Forest Sangha Newsletter April 1998

Self-naughting; Aj Sumedho
Discernment v's Self-Deception; Upasika Kee Nanayon
Meditation Class; Aj Sucitto
Dhammma Refugee ; Ajahn Viradhammo
Pilgrim's Way: the Place of the Buddha; Ajahn Candasiri

Signs of Change:


Meditation Class
Mindfulness of Walking
Ajahn Sucitto

Now, to practise mindfulness of walking, we find an open space. Ideally we should try to have a path of about twenty paces, but in a house we'd probably have to circumambulate, to walk around a room, rather than backwards and forwards. We have to do the best we can if wer'e inside, but if there is a garden or driveway we can use that. It may drive the neighbours absolutely crazy, they may wonder what we're doing, and generally think we've lost something! Because what we do if we are doing walking meditation is stand, and then walk straight forwards for about twenty paces, and then stop, stand still, turn round and walk back again - and we keep doing this, walking back and forth. While walking we keep the gaze, the attention of the eyes, lightly focused on the ground in front, say about two to three metres away, so that the head is ever-so-slightly angled down. Rather than looking at anything in particular, we are just collecting attention; this is quite important because if we're just looking at everything around then we can get very distracted. What happens in walking meditation is that there are so many things that come through the mind anyway that it is very helpful to learn to sustain just a light, focused gaze that is not looking at anything in particular. While walking up and down we very quickly notice that when we see things, the mind picks up: "Ooh, look at that flower, that bird...", and the same with hearing, thinking or feeling; but the idea is to maintain a central position so that things are just passing through that central position of walking.

To heighten it a little more, generally we try to focus the attention on the feelings in the feet as we walk along. As with breathing meditation when we go, "in breath, out breath", with walking, the feeling's in the foot, the left foot, then the foot hits the ground, then the right foot hits the ground. So that rhythm acts as a sort of base line, or underlying theme, that we keep referring to and bringing the attention back to through this changing realm of sense-consciousness Then when we get to the end of the path we stand still, trying to expand the whole awareness from the soles of the feet up to the top of the head, so we can imagine ourself like a pole or a tree, or the whole body just standing, so that the whole body is attentive. We close the eyes, breathe in and out a few times, feeling what it is like to stand still. Then we turn around and walk back again. Stop at the end of the path, stand still, we give ourselves two or three breaths, turn round and then walk back again; stay cool with it all. The mind will run all over the place, apparently, but instead of thinking of it as my mind running all over the place, think of it as the place is running all over the mind - just letting stuff run through as it will - and staying centred and peaceful about it; and then contemplating and noticing the experience of the change of it all, the flow of it all.
We might try to use meditation as a way of blocking out, perhaps focusing on the breath because of not wanting to be aware of guilt or fear.

Clear comprehension can be seen as reflecting, considering, and there are four ways of doing this. Firstly, there is clear comprehension regarding purpose. So, for example, when you sit to meditate, just notice what your intention is. This may not be something that you have much feeling for. You might think, "Well, I suppose it seemed like a good idea at the time", or, "it's seven-thirty". But if you're not clear about intent then in a way the mind is not fully attentive, and things get done in an habitual way. One can certainly do this with meditation, it can become just a something one does, without really knowing why, or what one is doing.

This doesn't mean that you need to have an intellectual analysis of motivations, but just to get the feeling of purpose that is there as one sits down to practise meditation. There may be a feeling of wanting to look at what one is doing, and being attentive to where one is at or of coming to terms with oneself - some feeling that the mind is inclining towards attentiveness in a particular way. This can also help us to consider what we should be focusing upon, which is important because it can sometimes be the case that we focus upon things in order to not be aware of what's going on. We might try to use meditation as a way of blocking out, perhaps focusing on the breath because of not wanting to be aware of guilt or fear. We can twist meditation into a way of suppressing things that should actually be acknowledged and investigated; so instead of looking at the mind-state we're in, we might look at a physical experience, whereas actually what would be more significant would be to look at the mind-state. So we have to look at our sense of purpose: do we wish to understand, or are we trying to avoid something?

Another basis for clear comprehension is regarding domain or resort. This refers to where you place and sustain your attention: are we going to contemplate body, feeling, mind, or what? And then to make a practice out of that so that one can really experience a bodily or mental process through a range of times and energies.... it means knowing what to focus on, and how to stay with it. And in the course of doing that, mental habits will bring up all kinds of challenges that will test one's skills. These obstacles are all things that we can look at with mindfulness, so the on-going practice is to be able to open up the fears and worries and nagging thoughts and moods that we have - to open up the Pandora's box of the mind and let a few things out to be examined, to be noticed and be seen as that which arises and ceases. That entails staying within the meditation theme so that aspects of consciousness that normally we either act upon or repress can be seen coolly and objectively. That allows us to let them go. To stay within the domain means to abide in the direct experience, rather than in conceptual interpretations. Then an understanding will arise that allows the heart to find peace, rather than explanations or criticisms or speculation. This is what is meant by finding the right resort, the right place, the right foundation as a basis for clear comprehension.

