Day 9 Meditation
For today’s practice, we continue in the world of the physical body with a Sensation Meditation. This meditation helps us see the difference between the direct experience of our bodies, and the more habitual and conditioned add-ons that we tack onto that direct experience. Being able to see the difference between these helps us to allow sensations arise and subside naturally, without clinging, condemning, or disconnecting.
Mindfulness can allow us to experience fully the moment in front of us – what Thoreau calls “the bloom of the present”- and to wake up from neutral so we don’t miss the small, rich moments that add up to a dimensional life.
Today’s Body Sensation Meditation is also especially helpful in pointing us toward a mindful approach to pain. It trains us to be with a painful experience in the moment, without adding imagined distress and difficulty. If we look closely at it, the pain is bound to change, and that’s as true of a headache as it is of a heartache: the discomfort oscillates; there are beats of rest between moments of unpleasantness. When we discover firsthand that pain isn’t static, that it’s a living, changing system, it doesn’t seem as solid or insurmountable as it did at first.
Question & Answer
Q: Won’t zeroing in on pain, making it the object of attention, just make it worse?
A: Sometimes approaching pain with pinpoint awareness is useful, so that you’re feeling it just at its most acute or intense point. At other times it’s more useful to step back and be with the pain in a broader way—noticing it fleetingly and then letting it go. What’s most important is to approach the pain with a spirit of exploration: For whatever time you’re focusing on it, are you open to it, interested in it, paying attention to it? Or are you filled with fear and resentment, drawing conclusions and making judgment about the pain? Dealing with pain is not a question of endurance, sitting with your teeth gritted and somehow making it through, even if you’re feeling great distress at what is happening. Our practice is, as much as possible, to recognize our experience without getting lost in old, routine reactions. The point is to be open not just with pain, but with everything.
Welcome back. Today’s meditation will help us relax and also help us experience pleasant sensations in our bodies without clinging, painful sensations without adding tension and fear, and neutral sensations without numbing out or getting bored. It will open the door for new insights about how our bodies are always changing, as solid as it may seem on the surface.
The world of touch sensations is one of the best places for us to be able to see the difference between what is actually arising and what we’re making of it. If we have a painful sensation, for example, are we with it just in the present moment or are we projecting it into the future? What is it going to feel like tomorrow? What’s it going to feel like next month? Are we with it just in the present moment, or are we adding an interpretation, a judgment, a self-image? I’m bad. I’m weak. I’m wrong. I’m defeated because of this pain. Is the whole rest of our body tightening up as though to reject it, thereby adding stress and tension to pain?
With pleasant sensation as well, can we be with it and enjoy it just in this moment? Or are we anxious about the possibility it may leave, we may lose it? Are we comparing it to our idea of what actually should be happening right now, our expectation? If it’s a neutral sensation, are we kind of oblivious to it, disconnected from it, half asleep, because it’s not strikingly pleasant or unpleasant? If we notice any of these reactions, judging, interpreting, projecting into the future, comparing, we can gently let go and return our attention to the actual sensation in this moment.
To begin with, you can sit comfortably or lie down. You can close your eyes or not. Bring your attention to your hands. Notice that the direct experience we have is not one of fingers. It’s different sensations, pulsing, throbbing, warmth, coolness. You don’t have to name these things, but feel them.
You can also notice that moving into the world of direct sensations brings us to the world of seeing constant change. Perhaps we would have called this a hand yesterday, today, and tomorrow; but in the realm of pressure, vibration, warmth, coolness, everything is constantly arising and passing away, shifting and turning. Again, you don’t need to name the actual sensations, but feel them.
Bring your attention to the soles of your feet. Go through the same exercise. Can you feel the direct sensations you’re actually experiencing and watch them change? You don’t need to name them, the distinct elements of sensations, but you can feel them. If you observe your mind attaching, holding on, pushing away, projecting into the future some kind of judgment, you can release that. Return your attention to the direct experience in the moment.
Bring your attention to the most predominant sensation you feel in your body, whether it’s a pleasant or painful. If it covers a large area, see if you can notice the distinct sensations. If it’s painful, maybe it’s actual moments of twisting, moments of burning, moments of pressure, moments of stabbing. None of these may feel good, but if we’re watching burning, twisting, stabbing, rather than a seemingly monolithic entity of pain, we’re watching change. Then we’re watching life itself, and pain becomes an alive system.
So too with a pleasant sensation or a neutral sensation. If our attention is relaxed and open, we can see the component parts moving, shifting, coming, going. If there’s another sensation in your body that’s drawing your attention, go there and observe it in the same way. You feel it. Feel it distinctly in this moment and see it for what it actually is.
Perhaps as you observe it, it grows stronger. Maybe it grows weaker. Maybe it seems to stay just the same. Maybe it breaks up into little pieces. But with the keenness of attention, you can observe it in process. This practice gives us an ability to find freedom, whatever is arising and passing away. We can connect to it. We can be aware of it. We can learn from it. Because we’re not fighting against it or being lost in it. Go to the next sensation that draws your attention.
When you feel ready, you can open your eyes and relax. Awareness of sensation is one of the easiest, most concrete ways to bring mindfulness into our daily activities. The more we can practice opening up, being aware, being able to distinguish pleasant from unpleasant, from neutral sensation, the more we can bring mindfulness into our everyday.