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Observing mind through body

techietechie India Veteran

What I mean is, observing what the mind does by observing bodily sensations/reactions. For instance, I get coughing when I become uncertain, stomach pain when nervous, etc. It is like the body reacts differently to different mental states. So I figured why not observe the body instead of the mind? In the waking state, this method worked well and I was in control (relatively speaking). But the problem returned in the sleep state again.

Does anyone have any experience/insights on this? I dont know the technical term or if what I did was some sort of meditation at all. But it makes sense to me to 'use' the body to observe the mind (rather than observe the mind directly).

Comments

  • personperson Where is my mind? 'Merica! Veteran
    edited March 2016

    I've read a couple books on body language and people communicate a lot about what they are thinking and feeling in the way they move and position their bodies. That is probably somewhat off target from what you are talking about but maybe learning about our unconscious body movements would help.

    No one but you can see your own mind though and looking directly will give the clearest picture, but supplementing that insight with outer knowledge can help us notice things that are maybe still in the hidden places in our mind. So like maybe someone feels shy but they can't see it themselves, so they learn about body language and they notice that whenever they are in a conversation they cross their arms (guarding themselves) and point their feet away from the other person (want to leave). If they notice those things maybe they can learn something about themselves that they couldn't otherwise face directly.

  • Mind affects the body just as body affects the mind.

    In anapanasati(mindfulness of breathing), calming of the breath leads to calming of the mind. Similarly when mind is agitated, breathing become less calm.

    So, yes. You can observe the mind using the body. You can also control/calm the mind using the body.

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.118.than.html

    lobster
  • FosdickFosdick in its eye are mirrored far off mountains Alaska, USA Veteran
    edited March 2016

    I think your approach is inspired. What you describe is very similar to the energy healing practice of focusing and centering, awareness and energy away from the head and into the lower body.

    In that modality, it is held that the free flow of energy through the body is crucial to health, and that many physical and mental problems come about as the result of blockages that interfere with the natural flow of energy, causing pain or other dysfunction at the area of the blockage. If the blockage is in the head, in the mind, then the practice would be to draw energy away from that area to the lower body both by means of meditation, and by various physical exercises that are held to encourage and restore a healthy energy flow. Thus relieved of stress, I think the mind can then return to some measure of equanimity and gain some breathing space to deal with the problem.

    I think that what you're doing is very similar to this, not conceptually perhaps, but by the end result - but really it's all meditation at the core.

    I'm going to mention a physical exercise that I personally found to be quite helpful, and might possibly even help with the sleep difficulties, but I am emphatically no expert on this stuff.

    The exercise is called toe-tapping - lie flat on the back, arms at the sides, heels slightly apart. The legs must rotate from the hips in doing this exercise - rotate or rock your legs and feet, leaving heels in place against the floor. Roll the legs, tapping big toes together, then letting the legs roll back out, keeping legs straight. Tap fairly rapidly. Relax, listen to music if you wish, music with a rapid, rhythmic beat.

    20 minutes of this is good, probably shouldn't attempt more that 5 at first, though. I thought it was tough going the first time. Daily practice. Give it a month, at least.

    "Once you stop, rest on your back. Notice how you feel and relax in this position for a moment. Where is your awareness in your body at this moment? Become aware of how you feel in your feet, legs, pelvis, torso, arms, hands, chest, and head."
    (Chiasson, 2013)

  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    edited March 2016

    @pegembara is right about the interdependence of mind-body. One is the mirror of the other and breath awareness is the dharma way.

    The Buddha practiced pranayama breath retention and ... got a headache.

    "...I stopped the in-breaths & out-breaths in my nose & mouth. As I did so, there was a loud roaring of winds coming out my earholes, just like the loud roar of winds coming out of a smith's bellows... So I stopped the in-breaths & out-breaths in my nose & mouth & ears. As I did so, extreme forces sliced through my head, just as if a strong man were slicing my head open with a sharp sword... Extreme pains arose in my head... There was an extreme burning in my body... And although tireless persistence was aroused in me, and unmuddled mindfulness established, my body was aroused & uncalm because of the painful exertion... But with this racking practice of austerities I haven't attained any superior human state, any distinction in knowledge or vision worthy of the noble ones. Could there be another path to Awakening?"

