Training without self-inspection.

Discussion of Satipatthana bhavanā and Vipassana bhavana.

Training without self-inspection.

Postby Birdy » Sat Nov 09, 2013 5:06 am

Hello everyone :) Please excuse me if you find this all complete drivel but I must warn you that I am a beginner... So expect very beginner things of me. I want to relay to you some of my first mindfulness experiences.

I first experimented with meditation about half a year ago and of course I found simply sitting down and focusing on the breath a rather difficult task. However I had read Mindfulness In Plain English and I decided I would try going for a relaxing walk and be present and aware on this walk. I have a long river reserve outside my house with enough walking track to walk for hours and if I ever decided to go for a walk I would typically be gone an hour or two. So one of these walks, that is exactly what I decided to do.

I find focusing on my own emotions and experience to be quite painful and overwhelming when I'm not feeling good. I typically have at least some mild anxiety and especially when I was starting out I found focusing on my painful mental states would at least initially exacerbate them and prove a serious road block to detaching myself from them. It was too strong. On this walk however I decided to try a different route and instead of focusing on my own mind and body, I decided to investigate the being and the motion of the nature around me and instead try to see that clearly.

I started off picking things to focus on and changing my concentration to different things as I walked on, and after about 20 minutes I felt my mind was a lot calmer and instead of trying to steer my concentration, I just sit back and let it go wherever it felt like going. After 40-60 minutes of walking along the path, watching the birds fly, watching the water flow, watching the wind blow through the trees and how it made them sway and rustle, and indeed watching some of the pleasant sensations that all of this would cause in me, I noticed that I achieved a state of perfect clarity. I was completely present and I saw all the vibrancy in everything around me and I could look around and change my focus as much I liked without losing this pristine awareness. I remember the first time this happened I was hesitant to shift any large degree of focus from the outside world onto myself because every time I had looked inside previously it just caused a chain of more thoughts and inner distress. But after an hour of walking I took my attention off a bird that just flew overhead, and instead of letting my focus drift onto the next rustling tree, I looked down and saw my legs walking. I watched them walk and I watched the gravel crunch under my feet.

They were as detached from me as was the bird that just flew by. They were no different a part of life to the trees rustling around me. They were just legs walking. Not my legs, just legs. I wasn't walking, there was just walking. And then I shifted my awareness again to my mind and I found the most astonishing thing I'd ever experienced up to that day. There were no thoughts. There was absolutely nothing going on in my head. I watched my mind as I walked for a while longer and it stayed this absolutely pristine stillness the whole duration. There was nothing in there. My mind was as detached as the bird and the trees from me. I saw that I didn't exist. There wasn't a 'me'. There was nothing of 'I' happening at all. I had no past and no future, just a void in my mind and walking legs. There was just a body and a head following my awareness around in the moment.

And then I began thinking thoughts and again they were as equally detached as any other of my experiences, too. The hour-long return walk to my house was one of the most enlightening experiences I've ever had. I remember communicating to a friend my new discovery, wording it something like 'life is simply the flow of things,' to later learn that I had discovered Anicca. Anatta, also. That night I went out socialising and this awareness that I had gathered on that walk stayed with me enough that I could 'see' the energy between people that night. I felt perfectly relaxed and found without having anxieties about the situation, I could just prod my environment and the people in it and watch the reactions in the present. Supremely easy. I guess you could say that was confidence.

I did this a few more times over the weeks and for a few weeks this mindfulness would mostly stay with me, although I would rarely sit and train my my mindfulness, instead choosing just to practice maintaining it in my day-to-day life. Eventually I believe the lack of deliberate, exclusive practice lead initially to slight lapses in mindfulness and after a few weeks it essentially disappeared and I was back to square one.

Thinking back on it, I'm surprised that I've never heard of this type of training before. It seemed to have worked wonders for me yet I've never seen anything similar mentioned in my time studying meditation. Going for a mindful walk enables a lot longer duration of practice, is a very relaxing activity that allows the mind to settle down easily, is pleasant, and I find this method both a very effective pacifier for my monkey mind and also allowed me to develop the mindfulness needed to tackle it head-on should it return. Not only that that, but at the end of the walk, there's no abrupt transition back into your normal day-to-day activity and thus easier to sustain.

Why then, do I see so much insistence that beginners instead sit and wrestle their attention to the breath while enduring a full assault from a restless mind, when there seems to be a much more pleasant and practical way to achieve the same goal?

Am I onto something or am I just nuts?
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Re: Training without self-inspection.

