Writing about mindfulness and meditation

Non-identification and working with the aggregates

I've been drafting a few complicated pieces for this blog, about the signless concentration of mind, about meta-cognition, about systems thinking. These are all topics I want to say something about, but might also require a lot of detail and scholarly effort. Instead, I'm sitting in the garden in the sunshine, writing in a notebook and listening to Miles Davis and the theme I want to discuss is non-identification.

I'm always looking for the crux of an approach, the purpose, the active ingredient. I think this may have something to do with being a busy lay practitioner. If I can get to the pith, my practice can be efficient in some way, or at least that's the idea. I also just want to understand. Why do we contemplate these themes? Why do we cultivate certain qualities? And of all the many themes presented to us, non-identification strikes me as one of the fundamentals of Buddhism, perhaps the fundamental. It is a form of non-clinging. This, I feel, is why we develop the perception of impermanence—so that we do not identify with that which cannot be a lasting self, or cling to passing phenomena.

For myself, I've noticed a certain coolness in the heart and mind when I contemplate an insight theme such as the aggregates. This is in addition to the gatheredness and pleasantness of soothing and stilling the mind. Furthermore, after formal meditation when the effects of gathering the mind have dissipated somewhat, I notice that the coolness can still be around, especially if I pause for a moment or I allow space for it.

When contemplating the aggregates, I might focus on them in turn—form, feeling tone, perception, volitions, sense consciousness—and see how they are impermanent, conditioned and constructed, and do not constitute a self or the basis for a lasting self. another, more organic way of working in this terrain was shared with me by Laura Bridgman, and that is to ask the question...

Who am I taking myself to be?

Both methods can be incredibly helpful, it seems.

I've been practising with the aggregates most days recently and intend to keep this up for a long time. I was initially finding the fifth aggregate, viññāna, a little slippery to get hold of. It's usually spoken of sense consciousness: that which registers sensory contact with an object. One helpful understanding of the fifth aggregate shared by Ajahn Amaro that viññāna represents the "I"-making, the feeling of "I am the thinker / doer / the one hearing / the meditator". And you can see how asking, "Who am I taking myself to be?" can undercut this kind of self-making.