The Garden of Satipatthana

Ryan, modified 3 Years ago at 8/1/19 3:17 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 7/23/19 3:06 PM

The Garden of Satipatthana

Posts: 76 Join Date: 2/21/19 Recent Posts
Inspirational Invocation (may Thoreau’s ghost forgive my butchery):
“I went to the [satipatthana sutta] because I wished to [see the end of dukkha], to front only the essential facts of [the dhamma], and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of [the dhamma], to [practice] so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not [the dhamma], to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive [the dhamma] into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

I intend to work through the 13 contemplations of the satipatthana sutta (contemplation of breathing, postures, activities, anatomical parts, elements, corpse in decay, feelings, mind, five hindrances, five aggregates, six sense-spheres, seven factors of awakening, and the four noble truths) over roughly the next 14 weeks. I intend to spend at least one week on each, but will likely spend more than that on some. Each week I intend to log the difficulties, lessons, Insights, etc. of the prior week, both on and off the cushion, with a focus on the phenomenology of formal practice as well as the experience of dukkha and any changes to the same over time. I’ll also review the contemplation for the upcoming week and note any resources I’ll be utilizing outside of the satipatthana sutta (as translated and examined by Analayo).

30-Second Background:
I had a few of Insight-y experiences as a kid and young adult, but no formal practice until four or five years ago. I’ve got somewhere around 1,000 hours of formal practice time since then, though most of it has been in the last two years since I started serious practice with TMI and a few styles of noting. As much as I find noting interesting, it tends to make me stand-offish and emotionally distant if done for more than a few days. No retreats under the belt unfortunately, as my tiny primate infestation makes such a thing ethically and financially impractical for the time being.

I’ve toyed around with the idea of a practice log for a while now but I’ve always held off as I was afraid it would devolve into just more rambling, neurotic mind-noise, and as enduring the mind-noise on this side is bad enough, I’d rather not inflict it upon the wider world, thank you. However, I’ve been inspired by Analayo’s treatment of the satipatthana sutta and, given where I’m at in my practice (i.e., somewhere in a DK-ish phase), decided to just ‘go for it’ as Shargrol suggested to me in a post some time ago. Hopefully limiting the length of time and scope of the log will prevent any neurotic rambling on my part as well as serve to motivate fruitful practice. “May this endeavor accrue to the benefit of all beings.”

[First post on contemplation of breathing, as well as the ‘definitions’ and ‘refrain’, to follow]
Chris M, modified 3 Years ago at 7/23/19 5:36 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 7/23/19 5:36 PM

RE: The Garden of Satipatthana

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Yes - and here's the thing: unless you post to a regular practice diary when you do want some help, or a question to be answered, or some mentoring, we're all more in the dark about what's going on. The diary solves that problem, or should at least help in that regard.

I used to have a primate infestation, too. You may resent it sometimes now but you'll miss it when it's over.

tom moylan, modified 3 Years ago at 7/24/19 3:58 AM
Created 3 Years ago at 7/24/19 3:58 AM

RE: The Garden of Satipatthana

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true former infestation is coming over for a swim today in the southern german heat.

the investment in sweat and sleeplessness is paying off for me in such beauty that I never could have imagined back then.

@Ryan - Your love of Analyo's treatment of the Satipatthana Sutta is not unfounded.  If you are an audio dharma fan i reccomend Joseph Goldstein's series.  Its available on (which was the original idea of Bill Hamilton who is also of the Dharmaoverground lineage :-))

I love meditating the sutta although i admint to generally shortcutting a few body stanzas.

Much success and much fun!
Ryan, modified 3 Years ago at 7/24/19 9:36 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 7/24/19 9:36 PM

RE: The Garden of Satipatthana

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[Chris & Tom – no doubt. Though I refer to them as an infestation for comedic effect, they are mostly symbiotic at this point, the clownfish to my anemone.]

Since they are so important to all the contemplations, I want to briefly touch on my understanding of the key parts of the ‘Definitions’ and the ‘Refrain’ stanzas before proceeding. I could be way-off base on any of this, so any comments or corrections are greatly appreciated.

DEFINITIONS: … in regard to the body [feelings, mind, dhammas] he abides contemplating the body [feelings, mind, dhammas], diligent, clearly knowing, and mindful, free from desires and discontent in regard to the world.

Contemplation – the close observation of the three characteristics as manifested in an object.

Diligent – balanced but persistent application of energy/effort.

Clearly Knowing – tough to define as it depends on what the object is; e.g., clear knowing of a long breath as a long breath is different from clear knowing of the arising of one of the hindrances. I’ll provisionally assign more importance to the ‘clear’ part and say this is closely related to sati, but specifically about cultivating sensory clarity as it regards the object, whatever that is.

Mindful – whole books have been written on this one. I’ll ignore all of that mess and just say this is “maintaining an open (as in accepting), present-moment focus of both attention/awareness (as those terms are described in TMI)”.

Free from desires… - some debate on this one. It doesn’t look like it is referring to the first two hindrances, as those are part of the last satipatthana. I take this as referring to the intent to cultivate and maintain concentration/unification of mind.

So, to summarize, for each of the contemplations, with a clear, open sensing of the present moment, I am instructed to unify the mind and persistently observe the characteristics of the prescribed objects. Simple, right??

REFRAIN: In this way, in regard to the body [feelings, mind, dhammas] he abides contemplating the body internally, or he abides contemplating the body externally, or he abides contemplating the body both internally and externally.
Or, he abides contemplating the nature of arising in the body, or he abides contemplating the nature of passing away in the body, or he abides contemplating the nature of both arising and passing away in the body.
Or, mindfulness that “there is a body” is established in him to the extent necessary for bare knowledge and continuous mindfulness.
And he abides independent, not clinging to anything in the world.

Internally/Externally – there seems to be a lot of debate on what this means. Analayo is a proponent of the view that this is referring to oneself/others. This seems strange, as how could you contemplate long breaths of others while in sitting meditation (outside of flights of imaginative fancy). One interpretation that has always appealed to me is that, being pre-Cartesian dualism, this is round-about way of referring to the subject/object duality; internally means hypothetically taking the object ‘as I/Me/Mine”, externally means observe as not-self-object, and both means to see that neither is a final truth. Such an interpretation would bring this instruction into accord with the instruction of the Bahiya Sutta as well, making this essentially an anatta instruction. I feel woefully unqualified to judge here, so I’ll just play with both interpretations.

Arising/Passing - hard to read as anything other than an exhortation to look at impermanence. Developing insight into impermanence distinguishes the “mere establishment’ of satipatthana from its complete and full development.”

Bare knowledge & continuous mindfulness … not clinging to anything in the world – This could be read several ways, but I like the symmetry offered by this being about looking at and letting go of the source of dukkha, and thus completing three alternative instructions tied to the three characteristics as well as hinting at the end-goal of the path while still maintaining a total focus on the present moment (bare knowledge and continuous mindfulness).

So, to summarize, the refrain offers three alternative approaches to each contemplation: I can contemplate the relation of the object to the ‘Self’ (maybe), or contemplate the impermanence of the object, or contemplate how the object demonstrates that stress/suffering is inherent in how I hold/create/cling to experiential reality. The three characteristics strike again!

Initial thoughts on contemplating the body via the breath:
So many of the Buddha’s teachings have this interesting aspect of nested recursion. On the one hand, mindfulness of breathing is typically the starting point for novice meditators, and here it is the beginning of a process where the contemplations build on each other and become more and more refined. On the other hand, as with the Anapanasati Sutta, this can be the sole object that leads on to full liberation. The beginning contains the whole thing, just like the whole thing wraps around to the beginning.

The instructions here are progressive. First the location and posture, followed by the establishing of mindfulness “in front.” I don’t plan to be dogmatic about these, I prefer a carpeted room, on the floor in half-lotus, but I’ll take any place/time where I can maintain sufficient focus. I also take “in front” to mean of foremost importance rather than a physical location; I’ll focus on the breath wherever it is most evident and move later if necessary/helpful. Much more could be said about the couplets, but Analayo’s treatment quite comprehensive so I’ll leave it at that.

I am looking forward to a ‘return to fundamentals’ though. I also hope to use awareness of the body via the breath as continuously as possible off cushion and, if that works out well, use that foundation of sati to do the same with some of the contemplations that follow (not sure I can be continuously mindful of decaying corpses however; I’ll have to think about that one). We’ll see how this goes.
Nick O, modified 3 Years ago at 7/24/19 9:59 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 7/24/19 9:59 PM

RE: The Garden of Satipatthana

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I am looking forward to a ‘return to fundamentals’ though. 

