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Mindfulmedicine.co.uk

 

enabling awareness for all 

Guest Blog Page
Deer in winter, Wollaton Park, Nottingham
Cliff Face
What is choiceless awareness? If you’ve ever done a mindfulness course you’ll have had a go at “choiceless awareness”. Some people find this practice difficult. Perhaps it’s difficult to understand what choiceless awareness is or what you’re supposed to do to practice it? Perhaps the weather pattern of the mind is like a storm; perhaps it’s a still day in late summer with cotton wool clouds bubbling up in convection currents in the clear blue sky. Can you imagine thoughts as clouds passing through your mind? Can you imagine the sky as the space of awareness in which thought-clouds play out the weather pattern of the mind? Maybe this analogy works but what is the space of awareness and what does the capacity for spacious awareness mean? At first, most people find it frustrating trying to keep the spotlight of attention on the sensations of breath, or sensations in the body, and keep track of where the mind wanders. When they try to just notice where the attention wanders with “choiceless awareness” the mind just runs away with itself and people can get easily confused and discouraged. When we think of something, there is an emotional quality to the thought. If we find it hard to follow the instruction to monitor the contents of attention as the mind wanders we are adding fuel to the emotional state and as this happens thinking activity increases. As we get more and more distracted it becomes more and more difficult to be aware of the contents of the increasingly wandering mind. First of all, mindfulness of breath needs to practiced to develop concentration. Directing attention to sensations of breath moving into and out of the body interrupts the habitual wandering of the mind and short-circuits the feedback of emotions and thinking. This can seem hard work at first as the mind wanders off over and over again and it’s easy to get a little frustrated, which just makes things worse. The trick is to just do it; it takes practice, which takes some determination and a little patience but nothing worthwhile was achieved without a little effort and developing our capacity for mindfulness is no exception. Learning a new skill takes practice because new nervous connections need to be made. This is true for any new task but because we think we can think what we like and do what we like with our thoughts, it can come as a bit of a surprise to find that the truth of the matter isn’t quite like that. If we get frustrated because we can’t control our thoughts, that just fuels more thoughts, which just makes us more frustrated. With practice, focusing attention on sensations in the body increases nerve connections to body based sensations as well as developing parts of the brain that are involved with concentration. As nerve connections concerned with monitoring sensations grow, increased sensitivity to what’s going on in the body makes it easier for attention to remain absorbed in body-based sensations. With increased sensitivity to changes in sensations in the body it also gets easier to notice when bodily-sensations change, which happens when thoughts arise in the mind. This helps us to keep track of the movements of attention, so we need to put less effort into monitoring the contents of attention and less effort to holding attention on the sensations. This is why concentration with practices, like mindfulness of breath, get easier with practice. As our capacity for concentration improves we begin to be able to relax the effort needed to put into maintaining a calm mind and calm state in the body. This enables us to relax the focus of attention and rest in a more open awareness of sensations in the whole of the body without the attention wandering. As we are able to do this, we can become more and more absorbed in what is going on in the body and perhaps even notice movements of sensations in the body, like ripples on the surface of a still pond, which may become thoughts in the mind, before a thought actually forms. In time it gets easier and easier to become absorbed in sensations all over the body. Being able to rest the mind in this field of sensations in the body is closely related to the body sensations we have when we experience happiness and this can become a very pleasant experience. Furthermore, this is the one emotional state that doesn’t stimulate more thinking because it’s a state of satisfaction and pleasure. However we may need to remain quite still for some time until the mind settles and even the image of the body begins to fade before we can just rest