Monday, 16 February 2015

Introduction to Meditation : 1 - 6 by Gill Fronsdal

Breath :

Body :

Emotions :


Mind :

Daily Life:

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Introduction to Meditation : 1 - 6

by Study and practice of Buddhist teachings (Gill Fronsdal)

Published on Feb 15, 2015

1. Mindfulness Exercises for the First Week : Breath

You will get the most benefit from this course if you engage yourself with the practice during the week between our class meetings. During the first week please try the following three practices:

Sit one twenty-minute session of meditation each day. For this first week, focus on staying aware of your breath as described in the next section of the handout. Begin and end each sitting with, a minute of conscious reflection: At the start, clearly remind yourself that you are about to devote yourself to being mindful and present. Consciously let go of any concerns, remembering that you will have plenty of time to take them up again later. At the end, reflect on what happened during your meditation session. There is no need to judge what happened; you just want to strengthen your mindfulness through a brief exercise in recollection.

Choose one routine physical activity that you perform most days and experiment with doing it mindfully. This means doing just this one activity while you are doing the exercise – not listening to the radio at the same time, for example. It is also best to let go of any concern about the results or in finishing quickly. Remain in the present as best you can. When the mind wanders, simply come back to the activity. Activities you might choose include brushing your teeth, washing the dishes, or some routine act of driving or walking.

For one half-hour period during the week, maintain some regular attention of your posture as you go about with some normal activity. Without straining, assume a posture that is alert and upright. Notice what happens to your mood, thoughts, feelings, presence, and degree of mindfulness as you do this exercise.

Meditation Instruction: Mindfulness Of Breathing

Sit in a comfortable but alert posture. Gently close your eyes. Take a couple of deep breaths, and, as you exhale, settle into your body, relaxing any obvious tension or holding. Then, breathing normally, bring your awareness to your body, sensing for a short while how the body presents itself to you. There is no particular way to be; just notice how you are at this moment.

Then, from within the body, as part of the body, become aware of your breathing, however it happens to appear. There is no right or wrong way to breathe while doing mindfulness practice; the key is to simply notice how it actually is right now. Let the breath breathe itself, allowing it to be received in awareness. Notice where in your body you feel the breath most clearly. This may be the abdomen rising and falling, the chest expanding and contracting, or the tactile sensations of the air passing through the nostrils or over the upper lip. Wherever the breath tends to appear most clearly, allow that area to be the home, the center of your attention.

Keep your attention connected with the inhalations and exhalations, sensing the physical sensations that characterize them. Let go of the surface concerns of the mind. Whenever the mind wanders away, gently come back to the breath. There is no need to judge the wandering mind; when you notice that the mind has wandered, simply return to the breath without evaluation.

To help maintain contact between awareness and the breath, you may use a label or mental note. Softly, like a whisper in the mind, label the in-breath and out-breath, encouraging the awareness to stay present with the breath. You can label the inhalations and exhalations as “in” and “out,” or perhaps use “rising” and “falling” for the movement of the abdomen or the chest. Don’t worry about finding the right word, just use something that will help you stay connected.

There is no need to force the attention on the breath; to strengthen your ability to become mindful and present, use the gentle power of repeatedly, non judgmentally returning and resting with the breath.

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2. Body

Continue your daily twenty-minute meditation session.

In the midst of your regular activities, devote two one-hour periods during the week to being mindful of your body. During this time, perhaps using a timer or some other cue to remind yourself, periodically check in with your body, maybe every five minutes or so. Notice, in particular, your shoulders, stomach, face, and hands. If you find tension in any of these places, relax.

Devote one meal to eating slowly and mindfully, paying attention to the tastes, textures, temperature, and other qualities of your food, and to the experience of your body eating. (When does your body tell you that have had enough?) If possible, take the meal in silence, with no other activities to distract you. You might want to put down your spoon or fork between bites. Whenever your mind wanders, or whenever you get caught up in reactions to what is happening, relax and come back to the simplicity of eating mindfully.

