confused thoughts

 

This meditation may help develop awareness and organization of thoughts. Anxiety and depression often involve overwhelming thoughts, confusion and/or a sense of disinterest. This meditation has the potential to help you get a handle on the appearance and movement of thoughts in the mind. The purpose is not to override all thinking in your daily life. Instead, it provides another way of noticing your thoughts. This meditation draws from the labeling meditations developed by Shinzen Young and other insight meditation teachers.

open field

 

A meditation to help you let go and access deep acceptance. The meditation in the player below guides you from breath to body and ultimately leads you to an open field of awareness.  Please read my blog article on mindfulness of mind for an explanation of open field types of meditation.

 

winding road

 

The mind is an endless landscape
upon which trees, mountains, valleys, and waters grow and dissolve,
upon which birth and death unfold.
Go cruising!

I am jumping ahead a little bit through the Four Foundations (Establishments) of Mindfulness (Body (breath), Feelings, Mind, and Dharma) and addressing “mindfulness of mind”.  I am writing this as my understanding of a lecture at the Nalanda Institute given by Sonia Sequeira and Joe Loizzo. I am also using it as a launching point to come to terms with observations of my own meditation practice through the years.

When focusing on the breath in mindfulness of breathing or doing any other form of one-pointed concentration (shamata) meditation we are focusing on one element that helps to calm the mind and is relatively simple to do.  I say simple knowing that everyone has a different point of entry into meditation, and we all have our strengths and challenges with its practice.  After working with the breath, we practice moving to concentrating on the body.  The practice of concentrating on the body gets trickier for some because the body is a big thing that is harder to pinpoint.  The body has many elements and takes us to the global or universal aspects of what it means to inhabit a body.  The body isn’t just various parts thrown together; it extends beyond solid flesh and bones.  It contains space, and it also inhabits space.  It is the space in front, behind, around, above and below. It also contains the same stuff inside of it that is outside.  The boundaries of the body are harder to discern, so when we meditate on the entire body, we are taking that one-pointed concentration and learning to expand. We are going from a more narrow focus to a much wider one.

The same follows with mindfulness of mind as this is another step in the widening of our concentration. It is an attempt to come to terms with the contents of the mind.  How do we come to terms with something so difficult to grasp?  We don’t.  Instead, we see it as a process or as something that moves and changes.  The mind isn’t the contents of the mind, but its vast openness.  Observing it involves relaxing into the limitlessness of the mind.  The Tibetan’s see it as an open sky where weather comes and goes.  The weather, in this case, are the mental phenomena including thoughts and sensations that come and go.  When we observe the mind, we are using the mind to turn back in on itself, and this sometimes creates a feeling of disorientation and futility if we attempt to grasp it.  This disorienting feeling clues us into the ineffable nature of things.  We are using the same ability to observe the mind as we do when we gather our attention from distraction and return it to the breath. The same observational skills allow us to sit back and watch the display of the mind with steadiness and openness.

At times, this observation of the mind may appear to be similar to dissociation. In the case of meditation we observe, but we do not feel disembodied or removed from reality. We are diving directly into reality.  We are balancing between observing and dwelling within.  As Sonia Sequeira stated in the Nalanda Institute lecture, we are not trying to become a spiritually intangible being through meditative states.  She added that we attach enough to care and dwell in the world but detach enough to feel compassion and understand that moments are ever changing.  As Joe Loizzo added, we are practicing freedom from the content of the mind, noting that the content of the mind isn’t what is real.

Practice:

Imagine you are on a roller coaster. While imagining this observe thoughts and sensations as you go through each curve, climb, loop and drop trying to find a balance between experiencing and observing.

What did you notice?

In the future, I will present an audio guided practice to help you with mindfulness of mind practice.

Resources of interest:

Sustainable Happiness: The Mind Science of Well-Being, Altruism, and Inspiration – Joe Loizzo

chandelier

 

Direct Audio Download>>

The audio file above is a guided meditation to help you build a daily mindfulness practice.  As with any guided meditation, you may decide to try it on your own without guidance.  Some meditation teachers will have you count your breath from 1 to 10, with each in and out breath being one count.  The counting of breath is done to aid in concentration and dropped once steadiness of concentration is achieved.  You may find it helpful to do the “BodySensing” meditation prior to this one.  I have created a soundcloud playlist here with both meditations.