Postby Reductor » Sat Nov 09, 2013 5:44 am

Hi Birdy,

I recall reading of a cloud meditation some years ago. I am not sure what tradition it comes from, maybe Dzogchen (it was in a Lama Surya Das book that I no longer own). You lay back and watch the clouds to calm the mind.

If, while doing this, you attain a focused mind, you can notice your feelings. Are they good, bad, neutral? Notice them along with whatever your focusing on. See them change.

This method your using is not a Theravada one, and is likely to have surprising consequences you've yet to notice. Quite possibly (even likely) it can lead to a level of ease, but not the total ease (nibbana) found with those practices put forward by the Buddha.

And it is true that it's hard on a beginner to focus inward with the traditional methods. But so long as you refuse to do it consistently, you will always be a beginner, which is a shame, as those who've attained a level of skill have access to pronounced levels of calm, bright, peaceful states of mind, along with greater knowledge of mind&body, which reduces painful emotions in day to day life.
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

And friendliness towards the world is happiness for him who is forbearing with living beings. -- Ud. 2:1
To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72

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Re: Training without self-inspection.

Postby reflection » Sat Nov 09, 2013 8:41 am

Hi Birdy,

If going on such walks helps you, I'd continue doing it. The Buddha and monks also went on walks a lot. But I would use it as an additional practice, not as the only one. The sitting in meditation practice is very important. When talking about some factors of the eightfold path, the Buddha always said they are to be fully developed after sitting down in meditation. You will be surprised how deep this can go which won't be possible while walking. Things can go much deeper than you may imagine. The same goes for insight; they can be so deep they totally destroy every idea you ever had about what's real. Having clarity and a feeling of not being there is in my eyes not a full realization of anatta/anicca, so please try to let go of that idea a bit for your own benefit.

So in short, continue doing what works for you but know that the more 'traditional' practices are there for a reaston. :)


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Re: Training without self-inspection.

Postby befriend » Sat Nov 09, 2013 2:24 pm

this is a vipassana method, you are aware of whatever strongest experience is happening in the present moment. I have been taught like the way you mention, say a car drives by you are aware of it, then the radiator will turn on and then you are aware of that, then maybe your awareness falls onto your abdominal motions etc... you can also do this technique while sitting and its vipassana.
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Re: Training without self-inspection.

Postby Birdy » Wed Nov 13, 2013 7:34 am

Thanks for all your replies. It's good to know that I wasn't entirely wasting my time, but yes I guess I should indeed make sure that I don't sacrifice any discipline of my sitting practice. It is difficult dealing with this mind of mine...
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Re: Training without self-inspection.

Postby reflection » Wed Nov 13, 2013 7:46 am

Hi,

I'm happy some people could help.

But based on this
I first experimented with meditation about half a year ago and of course I found simply sitting down and focusing on the breath a rather difficult task.

..

Why then, do I see so much insistence that beginners instead sit and wrestle their attention to the breath while enduring a full assault from a restless mind, when there seems to be a much more pleasant and practical way to achieve the same goal?


I think you may have a wrong idea of what meditation is about. Or perhaps it is better to say: can be about, because some teachers present it in this manner. However, when you don't see meditation as a wrestle and the breath not something to force upon, you may find it is actually very easy to have the breath hold your attention. Notice how I changed the words. It is not you who holds the attention, but the breath itself. That way meditation is not a chore, but it becomes super relaxing and nice. Something you want to do instead of something you have to. And that's a fundamental change in attitude quite important if you want to have meditation take off. :namaste:
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Re: Training without self-inspection.

Postby Birdy » Wed Nov 13, 2013 8:33 pm

Wow.. Yes that does change things, thank you for that bit of advice. I was always wondering at what point this practice would change from being a chore into more of a compulsion, I assumed it was once I started to get clarity and peace that I would be afraid to lose that would motivate me into it...
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Re: Training without self-inspection.

Postby reflection » Wed Nov 13, 2013 10:42 pm

Birdy wrote:Wow.. Yes that does change things, thank you for that bit of advice. I was always wondering at what point this practice would change from being a chore into more of a compulsion, I assumed it was once I started to get clarity and peace that I would be afraid to lose that would motivate me into it...

In my experience the word concentration and "focusing upon" are quite misleading translations. Bhikkhu Sujato explains this somewhere really well, although I can't find it now. He says that people think of concentration as a chore, not something nice to do. Because normally we talk about concentrating on work or exams, things like that, things that are not nice, things that usually don't attract our attention.

But meditation I would say is more like eating an ice cream and really enjoying the taste. That is not a chore, that is nice! The ice cream lures your attention in instead of you going towards it. Therefore I think it is always important to enjoy your meditation. Don't expect you'll enjoy it in the future when you find clarity, but find some enjoyment right now. If the breath is to hard to focus on, just focus on something in the present moment that's more easy and more agreeable to you. Or perhaps it's better to say: just relax a bit. Ease into it. It is that enjoyment and relaxation that actually takes you deeper.