    I would recommend the physical Buddhist teachings to augment your practice. There are Buddhist yogas. I have practiced Oki Yoga and a copy of it which I taught.
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zen_yoga

    More readily available, maybe not in India, is Tai Chi/chi kung. This uses a much softer breath and greater body awareness, rather than body cultivation. The difference is very subtle and I would suggest the Taoist art is more in alignment with dharma.

  • @techie said:> What I mean is, observing what the mind does by observing bodily sensations/reactions. For instance, I get coughing when I become uncertain, stomach pain when nervous, etc. It is like the body reacts differently to different mental states. So I figured why not observe the body instead of the mind? In the waking state, this method worked well and I was in control (relatively speaking). But the problem returned in the sleep state again.

    It's good that you are noticing the connection, but it's worth paying attention directly to what arises in the mind. Mental states are more subtle than physical sensations and seeing them clearly requires some practice. Traditionally there are four foundations of mindfulness, the body is the first. The Satipatthana Sutta is worth a look. https://suttacentral.net/en/mn10

    lobsterrohitVastmind
  • techietechie India Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:

    @techie said:> What I mean is, observing what the mind does by observing bodily sensations/reactions. For instance, I get coughing when I become uncertain, stomach pain when nervous, etc. It is like the body reacts differently to different mental states. So I figured why not observe the body instead of the mind? In the waking state, this method worked well and I was in control (relatively speaking). But the problem returned in the sleep state again.

    It's good that you are noticing the connection, but it's worth paying attention directly to what arises in the mind. Mental states are more subtle than physical sensations and seeing them clearly requires some practice. Traditionally there are four foundations of mindfulness, the body is the first. The Satipatthana Sutta is worth a look. https://suttacentral.net/en/mn10

    That's precisely the issue - since the mind states are so subtle it is hard to notice them. They slip away so quickly. Besides, mind doesnt exist independently - so i figured why not use the body for meditation?

    rohit
  • @techie said:

    @SpinyNorman said:

    @techie said:> What I mean is, observing what the mind does by observing bodily sensations/reactions. For instance, I get coughing when I become uncertain, stomach pain when nervous, etc. It is like the body reacts differently to different mental states. So I figured why not observe the body instead of the mind? In the waking state, this method worked well and I was in control (relatively speaking). But the problem returned in the sleep state again.

    It's good that you are noticing the connection, but it's worth paying attention directly to what arises in the mind. Mental states are more subtle than physical sensations and seeing them clearly requires some practice. Traditionally there are four foundations of mindfulness, the body is the first. The Satipatthana Sutta is worth a look. https://suttacentral.net/en/mn10

    That's precisely the issue - since the mind states are so subtle it is hard to notice them. They slip away so quickly. Besides, mind doesnt exist independently - so i figured why not use the body for meditation?

    Start with thoughts then. ;)

  • BarahBarah Veteran

    @techie said:
    What I mean is, observing what the mind does by observing bodily sensations/reactions. For instance, I get coughing when I become uncertain, stomach pain when nervous, etc. It is like the body reacts differently to different mental states. So I figured why not observe the body instead of the mind? In the waking state, this method worked well and I was in control (relatively speaking). But the problem returned in the sleep state again.

    Does anyone have any experience/insights on this? I dont know the technical term or if what I did was some sort of meditation at all. But it makes sense to me to 'use' the body to observe the mind (rather than observe the mind directly).

    I can say that the mind are inseparable. There in no one without the other. You can see that, while looking at your body "shape" while thinking about something. Every time you think about something, your body empathize, and does it through stress, tension. Face expressions are the easiest to observe. So, when you observe your body, you observe your mind, and vice versa. If you relax you body, you will relax your mind, and vice versa. Try doing that, and you will see that with totally relaxed body, mind becomes quiet.