In general, it is thought that we go about our lives in mostly mindless states (autopilot) performing daily routines without fully participating in what we are doing.  The mindless state creates stress and or dullness because one is thinking about something in the future or going over something from the past.  The practice of mindfulness whether formal (meditation) or informal (awareness of daily life), helps one to fully participate in whatever activity in which we are engaged.  This practice done in meditation will ultimately extend to our everyday lives.  As Ronald D. Siegel (2013) reports, mindfulness changes the activity of the brain and; therefore, it’s structure that in turn alters the activity of the brain, which affects behavior.  He also states that mindfulness practice improved both alerting (something new entering the awareness field) and sustained attention (following something over time without distraction).  Additionally, the meditator does not habituate to repetitive events but instead perceives each repeated event as new removing them from the mindless state.  Things like memory, detail recall, and decision making are improved especially in older meditators.  Things like increased problem solving and greater logical abilities are another benefit of mindfulness meditation.  There are many more benefits which I have not included.

A bit about mindfulness…

History

The concept of Mindfulness comes from the Buddhist Teaching of the Noble Eightfold Path.  The Eightfold Path is a breakdown of the fourth noble truth, called the truth about the path leading to the cessation of suffering and falls under the heading concentration (Samadhi).   This 7th item on the path refers to right (samma) mindfulness (sati).  I have heard “samma” (right) alternately defined as “integrated” or “whole”.  I’ve also heard it translated as “thoroughly”, “accurately” and “fully”.  The word right is problematic in English because it connotes position and inflexibility.  The word right also puts forth the notion of something that is rigidly moralistic.  “But what, O monks, is right mindfulness (sammasati)? Herein the monk dwells in contemplation of the body—the feelings—the mind—mind-objects, ardent, clearly conscious and mindful, after putting away worldly greed and grief.” (DN 22; MN 141 §13)  “Right” mindfulness means doing it fully (“ardent, clearly conscious”) and without distractions.  Mindfulness of breathing is spelled out more clearly in the Forty Concentration Exercises under Mindfulness of In-and-Out Breathing (anapanasati), as well as in The Four Applications (Foundations, Parts or Establishments) of Mindfulness (Sattipatthana).  After selecting a place to sit cross-legged in solitude, a meditator does the following: “mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out”.  “When making a long inhalation he knows: “I make a long inhalation”; when making a long exhalation, he knows: “I make a long exhalation,” etc.  (MN 10; DN 22 §129)

Mindfulness in Western Psychology

The iteration of mindfulness in Western Psychology adds some additional instructions onto the type or quality of awareness.  John Kabat-Zinn defines it this way, “Mindfulness can be thought of as moment-to-moment, nonjudgmental awareness”.  He wants the practitioner of mindfulness not to judge whatever it is they become aware of during meditation. Buddhist psychologist Jack Kornfield describes mindfulness as “an innate human capacity to deliberately pay full attention to where we are, to our actual experience, and to learn from it”.  Jack directs us to the “actual experience” and how it is something that teaches us.  These added dimensions help to address some issues that are unique to Westerners and their psychological functioning. 

Resources and texts of interest:

The Science of Mindfulness: A Research-Based Path to Well-Being – Professor Ronald Siegel

The Buddha’s Path to Deliverance: A Systematic Exposition in the Words of the Sutta Pitaka – Nyanatiloka Thera

 

Direct Audio Download>>

The audio file above is a guided meditation to help you build a daily mindfulness practice.  As with any guided meditation, you may decide to try it on your own without guidance.  Some meditation teachers will have you count your breath from 1 to 10, with each in and out breath being one count.  The counting of breath is done to aid in concentration and dropped once steadiness of concentration is achieved.  You may find it helpful to do the “BodySensing” meditation prior to this one.  I have created a soundcloud playlist here with both meditations.

In general, it is thought that we go about our lives in mostly mindless states (autopilot) performing daily routines without fully participating in what we are doing.  The mindless state creates stress and or dullness because one is thinking about something in the future or going over something from the past.  The practice of mindfulness whether formal (meditation) or informal (awareness of daily life), helps one to fully participate in whatever activity in which we are engaged.  This practice done in meditation will ultimately extend to our everyday lives.  As Ronald D. Siegel (2013) reports, mindfulness changes the activity of the brain and; therefore, it’s structure that in turn alters the activity of the brain, which affects behavior.  He also states that mindfulness practice improved both alerting (something new entering the awareness field) and sustained attention (following something over time without distraction).  Additionally, the meditator does not habituate to repetitive events but instead perceives each repeated event as new removing them from the mindless state.  Things like memory, detail recall, and decision making are improved especially in older meditators.  Things like increased problem solving and greater logical abilities are another benefit of mindfulness meditation.  There are many more benefits which I have not included.

