditions our relationship towards our self and also our relationship towards others. The anxiety and anger you feel is very clear in regards to this.
Whatever is our dominant state of mind is, creates our path of practice in MIDL mindfulness meditation. Anger is a defense mechanism that arises out of anxiety, so the experience of anxiety is your meditation path. Any attempt to avoid or try to escape from this will only make it worse. Your first step is to develop sensitivity towards your breathing patterns and how they reflect your state of mind. When you are calm and relaxed your breathing with be in your belly, when anxious it will move up, short and shallow, into your chest. Maybe at this time your breathing is always up in your chest. This will than become your reference point from which to observe your relationship towards yourself and others, from which Wisdom will arise.
You begin with Meditation Skill 01: Retrain Your Breathing daily for 3 - 4 weeks to retrain your stress breathing patterns. Making diaphragmatic breathing normal for you. This will lower the defensiveness of your survival mind and create your reference point from which to observe and soften your relationship towards your life.
You then need to forgive yourself, for things you have done to disrespect yourself and others. Without forgiving your past you will always feel fragmented now and your relationships will reflect this. You can than forgive others for when they have disrespected you within your life. This is a necessary healing of the past which is needed for you to feel love in your heart, now. MIDL Mindfulness Training 32/52: Forgiveness: Healing the Heart.
Your can then start to develop loving kindness towards yourself, this will be slow at first, like a small ember on a fire, but as the fire grows it will naturally transfer over to your daughter. You do this by generating the loving feeling first on a loved one or someone that you respect - just on them. When you can do this you generate the feeling on your loved one / respected person and then bring yourself to mind, side by side with them - the feeling will start to transfer.
Keep doing this until you are both loved ones. You can then add people like your daughter. All these steps are found within the book I sent you 'Step by Step Guidance in MIDL Mindfulness Meditation', it is designed to follow the MIDL path using stress / anxiety as the doorway for mindfulness.
MEDITATION SKILL 36
Loving Kindness 2
MEDITATION SKILL 37
Loving Kindness 3
MEDITATION SKILL 38
MEDITATION SKILL 39
MEDITATION SKILL 40
Abandon With Breathing
Questions 41 - 45
Your Question: I find it more difficult to send loving thoughts towards myself, to wish that I am happy, peaceful than I do towards someone that I love or someone who is difficult towards me. I don’t really know what to make of these exercises, which indicates to me that this is in fact where I need to be right now.
Stephen Procter: It is normal to find it hard to develop loving feeling towards ourself. When training in loving kindness you should always start with someone that you respect or genuinely care for, they are your catalyst for generating loving feeling. The important part in this meditation is not the words but the generation of the feeling. You first generate the loving feeling on your loved / respected person and build it until it is strong. You then switch to yourself, transferring the feeling and continuing to encourage it to grow.
When the loving feeling dies down you then generate it on your loved one again; then back to yourself. When the feeling dies down again you change back to your loved one and so on. The feeling of loving kindness will then start to stick to your image, you do this until the feeling for yourself and your loved one is the same. You can then start cultivating it for others such as a difficult person within your life, but to do this you first have to develop it for yourself otherwise you are meditating as if with a flat battery. Be patient in this practice, your current relationship towards yourself is conditioned and in this way you can re-condition the relationship.
Your Question: Before this we have been doing mindfulness meditation practices and now in the last three trainings we are doing loving kindness. How does this all fit together?
Stephen Procter: The Buddha outlined the development of the path as four intentions. Abandoning, Guarding, Cultivating, Establishing. Abandoning means to abandon Negative Qualities of mind or heart that have already arisen. (Negative means those that divide - push away) As the practice develops we then have the ability to Guard against the arising of Negative Qualities of mind or heart that have not yet arisen.
When the Negative Qualities of mind or heart become weak we then focus on Cultivating Positive Qualities of mind or heart that have not yet arisen; those weak in us. (Positive Qualities are those that combine - bring together). The fourth stage is Establishing Positive Qualities of mind and heart once they have arisen - making them strong - making them our dwelling place.
Loving kindness meditation if done correctly abandons, guards, cultivates and establishes.
Your Question: I had some difficult feelings come up during this metta meditation and found it hard to be loving towards a certain person in my life.
Stephen Procter: Metta directly challenges some of the defensive postures within our mind. If we have difficulty offering loving kindness towards another it is often a reflection of the difficult relationship we have with our self.
When these meditations were recorded I followed the traditional progressive order of developing Metta that I was taught: Our self - respected person - loved one - difficult person - pervasive. After spending time with many people teaching meditation in daily life I came to realise that outside of intensive practice this is not a practical way to do it. If we find it difficult to cultivate loving feeling towards our self, due to habitual defensiveness, and are unable to cultivate the concentration necessary to suppress this defensiveness within our mind, then we will also find it difficult to cultivate loving feeling towards others.
I have since revised the way that I teach this and made the adjustment in my new book 'Step by Step Guidance in MIDL Mindfulness Meditation' to reflect this.
1. We first learn to develop loving feeling just towards a loved one / respected person. We do not include our self or others until it becomes easy and the loving feeling flows freely.
2. We can than include our self. We start by generating loving feeling towards a loved one / respected person, once strong we then bring an image of our self to mind and transfer the loving feeling present towards our self.
3. When the loving feeling towards our self becomes weaker, we then switch back to the loved one / respected person to cultivate the loving feeling again and so on. Gradually in this way we also become a loved one. During this process it is normal for difficult emotions to come up; this is ok. It is just a cleansing process, our mind is cleaning out the cupboard to make room for loving kindness. If these emotions arise we allow our self time to feel them within our body, and using a few Softening breaths, relax / soften into any resistance we feel then resume our Metta practice.
4. We can then gradually include others such as a difficult person until they also become a loved one. loved one - our self - difficult person, cycling back when the feeling starts to fade and so on, opening up to include all beings.
Your Question: The issue here is compassion for all beings, animals, yourself, and loved one. One way I deal with such difficult issues is to practice loving kindness. Does practicing pervasive loving kindness develop compassion for all beings?
Stephen Procter: Compassion is developed in our practice in two ways:
1. Intentionally: We can intentionally sit in meditation and develop the feeling of compassion towards our self and all beings in the same way that we do with loving kindness.
Towards our self:
“May I be free from mental suffering”.
“May I be free from physical suffering”.
“Physically and mentally at ease”.
“May I be able to take care of myself, happily”.
“May you be free from mental suffering”.
“May you be free from physical suffering”.
“Physically and mentally at ease”.
“May you be able to take care of yourself, happily”.
This is a concentration practice that conditions the mind to view the world in a certain way through repetition.
2. Through Wisdom: By becoming intimate with the depth of our own suffering we also feel empathy towards the pain of others. As this matures we develop compassion towards the depth of our suffering which naturally gives rise to compassion towards the suffering of others.
This can be enhanced by reflecting:
"Just as I feel pain, you also feel pain, may we be free from pain".
"Just as I experience mental suffering, you also experience mental suffering, may we be free from mental suffering".
This is a mindfulness meditation practice that arises from repeated self observation.
The difference between the two is that the first is based on reconditioning the mind through repeated cultivation of the feeling of compassion to colour awareness. The second practice is based on deconditioning the mind through observing the characteristics of reality and does not arise through generating a colouring but rather from a depth in wisdom.
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 42/52) 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: 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: 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 of body 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.
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. Could you explain?
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.