  • @Barah said: So, when you observe your body, you observe your mind, and vice versa.

    No, you observe your body. If you want to observe your mind you need to notice thoughts, feelings, states of mind, stuff like that.

  • BarahBarah Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:

    @Barah said: So, when you observe your body, you observe your mind, and vice versa.

    No, you observe your body. If you want to observe your mind you need to notice thoughts, feelings, states of mind, stuff like that.

    Go and observe them, because you have a lot to learn.

  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman Veteran
    edited March 2016

    @Barah said:> > @SpinyNorman said:

    @Barah said: So, when you observe your body, you observe your mind, and vice versa.

    No, you observe your body. If you want to observe your mind you need to notice thoughts, feelings, states of mind, stuff like that.

    Go and observe them, because you have a lot to learn.

    I've been observing them for quite some time. Clearly thoughts, feelings and states of mind are not the same as bodily sensations like an itch or pain. Can't you tell the difference?

    Why do you think there are four foundations of mindfulness in the Satipatthana Sutta, rather than just one? https://suttacentral.net/en/mn10

    It's also worth noting that the suttas distinguish between bodily and mental feeling, here for example in the Arrow Sutta: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn36/sn36.006.than.html

  • BarahBarah Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:
    I've been observing them for quite some time. Clearly thoughts, feelings and states of mind are not the same as bodily sensations like an itch or pain. Can't you tell the difference?

    Don't you feel the pain? Does your thoughts arise as pure logic, without any sensation? Have you ever been in "no state of mind"?
    Thoughts, feelings, states of mind, pain, itch and whatever category you can come up with, you can never experience it separately, but still, you promote such nonsense.

    There is only one body-mind which can take different shapes, and has different access points. It is one flow for the one who uses it, and he does it using stress (another story, for more advanced users).
    Your tendency for differentiation comes from the fact that you took your intellect as yourself. Believe me, it can only divide and categorize, and there is no end to it.

  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman Veteran
    edited March 2016

    @Barah said: Thoughts, feelings, states of mind, pain, itch and whatever category you can come up with, you can never experience it separately, but still, you promote such nonsense.

    I can tell the difference between a thought and an itch. Can't you? The differentiation is there in the suttas of course. Why do you think there are four foundations of mindfulness and not just one? Why do think the suttas make the distinction between bodily and mental pain?

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    edited March 2016

    @Barah said: No, you observe your body. If you want to observe your mind you need to notice thoughts, feelings, states of mind, stuff like that.
    Go and observe them, because you have a lot to learn.

    @Barah said: Thoughts, feelings, states of mind, pain, itch and whatever category you can come up with, you can never experience it separately, but still, you promote such nonsense.

    Moderator note:

    @Barah, I will both thank and advise you to adjust your tone and be more civil.
    To be so dismissive and directly provocative is not acceptable. Thank you.

  • BarahBarah Veteran
    edited March 2016

    @SpinyNorman said:
    Why do you think there are four foundations of mindfulness and not just one? Why do think the suttas make the distinction between bodily and mental pain?

    1. Observing the body(Body!!!)

    Breathing in deep they clearly know ‘I am breathing in deep’ (Thought!!!); breathing out deep they clearly know ‘I am breathing out deep’.

    They practice like this: ‘I will breathe in experiencing the whole breath’ (Feeling!!!); they practice like this: ‘I will breathe out experiencing the whole breath’.

    Body, thought, feeling -> INSEPARABLE!!!

  • Anapanasati is mindfulness of the bodily sensations involved in breathing. You're not actually supposed to think "I am breathing" while practising it, rather you are meant to focus directly on the sensations of breathing.

    You still haven't answered my questions. Why do you think there are four foundations of mindfulness and not just one? Why do think the suttas make the distinction between bodily and mental pain?

  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited March 2016

    I agree body and thought are together. And I connect that to a recalled memory of a teaching song by my teachers teacher Khenpo Gyamptso Tsultrim Rinpoche that thinking mind and body are separate is suffering. He would probably have more to say about that to unpack it but unfortunately I just have the rote memory. But I still see the point in looking at them as distinct as Spiny Norman says. Thich Nhat Hanh does the "I am breathing" thing a lot in guided meditations I recall.

