Finding your ground - in sensory clarity in this moment
Don’t get stuck on concentration….it will drive you crazy!
When people first start mindfulness practice (or even come to their first silent retreat) they often feel frustrated because they are trying so hard to concentrate and they find the mind is “all over the place”. This is natural and it is due to all the causes and conditions of a busy life: demands, rushing, stresses, societal and interpersonal pain.
What if this was not a problem? What if concentration on one object was not the “be all and end all” of practice? What about we bring awareness to what is actually happening, and include that as information? (And in any case, to have really good concentration power, we would need to be practicing many hours a day.)
Kabir says: Wherever you are, is the starting place.
Shinzen Young has a great way of inviting awareness into the moment which doesn’t privilege concentration, but actually enhances it with less struggle. He talks about lenses through which we can begin to bring sensory clarity to what is going on in this moment.
For example, one lens is sensing the body in this moment. In a curious frame of mind noticing: is it a general physical sensation, or an emotional one? Another lens is the “thinking sense”. When you find yourself thinking can you discern whether it is a “seeing” kind of thinking – that is, seeing images or movies in your mind, or is it a “hearing” kind of thinking – the hearing of voices, monologues, dialogues.
In this way, we can begin to attune to whatever arises, without insisting that our minds stay focused on one object. When we begin to sense and observe with sensory clarity the arising and passing of these experiences, we are in fact increasing our attention and concentration, and also our equanimity - as we watch events in the body and mind arise and pass away, without having to act on them or react to them.
And how about not having to criticize ourselves for having a wandering mind? It is possible to practice in this way?
Ken McCloud points to a similar process of practice as a kind of listening:
An important element in practice is listening, listening to the body, listening to feelings, even the small ones that are often afraid to make themselves known, and listening to the sound of your own voice, both the voice you use to communicate with others and the interior voices that various parts of you use to communicate with each other.
Ken Mc Cloud
You may want to try these steps:
- Start any practice period with a deliberate decision to make time for practice.
- Offering yourself time to simply arrive, to orient to this moment.
- Opening to all the senses, and listening in this way to the flow of inner life.
- Deliberately bringing some sensory clarity to what is happening now – whether you are sensing in the body or seeing or hearing thoughts in the “mind”. If you have your eyes open, you could become aware of seeing out into the visual field, or as you sit, you might become aware of hearing in terms of the “outside” – the auditory field.
Whatever is there, is a good place to start.
Sign up for our Urban Retreat, where Timothea Goddard will guide us through this terrain – drawing on both experiential practice experiments and some theory.
Sunday the 20th November, 2022. 9am – 1pm Sydney time
Sign up here