One Approach to Mindfulness Meditation
by Mark Nunberg
Step One: Settling
As best you can, find a sitting posture that supports wakefulness and ease. Start by relating to the body with a kind interest. Take the necessary time to make adjustments to support a stable, comfortable and upright posture. It is helpful to the meditation process if the body settles into a composed stillness. Remember, there is no perfect posture. Once settled, practice including and making peace with whatever challenging bodily sensations arise. It is OK to make an adjustment if you are unable to practice with the sensations that are arising.
Settle into a greater stillness by taking several slow, easy, deep breaths. Use this time to become interested in the ordinary sensations of body, here and now. If helpful, take some time to move the awareness through the body, until there arises a more intimate and inclusive, whole body awareness.
Allow the breathing to happen on its own. Trust the body to breath however that might be. Rest the mind in the sensations of the body and the breathing. Trust that the sensations, sounds, sights and thoughts are naturally being known. Practice including, saying yes, to whatever arises in the present moment. We are learning to trust and relax. Nothing needs to be left out. The mind can relate to the present moment without fear, denial, or control.
While resting in the experience of the breathing body, notice how the mind is relating to the present moment. Become interested in any attitude or qualities of mind and what they seem to set in motion. Notice if the mind is attached or struggling. Without judgment, acknowledge mental dramas simply as mental activity being known. Notice the feeling tone associated with any attitudes and any effect on the body. What happens when the mind clearly acknowledges, “This is being known” or “This is how it is now”?
Directed or Object-Oriented Practice:
Initially, it can be useful to train the attention to connect, sustain and return to a chosen anchor such as the breath. Whether we are practicing an open attention or a directed meditation with a particular anchor, we are training the mind to recognize moment by moment, “This experience is being known, it is like this now, can this be OK?” With both of these approaches to meditation, we practice seeing clearly and letting things be.
Through the process of opening, connecting and allowing things to be, the mind learns how to go beyond its fixations, and its dependence on inner commentary. With practice, the mind discovers how to be at ease with the changing nature of experience and understands how to relate with understanding, patience and forgiveness in regards to any habits of distraction or control. Be willing to begin again and again. The practice is challenging but simple – we practice connecting and sustaining attention with the things as they are.
You might notice at times a wholesome desire for the mind and body to settle into a deeper state of calm. To support this intention, you can direct the attention to the breath. As you breathe in you can notice the sensations of the breath and the whole body as well. As you breathe out you can notice the sensations of the breath and whole body, just as they are. When practicing with the intention to deepen calm and steadiness keep returning the attention to the breath and to an all inclusive awareness of the whole body. Of course, the attention will naturally be drawn from time to time to other aspects of experience; for example: sounds, body sensations, thoughts, visual images or some combination of these sense experiences. As soon as you notice that the attention is no longer with the breath, gently bring it back to the breath connecting with the sensations in the place chosen. No matter how many times the attention is drawn away, there is no need for judgment or tension. Just keep coming back to the breath and the body.
Some meditators find it helpful to mentally note “knowing” with the inhalation and “releasing” with the exhalation as a way to help sustain a more continuous contact with the sensations of the breath and body. Use these meditation words whenever they are helpful. Let it be just a quiet mental whisper at the back of the mind, keeping most of the attention on the actual sensations of the body.
At times when the mind and heart feel steady and calm, shift the emphasis of the practice from directing attention to the breath and body sensations to an emphasis on the understanding that objects are being known. Whether pleasant or unpleasant, let the attention turn completely to meet the arising experience as it is. With this open attention practice, there is no “right” object to be known. We allow the mind to know whatever is predominant in that moment. Practice being intimate with the experience without getting lost in it, or reactive to it. Simply acknowledge what the mind is knowing, what the mind is doing, without judging it as good or bad.
Whenever one encounters difficult mind states or painful physical sensations, it is important to practice seeing the experience as it is. This often requires a clear acknowledgement and acceptance of the underlying feeling tone. As awareness and acceptance deepen, pay particular attention to how the experience is changing. You can ask, “Is it possible to meet this experience with a clear, open and spacious heart?” Remember, it is a practice. Return the attention to the breath whenever you feel overwhelmed and feel the need to stabilize and balance the attention.
Mindfulness practice is learning to trust a clear, non-reactive, and continuous knowing of present moment experience. Let the wisdom in the mind keep recognizing that this present moment experience is naturally being known.