in sense of a formless space filled with pleasant sensations. Sometimes this isn’t so easy as tension in the body may become uncomfortable. We need to sit comfortably and we need to sit in a way that enables the body to sit upright with as little tension as possible to help us to stay still for long enough. We have to practice this and we have to work on building up the muscles to keep a straight back to be able to sit up for more than a few minutes without too much difficulty. Gentle stretching exercises can be really important to help to release muscle tension before we sit. This upright but relaxed posture also sets up the body to have an attitude of confidence and awakeness. We need to be wakefully attentive to monitor the movements of the mind and we need to be confident so that we don’t get frustrated with the wandering mind. We need be generous and forgiving of ourselves; accepting the way the mind wanders over and over again. It helps us to do this if we embody a relaxed confidence in the way we sit. Setting up the body posture correctly is really important if we want to maintain an attitude that will enable us to sit for more than a few minutes without tension building up. In fact the concentration aspect of the practice can be entirely directed at maintaining the posture for a while instead of focusing attention on the sensations of breath or divided between concentrating on maintaining the posture and focusing on the breath. Again, where we choose to focus attention on the sensations of the movements of the breath can have different effects. Focusing attention on the breath in the nasal passages can be easier as the sensations tend to be stronger but focusing on the belly area can stimulate a more relaxed state. So as we develop our ability to sit still, we develop the capacity to become absorbed in the field of sensations produced by the body.  It is this field of awareness that gives us the direct experience of the “space of awareness” in which thought-emotions emerge. If we redirect attention to the field of sensations in the body, these thought-emotions seem to burn away like white clouds in the heat of the day. If we allow the attention to be attracted to them they form into fully-fledged thoughts and then these thoughts are connected together into a narrative, which soon fills the space of awareness. It becomes more and more difficult to maintain concentration as we become more and more absorbed in thinking. We have a choice. We can maintain concentration absorbed in the field of sensations or we can allow the attention to be drawn into the thought-emotion forms, which then form around themselves into a narrative. We can be aware of this process as it happens but we always have a choice to feed the process with our attention or to let the thoughts go and redirect attention back to the field of sensations. In fact there is no such thing as “choiceless awareness”. There is always a choice if we have the capacity to see the process of thought-emotions arising and forming into a narrative. There is no choice if we don’t. Is this field of awareness of sensations the same thing as the space of awareness? Is being able to rest the attention in the field of sensations the same thing as maintaining spacious awareness? Perhaps it is; perhaps it’s more the way we come to have a sense of  “spacious awareness”. Perhaps this is where we find the refuge of a boundless state of being that is not defined or contained by the ever-changing mindscape of thoughts, emotions and sensations. The more we come to abide in this refuge of boundless being, the more we are free from identifying with the ups and downs of the challenges of life. And so we become more confident and patient with ourselves and more patient and compassionate with others in our lives. Developing the capacity to maintain stable concentration in the field of sensations not only gives us these psychological benefits there are physiological changes that take place as well. This state maintains a relaxed mind and a field of pleasant sensations in the body, which is pleasurable and absorbing. This state has the effect of slowly loosening tension in the body, which is the embodied reflection of conditioning laid down by conflicted beliefs or troubling narratives about ourselves or the world around us. This state integrates of mind and body; it releases us from psychological distress and embodied tension. This is how meditation heals. Mark Leonard January 2014 (formerly of the www.oxfordmindfulness.org/) www.mindfulness4change.com
January 2014 Guest Blog
Mark Leonard January 2014
enabling awareness for all
Mindfulmedicine.co.uk
© Mindfulmedicine.co.uk. All Rights Reserved   