  • BarahBarah Veteran
    edited March 2016

    @SpinyNorman said:
    Anapanasati is mindfulness of the bodily sensations involved in breathing. You're not actually supposed to think "I am breathing" while practising it, rather you are meant to focus directly on the sensations of breathing.

    So, now you are claiming that the sutta you quoted is wrong? No, it isn't. You just don't understand what it is all about.

    Why do you think there are four foundations of mindfulness and not just one?

    "There is only one body-mind which can take different shapes, and has different access points." You can apply your focus to a different aspect of your being. This method happens to use those four.

  • DavidDavid some guy The Hammer in Ontario, Canada, eh Veteran
    edited March 2016

    When I first started sitting meditation I know I benefited from actually thinking the words "breathing in I know I am breathing in. Breathing out I know I am breathing out" as it would help bring me back to center.

    Keeping on repeating it like a mantra could be counter-productive when aiming for silence but once or twice can bring us back to being in the present.

    I still find myself doing it quite a bit and even when washing dishes as cliche as that sounds.

    @techie said:
    What I mean is, observing what the mind does by observing bodily sensations/reactions. For instance, I get coughing when I become uncertain, stomach pain when nervous, etc. It is like the body reacts differently to different mental states. So I figured why not observe the body instead of the mind? In the waking state, this method worked well and I was in control (relatively speaking). But the problem returned in the sleep state again.

    You could use the body to observe the mind in the way you suggest but you would still be using the mind to observe the body which observes the mind.

    I say this because in light of non-separation, all borders are constructs and what once seemed like opposites are now perceived more as complimentary aspects of the same thing.

    The relationship between the body and the mind is like this. Complimentary aspects of the same thing working in co-operation.

    Does anyone have any experience/insights on this? I dont know the technical term or if what I did was some sort of meditation at all. But it makes sense to me to 'use' the body to observe the mind (rather than observe the mind directly).

    I'm sure it couldn't hurt to try different methods from time to time and see what happens.

  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman Veteran
    edited March 2016

    @Barah said: > @SpinyNorman said:>

    Why do you think there are four foundations of mindfulness and not just one?

    "There is only one body-mind which can take different shapes, and has different access points." You can apply your focus to a different aspect of your being. This method happens to use those four.

    No, the suttas differentiate between bodily and mental experiences because they are qualitatively different, and this distinction is important in understanding why we experience dukkha. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn36/sn36.006.than.html

    I don't understand what you mean by "access points", mindfulness involves directing attention to particular aspects of bodily or mental experience.

  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman Veteran
    edited March 2016

    @David said: Keeping on repeating it like a mantra could be counter-productive when aiming for silence but once or twice can bring us back to being in the present.

    The practice is mindfulness of breathing, not mindfulness of words or numbers or whatever.
    Words or numbers can be used as an initial support, but the idea is to drop them as soon as practical, not get attached to them. The idea is to focus directly on the bodily sensations of breathing, and allow mental activity to calm and eventually cease.

  • BarahBarah Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:

    No, the suttas differentiate between bodily and mental experiences because they are qualitatively different, and this distinction is important in understanding why we experience dukkha.

    Dukkha is stress, and applying stress to a particular "access point" is our way of controlling body-mind. We do it because of intentions, which are born out of knowledge. Because body cannot be separated from the mind, every though is embodied. In other words, if you think about something, your body is always trying to incarnate into this situation you are thinking about. Moreover, if you are expecting a certain result (intention) your body will take shape of this result, through stress (the reason why you expect a certain result is karma). Detachment means that there is no more intention, so no applied stress, and since body-mind fully connected, it can function on its own.
    If you don't understand that, you will never be able to let go of control, so there always will be intention and suffering.
    Here you go, Buddhism in one paragraph.

    I don't understand what you mean by "access points", mindfulness involves directing attention to particular aspects of bodily or mental experience.