I love seeing this. Don't forget to add a nice big helping of joy in with your sati! 
tom moylan, modified 3 Years ago at 7/26/19 3:45 AM
Created 3 Years ago at 7/26/19 3:41 AM

RE: The Garden of Satipatthana

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"Clearly Knowing – tough to define as it depends on what the object is; e.g., clear knowing of a long breath as a long breath is different from clear knowing of the arising of one of the hindrances. I’ll provisionally assign more importance to the ‘clear’ part and say this is closely related to sati, but specifically about cultivating sensory clarity as it regards the object, whatever that is."

Your analysys and description are better than anything I can come up with so I will just leave a little take on Clearly Knowing.  In a way, it is much as Chris said in his reply.."KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid" :-)   We need to be aware at all times of our propensity to build mountains of concepts on top of the simple basic sensofy input.  It is a natural tendency of humans to fall into the rut of conceptual living as we have been trained and conditioned and encouraged from at least birth to automatically jump through the lightening processes of our body mind from sensation, feeling (vedana) to intention to consiousness (conceptual thought).

Breaking the habit is what we are doing here. Resting on the ever changing stream of sensory input and knowing that. Only by resting on that part of the wave do we really begin to gain insight into how this is all stitched together and to our surprise it is a very relaxing and enlightening place to rest.

The more accustomed we are to resting on that part of our consiousness wave the more clearly we see the impermanance and causal nature of everything and the less likely we are to keep changing our mind about where to look for control or to desire control at all.  At some point it becomes clear that it is the minds' propensity for jumping around which is a fundamental stressor and we recognize how to minimize that tendency.  This was a very big insight for me and is part and parcel of "clearly knowing". Unadorned observation and intentional stilling of reaction.
Ryan, modified 3 Years ago at 7/30/19 8:31 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 7/30/19 8:31 PM

RE: The Garden of Satipatthana

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Week One - Establishment of mindfulness of body via contemplation of the breath

Breathing in long, he knows “I breathe in long,” breathing out long, he knows “I breathe out long.” Breathing in short, he knows “I breathe in short”, breathing out short, he knows “I breathe out short.” He trains thus: “I shall breathe in experiencing the whole body,” he trains thus: “I shall breathe out experiencing the whole body.” He trains thus: “I shall breathe in calming the bodily formation,” he trains thus: “I shall breathe out calming the bodily formation”

General thoughts:

I enjoyed my week of anapanasati quite a bit. I could see myself returning to just this long term. On-cushion it really simplified things which in turn facilitated much more present moment awareness and, eventually, much less identification with the mindstream. I was surprised by how well off-cushion anapanasati meshed with sitting practice, as there seems to be a real synergy between the two; any momentum gained doing daily tasks translated well into quicker concentration and clearer practice on cushion, and good, clear practice sitting translated back into more momentum in daily life. All in all, practice was very grounding and, well, sane. Cool stuff.

Regarding the contemplation as presented in the Sutta, I came around to having more respect for the traditional/commentarial interpretations. Regarding the internal/external/both part of the refrain, I was unable to mind the breath as even hypothetically I/me/mine, at least from a present-moment sensate perspective. On the flip-side, after playing with it some I was able to connect with mindfulness of breath externally. It was possible to tune into the sense that something as intimate as your own breath is shared by all living beings, plants and animals alike. It is possible to take this too far and get into mental proliferation, but held lightly is was a fine practice, not unlike a “good” session of metta actually, but even more grounding (I said that already, but it’s so true). In fact, doing this off cushion turned out to be quite powerful, at least for me. I had a deeply moving experience of minding both my breath and one of my sons’ as we sat on the couch together. That was totally unexpected.

However, I so far do not agree with Analayo’s suggestion of placing breath contemplation third, as in the Chinese Madhyama Agama, at least not off retreat. Mindfulness of postures/activities seems too hard without a foundation of mindfulness being established first. And what better to do that with than anapanasati? I’ll withhold final judgement for now, but “I see what you’re up to Analayo! Don’t think I don’t!” Anyway, since this is Practice Log, here are some practice notes.

Formal Practice:
I started sitting without a timer this week for the first time, and it was great. I turn out to be able to set an intention to practice for, say, 45 minutes and I’ll be darned if I don’t feel done and ready to get up at very, very close to 45 minutes later. That is neat. Not having the timer is relaxing as it seems some part of me will always be listening for it if I know it’s there.

Typical practice this week went like this: After sitting down on carpeted floor, half-lotus with a small cushion up against the lower back, I close my eyes, take several deep breaths intentionally, and then let go of control of the breath. Attention bounces back and forth for a little while between catching the beginning and endings gross sensations of the breath in both the chest and nose and general mental chatter. While I will count breaths if agitated, I mostly try to keep the breath in background awareness and watch thoughts come up objectively which will eventually slow and quiet them down significantly. Once that has gone reasonably far enough, which I think of as basic concentration, I try to gently switch back to placing attention on the breath and holding the rest of experience in awareness. I am no longer able to get down to the “individual pixel” level of sensate detail. It feels like pushing the matching poles of two strong magnets together when attempting to focus attention that finely, so I have to broaden attention to the breath as a more holistic object and watch that. Occasionally doubt arises about whether the arising and passing of phenomena at this level is too “macro” to be effective insight work, something about solipsism to treat objects this way, but I mostly just let that pass as more mind noise now.

As per the Sutta instructions, from there I try to first just know a long breath as along and a short as short. If I can maintain this for five to ten minutes, which aside from a few outliers got easier as the week went on, awareness seems to expand and include not only the breath in attention and general “background”, but also proprioceptive sense, a general sense of “space”, hearing, and the visual junk on the back of my closed eye-lids sort of simultaneously. This open inclusiveness is just… nice. Compared to some of the more tense, effortful character that practice had before, this feels like walking off a blacktop baking in the summer heat and into a nice, air-conditioned space. When in this phase, I don’t seem to identify with much beyond the sense of there being somewhere that this feed of attention/awareness is registering, but it’s really subtle. This isn’t stable however; some aspects of awareness are more prominent that others and this changes over time.

Daily Life Practice:
Maintaining mindfulness throughout the day is not easy, but this was the first time I’ve tried to do it for an extended period, and it was at least somewhat successful. After an initial period of non-stop mindfulness, the novelty wore off and momentum flagged. However, I just kept coming back whenever I noticed that the breath had fallen out of awareness and while there were ups and downs, each day mostly seemed to have a bit more continuity to it than the one before. I get the impression though that non-stop, 24/7 mindfulness is sort of an asymptotic limit. Getting anywhere near continuous mindfulness is going to take a lot longer than a week (years, maybe?). However, even a little momentum in daily mindfulness is supportive of formal practice it seems, so I’ll take what I can get.

Next Week’s Practice: Awareness of the Four Postures
This one seems to be focused more on maintaining continuous mindful awareness in daily life rather than formal practice. I am instructed to “know” each of the postures, which Analayo believes implies some form of proprioceptive awareness. I suppose I’ll mostly continue with anapanasati during formal sits but move to awareness of the four postures for daily mindfulness. According to the AN and the Vinayapitaka, falling asleep with mindfulness of posture will improve sleep quality and prevent both bad dreams and nocturnal emissions. Huzzah! Can’t say I’ve had much trouble with the last one in a very long time, but let’s see what happens! In any event, noticing postures externally might be interesting, as will noticing how exactly the postures influence thoughts, feelings, etc.
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 3 Years ago at 7/31/19 5:27 AM
Created 3 Years ago at 7/31/19 5:27 AM

RE: The Garden of Satipatthana

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Great log! I enjoy reading it. I had an unexpected and deeply moving experience of unity in breath once too, but with one of my cats. I recently heard Bhante Gunaratana talk about this kind of unity with the breath in his talks about the four foundations of mindfulness.
Ryan, modified 3 Years ago at 8/1/19 3:53 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 8/1/19 3:53 PM

RE: The Garden of Satipatthana

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Thanks Linda, that's very kind of you. And that was the biggest surprise from my week of exclusively working with the breath; that it can be contemplated externally and that doing it that way lends a deep sense of connection and compassion to practice. 
Ryan, modified 3 Years ago at 8/6/19 4:10 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 8/6/19 4:10 PM

RE: The Garden of Satipatthana

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Week Two – Establishment of Mindfulness of Body via Awareness of the Four Postures

When walking, he knows “I am walking”; when standing, he knows “I am standing”; when sitting, he knows “I am sitting”; when lying down, he knows “I am lying down”; or he knows accordingly how-ever his body is disposed.

(emphasis mine, also, the refrain…)

“… Mindfulness that “there is a body” is established in one just for the sake of bare knowledge and for the sake of continuous mindfulness.

