Beginning Meditation Class
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Beginning Meditation Class
Beginning Meditation Class

Insight meditation is an embodied practice. We want to be very present to the body when we meditate. We sit, we find our breath, and we try to stay with the breath. Our breathing is an important part of what our body is doing. In addition, many kinds of bodily sensations can arise during meditation. When a bodily sensation becomes so strong that it will not stay in the background behind our meditation, then the instruction is to switch your attention away from your breath and onto the bodily sensation. At that point we let go of the breath as the object of our meditation. The new object of our meditation is the bodily sensation itself.

Let the physical sensation be the object of your meditation instead of the breath. Shine your attention, like a flashlight, into the place in your body where the sensation is happening. Notice what it really feels like. Gently label the sensation. Is it hot or cold? Is it burning or itching? Is it throbbing? Labels like pain or hurting are not as useful. When we really focus, we may find that what we think of as pain is actually much more complex than that. It may be coming and going—it may be a strong sensation for a little time and then often there may be an interval where the sensation disappears or is not unpleasant. Then the sensation may come back. Notice how bodily sensations are not solid, but instead they come and go.

We try to approach bodily sensation just the same way we approach the breath, that is, with curiousity and interest. What is the quality of the sensation? What is the precise nature of the sensation? Is it itching, burning, aching, throbbing, stabbing, continuous, intermittent? Just as we noted the breath as "in" and "out," so we note the quality of the sensation.

Don't try to change it. Try to suspend your judgement about whether it is a bad or a good sensation, moving past pleasure or pain to just experience what it is right now. We try to accept what is happening without resisting it. If you pay close attention, you will see that there is the sensation, then there is our experience of the sensation as pleasant or unpleasant, and finally there is resistance that may arise if we find the sensation unpleasant. These are 3 different psychological experiences that can be separated. The resistance is not necessary, it is extra. The Buddha likened our resistance to a person who has been shot with an arrow, and then stabs himself with a second arrow. We can let go of the second arrow.

By getting in close touch with our bodies during meditation we increase our level of bodily awareness, and we give ourselves tools we may not have previously enjoyed. Sometimes meditation brings wonderful sensations in the body, and our openness can help us to enjoy these fully. Sometimes we experience difficult sensations in the body. Our work is to tolerate these without letting ourselves become emotionally upset if possble.

Learning to just be with the body is very healthful. Heart rate and blood pressure are lowered, and we feel calmer. As you meditate you will notice these improvements. The Dalai Lama is working with a team of scientists to investigate the healthful effects of meditation. So far the results of their many experiments are very positive.

A branch of vipassana meditation (founded by a well known Burmese meditation teacher named S.N. Goenka) teaches the body sweep as a primary practice in meditation. Rather than focusing on the breath, meditators move their attention slowly through the entire body, noticing how each part feels and what the present state of each part of the body is at this moment. The whole process is performed with equanimity. You can try this. A guided body sweep is part of this week's guided meditation.

Mindfulness of the body is a practice that offers very great rewards. All of us will face illness at some point in our lives. If we are lucky, we will face old age and the decay of the body. And all of us must face eventual death. Of all the practices in this world, only meditation has given me any resources for facing these facts with equanimity.

Turn now to the audio file and try the second guided meditation on mindfulness of the body. This meditation is about 25 minutes long.

Proceed to Lesson Two Guided Meditation (25 Minutes)

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