    Every aspect of yours, you can direct your attention to, is an access point. Because every aspect is connected with the rest, you will always access the whole thing. There are no thoughts without feelings etc.

  • DavidDavid some guy The Hammer in Ontario, Canada, eh Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:

    @David said: Keeping on repeating it like a mantra could be counter-productive when aiming for silence but once or twice can bring us back to being in the present.

    The practice is mindfulness of breathing, not mindfulness of words or numbers or whatever.
    Words or numbers can be used as an initial support, but the idea is to drop them as soon as practical, not get attached to them. The idea is to focus directly on the bodily sensations of breathing, and allow mental activity to calm and eventually cease.

    Potehto, potahto

  • @Barah said:

    @SpinyNorman said:

    No, the suttas differentiate between bodily and mental experiences because they are qualitatively different, and this distinction is important in understanding why we experience dukkha.

    Dukkha is stress, and applying stress to a particular "access point" is our way of controlling body-mind. We do it because of intentions, which are born out of knowledge. Because body cannot be separated from the mind, every though is embodied. In other words, if you think about something, your body is always trying to incarnate into this situation you are thinking about. Moreover, if you are expecting a certain result (intention) your body will take shape of this result, through stress (the reason why you expect a certain result is karma). Detachment means that there is no more intention, so no applied stress, and since body-mind fully connected, it can function on its own.
    If you don't understand that, you will never be able to let go of control, so there always will be intention and suffering.
    Here you go, Buddhism in one paragraph.

    I don't understand what you mean by "access points", mindfulness involves directing attention to particular aspects of bodily or mental experience.

    Every aspect of yours, you can direct your attention to, is an access point. Because every aspect is connected with the rest, you will always access the whole thing. There are no thoughts without feelings etc.

    Obviously there is interconnection, but in my experience it is only possible to pay close attention to one aspect of experience at a time, the rest becomes peripheral. That is why there are four foundations of mindfulness and not just one.

    lobster
  • BarahBarah Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:
    Obviously there is interconnection, but in my experience it is only possible to pay close attention to one aspect of experience at a time, the rest becomes peripheral.

    Naturally. Moreover, because of that, you can see the interconnection. Look at your thoughts for awhile, then jump into feelings and body sensations and see that they followed your thoughts. And after noticing, you will see that your thoughts are now related to your sensations. They are never separate, doing their own job.

    That is why there are four foundations of mindfulness and not just one.

    Since all those components are interconnected, there can only be one mindfulness. You either have it, or not.

  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman Veteran
    edited March 2016

    @Barah said: Since all those components are interconnected, there can only be one mindfulness. You either have it, or not.

    Mindfulness, like consciousness, always has specific objects, and always has a focus, so saying there can only be one mindfulness doesn't make much sense.

    Obviously the objects are interconnected, but that doesn't mean we can be aware of them all at the same time.

  • BarahBarah Veteran
    edited March 2016

    @SpinyNorman said:
    Mindfulness, like consciousness, always has specific objects, and always has a focus, so saying there can only be one mindfulness doesn't make much sense.

    Being mindful doesn't mean you keep your focus uninterrupted. It is effortless clarity which keep you aware of everything that is happening. It may arise as a consequence of applied focus, but mindfulness itself remain intentionless. To be mindful, is to be aware of everything as it arises. Applied focus is different, it remains steady on the object of meditation.

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn47/sn47.035.than.html
    Body, thoughts, feelings, perceptions, all are noticed. The goal of applied focus is to not get distracted by anything.

  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman Veteran
    edited March 2016

    @Barah said: To be mindful, is to be aware of everything as it arises. Applied focus is different, it remains steady on the object of meditation.
    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn47/sn47.035.than.html

    No, it isn't possible to be aware of everything at the same time, and mindfulness is the applied focus on particular aspects of experience.