Mindfulmedicine.co.uk

 

enabling awareness for all 

Guest Blog Page
Deer in winter, Wollaton Park, Nottingham
Cliff Face
What is choiceless awareness? If you’ve ever done a mindfulness course you’ll have had a go at “choiceless awareness”. Some people find this practice difficult. Perhaps it’s difficult to understand what choiceless awareness is or what you’re supposed to do to practice it? Perhaps the weather pattern of the mind is like a storm; perhaps it’s a still day in late summer with cotton wool clouds bubbling up in convection currents in the clear blue sky. Can you imagine thoughts as clouds passing through your mind? Can you imagine the sky as the space of awareness in which thought-clouds play out the weather pattern of the mind? Maybe this analogy works but what is the space of awareness and what does the capacity for spacious awareness mean? At first, most people find it frustrating trying to keep the spotlight of attention on the sensations of breath, or sensations in the body, and keep track of where the mind wanders. When they try to just notice where the attention wanders with “choiceless awareness” the mind just runs away with itself and people can get easily confused and discouraged. When we think of something, there is an emotional quality to the thought. If we find it hard to follow the instruction to monitor the contents of attention as the mind wanders we are adding fuel to the emotional state and as this happens thinking activity increases. As we get more and more distracted it becomes more and more difficult to be aware of the contents of the increasingly wandering mind. First of all, mindfulness of breath needs to practiced to develop concentration. Directing attention to sensations of breath moving into and out of the body interrupts the habitual wandering of the mind and short-circuits the feedback of emotions and thinking. This can seem hard work at first as the mind wanders off over and over again and it’s easy to get a little frustrated, which just makes things worse. The trick is to just do it; it takes practice, which takes some determination and a little patience but nothing worthwhile was achieved without a little effort and developing our capacity for mindfulness is no exception. Learning a new skill takes practice because new nervous connections need to be made. This is true for any new task but because we think we can think what we like and do what we like with our thoughts, it can come as a bit of a surprise to find that the truth of the matter isn’t quite like that. If we get frustrated because we can’t control our thoughts, that just fuels more thoughts, which just makes us more frustrated. With practice, focusing attention on sensations in the body increases nerve connections to body based sensations as well as developing parts of the brain that are involved with concentration. As nerve connections concerned with monitoring sensations grow, increased sensitivity to what’s going on in the body makes it easier for attention to remain absorbed in body-based sensations. With increased sensitivity to changes in sensations in the body it also gets easier to notice when bodily-sensations change, which happens when thoughts arise in the mind. This helps us to keep track of the movements of attention, so we need to put less effort into monitoring the contents of attention and less effort to holding attention on the sensations. This is why concentration with practices, like mindfulness of breath, get easier with practice. As our capacity for concentration improves we begin to be able to relax the effort needed to put into maintaining a calm mind and calm state in the body. This enables us to relax the focus of attention and rest in a more open awareness of sensations in the whole of the body without the attention wandering. As we are able to do this, we can become more and more absorbed in what is going on in the body and perhaps even notice movements of sensations in the body, like ripples on the surface of a still pond, which may become thoughts in the mind, before a thought actually forms. In time it gets easier and easier to become absorbed in sensations all over the body. Being able to rest the mind in this field of sensations in the body is closely related to the body sensations we have when we experience happiness and this can become a very pleasant experience. Furthermore, this is the one emotional state that doesn’t stimulate more thinking because it’s a state of satisfaction and pleasure. However we may need to remain quite still for some time until the mind settles and even the image of the body begins to fade before we can just rest in sense of a formless space filled with pleasant sensations. Sometimes this isn’t so easy as tension in the body may become uncomfortable. We need to sit comfortably and we need to sit in a way that enables the body to sit upright with as little tension as possible to help us to stay still for long enough. We have to practice this and we have to work on building up the muscles to keep a straight back to be able to sit up for more than a few minutes without too much difficulty. Gentle stretching exercises can be really important to help to release muscle tension before we sit. This upright but relaxed posture also sets up the body to have an attitude of confidence and awakeness. We need to be wakefully attentive to monitor the movements of the mind and we need to be confident so that we don’t get frustrated with the wandering mind. We need be generous and forgiving of ourselves; accepting the way the mind wanders over and over again. It helps us to do this if we embody a relaxed confidence in the way we sit. Setting up the body posture correctly is really important if we want to maintain an attitude that will enable us to sit for more than a few minutes without tension building up. In fact the concentration aspect of the practice can be entirely directed at maintaining the posture for a while instead of focusing attention on the sensations of breath or divided between concentrating on maintaining the posture and focusing on the breath. Again, where we choose to focus attention on the sensations of the movements of the breath can have different effects. Focusing attention on the breath in the nasal passages can be easier as the sensations tend to be stronger but focusing on the belly area can stimulate a more relaxed state. So as we develop our ability to sit still, we develop the capacity to become absorbed in the field of sensations produced by the body.  It is this field of awareness that gives us the direct experience of the “space of awareness” in which thought-emotions emerge. If we redirect attention to the field of sensations in the body, these thought-emotions seem to burn away like white clouds in the heat of the day. If we allow the attention to be attracted to them they form into fully-fledged thoughts and then these thoughts are connected together into a narrative, which soon fills the space of awareness. It becomes more and more difficult to maintain concentration as we become more and more absorbed in thinking. We have a choice. We can maintain concentration absorbed in the field of sensations or we can allow the attention to be drawn into the thought-emotion forms, which then form around themselves into a narrative. We can be aware of this process as it happens but we always have a choice to feed the process with our attention or to let the thoughts go and redirect attention back to the field of sensations. In fact there is no such thing as “choiceless awareness”. There is always a choice if we have the capacity to see the process of thought- emotions arising and forming into a narrative. There is no choice if we don’t. Is this field of awareness of sensations the same thing as the space of awareness? Is being able to rest the attention in the field of sensations the same thing as maintaining spacious awareness? Perhaps it is; perhaps it’s more the way we come to have a sense of  “spacious awareness”. Perhaps this is where we find the refuge of a boundless state of being that is not defined or contained by the ever- changing mindscape of thoughts, emotions and sensations. The more we come to abide in this refuge of boundless being, the more we are free from identifying with the ups and downs of the challenges of life. And so we become more confident and patient with ourselves and more patient and compassionate with others in our lives. Developing the capacity to maintain stable concentration in the field of sensations not only gives us these psychological benefits there are physiological changes that take place as well. This state maintains a relaxed mind and a field of pleasant sensations in the body, which is pleasurable and absorbing. This state has the effect of slowly loosening tension in the body, which is the embodied reflection of conditioning laid down by conflicted beliefs or troubling narratives about ourselves or the world around us. This state integrates of mind and body; it releases us from psychological distress and embodied tension. This is how meditation heals. Mark Leonard January 2014 (formerly of the www.oxfordmindfulness.org/) www.mindfulness4change.com
January 2014 Guest Blog
Mark Leonard January 2014
enabling awareness for all
Mindfulmedicine.co.uk