Being with the small stuff

miniature mindfulness  |

While sitting, often we focus on our breathing or particular body sensations or bring our attention to the words and images of the mind.  Sometimes I find it difficult to focus on these because there seems to be too much clutter or energy swirling around and too many thoughts.

Sitting again and again, however, one may start to become familiar with some of these “little” phenomena. These are tiny experiences we have that make up more of our overall experience than we imagine. Taking the time to include them in your awareness, not incidentally, but directly — calling them out specifically — can be very interesting. Bringing awareness to these subtle movements is not only great for focusing attention, it also feels like cleaning house at a different level.  Not just picking up your room or doing the dishes, but dusting.

Focus on the minutiae often allows us to see what is going on – what the rhythm, quality, or flavor of the normally unconscious experience really is. This close looking means that we’ve given ourselves permission to feel this.  We have less resistance to it.. less struggle against it.. more flow.  Clearing out some of this subtle ‘gunk’ can leave us feeling like we’re looking through a window that’s been cleaned when previously it wasn’t clean, but we hardly noticed. Now it’s clean – or even open!  In our bodies and energy bodies, clearing out the subtle resistance allows us to experience our normal selves as a little more ‘friction-free’.  It’s part of the mysterious post-meditation quality of walking around.. we feel a little better, but we can’t quite say why.

Let me call out some of these subtle patterns that I’ve noticed. You can see if you can tune into them, too — or add some of your own in the comments! These are the little movements of energy that normally go overlooked.

— Little waves of energy that come up the front of your body – like getting a “chill” but much much more subtle. There seems to be no direct connection between the belly, chest and front of the face, but these waves seem to flow in that space.

— The feeling that your body is alive.. that little ‘buzz’ feeling. I always relate this to my Goenka retreat experience where this buzz became a whole body shower of sensation which wasn’t subtle at all.  You can feel it in almost any part of the body that you tune into. Try your lips or fingertips.

— While sitting with eyes closed, I find that I’m still sensing a ‘looking’ quality to my awareness.  I feel as if I’m looking at my sensation.. this directional quality is an illusion of sorts – half way between a sensation itself and an idea.  If I’m focused on a sensation in my leg, for instance, I feel as if I’m looking down to see it.. when the sensation itself isn’t below awareness — it’s in it!  Try to tune into this perception of a directional awareness. Imagine being free from this one!

— Closed eyes can be an interesting focus. No pun intended. Often I’ll find my eyes re-focusing, or shifting or moving when they are closed. This often occurs when something in my thoughts changes – or I suddenly become more or less ‘aware’ during sitting. The eyes change as if to ‘look’ at the new thought. This exercise is like sleep lab eye tracking from the inside.

— Subtle ‘holdings’ in the body. Often we are very subtly protecting ourselves from feeling something else by slightly tensing some part of our body.  Finding these holdings allows you to see them clearly and often they release. What happens to the thing you were trying to protect yourself from – does it expand? Does it exist? Often it disappears. You’ll find yourself more relaxed and at ease.. with the original object and the holding both passing away.

All of these and more are available for us to notice during sitting meditation. Two teachers’ teachings come to mind around this subject. Shinzen Young often says, “subtle is significant”. I think I’m starting to understand this.

The other teacher is Wei Wu Wei, who helps us to understand why things change when they are observed; why they often drop away or cease to cause clinging and suffering for us. He reminds us that nothing objective can be our true nature. When we see these subtle happenings as things that are happening – they are objects and we see them as objects and cease to identify with them (as the subject, or self). By identifying the subtle objects, who we really are – pure awareness – has cast off another tiny piece we were unconsciously identifying with as part of self… and we become freer.

Just a little bit freer.