Introduction to Meditation
Class Two Notes
Direct Experience of Our Bodily Sensations
In our first class, we focused on the breath, which is often our most-noticeable, bodily process. Our intention in Class 2 is to drop out of a conceptual relationship with our bodies and experience them directly as a constellation of sensations floating like clouds in the sky of our mindful awareness. I call this “feeling clearly,” and it is a key element in developing meditation practice and insight into the nature of our lives. That being said, because we are not used to opening to our physicality in this direct manner, it can take time for this way of feeling to develop. Class 2 is an introduction. Don’t get discouraged if it is not clear initially. All the practices presented in this series mature, just like anything else, over time and repetition.
To support connecting directly with our felt experience, we bypass terms like there is a “pain” in my “right shoulder.” We instead describe the sensations themselves—the actual clouds that are floating in the open sky of our mindful awareness. We are not concerned with their location, and “right shoulder” is simply a name—a concept. “Pain” is not clear enough and does not describe the sensation itself. Instead we dive right into the alive happening of the sensation with words like, pressure, pulsing, and stabbing. In fact, we can think of our bodies as a combination of four essential elements of sensation—earth, air, fire, and water. The earth element indicates our mass as a physical being, and words like pressure, heaviness, hardness, and softness work in that realm. Air is movement, so we use words like flowing, pulsing, vibrating, tingling, stabbing, expanding, and contracting. Fire relates to temperature, so words like cold, cool, warm, or hot are used. Water is cohesion and wetness, so we use terms like sticky, slippery, or gummy. These words can be used as notes that help us connect with the sensations and their qualities, but it should be stressed that even the use of these more appropriate words are not the goal. They should be a gentle background whisper. We are really interested in being mindfully aware of the sensations themselves, and these are ultimately indescribable.
The body is always here and now. When we bring our minds into the same time and space as our bodies by employing a mindful awareness, we connect the two. There is a default grounding and coordination that leads to more relaxation and ease. This has actually been measured in neurological studies. Our bodies also provide a more reliable source for understanding how we feel about our present moment experience than our thoughts, which can be flying all over the place. We explore this more fully in Class Three, which covers emotions. Given a very strong cultural orientation to being in our heads and relying primarily on logic and reasoning, exploring our bodies opens a new universe of intelligence, intuition, and wisdom.
Universal Challenges of Life—the Five Hindrances
As we practice meditation, we begin to meet our lives more fully and clearly. With this mindful awareness of the “clouds” that are happening, we notice different “weather patterns.” Our patterns. Our habits and coping mechanisms. Some are quite helpful, enjoyable, and skillful leading to our well-being and that of others. Then, there are those that get us tied up and lead to stress. In Buddhism, the major universal patterns that are challenges in life are also known as the Five Hindrances. These challenges, though, become the vehicle by which we understand peace and wellness. They are to be embraced and explored. Freedom is their fruit.
The Hindrances start with Greed for enjoyable sense pleasures whether of sight, sound, taste, smell, or touch. Lusting for these things keeps us running around. This is a recipe for stress.
Conversely, with Aversion, we feel that we have to keep things we don’t like away. Unfortunately, that’s not possible. We all know that we will fall sick from time to time. If we are lucky, we will get old, but our faculties will diminish in the process, and we will, for sure, die. All of these experiences involve unpleasant sensations. Ouch. What really helps with greed is simply imagining how great it would feel if we didn’t have that particular need. Bringing a sense of kindness to what we are aversive about, or the feeling of aversion in our bodies, helps to bear its weight and allow it to soften.
Next up are Sloth and Torpor. They are that heavy feeling we have when we are supposed to do something we aren’t excited about or that is new and uncomfortable. Interest helps here. Embrace it and explore it. It will change as will your relationship to it.
Restlessness and Worry (about the future) or Regret (about the past) are agitated states that come from not being able to feel fully safe and needing to have everything be perfect. Gratitude for the many things that are going right in any given moment is the antidote here.
Lastly, there is Doubt. This can be about the teacher or teachings and that can be a positive quality that leads to further investigation. Don’t take my word, look for yourself. Doubt about your capacity to practice and become wise or doubt about your worthiness are the most difficult of all these challenges. This is where the clear map of Buddhism really helps. Hang in there. Be patient. Get to know the fogginess of this pattern. It will lead to great confidence and a very full, enjoyable life.
Try to meditate as much as 20 minutes a day, connecting with your bodily sensations as we did in class this week. Recognize that in any moment you can drop into the seat of mindful awareness; you don’t have to be on the cushion. Notice if mindful awareness happens organically in a moment—this might happen simply because you are taking part in this class. Notice what it feels like when it happens. You might be driving or standing in line or washing dishes, and—whoa! You’re connecting with your sensations or your breath. What’s the difference between the two orientations of mindlessness and mindfulness? On the screen or in the seat? What does it feel like?
If you’ve reached the end of your day and haven’t had one mindful moment, don’t despair. That is actually a great noticing, an insight. Take a couple of minutes as you lie down in bed and practice. The more you put in, the more you will receive and the better able you’ll be to offer heartfelt support to your community. Listen to the second talk in the Introduction to Meditation series by Gil Fronsdal at:
and bring one brief (one to two sentence) reflection from that talk for your check-in. Again, if you can’t get to it, there will be no shame but please do try.