Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Present Moment Sensory Reality

Yesterday's blog discussed the simple and elegant way vipassana works, both during the practice itself, and after we get up and return to daily life. The latter function of vipassana is, of course, the main reason the practice exists. Obviously we can't live our lives stuck to a meditation cushion. Nor can we stop what we are doing at any moment during the day when we encounter suffering, drop down into a sitting posture, close our eyes, and meditate. 

For me, this has always been the fundamental problem with other meditation techniques I have practiced over the years. Whether it was Sufi breathing, Transcendental Meditation, guided imagery, or chanting, none of these could really help me when I needed help the most. They may have been great experiences while I was practicing, but they had little or no merit afterward.

What I have found over the past 13 years of practicing vipassana, and especially over the past two years of deep introspection into the problem of suffering in daily life, is that we have a tool at our disposal to help us stop suffering at any moment. As Jon Kabat-Zinn has said, it has been right under our nose the whole time. 

I am referring to the process of literally coming to our senses by making contact with the reality of the present moment through the senses. I have been calling this process Present Moment Sensory Reality (PMSR) for a while now. If you put quotation marks around it and do a Google search, you will come up with about ten of my blogs. PMSR has become the focus of my work in teaching meditation and yoga, and in my work with psychotherapy patients.

If you have been reading these postings, you probably know the basics of PMSR. When you notice an upsetting feeling, you can be sure that there is a thought somewhere that caused it. Usually this thought is a distortion of the truth, always the thought is just a thought, and not a fact. Even if the thought is about a fact, it's still just a thought. It has no basis in reality outside of being a thought.

There is a reality, however. We experience it through the body in the form of our senses. The world is knowable through the physical senses, and these sense objects are always present moment experiences. When we are trapped by a ruminating, spiraling thought, we can disengage from it, and turn our awareness toward any sense object that is present. It can be a touch, taste, smell, visual experience, or sound. The thought will fade away on its own, and any suffering that the thought produced will decrease dramatically.

From the Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw, a Burmese master who brought meditation out of the monasteries: 
Those who practice mindfulness of this body and mind will understand the nature of the senses and gain progressive insight into the process of arising and passing of all phenomena. They will finally come to see the Dharma, attain the Dharma, penetrate the Dharma, pass beyond doubt, free themselves from uncertainty, obtain liberation, and achieve independence in the way taught by the Buddha.

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