Establishing Mindfulness on the Body, Part One
Why should we establish mindfulness on the body?
Many meditators found watching rise and fall to be boring and often asked: “is that all” to it in meditation? What is next? In short: No, that is not all to meditation and there is more. What’s more, what’s next and, why more? I shall write about that in the following weeks.
Now, returning to the question on why establish mindfulness on the body. There are two reasons mainly.
For a start, the mind needs to be directed to one object to build up concentration and secondly, to gain insights with regard to the body (and mind).
Concentration is not built through sheer force of holding the mind down to an object. It is developed by way of continuity of mindfulness on the (meditation) object. Mindfulness established and anchored on the object moment to moment until the mind could be sustained on the object without much initiative or being directed. When the mind could stay on the object without much initiative as such, then, pleasurable interest or spiritual joy and happiness arise.
In establishing continuous mindfulness (resulting in concentration), body is a good object as starters since it is gross compare to the mind. One needn’t search for something fine. Most time, many meditators could not even detect feelings until it is strong like body pain, numbness and itchiness. So what more the other states of mind? Body is, therefore a good preliminary object (but note, not your only object).
Frequently asked questions include whether taking the breath at the nostril better than “rise and fall” or is that a more superior object in comparison? In taking the body as an object, we train the mind to directly perceive the elemental make up of the body, breaking our conceptual perception of the body such as race, gender etc…, which are merely conventions. It gives rise to likes and dislikes, and a whole bunch of discriminations. In perceiving the elements, our mind rises above and beyond concept, perceiving the Ultimate Reality of the body. The air element is one of the four great elements, the Ultimate Reality that makes up the body. There is no difference between the air element at the abdomen or nostril except that it is easier to perceive the air element at the abdominal area than the nostril area, which is much, much smaller in comparison. In doing so, sometimes meditators run into complications like headaches, giddiness and most of the times, unable to actually perceive the object. Therefore, in the interest of jumpstarting the practice and cutting out frequent complications, “rise and fall” is preferred.
Mindfulness is sometimes translated as awareness. Simply put, it is the state of being present with the object. When the mind has mindfulness, it clearly perceives, attends to and comprehends the object. While mindfulness exists in all wholesome minds, it may not be strong and not necessarily the leading factor within the mind. Also when mindfulness is not directed particularly to the object of body and mind (or the four foundations of mindfulness), it does not give rise to wisdom of Anicca (impermanence), Dukkha (dis-satisfactoriness) and Anatta (non-self).
It is good practice to intentionally bring out, or strengthen this mindfulness factor by occasionally checking if you are aware of the meditation object. Check if you perceive the meditation object or not. Are you attending to it or has the mind gone off daydreaming and you were not even aware of that? What is going on right now? Is the object clear? In this way we establish mindfulness (on the Four Foundations) and develop that mindfulness mental factor to be the leader. Continuity of mindfulness will result in Concentration. When Concentration is developed, the mind becomes clear thereby able to see the Three Characteristics clearly.
But remember, rise and fall is not your only object. There is feeling, mind and reality upon which mindfulness should also be established and we as wisdom meditators should learn how to do so – for many reasons, which will be discussed in later weeks. One must understand the suitability of object, time and place and keep the mindfulness as continuous as possible throughout. There are times when air element is not a suitable object such as one cannot possibly note lifting pushing dropping when crossing the road or rise and fall when driving! What then can be applied during these times if one were to take up mindfulness meditation as a way of life as a lay-person? Find out: Establishing Mindfulness on the Body, Part 2 with Clear Comprehension.
And of course there are many questions and feedback where meditators think they are could not meditate or not meditating well or progressing when they could not perceive or stay long with rise and fall. Hold that thought. Rise and fall is not the only object in wisdom meditation. There are many more objects within the Four Foundations of Mindfulness and the meditator must learn to switch or take other objects in order to sustain the practice throughout. We will get there in the other articles.
The principal goal of Wisdom Meditation is of course to realise the true nature of this body and mind, that is impermanence (Annica), dissatisfactory (Dukkha) and ego-less (Anatta). The realisation arises not from reading, analysing but directly from the practice (Patipati). However, one cannot perceive this nature without clarity of mind, which can only arise when there is concentration (Samadhi).
There are also many other benefits that a meditator reaps in establishing mindfulness on the body besides doing it for the purposes of Concentration and Insights. Along the way, the meditator begins to feel calmer. An innate change in character unfolds. He has the wisdom to handle problems in life, stress, anxiety and so on. He is able to manage the mind. He feels stronger mentally, emotionally and happier. There are more, perhaps I will elaborate a few in Benefits Of Establishing Mindfulness On The Body, sometime soon.
Also soon: Establishing Mindfulness on the Body, with Clear Comprehension.