Start noticing when, how and by what, your attention becomes distracted or fragmented. Are there any common themes or patterns in the kinds of thoughts, feelings, activities, or pre-occupations where your mindfulness disappears? If you discover any, discuss what you find with somebody: a friend, relative, or colleague.

Meditation Instruction: Mindfulness of the Body

During meditation, center your awareness primarily on the physical sensations of breathing. With dedication, but without strain, keep the breath in the foreground of attention. The idea is to be relaxed and receptive while alert and attentive. As long as other experiences such as bodily sensations, sounds, thoughts, or feelings are in the background of your awareness, allow them to remain there while you rest your attention with the sensations of breathing.

When a strong physical sensation makes it difficult for you to stay with the breath, simply switch your awareness to this new predominant experience. The art of mindfulness is recognizing what is predominant and then sustaining an intimate mindfulness on whatever that is. When the mind wanders and you lose the mindful connection with the sensation, gently and without judgment return your attention to the physical sensation.

As if your entire body was a sensing organ, sense or feel the physical experience. Simply allow it to be there. Drop whatever commentary or evaluations you may have about the experience in favor of seeing and sensing the experience directly in and of itself. Carefully explore the particular sensations that make it up – hardness or softness, warmth or coolness, tingling, tenseness, pressure, burning, throbbing, lightness, and so on. Let your awareness become as intimate with the experience as you can. Notice what happens to the sensations as you are mindful of them. Do they become stronger or weaker, larger or smaller, or do they stay the same?

As an aid to both acknowledging the physical experience and sustaining your focus, you can ever so softly label the experience. The labeling is a gentle, ongoing whisper in the mind that keeps the attention steady on the object of mindfulness. You should primarily sense directly the experience and what happens to it as you are present for it.

Be alert for when the focus of your attention moves from the physical sensations to your reactions to the sensations and your thoughts about them. If this happens move your attention back to the felt-sense of the sensations. Try to keep yourself independent of whatever thoughts and reactions you have. Relax.

Once a physical sensation has disappeared or is no longer compelling, you can return to mindfulness of breathing until some other sensation calls your attention.

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3. Emotions

Mindfulness Exercises for the Third Week

Lengthen your daily meditation session to 25 minutes. When you first sit down, notice the main concerns, feelings, physical sensations that may be pre-occupying you. Acknowledge them and remain attentive to any tendency to become lost in your thoughts concerning these experiences. Meditation proceeds easiest when we are willing to suspend – for the duration of the meditation – the need to think about anything.

At least once during the week “ride out an emotion.” Sometime during the week when you are feeling a strong desire, aversion, fear, or other emotion, don’t act on the feeling. Rather, bring your mindfulness to the feeling and observe the changes it undergoes while you are watching it. You might choose to sit, stand or walk around quietly while you do this study. Things to notice are the various body sensations and tensions, the changes in the feeling’s intensity, the various attitudes and beliefs that you have concerning the presence of the emotion, and perhaps any more primary emotion triggering the feeling. If after a time the emotion goes away, spend some time noticing what its absence feels like.

Spend part of a day making a concentrated effort to notice feelings of happiness, contentment, well-being, joy, pleasure, and ease. Even if your day is primarily characterized by the opposite of these, see if you can identify even subtle and seemingly insignificant moments of these positive states. It can be as simple as appreciating the texture of a doorknob or a flash of ease in your eyes as you notice the blue sky after the fog has burned off. This is not an exercise for manufacturing positive states but rather discovering that these may be much more a part of your life than your preoccupations allow you to notice.

Spend part of another day noticing which feelings tend to pull you into a state of preoccupation. Sometimes there are patterns in the kinds of feelings that lead to becoming lost in thoughts. Common sources for distraction are desire, aversion, restlessness, fear, and doubt. Are any of these more common for you than the others? What is your relationship to these feelings when they appear? As you notice the patterns, does that change how easily you get pulled into their orbit? By clearly noticing their presence, can you overcome any of the ways in which these interfere with, or inhibit, whatever activities you need to do?

