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"Mindfulness Meditation" by Steven V. Smith

16 April 2010

Begin by sitting in a chair or on a cushion on the floor, with your back straight. Relax into your sitting posture with a few deep breaths. Allow the body and mind to become utterly relaxed while remaining very alert and attentive to the present moment. Feel the areas of your body that are tense, and the areas that are relaxing. Just let the body follow its own natural law. Do not try to force or fix anything.

Let your mind be soft, and allow a spacious awareness to wash gently through your body.

Simply feel the sensations of sitting, sidestepping with your mind the tendency to imagine your body, to interpret, to define or think about it. Just let such thoughts and images come and go without being bothered by them, and attune to the bare sensations of sitting.

Feel your body with an awareness that arises from within your body, not from your head. Awareness of the body anchors your attention in the present moment.

Gently sweep your awareness through your body, feeling the sensations with no agenda, no goal. Allow your body to anchor awareness in the present moment by just staying mindful of these sensations.

After some time, shift your awareness to the field of sound vibrations. Awareness of sounds creates openness, spaciousness, and receptivity in the mind. Be aware of both the pure sound vibration as well as the space or silence between the sounds. As with body sensations incline your awareness away from the definition of the sound, or thoughts about the sound, and simply attune to the sound just as it is.

After some minutes of awareness of body and sounds, bring your attention to your natural breathing process. Locate the area where the breath is most clear and let awareness lightly rest there. For some it is the sensation of the rising and falling of the abdomen. For others it may be the sensations experienced at the nostrils with the inhalation and exhalation.

You can use very soft mental labels to guide and sustain attention to the breath. "Rising/falling" for the abdomen and "in/out" for the nostrils. Let the breath breathe itself without control, direction, or force. Feel each breath from within the breath, not from the head. Feel the full breath cycle from the beginning through the middle to the end.

The awareness is a combination of light, open spaciousness and receptivity, like listening, and alert, attentive presence, touching the actual texture, shape, and form of sensations.

Let go of everything else, or let it be in the background. Just let the breathing breathe itself. Rest in a sense of utter relaxation, in that mindful feeling, with the sensations of the breath.

As soon as you notice the mind wandering off, lost in thought, be aware of that with nonjudging awareness, gently connect it again to your anchor. Just feel from within the stream of sensations.

Toward the end of your sitting, not striving or anticipating, not pouncing on sensations in the present, not bending back to what was just missed or reflecting on what just happened, keep inclining to the totality of the present moment. Keep anchoring easily, deeply, restfully. Just one breath at a time.

Mindfulness of breath begins to collect and concentrate the mind so that the initial distractions of thoughts, emotions, sensations, and sounds soon become objects of awareness themselves. Insight is gained into the true nature of the body and mind.

As concentration grows, mindfulness opens to the entire "flow" of body/mind experience through all the sense doors -- sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch and mental/emotive.

Seeing things as they are begins to untangle the tangles of attachment, fear, and confusion. One is able to live more from a place of joy, compassion, equanimity and wisdom.

Steven V. Smith is a guiding teacher of Vipassana Hawai'i, the Kyaswa Retreat Center in Burma, and founder of the MettaDana health and education project in Burma.

 

Major funding provided by: National Endowment for the Humanities, PBS, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by: the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the Shinnyo-en Foundation, the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation, the Bumper Foundation, and viewers like you.