Source added this week: Perspectives on Satipatthana, by Analayo

General Thoughts

This week’s practice was difficult, though interesting. As it is not really targeted at formal practice time, this was the first week of more “off-cushion” focused practice. The clearest impression this left on me is that this is clearly where practice is headed, something like 24/7, total inclusion. The road there seems long however. I found a way to get into the practice, but only after a few false starts and dead ends. One important realization that I should have had earlier was that “contemplation of the postures” is not really about the four postures at all, but instead becoming grounded in the body, however it is disposed, as emphasized above in the contemplation and excerpt from the refrain. The “or” threw me off because I read it as disjunctive. However, mindfulness of just those four postures was not something I could achieve for any significant period of time; it was just too amorphous and conducive to conceptualizing. I even tried to relate feelings/emotions/thoughts to posture and see if I could find any relationship, however there were too many variables to reach any conclusions and it doesn’t take much of this to see how easy it is to get lost in thought. That said however, I found that a simpler training of mindfulness that “there is a body” seems to be a good idea for me as it helps me to be less like Mr. Duffy who “lived a short distance from his body.” (Nod to Joseph Goldstein for the Joyce quote).

When discussing the benefits of mindfulness of body, Analayo cites two similes: the six animals bound to a post, and the mortally anxious oil-carrier. I found the six animals simile to be particularly apt as being grounded in mindfulness of the body seems to sort of “turn the volume down” on the input being fed into conscious awareness, although it does have the offsetting tendency to make general bodily discomfort much more apparent. The oil carrying simile makes sense, but I can only think of TMI and Culadasa’s defining mindfulness as being an “optimal” balance of attention/awareness, with the given example of carrying a full cup through a crowded restaurant.

One last bit of dharma theory that I always suspected bur really confirmed via my own experience: movement masks dukkha. Even though we are not usually aware of it, physical movement is going on all the freaking time, and mostly to alleviate some kind of discomfort. No huge surprise there. But I think mental “movement” is similar. We plan and worry and wonder because we just aren’t quite okay with things as they are right this moment. Figuring out the right solution or learning the right thing will fix everything, so let’s go do that right now! Jeez, the dukkha well is deep.

As far as insight and dukkha goes, nothing totally new came up, although some things have been highlighted in a new way by off-cushion practice. For one, all stress/dissatisfaction has physical component, and there is always some level of stress/dissatisfaction present, however subtle. Inhabiting this fathom-long body really is like a sickness. And while you can ignore it or blast it out of awareness with distraction and pleasures, it’ll always be back (in fact, I don’t think it ever leaves, not really). Mindfulness helps with some of the grosser forms of this, but it is no panacea. Bill Hamilton’s line, “Suffering less, noticing it more” seems apropos here.

Formal Practice:

Sitting practice continued as before, with just some extra focus on the general bodily sense. After calming down and settling in, attention broadens out and is fairly inclusive. I still don’t feel like I can get ‘everything’ inside each moment of attention, but getting to the wide focus is coming more naturally. When I get there, after attempting to allow attention to widen as much as possible for a while, I tend towards trying to find the sensation of the mover/watcher of attention, as I can never quite get that inside attention except as a memory/mental echo. This tends to feel a little absurd after a while though, like trying to look at the back of your head. Sometimes I’ll think I got a moment of seeing no ‘doer’, and tingling piti will wash over strongly, other times nothing and I eventually give up and try to just accept what’s going on. I suspect the piti and searching for the ‘doer’ is related to a craving to finally crack something and “flip the switch” so to speak, but I can’t tell whether zealous searching is helpful or harmful at this point.

Daily Life Practice:

As compared to mindfulness of the breath, this was waaay harder to keep going, so there remains ample room for improvement, I’ll put it that way. I found two keys to making this eventually start to work for me. The first was getting some daily exercise (that has been a no-go since the kiddos started coming rapid-fire). This seems to tamp down some of the mental discomfort that prods a lot of ruminative, discursive thought. The other key was accepting that, at least in daily life, mindfulness is not a binary status, but more of a non-linear sliding-scale. It was helpful to let go of any expectation of very-high off-cushion mindfulness and just work with what was there at any given moment. When engaged in intellectual work, just keeping a vague awareness of there being a body sitting in a chair is counted as a win. That said, this is still very difficult. Engaging in any kind of distraction/entertainment is pretty much poison for continuous mindfulness momentum. I’m continuing to play with this, and maybe next week will see more progress, but I’m starting to wonder how practical taking this on as a long-term practice is, at least outside of a retreat/monastic/renunciate setting.

Next Week: Awareness of Bodily Activities

In light of my shift in emphasis over to general bodily awareness, this seems a further refinement of what came last week. Not just the momentary status of the body, but how change manifests in the arising and passing of movement. This seems very conducive to a noting practice, so I may give that some time and see if my daily noting skills have improved any since the last time I tried this.
Ryan, modified 3 Years ago at 8/18/19 12:06 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 8/18/19 12:06 PM

RE: The Garden of Satipatthana

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Week Three (and Four-ish) - Establishment of Mindfulness via Awareness of Bodily Activities
When going forward and returning he acts clearly knowing; when looking ahead and looking away he acts clearly knowing; when flexing and extending his limbs he acts clearly knowing; when wearing his robes and carrying his outer robe and bowl he acts clearly knowing; when eating, drinking, consuming food, and tasting he acts clearly knowing; when defecating and urinating he acts clearly knowing; when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, and keeping silent he acts clearly knowing.
General Thoughts:
This practice sort of self-transmuted into noting which brought up all of the usual difficulties I have with doing that in daily life, i.e., lots of dark-nighty dissatisfaction crumpled up with compulsive indulgence in various distractions. However, I’ve come to a much better place with this and am starting to see my dukkha in a different way. My attitude is along the lines of: As you ramp up mindfulness to the levels needed to progress down the path, you can’t ignore this fact of dukkha anymore. There is no escaping the dissatisfactoriness, it’s baked into life. You have to accept it as part and parcel of what comes up when paying attention. Sometimes maddeningly irritating desires to push away (or grasp/cling) still arise but, whatever the outcome, they are not wrong/bad in and of themselves so long as they are seen for what they are. I think this is how equanimity develops. If I’m being honest with myself, this is not at all what I expected, though perhaps that’s a good sign…
Formal Practice:
To offset the aforementioned irritability, I’ve been skipping any pure insight practices and trying to focus on concentration and finding ways to spark joy in practice. I’ve been following the TMI approach to anapanna and find myself splayed across stages 5 – 7, about where I was when I dropped TMI as my main practice and began focusing on more insight heavy work. I found that my awareness seems much broader these days and doing things like whole-body breathing is much, much easier than before.  That’s about all there is to say as there’s been nothing special about it really, just feeding the fish and picking up the mail so to speak.
Daily Life Practice:
I was delayed in this post because it took me twelve days rather than seven to become a master of effortlessly unbroken yet powerful mindfulness… Ha! As if, right? I’ve come to the conclusion that doing this in daily life is not a skill that can be perfected, but rather an art, amenable to a lifetime of learning. In what appears to me like yet another weird bit of recursion, being mindful of the body generally, and activities specifically, is very much like first learning to concentrate on the breath. You get it for a little while until something throws you off and you have come back and begin again (Repeat until enlightened). To begin with, the coming back is as important as doing the thing itself, if not more so. I suspect that in a retreat setting you could get enough momentum with this that it is self-sustaining, which would allow one to drop effort, a la choiceless awareness. However, there are limits to how much momentum can be built up in daily life I think, and I would be amazed to learn of someone with all typical worldly trappings (family, career, etc.) maintaining perfectly effortless mindfulness without break 24/7; akin to learning someone had run a sub three-minute mile.
I have been doing walking practice after lunch and I’ve been struck by a few things. One is that that when I started using the breath as an object rather than the feet, legs, etc., I had to sort of re-learn how to not control the breath. It wasn’t too hard, but it was unexpected. Second, no one strolls anymore (Did they ever? I wonder). I walk through crowds and everyone is always in a big damn hurry. I find this a bit depressing for some reason…
Next Week: Contemplation of Bodily Parts and the Four Elements
I’m looking forward to the bodily parts contemplation, as I have no idea what to expect from it. I don’t feel particularly attached to my body (getting grey hairs and a definite “dad bod” has seen to that) so who knows what will pop up. If it runs its course, I’ll shift over to the Four Elements. That’s not something that has ever resonated with me, but I’m coming to dig some of these ancient viewpoints more and more these days, so I’ll give it the old college try and see what happens.
Nicolas G, modified 3 Years ago at 8/18/19 2:17 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 8/18/19 2:17 PM

RE: The Garden of Satipatthana

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Great log Ryan! This is gold for anyone interested in Satipatthana.
Ryan, modified 3 Years ago at 8/27/19 4:50 PM
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RE: The Garden of Satipatthana

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Thanks Nicolas, that's very much appreciated!
Ryan, modified 3 Years ago at 8/27/19 9:46 PM
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RE: The Garden of Satipatthana

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“Week Five” – Establishment of Mindfulness via Contemplation of Bodily Parts

He reviews this same body up from the soles of the feet and down from the top of the hair, enclosed by skin, as full of many kinds of impurity thus: “in this body there are head-hairs, body-hairs, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, bone-marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs, bowel, mesentery, contents of the stomach, faeces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, spittle, snot, oil of the joints, and urine.”