    The sutta you referenced confirms this, note the significance of the phrases "remains focused on" and "in and of itself" in this passage describing mindfulness:

    "And how is a monk mindful? There is the case where a monk remains focused on the body in & of itself — ardent, alert, & mindful — subduing greed & distress with reference to the world. He remains focused on feelings... mind... mental qualities in & of themselves — ardent, alert, & mindful — subduing greed & distress with reference to the world. This is how a monk is mindful."

    I would say that there is a deeper knowing which arises as a result of practising mindfulness.

  • BarahBarah Veteran
    edited March 2016

    As you can see, he remains focused on all those phenomena. This is totally different than applied focus which by its nature is attained through suppression. When you are trying to focus on something, you do it by removing everything else from your perspective (using stress in form of tension). There is no other way. So, if you direct your focus on your physical body, you will suppress mental phenomena. You will try to keep the mind quiet. If you focus on your thoughts, you will totally forget your body, which will empathize your thoughts. That is our normal functioning, not mindfulness, as it divides instead of unifying. When you are asked to "be focused!", see the tension that arises. This tension requires energy and is hard to maintain. If you have ever tried to do it for a longer period of time, you probably know that the effect comes suddenly, when all this tension is let go of. Deeper knowing arises, when you are no longer able to sustain tension. This is mindfulness, and since no tension is present, nothing is suppressed. Since nothing is suppressed, everything is effortlessly seen as it arises, and attention is not driven by intention (see the correlation between intention and tension). Understanding applied stress is crucial for understanding how we function.

    For example, try not to think. You will have to apply tension to achieve it, and you will fail after few seconds. This clearly shows that thoughts are on the other side, meaning, they are not created by us (not self). Feelings are even harder to control (not self). Sensations coming from the world (not self). The only thing we have is stress, and that's what we are build of. Without stress there is no self. But if you identify with your thoughts, you will use stress to fight them, using... stress, thus enforcing the self.

    So, although applied focus can lead to mindfulness (as a side effect), it's better to know why, and how it function. This knowing takes you to a higher level of practice, where you can apply mindfulness directly. But if you train in applied focus, your muscles grow stronger, taking you further from mindfulness. Paradoxically, your ability to attain mindfulness decrease with time. This is clearly seen in beginners, who explode with insights. Later on, your insights are gone even if you meditate longer. There is nothing worse than an old practitioner full of envy which transforms into contempt. Just try going to a forum, where there are "advanced" practitioners, and start talking about your experience. You will see.

  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman Veteran
    edited March 2016

    @Barah said: As you can see, he remains focused on all those phenomena. This is totally different than applied focus which by its nature is attained through suppression.

    I don't know where you're getting this from, but it's not the what suttas describe. The suttas describe focussing attention on particular aspects of experience, it's actually very straightforward. It's nothing to do with suppression or tension.

    Possibly you are confusing satipatthana ( mindfulness practice ) with panna, which is the deeper knowing of wisdom, the fruit of mindfulness. Possibly you are confusing satipatthana with some kind of formless meditation, where there is just sitting with present experience.

  • BarahBarah Veteran
    edited March 2016

    @SpinyNorman said:

    @Barah said: As you can see, he remains focused on all those phenomena. This is totally different than applied focus which by its nature is attained through suppression.

    I don't know where you're getting this from, but it's not the what suttas describe. The suttas describe focussing attention on particular aspects of experience, it's actually very straightforward.

    It's not that easy if you have to focus on them all (it's impossible). I explained this in details, but is seems you are interested only in maintaining your understanding.

  • My interest is in a correct understanding of satipatthana practice, based on how the suttas describe it.

  • BarahBarah Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:
    My interest is in a correct understanding of satipatthana practice, based on how the suttas describe it.

    How's the progress?

  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman Veteran
    edited March 2016

    It's been interesting. I spent quite a long time working with the sense bases and getting a feel for the conditionality of experience ( the sense bases are an aspect of the fourth foundation of mindfulness ). Also working with the elements, including noticing space. I've now reverted to a simpler approach, focussing on bodily sensation, it's become pretty intuitive now.

    lobster
  • BarahBarah Veteran

    Sounds good.

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