4. Thinking

Mindfulness Exercises for the Fourth Week

For the remaining two weeks of this class, extend your daily meditation session to 30 minutes. For at least the first ten minutes, keep your meditation simple — focus on the breath. To the best of your ability, when some other experience gets in the way of being with the breath, simply let it go and come back to the breath. After this ten-minute warm-up period, switch to more open mindfulness. This means continuing with the breath until something else becomes more compelling. When physical sensations, emotions or thinking predominate, let go of the breath and focus your meditative awareness on these. When nothing else is compelling, come back to the breathing.

Spend some time reflecting on the assumptions, attitudes and beliefs you have about your thoughts. Do you usually assume that they are either true false, right or wrong? Do you identify with your thoughts? That is, do you think that what you think defines who you are? Do you believe that your thinking will solve your problems or that it is the only means to understand something? After you have reflected on this on your own, have a conversation with someone about what you have discovered.

Once during the next week, spend a two-hour period tracking the kinds of things you think about. Find some way to remind yourself every few minutes to notice what you are thinking. Are the thoughts primarily self-referential or primarily about others? Do they tend to be critical or judgmental? What is the frequency of thoughts of “should” or “ought”? Are the thoughts mostly directed to the future, to the past, or toward fantasy? Do you tend more toward optimistic thoughts or pessimistic ones? Do your thoughts tend to be apprehensive or peaceful? Contented or dissatisfied? This is not an exercise in judging what you notice, but in simply noticing. Most people live in their thoughts. This is a two-hour exercise in regularly and frequently stepping outside of the thought-stream to take up residence, albeit briefly, in a mindful awareness that is bigger than the thinking mind.

Once during the next week, spend a two-hour period giving particular attention to your intentions. Before we speak or act there is always an impulse of motivation or intention. Notice the various kinds of desires and aversions that fuel your intentions. For this exercise, you might choose a period where you can go about some ordinary activity in a quiet and mostly undisturbed way. You might even slow your activities down some so that you are more likely to notice and evaluate your motivations.

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5. Mind

Meditation Instruction: Mindfulness of the Mind

During meditation periodically ask yourself what is your relationship to what is happening. For example, you may feel some discomfort. Be mindful of your relationship to the discomfort. Are you clinging or resisting? Are you relaxed, generous, or kind towards the discomfort? Once you notice the relationship, hold it in the warmth of your attention. Once you have done this, you can investigate some of the present-moment elements of how you are relating. How does it affect your breathing? Are there any physical sensations or emotions associated with it? What are your beliefs behind it? Also, as you notice the relationship, ask yourself if that relationship or attitude represents a way you want to be or whether it contributes to a sense of dissatisfaction or dis-ease.
Also, remember that there is no need for judging, criticizing or being upset with what we see when we look at our relationship to the present moment, even if what we see is unfortunate or difficult. Similarly, there is no need to praise or get involved with fortunate or preferred attitudes. In either case, the practice is to be mindful of the relationship or attitude without being for it or against it. This practice then allows the relationship or attitude to settle or relax.

Periodically notice the general state of your mind. Does it feel tired or alert, contracted or expanded, calm or agitated, fuzzy or clear, resistant or eager, pushing forward or pulling back? Putting aside whatever commentary or judgments you might have about the state of your mind, use your mindfulness to become more aware of the state. What emotions come with it? What is its felt sense? What relationship is there between your mind state and how your body feels? What does it feel like to step back and observe the state of mind rather than be in it? What happens to your state of mind as you are mindful of it?

