During this dialogue, Peter read the part of the Satipatthana Sutta called “the charnal ground contemplation”. He then commented on how our culture is shielded from the experience of death and what happens to the body as it disintegrates, which was a common occurrence during the time of the Buddha. The intention of that contemplation was to motivate diligent practice, as in those days, life was typically short and a lot less certain than during this era. How can we be motivated to be diligent in our practice since our culture is much more comfortable and secure than at that time? This question was discussed around the group for the rest of the evening, with each person who shared talking of what makes her or him motivated to practice.
mindfulness of the body
The subtitle of this talk could be “The Four Elements Meditation”. Several years ago, Peter found the title quote in a book by Jack Kornfield. In the book, he talked of visiting Las Vegas in his monastic robes and seeing “You Must Be Present To Win” signage above the door into a casino, presumably announcing rules regarding a lottery. Peter appreciates the irony, so painted a sign with those words that’s posted above the room where our Sangha meets to meditate. During the talk, he described the nature of the four elements, earth, air, fire and water as subjective awarenesses, that is, earth is density or pressure, air is movement, fire is temperature, and water is cohesiveness. These focus points for meditation practice are for developing mindfulness of the body, and are mentioned in the Satipatthana Sutta. Mindfulness of the body is useful as being several ways to interrupt the internal chatter in order to cultivate concentration and tranquility. After this, Peter led a brief guided meditation to familiarize participants regarding the practice. This was followed by discussion about the experience and utility of the practice.
During this first of a series of talks exploring the Satipatthana Sutta, Peter talked of the mutually supportive functions of samadhi (concentration) and vipassana (insight). This was followed by a lively discussion regarding how different meditators cultivate these qualities, both during formal meditation and normal daily routines.
During this guided meditation practice, the participants were introduced to vedanupassana, the meditation practice taught by U Ba Khin and S. N. Goenka. More understood as body sweep or body scan, this involves a systematic, in-depth examination of whatever sensations are evident over the body. Due to the amount of time available for the demonstration, only the areas of the head were explored. The purpose of the practice is to enhance the “aiming and sustaining” process, supporting increasingly precise and insightful awareness of body sensations; this investigation can then be used to bring emerging thoughts and impulses into awareness sooner and with more clarity.
This talk focuses on the practice of Right Mindfulness in the Noble Eightfold Path discourse. Peter emphasizes how finding a neutral feeling like breath awareness provides a stabilizing point of reference that can interrupt the escalation from an initial stimulus moment to a rapidly escalating “enchantment” of mental conditioning that creates and sustains a false impression that a transient mental experience is a “self”. During the dialogue, Peter repeatedly emphasized the value of the intensive training that meditation retreats provides, allowing mindfulness to be more strongly established and therefore more capable of interrupting the onset of what he calls the “selfing story”. Next week’s dialogue will be a “coaching” review of the practice of mindfulness of breathing, to help participants have more conceptual clarity about accessing breath awareness in daily life routines.