General Thoughts:

I found this practice to be much more nuanced and interesting than expected and, unlike some of the monks in the Venayas, I did not become suicidal (although I did sometimes want to shower and gargle some mouthwash). To bottom line it at the start, I can see why ordaining Buddhist monastics, particularly young ones, would be instructed to engage in this practice: it is a powerful antidote to lust, and it ain’t too shabby for certain forms of vanity either. That much was to be expected. I definitely confirmed for myself that if you look at the parts of the human body one-by-one, you’ll find none that are attractive individually. I could see advances in modern medicine and Wikipedia assisting a lusty young yogi here: “Hey baby, the ratio of squalene to triglycerides in your sebaceous gland discharge is sexy AF; really helps keep the dermis supple and water-tight in a ‘conducive to homeostatic-equilibrium’ kind-of-way. Wanna swap secretions?”

Interestingly, I also found this practice to be effective for loosening ownership-attachment to the body as well. Just as none of the Five Aggregates can be found to serve as home for an independent, stable self, neither can any of the body parts, though they all contribute to that sense from time-to-time and in their own way. Also, after examining certain parts at some length, I found a certain wonder at how weird this mammalian body is. Hair, fingernails, the rotting food stuck between your teeth, ugh. I found that the extent to which the various parts don’t feel a little weird or alien is the extent to which there is a very subtle (unconscious maybe?) attachment to them as being I/me/mine.

Also, this was the first of the ‘examination’ practices and it is worth noting that there are at least two components to doing this. The first is examination of the various parts through the sensations tied to them arising and passing in the field of awareness, while the second is more about visualization. I found it impossible to purely do one or the other for more than one or two parts, although leaning towards the former made it more body-scannish, while the latter was, I take it, what visualization practice is about (I haven’t done any of that before so I can’t say much about other visualization practices). The issue seems rather fundamental: what is a sensation and how do you tie it to a part? Like, tune into your toenails right now. Really get in there and feel what’s going on. Can you feel the toenails (not the toe fool! That’s kiddie stuff) without superimposing some visualization and/or conceptualization of them? I couldn’t. Of course, toenails don’t have nerve endings, but I found it impossible to even feel the shape of them without some visualization/conceptualization. Two give two more examples, the same goes for urine – pressure in the bladder area, & snot – coolness/warmth and air moving through the sinuses. For purposes of building disenchantment with the body, maybe this doesn’t matter so much, but it is interesting that all of these parts that are hard to experience directly are so easy to gloss over when doing a body-scan type practice.

Formal Practice:

Concentration was poor, mostly due to life stuff but the novelty and technique of this practice may have contributed. After sitting down and doing what I could to unify the mind to one degree or another, I would switch into parts contemplation. As per instruction, I’d start with the placing attention on the whole skin and sort of vacillate between sensations and visualization of things like body-hair. From there I’d work may way in, covering subcutaneous fat, muscles, organs, then bones, and then finishing up on the various fluids which were pretty much 100% visualization. After some of this, I’d picture other people and do a similar thing with them, albeit fully visual in that case. I found visualizing others in toto more difficult than visualizing their parts, mostly because it was hard to keep the image of them stable in my mind. Also, if the visualization didn’t move in some way I tended to lose it. Don’t know if that’s typical or not, but there it is. Visualizing parts of the opposite gender tended to feel somewhat unpleasant while same gender was more neutral.

Daily Life Practice:

Wasn’t sure how to do this in daily life, so I played around somewhat. First with trying to alternate parts, but that was difficult. I tried focusing on the skin as well but that quickly fell into feeling like same thing as awareness of position. I eventually settled on mindfulness of my bones with the rest of me just experienced as an attached meatsack. I found this fun more often than not, although I’ve been on a big Stephen King kick in the reading department recently so I may have been unusually well prepped for practice with a bent to the macabre. I found that a little bit of formal sitting or general walking practice will make it very easy to see other people as the hairless primates we are. “Expensive suit or no, I know your innards are full of mesentery and chyme fellow human.” I don’t know what I gained from all of this other than a chance to fully appreciate how weird it is that I almost never realize how fucking weird it all is.

Next Week: Contemplation of the Four Elements

I’m thinking some of my sensation/conceptualization issues might be addressed by this contemplation. That would be helpful at this point. Really though, I have no idea what to expect which has so far lead me to the most fun; I may enjoy a little Earth, Wind & Fire when not practicing as well, we’ll see how the air element moves me. emoticon
Ryan, modified 3 Years ago at 9/7/19 5:36 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 9/7/19 5:36 PM

