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BASIC MEDITATION PRACTICE
The first thing we need to discover in meditation practice is something called mindfulness or mindful awareness. This is basic. Mindfulness is an awareness that is present together with our immediate experience, whether sensations, thoughts, or emotions. This awareness is not distracted or caught up in any secondary mental processes, but remains at the primary level of immediate experience.
The first exercise is called “mindfulness on breathing”. First sit down comfortably, on a cushion on the floor or on a chair, but making sure that the back is straight. This harmonizes the flow of psychic energy in the body. We will be sitting still and unmoving for a time. This is the opposite of our usual everyday habit of running around and being distracted. Relax and do some deep breathing in order to release stress and tension. But here we have relaxation with alertness, which is the opposite of being sleepy, drowsy, and dull. We are alert and fully awake. But sitting calmly and quietly.
We are not thinking about anything, but are open and globally aware. This is not absorption or trance or withdrawal of the senses. The senses are open and operating fully. This is what is meant by “clarity”. We ground and center ourselves just where we are in our immediate experience. Just be here now. This is like a tree, just being. It is nothing special. It is just sitting and being centered. It is not doing anything special. We are alert and aware without distractions. Distractions are what move us off center. They take us on a trip and we forget who and where we are. This just being present and aware is what is called mindfulness.
The classical Buddhist exercise for mindfulness is fourfold: there is mindfulness on bodily sensations, mindfulness on feelings and emotions, mindfulness on thoughts, and mindfulness of subliminal processes. Mindfulness is just being present. It is self-remembering, a remembering to be aware, a coming back to center again and again. It is necessary first to develop this mindful presence so that we can engage in self-observation or introspection. We can be easily distracted; that is our habit and we continuously impose our conceptions on what we experience. So, it is necessary to have a focus for our awareness.
In this case, we begin with the physical body and focus our attention and our full concentration on our breathing, just the sensations and sounds of our breathing. Breathing is part of our entire dimension of energy. Breathing links our body and our mind. It is a system that is both automatic and voluntary. In this case, we are just breathing normally with our eyes closed and sitting quietly. We simply focus on our breathing. If we become distracted or if thoughts arise, simply come back to focusing on our breathing. Just watch this breathing, be in this breathing. We are not thinking about our breathing or judging it. We just let it be without elaborations. This is known as Anuprana-smriti, practicing mindfulness again and again on our breathing. In this way, we can discover our awareness.
[Note: This is a partial transcript from the workshop entitled “Self-Discovery through Buddhist Meditation”, presented by John Myrdhin Reynolds at Phoenix, Arizona, on October 20, 2001.]