If you like this kind of approach (and I bet you will) you may want to look at instructions by for example Ajahn Brahm:


(See around 20:00 for a very good simile)

Hope this helps you. If so, you'll probably very soon begin to actually like meditation, which is a totally awesome feeling to have because you are starting to find the wholesome pleasures the Buddha was talking about.

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Re: Training without self-inspection.

Postby Birdy » Thu Nov 14, 2013 6:57 am

That really seems like not only a mistake but a really big one to make, then, in misdefining what has been translated as 'concentration.' Especially when reading Mindfulness In Plain English, it's such a central element of what the book talks about as far as developing the skill of mindfulness goes, it could almost be such a hindrance for a beginner that it ruins any chances of success in this. I can kind of understand how 'stillness' could get mixed up with 'concentration,' though... In a sense they do have a similar meaning, perhaps something like an absorbed, serene focus.

Even in just learning this and understanding the difference is enabling me to get a taste of what this means... It's like now I can submit into the moment as opposed to trying to impose onto the moment, if you know what I mean. As small as it sounds it really is a significant difference...

His talk about loving compassion, too, is something that got me thinking a bit more. I remember a while ago visiting some website that did a test to find out how you see yourself and how you treat yourself. I still remember seeing the result of it after a good ten minutes of checking boxes and it concluding that I judge myself really harshly and am very unforgiving towards myself. In that moment it made me aware of how true this was and how I had been unaware of it for so long, and it simultaneously made me realise just how absurd it was to do this. I think if it were just for me to be able to lessen this criticism of myself and be more accepting and forgiving of my mistakes then not only would essentially all of my suffering be eliminated but it would automatically extend out to 100% of all others, whom share the same flaws and commonalities as I. It can be difficult to do these things consciously, but I guess that goal is what meditation is all about, right?
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Re: Training without self-inspection.

Postby reflection » Thu Nov 14, 2013 7:13 am

I wouldn't say that is all that it is about, but for an important part, yes.

I also wouldn't say concentration is a totally wrong translation, but just like many other words in the Buddha's teachings, one needs to know it is just a choice of translation for a word that has no accurate English counterpart. So therefore a bit of context is required. There are many words like this, like mindfulness. People wonder what is mindfulness if they first hear about it, but if they first hear 'concentration' they don't question what is meant by the Buddha. That's how it is misleading, not really for it is totally inaccurate but because it leaves little room for a flexible interpretation. But I do largely like Mindfulness in Plain English, at least the parts I read. If you read it in this light, perhaps you also will.

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Re: Training without self-inspection.

Postby Birdy » Mon Nov 18, 2013 7:10 am

Oh I do very much like Mindfulness In Plain English. It has helped me very much. It's not so much that I think 'concentration' is a bad translation, but I do think the fact that it's not a literal translation should have been better expanded upon... I think a lot of beginners would get thrown off the path trying to 'concentrate' on the breath due to making such a misunderstanding.

In other news, I've been practicing being aware of a lot of my lust lately. Mainly sexual lust and food lust and have been trying to avoid tempting either... I feel a hell of a lot more free already. :)
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Re: Training without self-inspection.

Postby Dan74 » Mon Nov 18, 2013 12:06 pm

I am sorry if this is off-topic, Folks, but has anyone mentioned prerequisites of meditation?

Some teachers say that starting practice with meditation can be a wrong thing. It is important to establish some basic sila, some rudimentary healthy structure to the day, and of course basic understanding of what this practice is about. Without this and without constant 'course correction', meditation practice is bound to lead one down the garden path, I think, almost inevitably.
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Re: Training without self-inspection.

Postby daverupa » Mon Nov 18, 2013 12:27 pm

Dan74 wrote:I am sorry if this is off-topic, Folks, but has anyone mentioned prerequisites of meditation?

Some teachers say that starting practice with meditation can be a wrong thing. It is important to establish some basic sila, some rudimentary healthy structure to the day, and of course basic understanding of what this practice is about. Without this and without constant 'course correction', meditation practice is bound to lead one down the garden path, I think, almost inevitably.


Indeed; alongside the establishment of sila there comes a daily regimen of guarding the sense-gates, sati-sampajanna generally, and the incorporation of satipatthana, and then dealing with the hindrances and awakening factors via all of the preceding, and then also anapanasati.

Just sitting down and breathing is relaxing, however the mind does tend to wander and provide something of a show, left to its own devices.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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