RE: The Garden of Satipatthana

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Day 35–46 – Establishment of Mindfulness of Body via Contemplation of the Four Elements
He reviews this same body, however it is placed, however disposed, as consisting of elements thus: “in this body there are the earth element, the water element, the fire element, and the air element”
General Thoughts
Soo, a thing happened, and there is some non-zero chance it was The Thing. Given the strength of my prior desire to place myself on the map, I find it ironic that I now don’t particularly care to label this thing, whatever it was (equanimity? SE? Level 17 Arch-Mage Tathagata-ship?). But in the spirit of honest reporting of my experience, I should say a thing happened on Tuesday, September 3rd (Alexa! On September 4th, 2020, remind me to decide whether or not to claim Buddhist attainment) and things have been different in this one particular way since then. I’ll give the detailed phenomenology in the practice sections below, but the simplest way to say it is that everything is less “sticky” now. This change does not seem to have any hedonic tone to it, but it is nevertheless an improvement to experience. The metaphor that seems most apt so far is gaining a new facet of perception. Like if the set of characteristics that made up your perception of color (hue, saturation, etc.) were suddenly expanded to include some new ‘x-ness’ aspect. X-ness was always there, you simply couldn’t see it before, and now you can. You can ignore it and go on about your business, but you can’t ever stop seeing it, can’t un-ring that bell, so to speak. As far as the impact on suffering goes, this is an improvement in that aspect as well although not in the conventional way, i.e., unpleasant stuff is still unpleasant but that’s not the same kind of problem it’s always been. I’ve often seen The Thing described as being like dropping a hot coal you didn’t know you carried. I can sort of see that aspect, but that’s not precisely what I’m experiencing. It’s more like the person that was always carrying a coal still has it, but he is a character in a super engrossing VR movie instead of ME. I can get right back into the movie, but not in the same way or to the same extent. Writing that out now I have to say that even that isn’t exactly it, though it is in the general ballpark. Oh well, c’est la vie.
Of course, maybe I’m deluding myself and this is just another phase/false positive that will pass in time. I’m actually totally okay with that. Like, if you were having a panic attack right now and someone said “here, take this pill. It’s a benzodiazepine and will end your panic attack” and it did just that, would you be mad if you later find out that the pill was a placebo rather than a benzo? In any event, I plan to hold all of this stuff lightly and just press on. Now, back to our irregularly scheduled programming…
So, where were we, right, the four elements. I found Analayo’s guided meditations on the Satipatthana sutta ( and decided to start using those for the first sit on each of these contemplations. I haven’t done a guided meditation in years and so this was a nice change of pace, even if it was just once or twice. I should mention that he suggests first briefly reviewing the anatomical parts in the form of a body scan first before going to into the elements, but that the parts are simplified to just three types: Skin, Flesh, and Bone. I found it an interesting bit of serendipity that I had come to a similar view myself when doing that practice while walking around (meat sack on bones) and so found it easy to take this up on the cushion. This was helpful because his meditation on the four elements is also in the form of a body scan and the anatomical parts match up with the four elements in some interesting ways (Earth = bones; Water = flesh; Fire = skin; and Wind = Breath and general mindfulness of the whole body. Also, what is required to keep us alive; Earth = food; Water = Water (duh); Fire = moderate temperature; and Air = Breath/oxygen). Once both scans are done, you rest in open awareness. I found this was the best concentration inducing body scan I’ve ever done, so I’m quite grateful to have found this. The other thing this practice was great for was further loosening of identification with the body, and direct insight into anatta. Flipping into a non-Western categorization of somatic experience lessens subtle conceptualization of the body and I found this quite conducive to insight, as I’ll touch on more below.
Formal Practice:
I’ll have to break this into three sections, before “the thing”, the session where “the thing” happened, and after “the thing.”
Starting out with this practice, I’d first get something like basic concentration. Analayo mentions the mind resting on the body like the body rests on the cushion and I liked thinking of it that way, just whole-body awareness rather than anapanasati per se. Then, I would do the scans as described above. They were interesting and novel and I found there was little in the way of content-based distractions arising. When complete, I found resting in awareness to be very pleasurable. In fact, the more clearly I felt the various parts/elements of the body during the scans, the more pleasurable it was. Concentration tended to be quite strong after five-ten minutes of this, with there being little more than slight indentations of the possibility of an intention to think arising somewhere at the periphery, and then passing away. After enjoying that, I would try to move into more insight heavy territory, just looking at the 3C’s of whatever arose. If I was doing this well and with good concentration (which was almost always) objects in awareness had a vibratory quality. Every object had its own frequency and they were quick, though I don’t know that I could nail down what the Hertz was or anything.
Sidebar – although Daniel wrote in MCTB that, during insight practices, we should assume anything not directly experienced in the moment does not exist, I have never been able to do that very well. I thought it was some esoteric aspect of practice that would make more sense One Day. Well, I was missing how crucial that is. Really grokking what that means in the moment is actually a pretty big friggin deal, IFAICT anyway.
Okay, here’s how “the thing” whatever it was, happened. I read in some thread somewhere that one should not underestimate the power of setting resolutions before practice. So I did that first. I resolved, “to truly let go of everything that occurs in this session, even the feeling of being the one letting go. I will do that and see whatever there is to see in this aspect of my experience, be that fruition or not.” After doing the same two scans as before I was resting in awareness and looking at the vibrations of sensations. By really, totally trying to let go of what was happening, I seemed to be able to stop subtly conceptualizing things into existence that I wasn’t experiencing. This was interesting, particularly on the impermanence front, but not terribly eventful at first.  After ten minutes or so of this, concentration was starting to lapse and I would have wound things up shortly had the following not occurred: as attention was moving around to the various buzzing sensations in the body, something arose in my visual field, behind closed eyelids. I don’t know how to describe it other than it was a blue-green, metallic, “icon” that somehow resembled the Transformers logo. It was slightly off to the right of where attention landed in the visual space, but I could still perceive it perfectly. I saw it phase into solidity and it glowed with an intense brightness, and then faded away to NOTHING. I put that in all caps because the disappearance was startling in the way that a loud noise in a dark room when you’re alone late at night is startling. The mind seemed to simultaneously scream a wordless howl of “WTF was that!!”, and “Where did it go, Where did it go, Where did it go…” and then *Click*, my arms were in a different position and my eyes were open. I have no memory of doing either. There was no bliss wave exactly, more a sense of relief, like “I’ve never experienced anything like THAT before, that must have been The Thing, thank goodness that’s finally behind me.”
Practice has been different since then. Motivation has flagged somewhat, but I resolved to at least see this Satipatthana experiment through to the end so I press on. When I sit, I can get basic concentration quite quickly, but I frequently get an intense energetic buzzing up my spine and skin on my back up to my scalp, like I’m plugged into a Van de Graaff generator and a bolt of static-electric lightning is about to shoot out the top of my head. And, okay, I wasn’t going to mention this as it sounds, frankly, batshit, but it feels very important to be honest here so I’ll just spill it: three out of the four times that has happened since then, there has been a power surge or brownout in my house (I can hear the power surge and the AC/Fridge/printer do weird things). Now, the local utilities have been working on some infrastructure improvements near me, so it’s probably a total coincidence, but it is timed so perfectly that if freaks me right the fuck out every time it happens. Anyway, that has been distracting. Coupled with flagging motivation and those are the two biggest obstacles I’m working with right now. I suppose I should test this thing out and do some Jhana practice and/or aim for repeats of The Thing. Maybe soon? Maybe soon.
Daily Life Practice:
Prior to The Thing, I didn’t get much practice with the elements into daily life. I mostly tried to maintain mindfulness of the body throughout the day, though the results were mixed as before. Post The Thing, mindfulness feels kinda different. Like, if I incline the mind in the contemplative direction for a few moments, the total non-stickiness of everything becomes the predominant characteristic of reality. Practicing mindfulness is less about building up momentum for some future payoff and more about skillfully engaging with what’s going on right now, whatever that is.
Next Unknown Length of Time: Contemplation of Corpse in Decay and Meditation on Death
Okay, next up is everybody’s favorite topic – their own inevitable demise! I’ve always wanted to do some formal Maranasati, so there’s no lifetime like the present I suppose. There seem to be two basic approaches: visualization of your own body through the various stages of a rotting corpse and using as a meditation object things like the sense that this very breath could be your last before shuffling off this mortal coil. Doing this both internally and externally should be interesting as well. I said earlier I was well prepped for practice with a bent to the macabre, I guess we’ll see how true that was emoticon. Spiritual practice can absolutely morph into a form of death denial, so facing my own in a formal, brutally honest fashion seems like a good idea if I want to be sure I’m not deluding myself in that way. Alright, let’s do this.
Ryan, modified 3 Years ago at 9/18/19 8:11 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 9/18/19 8:11 PM

RE: The Garden of Satipatthana

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Day 47-57: Establishment of Mindfulness of Body via Meditation on Death

As though he were to see a corpse thrown aside in a charnel ground –one, two, or three days dead, bloated, livid, and oozing matter … being devoured by crows, hawks, vultures, dogs, jackals, or various kinds of worms … a skeleton with flesh and blood, held together with sinews … a fleshless skeleton smeared with blood, held together with sinews … a skeleton without flesh and blood, held together with sinews … disconnected bones scattered in all directions … bones bleached white, the color of shells … bones heaped up, more than a year old … bones rotten and crumbling to dust – he compares this same body with it thus: “this body too is of the same nature, it will be like that, it is not exempt from that fate”

Reading List – The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy; Pet Sematary by Stephen King; The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe.

Play List – (Don’t Fear) The Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult; The Yawning Grave by Lord Huron.

General Thoughts

I so benefited from this practice (maranasati generally rather than just the corpse contemplation) that in a frenzied fit of enthusiasm I wrote a longish post on it over at r/streamentry - The TL;DR of it is: through mindful contemplation of death, we can awaken to the totality of our lives. I really believe that to be true. We tend to deny our own mortality in such subtle ways that we become unknowingly blind to this foundational fact. In fact, we fool ourselves so much in this regard, you could say we do it for a living. If we can bravely, honestly and with an open heart come to immediate, sensate terms with the truth of our own mortality, it can be profoundly relieving, like crossing a vast desert and finally slaking a thirst you didn’t know you had. It was that way for me at least.

I don’t have much more to add to the post referenced above, so perhaps this is a good place to speak to mindfulness of the body generally before moving on to the other establishments of mindfulness. Why does the Satipatthana Sutta begin with mindfulness of body? Breath, posture, anatomy, elemental sensation, and death: these can all serve to bring you home to a body-based foundation of sensate experience, giving a grounded, intimate characteristic to everything. Feelings, emotions, and other things just tend to be too slippery for that, at least from a mindfulness perspective.

Earlier, Tom offered his take on ‘clear knowing,’ writing, “We need to be aware at all times of our propensity to build mountains of concepts on top of the simple basic sensory input. … Breaking the habit is what we are doing here. Resting on the ever changing stream of sensory input and knowing that.” That was good advice. If we are to have any chance of breaking that habit, then the body’s raw sense data, or at least as close to raw data as our skills and abilities will allow us to perceive, is the obvious place to begin. While the mind and the body are not really two, I nevertheless tend to feel like a homunculus riding around in my head, somewhere behind the eyes typically, rather than existing as a whole body. I think mindfulness of the body is how we can start to erode that as the default-mode of experiential existence. I suspect that a certain level of competence in body-based mindfulness is also going to be required for successful work with the next section, mindfulness of feelings, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself on that just yet.

Formal Practice:

I settled on the practice outlined in the reddit post above. High-level, it went this way: first I would obtain some concentration in whatever way seemed best, then I focused on the breath and how each one could be my last, even pretended that the next one was in fact the last. Then I’d contemplate how that same end I felt will come to everyone, first a neutral person, then a loved one. Finally, I visualized my own body in the stages of decay, followed by others. If I have time left, I’ll move to a simple resting in awareness.

The breath/death contemplation was initially exhilarating in the way a scary movie can be. This eventually started to morph into more of an appreciate of the hidden sanctity and preciousness of the breath and of the moment generally. The rest was really about the ephemerality of life and seeing what is important or, rather, having things that are really not important become seen more clearly as being such.

Daily Life Practice:

I did a number of things on this front (again, see post above). I found that while none of them generated the sort of weirdly self-reinforcing positive view that something like walking metta does, most did give new and interesting perspectives.

