Practicing during travel & downtime

Aaron Wilson, modified 12 Years ago.

Practicing during travel & downtime

Posts: 2 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
There's a passage in MCTB where Daniel mentions meditating during boring meetings, while waiting for a class to start, and in other non-traditional circumstances. I probably speak for more than myself when I say that my daily life involves a lot of time when I'm not particularly doing anything - sitting on a bus, waiting in line, and so on. I've never, however, really been able to effectively practice during these times with any kind of consistency. Partly this is because I'm not particularly good at "dry" insight practice - when I sit, I usually enter a bare minimum of access concentration before I start my noting, unless I'm in a rare mood when I'm already steady and mindful. Unfortunately, I have a lot of trouble with my usual breath concentration methods when I'm not sitting comfortably in a relatively quiet environment. Perhaps some of you with more attainments than me have had success entering jhanas outside of a quiet sit, but I haven't been able to do it at all.

Does anyone have any tips for practicing on a crowded bus or in a ticket line, or on a long flight (I know many of you have been on several trans-Pacific flights to Southeast Asia..)? Whenever I try to note every sensation in these circumstances I find myself a little overwhelmed - I've got to deal with all six sense doors being flooded at once instead of the usual one, and most of the sensations are unpleasant: boredom, cramps, heat, etc. Tuning into suffering seems like the natural way to practice, but these uncomfortable inconveniences seem like not quite the same thing as the fundamental dukkha of duality. I believe I'm supposed to focus on the physical sensations of this discomfort as they arise and fall, realizing their failure to last and that they're not "mine," but in practice I either zone out or become distracted by my environment.

I'd love to hear any specific examples and techniques.

Florian Weps, modified 12 Years ago.

RE: Practicing during travel & downtime

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi Aaron

Nice! I often do this on commuter train rides.

For concentration, meditation words work best for me in noisy environments, when I have trouble tuning into more subtle things like the breath. If I am able to stay still, I often look for an ad-hoc kasina and use that, like a spot on the pavement.

For insight, going for "wide focus" and noticing the impermanence characteristic (beginning, duration, end - any one, or combinations) of those sensations that "want to be noticed" most. If the suffering characteristic works for you, that's great! I wouldn't value some kind of refined existential suffering over good old discomfort, by the way. As I see it, there is just suffering - that's the first noble truth: suffering ist just that; it doesn't come in flavors, it's what's common to any experience of suffering.

Also, noticing the fact that I "lost it" is quite valuable in itself. I note that I got distracted, and am now back on track (I use "back, back"). Something I found useful in addition to noting the return to practice is "backtracking" to when got sidetracked - I do this lightly, because otherwise, I get sidetracked again. emoticon This is great mindfulness training.

I find that practicing in distracing environments is more of an exercise in mindfulness than concentration or insight. Mindfulness is mainly remembering what I'm trying to do, after all.

Dan Bartlett, modified 12 Years ago.

RE: Practicing during travel & downtime

Posts: 46 Join Date: 7/20/09 Recent Posts
Florian Weps:
For insight, going for "wide focus" and noticing the impermanence characteristic (beginning, duration, end - any one, or combinations) of those sensations that "want to be noticed" most.

I think that's good advice. I do a lot of practice throughout the day, whenever I remember really. I never worry too much about the concentration aspect, although I think that's just because it comes naturally when I remember to attend to experience. My main practice is a wide choiceless awareness, so this works quite well in any situation. As advised, if you're getting overwhelmed, tune into those sensations of being overwhelmed. Whatever is happening - trying, frustration, chaos, ease, success, fear - is all food for insight! Even when your attempts are not at all conforming with your usual expectations of a calm meditation sit at home, there is still a world of stuff to be investigated, always. The further you can push this realisation (i.e. to observing in pretty much any situation) to more insight you can squeeze out.

I'd emphasise that this doesn't have to be a drag at all: enough concentration to stay on things without getting lost in stories is enough, so don't worry too much about a particular object when out in the world but instead *relax* and really open to the whole field of impermanent sensations. That's what works for me, and I actually enjoy it most of the time. Good luck emoticon
Bob Heckel, modified 12 Years ago.

RE: Practicing during travel & downtime

Posts: 8 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
One downtime technique Daniel mentions in MCTB is focusing on the fingertips. I noticed that there really is a lot of sensation there but I'm not sure I'm following his advice properly. Anyone have more detailed instructions?
J Adam G, modified 12 Years ago.

RE: Practicing during travel & downtime

Posts: 286 Join Date: 9/15/09 Recent Posts
If you've noticed how much sensation is present in the fingers, you're already doing something right. Simply being aware of all of those sensations could be considered a formal meditation instruction. If you wanted instructions that provided more of a framework, you could probably make up an exercise involving moving your fingers, or maybe better yet, moving your attention between your fingers. Try gently resting your hands on something where you can feel the contact of your fingertips with some object, like your pants leg or the surface you're meditating on. Then, move your attention from finger to finger. Traditional vipassana instructions generally stress the importance of noting the intention to move a body part before you move it. It would seem prudent, if you're trying to pay attention to how your mind works, to also note the intention to move your attention. Then shift to the next finger. I guess that would look like "finger -> I'm going to move my attention now -> next finger" and so on. If that isn't helpful for you, then maybe you could drop the noting of the attention shift. If it still isn't helpful, then you could try physical movement of the fingers.

A cool, somewhat related exercise that can strengthen and balance concentration, energy, and mindfulness is Hand Motions. If you wanted to pay attention specifically to the sensations at your fingers, then you could substitute that where the instructions say to know the movement of your hand. The feeling of air moving across your fingertips when you move your hand can be a great meditation object! You probably wouldn't want to do this in a public place though. If you wanted to do something like this in a public place, you could just move your fingers in circles across your pants leg, or something else, and look like you're fidgeting. Then no one would know that you were meditating. You'd be like a meditating ninja. Okay, maybe not. But I've done it before, and it can work when there's too much distraction to be able to focus on a more subtle sensation like breath or vibrations. Sensations of the fingertips are so strong that compared to the breath, they can feel like they're grabbing your attention and you barely have to try. The secret public meditation trick can also be done by moving the tip of your tongue, another highly sensitive part, around in circles (or whatever shape you want) on the roof of your mouth.