Writing about mindfulness and meditation

How I am practising

In two meditation groups I belong to, people recently expressed an interest in learning more about how other people practise. So I decided to write a little snapshot of what I’m doing—more or less—on the cushion at the moment.

On the cushion

When the house is quiet in the morning, I sit on my meditation bench and begin to let the mind settle while tuning in to what’s here. It may be that a particular practice calls to me at this point. Generally, I will either take up:

  • The first three satipatthānas (domains of mindfulness: body, feeling tone, and mind)
  • radiating mettā
  • or mindfulness of breathing (ānāpānasati).

When the mind has settled to the degree that it becomes easy to stay with the meditation object (the breath, the body, mettā etc.), I will dwell in this state—often known as “access concentration”—to consolidate it.

The next phase of practice, if there is time and energy, is to bring in an insight reflection as the fourth satipatthāna. For me, at this time, this means contemplating the aggregates:

  • physical form
  • perception
  • vedana (feeling tone: pleasant, unpleasant, neither, in their worldly/unworldly variations)
  • sankhāras (mental formations, habits, tendencies)
  • sense consciousness (eye, ear, nose, taste, touch, mind).

I’ll particularly look at the “not me, not mine”, "neti, neti", aspect of these, but also their impermanent and ultimately unsatisfactory nature. Recently, I tried sending mettā to the aggregates. It remains an analytical practice because you are isolating and contemplating these elements of experience but with an heart dimension, too.

At times I will go deeper into samādhi, at others, the mind will not settle easily in the beginning and so instead, I’ll explore that through the lens of an insight theme.

In the first phase of the practice, if I take up the first three satipatthānas, it’s mainly about moving through them as a way of exploring how my experience is and settling the mind rather than as an analytical practice, which is more the flavour when working with the aggregates later on.

I feel this mode of practice makes sense as a progression and covers a few bases from samādhi to mettā and insight. Furthermore, when I engage with insight practices, I sometimes feel a coolness that remains with me for a while and is noticeable when I slow down during the day. By contrast, my current feeling is that while samādhi alone has great benefits and changes the character of the day there is a sense of "when it's gone, it's gone". Although I would concede that repeated access to samādhi must have lasting effects on a person.

Off the cushion

Honestly, this is tricky. It’s so easy to get lost. Watching my mind and where it is pulled has been very helpful in daily life. This can be combined with mindfulness of breathing as a kind of double defence, as suggested by Upasika Kee Nanayon. In a similiar vein, I have been combining radiating mettā with mindfulness of the breath—when I remember to—as I go about my day. This builds a bit of stillness, momentum, and warmth—which is actually important for mindfulness.

As ever, in both formal and informal practice the task is to develop wholesome qualities and abandon the unwholesome. This is known as sammā vāyāma (skilful effort).