The Van de Graaff generator thing is still happening, both during formal sits and in daily life, but thankfully it has dialed itself down from an 8 or 9 to a 2 or 3. The non-stickiness of things is still observable, but it is also mellowing, or at least being perceived as less important as the novelty wears off. Also, if I can briefly mention some of ‘My Stuff’, I’ve also been working through some psychological baggage, trauma history and such, that used to come up rather often, then died away, and now seems to be re-appearing. My less than perfect coping mechanisms are definitely tied to this, as more and more awareness of the body has made clear. I think I just need Robin Williams to come back, repeatedly tell me it’s not my fault, and then give me a big-burly-bearded man-hug. I think that’d bring me back to being just about square. Couldn’t we all use that at some point in our lives though?

Next Up: Contemplation of Feelings

This one should be interesting. Hedonic tone is the interface through which the body and mind condition each other, and the precise link at which it is supposedly possible to stop the links of DO as they lead onto suffering. How does a positive worldly feeling stack up to a negative unworldly feeling? How much joy is there to be found in renunciation for a householder, really? Interesting material ahead.
Ryan, modified 3 Years ago at 10/2/19 3:05 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 10/2/19 3:05 PM

RE: The Garden of Satipatthana

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Day 58-71: Establishment of Mindfulness of Feelings (Vedanā)

When feeling a pleasant feeling, he knows “I feel a pleasant feeling”; when feeling an unpleasant feeling, he knows “I feel an unpleasant feeling”; when feeling a neutral feeling, he knows “I feel a neutral feeling.” When feeling a worldly pleasant feeling, he knows “I feel a worldly pleasant feeling”; when feeling an unworldly pleasant feeling, he knows “I feel an unworldly pleasant feeling”; when feeling a worldly unpleasant feeling, he knows “I feel a worldly unpleasant feeling”; when feeling an unworldly unpleasant feeling, he knows “I feel an unworldly unpleasant feeling”; when feeling a worldly neutral feeling, he knows “I feel a worldly neutral feeling”; when feeling an unworldly neutral feeling, he knows “I feel an unworldly neutral feeling”.

Reading List – The Elephant in the Brain by Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson, The Corrections: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen

Play List – Feel Good Inc by Gorillaz, Feeling Good by Nina Simone, Rainbow Connection by Kermit the Frog

General Thoughts

Caveat meditor: close observation of your changing hedonic tone may be hazardous to certain beliefs you might, in hindsight, rather not have been disabused of. Known side effects include falling off the grid, excessive facial hair, and permanent NPR-voice. If any of these side-effects occur, write on the blackboard 100 times, “I shall not summon up that which cannot be put back down” and consult with your spiritual physician.

If there is one, highest and best lesson to take away from Vedanāsati, I judge it to be this: if there is ever going to be an end to suffering, the path there must involve a new relationship with vedanā. That’s what real equanimity is I think; a clear, real time view of the nature of things all along the hedonic spectrum, without getting attached, without tanha. Regular life is not like that. We’re like dope fiends for that positive vedanā, while negative vedanā is just so fucking unfair (how could this happen TO ME!?!?).

Earlier I mentioned the theory about the body conditioning the mind through vedanā and vice versa, but maybe the more interesting aspect is how the subconscious mind conditions all the conscious mental processes via the projection of vedanā alongside sensation at the six sense doors. For example, leaving aside the explanations of evolutionary biology, why do I prefer eating an ice cream sundae to eating steamed cauliflower? The ice cream gives a more pleasant hedonic tone to the sensations of food on my tongue, obviously. Can I, by hook or by crook, invert that and come to have more pleasant vedanā from eating the cauliflower than the ice cream. No. I can come to appreciate the cauliflower and get more pleasant vedanā than before, and I can stop eating ice cream long enough that I might chose the cruciferous veggie over the sugar when given a choice, but the ice cream is always going to be better. Even if, after a long abstinence from the sweet treat, re-partaking seems cloying or overwhelming in some way, what that actually consists of is an overwhelming amount of positive vedanā, an amount that is just too much for the sense of taste to handle. Aside from the staving, I don’t think anyone has ever called cauliflower overwhelmingly delicious in that way. But that’s intro-level stuff. Vedanā is actually much more insidious than that.

How do we know something to be true? I mean, really, at the level of sensate experience, what marks something as right, while something else is wrong? Vedanā. We conceptualize something as true when our perception of it is marked by a certain pattern of positive vedanā. To me, it goes something like this: there are two or more concepts that don’t fit, or beg for an explanation, or in some other way arise and are accompanied by negative vedanā. Then, the perception of another concept arises and it satisfies that need, often feeling like that satisfying sense you get when operating a really well-made machine or a finely crafted object of some sort. Everything lands home with a satisfying *thunk* and that feels soo right. And it’s always been just this. From our worlds of blooming, buzzing confusion at birth, we build ever more complex conceptual hierarchies based on perceptions which are sorted by the vedanā fed to us from inscrutable subconscious processes. Suckle at teat, this stops hunger; good mammal, have some positive vedanā. And on and on it goes from there, until you wind up at an adult human with opinions, going around bothering people.

The real kick in the head about this thing is that there is no getting off this ride. You can build a reality divorced from vedanā just as much as a person that’s been blind from birth can truly grasp the color red. We just don’t have the equipment for it. The game we’re playing is rigged, and you can’t win, break even, or leave. Maybe an arhat transcends the game in a way that moots this problem, like leaving Plato’s cave. I wonder how much is really possible there though. The body-mind system evolved to factor in hedonic tone as a crucial input. Total disregard for it would seem dysfunctional, so how do the highly awakened relate to it? Is it a constant, logical evaluation of what is wholesome and what isn’t? That sounds exhausting. It also sounds rather tricky given the role of vedanā in how we determine what is and isn’t true in the first place! Do they just default to the way most of us work with it normally? If so, in what way are they awake? Food for thought…

Moving on to the meat of the contemplation, there is a lot made here of separating worldly/material vedanā from unworldly/immaterial vedanā. This ties mostly to second step of the 8FP, Right Intention. Worldly vedanā is tied to things like the sense pleasures and, according to theory, conditions more craving and clinging, thus perpetuating Saṃsāra, while the unworldly kind is related to things like generosity/renunciation, absorption, and (sometimes) the brahma viharas, and leads to a reduction in craving and clinging. I think this will require a lot of reality testing to draw any firm conclusions on, but the gist of it, that all worldly feeling-tone keeps us bound to the wheel, is an interesting one to consider. The final contemplation in the section on dhammas is of course the 4NT, which incorporates the 8FP. That views are conditioned by impermanent, impersonal feeling is clear, so it makes sense that maintaining right view and right intention would require some level of competence in being mindful of and working with feelings. So, gaining that competence may well be the primary benefit of this practice.

Finally, on a more personal note, I found that something about establishing mindfulness in the body first and then investigating vedanā seems to open the floodgates of psychological stuff for me. Were I on an extended retreat, the remedy would be clear: just note it out and deal with the content later. However, as I need to avoid becoming a basket case in daily life, I’m mostly trying to sort through and process this stuff. For example, over the years of doing this, I’ve found my values and priorities have changed dramatically, although I couldn’t say precisely how much of that was practice and how much was just getting older, having kids, etc. In any event, I’m coming to terms with needing to make a career change and what that looks like, so … Yay. Also, various past traumas keep coming up and often in overwhelming fashion, so I’ve been seeking closure on those where I can find it as well. This process feels a little scary actually, a bit like fear of dying, So it goes.

Formal Practice:

Most sessions went like this: I sat in the usual style, began with a few deep breaths, and then generally centered awareness on the body. After ten minutes or so, I’d first do one of the body contemplations of breath/noting/elements/parts and then do a little maranasati (can’t recommend that too highly!). After that felt ‘done’, I’d move to an open awareness and try to place attention on the vedanā of the moment and see its arising and passing. This was mostly felt in the body, although sounds and thoughts of course have their own vedanā. There was pretty much always some tension somewhere and the negative vedanā associated with that was typically easier to hone in on than the positive. It was usually around this point that intrusive thoughts about My Stuff would come up, which it did in a slim majority of sits, along with a lot of negative vedanā. Underlying that was a sense of something not being right, something undone, but I haven’t seen clearly enough to parse out where the sensations of this leave off and the stories begin. And yes, stories are just more sensations, but that wasn’t always obvious in the moment. That is just to say I’ve tried to notice this process objectively, though the success rate has not been high so far.

Daily Life Practice:

Mindfulness of feeling-tone in daily life is pretty straight-forward. I would simply try to remain mindful of what the feeling was in any given moment, where it was and how it changed, as well as discern any patterns that manifested between those feelings and the rest of sensate experience. Like all of these contemplations, doing this well takes practice; doing it well in daily life perhaps takes a lot of practice.