Another one is suitability, the suitability of the meditation object - choosing an object which will bring around the right results. So, for example, maybe there's no point in focusing on the breath if you're very tired - you'd just fall asleep; neither is there a lot of point if the mind is very agitated, because we just can't get to it. In such cases it's best to find a meditation object such as the feelings in the hand, or the feelings in the head or body, or just the bodily posture. With sexual longing, contemplate the body in its constituent parts and elemental forms; with grudges and aversion reflect on the personal harm that these states cause and exercise a broader viewpoint. Such exercises free up the mind's energy for more far-reaching goals. So what is suitable in terms of the meditation object or in terms of effort means it's possible through meditation to bring up the right kind of effort that's neither strained nor forced, but it's enough so that your mind can apply itself purposefully.
And the fourth consideration, which in a sense, covers the others, is just to be undeluded, clearly comprehending the state of mind. In other words, to be experiencing these in and of themselves rather than as aspects of a personality. This is tricky. It often entails, first of all, coming to terms with why we take the energies and permutations of mind so personally. What do we base our self-esteem on? What have we been trained to think, or stimulated to feel? Are those programmes and messages created and owned by our personality - or isn't it the other way round? This doesn't mean denying personality, but noticing that it is the agent rather than the author of our lives. If you have self-pride you have self-aversion.
So there is always that need to keep a fresh angle on this stuff. We can start to use a suitable object for meditation, such as the breath - the full breath - breathing in and out and notice what comes up. We may feel happy, calm, confused or restless; and then, if we can actually just sustain mindfulness that notices these mental experiences coming and going, then all is well and good. However, if, after some attempts, we just can't keep our sense of balance then we have to change and find another meditation object, such as just listening to the sound of the mind, or focusing on another aspect of the body.
Q. Is meditation just introspective and self-obsessed, just a study of the self?
A. This kind of meditation helps us to centre on how things are to us, which is quite valid, because actually, what seems to be the world out there is really just our picture of it. It is strongly affected by what we choose to be aware of, how we receive that, and what we do about it; so really the idea of the world and the self as separate is very misguided.
What is the world? Well, for a start, it's what you choose to look at. For example, blue-green algae may not mean very much to you, but it might mean something to a biologist. It might be his whole world - he knows blue-green algae, but knows nothing about legal systems. If you're in the teaching profession your world is very much that, or you read the newspapers and then the world seems to be Yugoslavia, Iraq or Somalia and an endless series of woes and horrors. So the world is what we choose to look at, or what is directed to us.
The world is also the way we perceive things. We can perceive things in terms of ambition - how we're getting on at it - or we can perceive it in terms of how we feel about it. We can see it as a frightening place, a place where you've got to get ahead. Or we can perceive the world as a place where we're supposed to be compassionate and kind. Those very attitudes will naturally affect the way we perceive the world. Now, this can go on and on, but the point really is that we can't really understand the world until we understand ourselves, but that we don't really understand ourselves until we understand the world! Because the two are a totality, a continuity, different ends of the same thing. So you can look at one end of a stick or the other end, but they're still the same stick.
It is certainly the case that some people who meditate can get intensely obsessive and self-conscious, but that's not the idea of it. That's getting it wrong - that's where we don't understand it; so meditation does involve an element of reflection. Learning is important, because otherwise we do find ourselves getting obsessed or stuck into selfishness which becomes refined in particular terms, such as wanting to get away from it all, or to have some kind of pleasant experience, or become somebody special, with some special esoteric knowledge. Those drives and instincts can happen in us, it's true, but the aim in this meditation is not to develop those, but to understand and transcend them. When there's mindfulness and clear comprehension, when we're mindful of the mind, then we're also looking at the kind of desires we have. This is not to start being moralistic about desire, but just to notice what desire feels like, with the mind reaching out. The point is to understand that movement of trying to hold something and have something, to be somebody or to get somewhere - to really notice that feeling as not being what mindfulness is about. Mindfulness actually sees it, and we let go.
So we are always coming back to the ground in meditation - to the place of stability and coolness and steadiness and non-acquisition, non-achievement, non-becoming, non-obsession. It's a great earther. So the more we can do that, the more we actually can be open to what apparently is the external world, because we're letting go of our defensiveness or our greed, our selfishness with it. We're more able to avoid following those habits - those patterns of mental behaviour - so we really can be much more open and responsive to the world through this kind of meditation, if it's done properly.
But it's also very much the case that we do have to go through these obsessive states. Sometimes the mind comes up with the most foolish obsessions, ridiculous stuff that doesn't even make sense. So when we get an obsessive nagging thought the thing to do is not to get irritated by it - thinking we're going crazy, or asking what it means - but to notice and stay centred. We notice the thought arise and, instead of following it or believing in it or denying it, we just notice it as a thought that moves through the mind. The mind can think of anything, and will do so once we start to deprive it of anything in particular to think about. So the practice is one of non-obsession and non-self - of seeing it all as just stuff, and letting it go.
Q. When you first start meditating do you just do it for short times, then go for longer and longer, or just let it flow?
A. When I first began to meditate ... I started by doing 15 minutes of sitting and 15 minutes of walking. I found that to alternate sitting and walking was good, because then I could get a whole half-hour in, whereas just to sit still for half an hour can be pretty strenuous at first, or really difficult because the mind can't stay with one object for very long, so we can find ourselves getting physically very uncomfortable, or over-stressed trying to hold onto the particular meditation object. But if we alternate, do a little of one then a bit of another, have a break, then we can actually sustain a meditation practice over a longer period of time. Then of course we can build it up - to half-an-hour sitting, or an hour sitting even, and so on... but one moment is better than nothing! If we start to think in terms of how much we've got to do, then that particular thought is an obstacle. It's better to try to do it purposefully, in the way we'd do any excercise - doing it to a point where there is a little bit of push required, a little bit of stretching, not over-much, then developing it.