A bit about mindfulness…

History

The concept of Mindfulness comes from the Buddhist Teaching of the Noble Eightfold Path.  The Eightfold Path is a breakdown of the fourth noble truth, called the truth about the path leading to the cessation of suffering and falls under the heading concentration (Samadhi).   This 7th item on the path refers to right (samma) mindfulness (sati).  I have heard “samma” (right) alternately defined as “integrated” or “whole”.  I’ve also heard it translated as “thoroughly”, “accurately” and “fully”.  The word right is problematic in English because it connotes position and inflexibility.  The word right also puts forth the notion of something that is rigidly moralistic.  “But what, O monks, is right mindfulness (sammasati)? Herein the monk dwells in contemplation of the body—the feelings—the mind—mind-objects, ardent, clearly conscious and mindful, after putting away worldly greed and grief.” (DN 22; MN 141 §13)  “Right” mindfulness means doing it fully (“ardent, clearly conscious”) and without distractions.  Mindfulness of breathing is spelled out more clearly in the Forty Concentration Exercises under Mindfulness of In-and-Out Breathing (anapanasati), as well as in The Four Applications (Foundations, Parts or Establishments) of Mindfulness (Sattipatthana).  After selecting a place to sit cross-legged in solitude, a meditator does the following: “mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out”.  “When making a long inhalation he knows: “I make a long inhalation”; when making a long exhalation, he knows: “I make a long exhalation,” etc.  (MN 10; DN 22 §129)

Mindfulness in Western Psychology

The iteration of mindfulness in Western Psychology adds some additional instructions onto the type or quality of awareness.  John Kabat-Zinn defines it this way, “Mindfulness can be thought of as moment-to-moment, nonjudgmental awareness”.  He wants the practitioner of mindfulness not to judge whatever it is they become aware of during meditation. Buddhist psychologist Jack Kornfield describes mindfulness as “an innate human capacity to deliberately pay full attention to where we are, to our actual experience, and to learn from it”.  Jack directs us to the “actual experience” and how it is something that teaches us.  These added dimensions help to address some issues that are unique to Westerners and their psychological functioning. 

Resources and texts of interest:

The Science of Mindfulness: A Research-Based Path to Well-Being – Professor Ronald Siegel

The Buddha’s Path to Deliverance: A Systematic Exposition in the Words of the Sutta Pitaka – Nyanatiloka Thera

relaxed cat

 

Direct Audio Download>>

As I am about to begin another year of study in the Nalanda Institute’s Contemplative Psychotherapy program, I will be diving into the world of Mindfulness-Based Psychotherapy and Buddhist Psychology, leaving briefly the compassion (Mahayana) and open embodied (Tantrayana or Vajrayana) approaches of the previous year.  I am suspecting that one doesn’t fully leave these behind but rather brings these views along for the ride.  In any case, I thought I’d revisit some mindfulness practices that have been important in my psychological and meditational development.

Above the text portion of this page, you will find a Soundcloud audio player with a meditation track entitled “BodySensing: Full Body Relaxation”.  This particular meditation borrows from training material that I received during an iRest training with Dr. Richard Miller.  It is a full body relaxation meditation that has it’s roots in Western science’s progressive muscle and autogenic relaxation techniques and the energetic chakra systems found in various Yoga traditions.  Miller’s version doesn’t tense or relax the muscles like Dr. Edmund Jacobsen’s approach, nor does it impose relaxation state qualities upon the body like Johannes Schultz and Wolfgang Luthe’s Autogenics.  Miller’s strategy rotates the attention around areas of the body according to a motor and sensory cortex map and requests the meditator to bring that portion of the body into awareness.  He adds to this body scan movement through the Chakra system or the subtle body energy system.  He believes this system of very subtle energies points to our “True Nature”.   As Miller would say, “Usually our listening is oriented toward objects.  We rarely stop to consider the deep energies that animate these objects.”  This idea of true nature fits very nicely with the Tibetan Buddhist notion of the limitless expanse of being and with Dr. Joe Loizzo’s human-shaped bubble imagery.  Our “true nature” is far more than our identification with a physical body.  It is the boundless interplay between the body and space and space and the body.  Miller’s approach allows one to be open to whatever the experience is rather than imposing notions of relaxation.  That said, I subtitled this meditation, “Full Body Relaxation” because it is ultimately calming and healing.  This body sensing practice is a mindfulness of body practice that may free us to experience deeper levels of meditative absorption.  This practice invites us to meet the experience just as it is, without avoiding or attaching.  As time allows, I will provide some more iRest guided meditations on my site.

Shinzen Young also does some interesting guided meditations using sensations in the body that allow one to follow natural patterns as they arise.  He utilizes the labeling of sensations as global and or local and pinpoints whether the sensation is growing or fading.

Resources and texts of interest:

The iRest Program for Healing PTSD: A Proven-Effective Approach to Using Yoga Nidra Meditation and Deep Relaxation Techniques to Overcome Trauma – Dr. Richard Miller – This is a more recent written work. The quote above is from an iRest Level One Training Manual.

Break Through Difficult Emotions – Shinzen Young

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