More generally, I’ve noticed some interesting changes these last few weeks. I do seem to be suffering less, at least in a sense. I’ve had some insomnia, anxiety, and fatigue related to all of My Stuff coming up, but this has been much less problematic than I would have anticipated. For example, I’ve been plagued by that thing where you look at the clock and it’s 1am, and you count how much time you have before you have to get up, and that causes you to stress until you look up again and it’s now 2:30am and so on. It is not pleasant but it is almost funny to watch it happen, thinking “jeez, even my anxiety is a cliché.” I have also experienced an increase in tolerance to physical pain. I noticed that I can hold something ice cold for about as long as I want without too much trouble, certainly long enough to risk minor frostbite. It still hurts, don’t get me wrong, but the badness of the pain is much more confined to the physical and so not as much of a problem if that makes sense. I’m interested, but by no means eager, to test this out against more severe pain. I’ve passed three kidney stones to date, and for me that serves as my ceiling for pain. I expect more will follow at some point, so I’ll report back on how this newly increased pain tolerance stacks up the next time my body tries to force a ball of razorblades through my ureter.

Next Up: Contemplation of Mind

This seems to be mostly about objectifying mind-states and noting their presence, arising, and passing. States to be aware of are the “ordinary” states of lustful, angry, deluded, distracted, or their absence, and the higher states of great, unsurpassable, concentrated, and liberated or their absence. This seems quite clearly aimed at dis-identifying with mind-states as a stable sense of self. The catagories seem somewhat random, at least beyond continuing this theme of worldy/unworldly and mundane/supermundane. However, some things which at first seem non-sensical or antiquated often have a sly logic to them, so I’m interested to see where this goes.
Ryan, modified 2 Years ago at 10/23/19 9:35 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 10/23/19 9:35 AM

RE: The Garden of Satipatthana

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Day 72-91: Establishment of Mindfulness of Mind

He knows a lustful mind to be “lustful”, and a mind without lust to be “without lust”; he knows an angry mind to be “angry”, and a mind without anger to be “without anger”; he knows a deluded mind to be “deluded”, and a mind without delusion to be “without delusion”; he knows a contracted mind to be “contracted”, and a distracted mind to be “distracted”; he knows a great mind to be “great”, and a narrow mind to be “narrow”; he knows a surpassable mind to be “surpassable”, and an unsurpassable mind to be “unsurpassable”; he knows a concentrated mind to be “concentrated”, and an unconcentrated mind to be “unconcentrated”; he knows a liberated mind to be “liberated”, and an unliberated mind to be “unliberated”.

Reading List – The Judgement by Franz Kafka; As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

Play List – Are You Bored Yet? By Wallows; Slip Slidin’ Away by Paul Simon; Where Is My Mind? By the Pixies (yes, I know it’s a little “on-the-nose,” but I like it, so emoticon)

General Thoughts

Here we’re instructed to “know” our current state of mind, i.e., to establish mindful awareness of certain aspects of our experience of mind. The section instructs us to begin by looking at the four “ordinary states,” those being the presence or absence of the three unwholesome roots/defilements, and then whether we are dull (contracted) or restless (distracted). Once those are investigated, we’re to move on to the four “higher states”. These require some interpretation, but seem to roughly map onto the inclusiveness of the perceptual field (great/narrow), equanimous abiding akin to the fourth Jhana (surpassable/unsurpassable – although how samatha/vipassana distinction plays into this is unclear), unification of mind (concentrated/unconcentrated), and finally awakening itself (liberated/unliberated).

One thing about the surpassable vs. liberated mind states – I think these two are closely related, although precisely how is not totally clear. Right or wrong, I’m mostly leaning on the degree of “not-so-stickyness” that I’ve developed here. That is to say, that pleasant/unpleasant/neither things still arise and pass, as always, but they are all more obviously empty, so why get in a knot about them? In that sense, an unsurpassable mind is not so different from a liberated mind, no? Of course, if you believe that those fully awakened/liberated no longer experience feelings/thoughts of greed or aversion, you aren’t likely to agree with that, but there it is.

In any event, The goal with this is not to push away the “bad” states or to fire up the “good” ones, but just to know what is as it is. The idea is that by simply witnessing the various states, one-by-one as they occur, each can be seen as intransient, dependently arisen/not-self, and unsatisfactory. In this way we can become disenchanted with them. Luckily, in the roughly three weeks since my last post I have mastered this and am now perfectly equanimous all the time. :0 Except that’s not how it works at all, of course. Long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to light. I think we have to view these states over and over and over before understanding of their true nature penetrates all the way down to the deepest, darkest sub-basements of the mind. Strong concentration seems to help, but it’s a big project, like eating an elephant. As with elephagy, it can only be done one bite, or one current mind state, at a time. I also think this is where a practice like noting really shines, and I’m currently feeling the itch to return to that practice. I think noting and mindfulness of mind would go together quite well, as the repetition of the note forces you to take a good, clear look at what’s really going on and how it is changing. Amongst other advantages, this maximizes the number and inclusiveness of the “bites” and in that way helps to build momentum.

Speaking of momentum, I’ve come to realize that at this point reaching deeper levels of practice is going to require more momentum than I’ve managed thus far. Thus, with the tremendous kindness and support of my wife, I’m working to carve out five days for a retreat some time in the coming months. As this time is extremely precious (and yes, all time is precious, this very breath may be our last and all that, but you know what I mean) I’m looking for a place where I can do some intensive, 16+ hours a day of noting practice with the support of teachers qualified to instruct yogis applying high doses of the technique. If anyone here would care to share any thoughts or experiences on places in the US that are well-suited for something like that, I’d be grateful to read them.

Formal Practice:

Some outside obligations have been taking up an inordinate amount of my time these last few weeks and so formal practice was often limited to 10-15 mins, with the preferred 45+ minute sits confined to a couple of sits on the weekend. Because of this, I couldn’t help but feel like something of a dilettante in regards to this establishment of mindfulness, and have resolved to continue working with it in the future.

My practice sessions, such as they were, mostly took on the character of first establishing sufficient concentration in the short time available and then moving to gentle open awareness, occasionally supported with some light noting of the mind and its states, with a focus on the categories provided in the sutta. Craving mostly took the form for wanting pleasant or at least interesting practice experiences, aversion came in the form of negative judgements of my practice and needing to constantly make minor adjustments, while delusion was seen as either an occasional “space-out” or simple thoughts of self-doubt. I could usually get a fair balance between distraction and contraction within a span of ten minutes or so, though I labeled occasional moments of being lost in thought as “distraction” and the occasional dull, slowness of mind, as well as the mildly unpleasant feeling of fighting that slowness, as contraction.

Moving to the higher states, I can still maintain a wide field of awareness without too much trouble, but comfort with that the microscopic, laser-like quality of attention still hasn’t returned. I mostly noted this as “yeah” or “all,” or just with wordless awareness of the feeling of the six overlapping sense spheres as four-dimensional movie screens. In regards to concentration, I didn’t get much in the way of single-pointed Samadhi, so I can’t add much here. I’ve had it before, and it’s a great tool/experience and all, but it is of course just another conditioned state that arises and passes and is ultimately unsatisfactory. As for surpassability and liberation, the best I could do for a label in practice was “okay.”

Finally, I realized that I’ve been neglecting the aspect of the refrain that instructs me to contemplate Feelings and Mind externally as well as internally. I suspect that the brahma-viharas would be a good complementary practice to integrate this into daily life: what I see in my own feelings and mind, so to do all others experience as feeling and mind, etc. I’ll need to work on this some more going forward.

Daily Life Practice:

I found that mindfulness of mind highlights how artificial it is to separate formal practice from practice in daily life. That’s not to say that setting aside time for formal practice is unhelpful, but more and more it seems silly to constrain practice to just those times when my legs are crossed or I’m pacing back and forth like a target in some lunatic shooting gallery. Others have written about how all-encompassing practice is where this all leads, and at this point that strikes me as just obviously true. My wood-chopping and water carrying is also dependently arisen and ultimately unsatisfactory, so what of that? I haven’t had much luck with doing the renunciate-mambo and eschewing all attachments, so I suppose that leaves some tantric-Judo as a likely avenue for future exploration? Something more to think about.

I’m still working on integrating whatever this less-sticky-now-ness of things means. This does not seem like a “big-holy-deal” but it has been persistent thus far. It has been helpful for this section of Satipatthana in that I have access to a kind of “escape-hatch” for any mind state that I want to drop, although I can’t say I’ve noticed any radical changes in behavior. The subjective experience of mind states & behaviors has subtly changed, though not always for the better.

