Friday, February 19, 2010

The Mindfulness Laboratory

When we come to our meditation practice, it is like we are creating a laboratory. In a lab, the experiments are strictly controlled - all of the dials and switches are properly set, the recording instruments perfectly calibrated, and the temperature and humidity correctly adjusted. We sit on the cushion or chair in the self-contained laboratory of the body, and we let the experiment begin.

First, we notice how the body feels just sitting here. We can get in touch with being alive in that moment as we experience the pulsations, vibrations, or waves of energy as they move through us. Then we make the choice to rest the attention on a single object: the feeling of the breath coming in and going out. We don't try to change or manipulate the breath because that would alter the experiment. We just feel the body breathing itself. It's like we're investigating the feeling of the breath; exploring it to see where it will lead us.

After a period of diligent, wholehearted attention on the feeling of the breath, the mind has collected and gathered more fully in the present moment. Now we have the ability to sustain our attention on other things. We can begin to expand our awareness to notice what is happening in that moment in other parts of the body through our senses. When strong physical experiences arise, for instance, we can turn our mindful attention toward them, feeling how they move through the body. We can become aware of their pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral qualities, we note their impermanence, and we can investigate these physical sensations in the same way that we investigated the feeling of the breath.

Then we can see how the mind steps in rather quickly to color the experience - first by naming it, and then categorizing it, creating preferences, expressing like or dislike, making judgments, and so on. We can see how the mind creates a "self," as thoughts of I, me, and mine arise, causing us to I-dentify with events that have nothing to do with us. Eventually we move back to the feeling of the breath when we notice we are getting lost in thought or when we just need to recharge our sense of mindfulness.

And so the experiment continues. As best as we can, we release our attachment to the outcome, just letting the journey take its own course. We acknowledge the events as they arise, and then just allow them to be.

When we're done, we go back into our daily life where we experience things in real time, and without the benefit of our "clean room" environment with everything perfectly dialed in. Thanks to our time in the mindfulness lab, however, we can live these events as they arise more skillfully, be they pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.


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