Day 15 Meditation
This week we’re going to practice being with emotions and thoughts, even intense or difficult ones, in an open, allowing, and accepting way. For many of us, that’s the opposite of our default mode—pushing away uncomfortable feelings out of fear or annoyance– and doing everything we can to endlessly extend pleasant experiences.
The focus of this week is also a deepening Mindfulness as a practice of distinguishing between what’s actually happening in the moment, and the add-ons of that direct expereince, such as shame, projecting into the future, or weaving an entire negative self-image from a scrap of fleeting emotion.
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Early in my practice, I let this simple method for dealing with distraction become a distraction itself. I’d sit and think, “is what I’m feeling pain, or is it discomfort? You couldn’t really call it agony, that’s way too big a word, but what about anguish?” I was becoming a human thesaurus – and completely losing track of my experience. I soon learned that the word isn’t the point; it’s just shorthand for recognizing what’s arising
in the moment and keeping ourselves from becoming swept away in a tide of thought. The note needn’t be elaborate; it’s simply a quiet act of recognition, “ah, this is what’s happening right now: There’s sadness, there’s remembering.”
Question & Answer
Q: While I try to practice fully experiencing whatever is present during a meditation session, how do I know when it’s time to let go of observing and acknowledging the feelings or thoughts that have come up, or move back to following the breath?
A: Sometimes it’s hard to clock that moment of letting go, and you just have to go with your intuition and not be anxious about meditating perfectly or absolutely correctly. If you’re cultivating awareness, you are doing it right. In terms of specific tools for more fully experiencing what is present, using mental noting from today’s lesson can be quite helpful. But if you begin to lose interest in the experience you’re observing, or if you feel the balance among thought, feeling, and sensation slipping because you’re starting to resent what’s happening or getting too drawn in, those are good signs to let go and see if you can return your attention to the feeling of the breath.
Welcome back. This week, we will expand the field of mindfulness even further to include thoughts, and both positive and difficult emotions. Whatever we are experiencing, remembering, or planning, sadness or joy, our effort is to have an open-minded, open-hearted awareness of our experience in the moment, without being lost in preconceptions, judgements, or immediate reactions. This allows us to see more deeply into our actual experience, and know ourselves more fully.
Please sit comfortably, with either your eyes closed or slightly open, however you feel most at ease. This is a meditation where we first center our attention on the feeling of the breath, wherever it’s most predominant, wherever it’s easiest for us. Just the normal, natural breath. And quietly note in, out, in, out, or rising, falling to help support the awareness of the breath. Then, if something arises that is predominant, that takes over our awareness, sensation, sound, image, emotion, thinking, see if you can make a quiet mental note of just what that experience is in the moment without judgment, just as an act of recognition. Oh, thinking, planning, anger, joy, if the note comes easily and you don’t need to struggle to get exactly the right word, it doesn’t need to be elaborate, it’s just an act of recognition. This is what’s happening right now. There’s sadness, there’s happiness, hearing, seeing, thinking.
Gently note that experience three or four times. Hearing, hearing, hearing, hearing. See if you can bring your attention back to the feeling of the breath. The mental note is very quiet. It first of all establishes its fear of awareness, which is not caught up in that experience, but is able to discern it, to recognize it. It also provides an instant feedback system for us. Is this an open-hearted even acceptance? This is what’s happening right now. Or is it more like thinking! With fretfulness, resentment. If we hear that, we say it again. Oh, thinking, and then bring our attention back to the feeling of the breath.
You don’t need to try to take in everything. It’s just those things that arise quite strongly, that pull us away from the breath. We spend a few moments as though to say, this is what’s happening right now, and then we come back. The mental noting is the platform for mindfulness. We see what’s happening right now, as it is. We’re not elaborating it, we’re not judging it, we’re not struggling against it, nor falling into it. There’s thinking, anger, joy, and because it’s the platform for mindfulness, it’s the platform for learning. We can see just what’s happening right now.
Many things will arise and pass away, some very pleasant, some unpleasant, some neutral, but our job is just to note them, to recognize them, to see them for what they are, to see the truth of this very moment, and then breathe.
And when you feel ready, you can open your eyes. You can reflect back on whether mental noting was a useful tool for you. Did you find yourself noting too quickly, too loud, too soft, and what happened when you realized that, and you made the adjustment? Was noting particularly useful with unpleasant feeling or neutral feeling, or pleasant feeling? Once having explored this, you can see if this might prove useful for you during your day.