Next Up: Contemplation of Dharmas - The Hindrances

What does it mean to establish mindfulness of a Dharma? To see it made manifest in the momentary passing of the present moment? I suppose I’ll find out in the coming weeks! First up in the MN’s Satipatthana sutta is the five hindrances. These have been covered to death so I don’t plane to linger on them. However, I suspect it will be an interesting exercise to practice the awareness, removal, and prevention of them in a systematic way.
Ryan, modified 2 Years ago at 11/20/19 12:06 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 11/20/19 12:06 PM

RE: The Garden of Satipatthana

Posts: 76 Join Date: 2/21/19 Recent Posts
Interlude of Indeterminate Self-Reifying Duration

So, I believe I should hit the pause button for a moment here and note that I’ve come to a shift in my understanding of what this sutta is about. Initially, I thought it was clear on its face — the sutta provides techniques for establishing mindfulness in ever more subtle layers of experience so that the practitioner can learn to maintain “sati sampajanna”. This would in turn serve to establish the first of the seven factors as well as to more fully realize that portion of the 8FP. I now believe that was naïve. I have come to instead see the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta as a rather clever/devious bit of meditative tech, designed to crack “you” like a friggin’ egg. I’ll explain.

Do you identify or cling to the body and/or it’s aesthetics? Well, after you gain some stability of attention through Ānāpānasati, the first establishment has some bad news for you — the body, both the subjective experience of it and its objective manifestation in the flesh, is ceaselessly changing, eludes any attempt at real control (control you thought you had is an illusion), and is incapable of serving as any kind of a refuge. Bam. Sorry kid, no refunds; do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars.

Do you find solace from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune through partaking in simple pleasures? Well, whether that’s a cup of chamomile tea and a warm bath or a blast from the crack pipe followed by anonymous sex, the second establishment has more bad news for you — pleasures are small, ephemeral, and unsatisfying; pains are inescapable and fighting them actually makes it worse; and while seeking one and avoiding the other is programed into our lizard brains, that very process is what blinds us to the fact that we’re inflicting/projecting the pain of existence onto a phantasm and then crying “ow!” To say that this is problematic is easily a top 5 understatement of the last 2500 years. “Thanks Uncle Sid, but can I just get some socks next Christmas?”

Well sure, vanity and base sensuality are no refuge, but the life of the mind is subtle and deep, surely there we can find the ground on which we might stand, right? Kid, if you think this ends well, then you haven’t been paying attention.

So, what about the mind? Well, by now anyone should have seen that thoughts come and go like clouds in a vast sky. Neat party trick, but what happens if the implications of that become permanently hardwired? Welp, for one even the best aspects of your own personality (are you bright, funny, or kind? You might want to sit down…) are seen as dependently originated, no more “you” than your hair color, if your hair color actually changed from moment to moment without any hint of continuity beyond the samsaric conditioning seen in the second establishment, and so utterly devoid of a place to hide. Same goes for political opinions, educational knowledge, and the like; basically anything to do with the stream of sounds and pictures projecting in your own head. Having fun yet?

This is about where I’m at and, speaking from experience, let me say … I can see why this isn’t in the marketing materials. I find myself tired of my own thoughts and I don’t even know why I got on this bus anymore. However, when I tried to pull the cord to stop and get off, I found that someone has locked the doors, cut the break-lines and shot the driver. Shit.

Okay, looking forward then. What do I see on the horizon for establishing mindfulness of the Dhammas? Well, I’m going to try and get a better grip on the hindrances first. Great! Concentration is at least peaceful, maybe here I’ll find relief… but wait, what’s this? After my concentration is further deepened, I’ll investigate the aggregates and the sense-spheres. I’ve done enough work with those outside of this sutta to know that they point to emptiness in a really comprehensive way. So, it doesn’t look like there is going to be a way out of this; “this” is a suicide mission, metaphorically speaking. That’s what is meant by the saying that “the Buddha is not ‘your’ friend.” Put another way, the old t-shirt that reads “Buddhism: It’s all fun and games until someone loses an I” is actually gallows humor. Har Har.

So that’s my new take on this sutta—followed closely and in earnest, it is not just some McMindfulness aide, a first step or a toe-in-the-water, it can be a full on red-pill. Just to be clear, I’m not depressed or upset about this. It is just that while I suspected something like this at the outset, hence my initial invocation, I don’t think I really believed it. I do now.

Going forward, I will finish working through this thing and report my experiences as I resolved to do, but it has also become clear that while they are not really in “my control” the way they previously appeared, there is quite a bit of conditioning I could work through in a wholesome, open way. I’ve recently picked up Ken McLeod’s “Wake Up to Your Life” and I really like his treatment of patterns. His take on the over all path really resonates with me as well, so I’ll likely move to work through his book once I finish my stint in the land of Satipatthana. So the work continues even after the suicide mission – Yay!

One final note: I’ve also recently been reading Shaila Catherine’s “Wisdom Wide and Deep” and I came across something that connected so strongly with what’s going on with me right now. In Chapter 17 she covers the traditional progression of: through clear seeing we become disenchanted, through disenchantment we become dispassionate, and through dispassion we are liberated. She then brings home the concept for “some contemporary readers” by describing disenchantment this way (emphasis mine):

“Disenchantment describes the absence of the seductive force of titillated desire. It is not an aversive rejection but a simple suspension of the fascinationthat habitually seeks sensory gratification. A mind that is disenchanted sheds the entanglements that shackle it to this psycho-physical process. Ajahn Chah, a master in the Thai Forest Tradition, likened disenchantment in the mind to unscrewing a bolt.”

Yes, Yes, Yes. That’s the thing. I have been fascinated by sensual desires, the restless mind’s cacophony of thoughts, etc. And it’s not just positive sensory gratification that’s the problem. From Jack Kornfield’s “A Path With Heart” at the start of Chapter 13 (emphasis again mine):

“The compartments we create to shield us from what we fear, ignore, and exclude exact their toll later in life. Periods of holiness and spiritual fervor can later alternate with opposite extremes—binging on food, sex and other things—becoming a kind of spiritual bulimia. Spiritual practice will not save us from suffering and confusion, it only allows us to understand that avoidance of pain does not help.”

So, wild speculation here, but I also now think that it is by cutting through our conditioning we gain the clarity that let’s us really see through our illusions in such a way that we can finally drop the fascination that drives suffering. That’s my current understanding of this thing, although I suspect there is quite a bit to unpack within that. Time will tell I suppose.
Bardo, modified 2 Years ago at 11/20/19 12:18 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 11/20/19 12:18 PM

RE: The Garden of Satipatthana

Posts: 260 Join Date: 9/14/19 Recent Posts
Satipatthana is a very potent teaching and if hit correctly it can propel you into some intriguing dhamma territories. When using the word 'correctly' the Buddha uses the term 'in such a way' meaning that there is a degree of autonomy in its handling and intervention.

Satipatthana has been a special area of interest for me in my practice. I'm looking forward to reading your log.
Bardo, modified 2 Years ago at 11/20/19 12:48 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 11/20/19 12:48 PM

RE: The Garden of Satipatthana

Posts: 260 Join Date: 9/14/19 Recent Posts

Internally/Externally – there seems to be a lot of debate on what this means. Analayo is a proponent of the view that this is referring to oneself/others. This seems strange, as how could you contemplate long breaths of others while in sitting meditation (outside of flights of imaginative fancy). One interpretation that has always appealed to me is that, being pre-Cartesian dualism, this is round-about way of referring to the subject/object duality; internally means hypothetically taking the object ‘as I/Me/Mine”, externally means observe as not-self-object, and both means to see that neither is a final truth. Such an interpretation would bring this instruction into accord with the instruction of the Bahiya Sutta as well, making this essentially an anatta instruction. I feel woefully unqualified to judge here, so I’ll just play with both interpretations.

Here is the take I've been using. Satipatthana is an off the cushion practice for me for the most part. I have the ability to observe people from a Satipatthana perspective. I trained myself in this way. For the most part, that is its function for me.

Let's say I'm on the bus and I'm watching other people. I will strip their skin, flesh and organs to reveal their bare bones. Sometimes their bones will fall into a heap. Here is where I learn anicca (impermanence). I can take that further by allowing their bones to turn into a powder. This is contemplating externally. I could approach my own bones with the same degree of examination thus contemplating internally. Or, I can examine other people in this way whilst holding to the notion of my own bones thus contemplating internally and externally. This internal/external practice blurs the boundaries created by the perception aggregate (sanna) and really shakes up the sense of self.

The same with breathing. Watch someone breath and become aware of your own breathing at the very same time thus contemplating internally and externally. There's no complex algorithms in this. It's extremely straightforward. As you become familiar with executing various components from the four frames of reference you come to see what the Buddha's thinking was in its genius construction. However, in the beginning Satipatthana seems like a fragmented mess.