Mindfulness Exercises for the Fifth Week

Choose an activity you do on a daily basis. This can be driving to work, preparing breakfast, reading email, etc. For one week each time you do this chosen activity become aware of your state of mind. How does your state of mind influence how you relate to the activity? Keep a log of your changing states over the week and compare the role your mind state has on how you do the activity.
Consider what ordinary activity you do that helps you have a good state of mind. During this week, do this activity more often and become more mindful of what this state of mind is like physically, emotionally and cognitively. Explore how you might realistically maintain this state of mind after you have finished the activity that tends to bring it on.
Have a conversation with a good friend (or complete stranger if that is easier) about what might be the most common attitudes that you operate under. How do these attitudes influence what you do, how you see life, and how you relate to yourself? How do you tend to relate to people who have similar attitudes to your most common ones?

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6. Mindfulness in Daily Life

As in meditation, it is possible to develop greater presence and awareness in our daily lives. Some people find it useful to have cues throughout the day that remind them to notice what is happening in the present, i.e. what they are doing, feeling, or thinking. A common cue is the phone ringing. Rather than rushing to immediately answer the phone, the ringing is a prompt to be mindful. This is also a great way to prepare for the phone conversation.

Some people use walking through doorways as a mindfulness cue. Whenever they walk through a doorway into a different room they notice and pay attention to what is happening with themselves and in the new room. Waiting for traffic lights to turn green can be another cue for a bit of mindfulness.

It can also be useful to bring a heightened mindfulness to particular daily tasks. Some people do this by choosing to eat one meal a day in silence without doing anything else besides eating. Others will do mindfulness while walking – some people will park in a distant parking place so to have a short period of walking meditation. Cleaning can also be a great time to cultivate mindfulness.

A fascinating area for mindfulness is during a conversation. Much can be discovered by listening more actively and tracking one’s internal responses and impulses during the conversation. The qualities needed to listen well are the same qualities needed to meditate well.


The second way to build on the foundation of our mindfulness is to develop greater concentration. Concentration helps provide steadiness and strength to mindfulness. If mindfulness is a telescope then concentration is the tripod that gives stability to the telescope so we can see more clearly.

One way to develop concentration is with regularity of practice. One of the most important things is just practicing every day, day after day. Just as young children benefit from routine and repetition in learning, the mind benefits from regularity of practice.

Another way to develop concentration is going on meditation retreats. This allows us to step out of our lives so we can get a better perspective and perhaps better let go of the regular concerns that often entangle us. Retreats are a time to meditate frequently throughout the day and so get more settled than meditating once a day at home. It can be a great delight to have many of our preoccupations fall away. We can make an analogy of living on the Peninsula and not really being aware of the air quality, then one day, the air is crystal clear and we can see the Mt. Hamilton range across the bay. It is so refreshing to suddenly have that clarity. We didn’t realize what we were missing because we were so accustomed to the smoggy air. To be really present and not have the mind be murky, foggy or distracted is one of the great delights of life. This happens slowly over time if we practice everyday at home, but it happens quicker and deeper when we go on retreat.

If we’re new to meditation we don’t necessarily want to go on retreat right away, but to start doing a regular practice. If we meditate regularly at some point we will probably feel that we would like to do more and then we might consider a retreat. IMC offers many retreats throughout the year. At our Redwood City center we offer daylong retreats monthly. In addition, about six times a year we offer residential retreats that last from two days to two weeks in length at other locations in the Bay Area.


Mindfulness coupled with concentration helps with the unfolding of what Buddhism calls wisdom. Wisdom happens when we are present for our lives and see through our concepts, ideas or judgments and instead understand the bigger picture and context of what’s happening. Some of the concepts or judgments we use are innocent and appropriate enough. However, some concepts bring with them much suffering. Part of the function of mindfulness is to help us cut through all the concepts, interpretations, and “shoulds” so we can see more clearly. And the more clearly we see, the more choices we will discover for living a wise and satisfying life.

Another function of mindfulness is to reveal the difference between the stress of clinging and the peace of releasing that clinging. An important part of wisdom is then learning how to act with this knowledge so that we become more peaceful and more free.

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