| vs. /

This dharma talk, the 6th in the series by Joseph Goldstein on the Satipatthana Sutta, is about the refrain – specifically, the instructions for the meditator to remain “Independent, not clinging to anything in the world..” while contemplating the 4 abodes of mindfulness.

Something that Joseph said during this talk took my breath away and had me smiling from ear to ear. It was the smile of finally seeing something – finally understanding something that’s been heard many times but never truly understood.

He was talking about our tendency to “lean forward” into the future. The subtle habit of the mind to look for things in the next moment – the next day – the next whatever. Planning mind is a version of this, he said. So are many forms of desire. He had been speaking, in particular about the “desire of continued existence” and he used this phrase about “leaning forward”. Then he said the truly amazing thing.  He said that leaning forward of the mind is what is called in Buddhism, “Becoming”.

To understand the idea of “leaning in” or “leaning forward” one can think of several examples or instances that illustrate the concept. One is posture. Standing straight vs. leaning on something for support. The sitting posture of meditation is itself an embodied example of not-leaning in — of independence with regard to the things of the world. Being aware of arising and passing at any of the six sense gates, without a grasping or reaching for objects; without proliferating thought – that is being independent. Contentment with what is rather than continuously seeking more, new, and different experiences is another form of independence. It is stillness instead of motion; being instead of doing. In some ways, it all comes down to practicing this:


instead of this:


‘Becoming’ is one of the twelve links of dependent origination. It is the one immediately preceding birth-and-death. The Buddha is telling us to do our meditation independent from clinging to things of the world – telling us not to lean into the next moment; not to grasp at whatever is arising and passing. When we do, we bring ourselves into the future, because by craving, by wishing, by grasping and clinging — we are leaning into the future. That is we are engaged in, and powering, this process of becoming.  We are spinning the wheel of Samsara.

Buddhist psychology and buddhist metaphysics are intertwined to a great degree (they might even be identical, but that is another topic for exploration). What Joseph’s comment did for me is allow me to a) see the connection between the subjective sense of “leaning” and the function of “becoming” and b) gave me an insight into the meaning of “becoming” that had been lacking before. On the cushion, you can directly experience this sense of leaning. You can see it clearly (and more easily than you can in the midst of daily life). Knowing what the leaning feels like – it is possible to understand what it means not to lean. It is a glimpse of the possibility of stillness in the midst of motion. Practicing non-leaning is another way of practicing non-grasping, non-clinging and ultimately, non-attachment — it’s just a very direct and practical instruction for how to do it.

Any instruction that is is clear in the mind and offers such a powerful insight into practice is very, very welcome on the path. Joseph’s series on the Satipatthana is full of them.

More energetic activity while sitting

Typically, when I bring this up with meditators, they may not be familiar with energy-body phenomena while on the cushion. Once in a while, though, I find someone who knows exactly what I’m talking about and there are certainly people on the web who are searching for answers about strange energetic experiences they are having, too.

During this past retreat, I had a few interesting energetic experiences. These only come when I’ve had some time to get concentrated — a day or two into a retreat, for instance. It used to take me even longer – say four or five days – but now it comes much earlier, presumably due to being more seasoned at this point.

I do not know why, but sensations around my nose are very common for me. Perhaps the most frequent is a sensation of downward force – as if someone were pulling the bone structure of my nose down with about 7 or 8 pounds of force. It’s quite strong, but not at all painful. It’s persistent, though.  It may start at the beginning of a sit and last for the remainder of the sit – sometimes 20 or 30 minutes. I typically acknowledge it as a phenomena and go back to focusing on my breath or body or whatever my intended focus was. Once I get up from sitting it vanishes. Along with the downward pull on the nose, an upward pressure on the roof of my mouth is also common. It’s as if the shape of my skull is being changed (I like to think that whatever the force is, it’s in line with the good intentions and liberating energies of my meditation as a whole and is therefore benevolent).

On my most recent retreat, I had two interesting energy experiences that were unique in my meditation history.

During one session, a strong presence was felt in the center of my body. The energy there contracted quite noticeably and felt as if it had become solid. The feeling began in my belly, but continued up through my chest, up through my neck, up through my face and out through my forehead. I was surprised by the way the energy formed and moved — as if a 4″ diameter rod of solid matter was suddenly making it’s way, like a new skeletal structure up the front of my body, slightly curved forward like a giant rib. Then, it just stayed there. I was suspended; held upright and motionless by this new support. My attention was riveted, but I wasn’t afraid. I simply observed and watched for changes, movement, and texture. This event lasted somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 minutes or so. Prior to it happening, I was focused primarily on the back pain I had been having. The pain was greatly reduced, but not gone when the event was over.

Another energy phenomena that occurred followed a session of neti-neti, where I was asking the question “who am I?” and following awareness back to it’s roots. Each object that seemed to arise in answer to ‘who am I?’ was seen as an object and not as the subjective knower I was looking for — so every object is rejected and the focus moved to whatever sense of self had been aware of it. This is an interesting technique, but it’s hard work. It’s intense. It can feel like tunneling back into your own head. It can feel very contractive. It was in the middle of this kind of a contraction when I had the thought -you can’t SEE it (the Mind, the self, the knower) — you have to BE it. At that thought, a sensation in my head arose that felt as if the upper right part of my skull was expanding like a balloon.  It kept getting bigger.  This bubble, the outer portion of which I took to be my physical boundary, grew until it was the size of a watermelon, then kept growing, until it stretched the boundary of not just my head, but my neck, shoulder and right side down to my waist. The “balloon” felt as if it were 4 or 5 feet in diameter and it flopped to the side, as if it weren’t holding up it’s own weight. It was a very expansive feeling and lasted until the end of the sit.. probably only 5 minutes or so. Again, I tried to stay calm, accept this as any other phenomena and allow it to do whatever it was meant to do. After it was over, I was left feeling refreshed, concentrated, and free of my back pain and any contractive feelings in my head. I felt great, actually.  I had an interview with the teacher immediately afterwards and this amazing energy experience wasn’t even the focus of our discussion.. but it sure was a notable event.

Please share with me any energy experiences you’ve had. I know people out there are having these experiences. Perhaps there is something we can learn together about what they are and how they relate to the process of meditation and getting free.

Satipatthana Sutta (Book and Dharmatalks)

My studies have led me to the Satipatthana Sutta in the form of this book:

Satipatthana: The Direct Path to Realizationby Analayo

It is a wonderful text and delves into the components of the sutta with great detail, allowing anyone to understand, contemplate and practice one of the methods of meditation taught by the Buddha himself. While the formula may or may not contain much novel meditative material (depending on what you’re already familiar with) it presents it in a structure which is very thorough and effective — reminding us not only what objects of meditation are useful, but how to most effectively approach these meditations in terms of mindfulness, independence (not-self), and impermanence — thus encouraging insight as well as a steadiness of mind.

Along with this book, I was also tipped off to a series of talks given by Joseph Goldstein, where he expounds upon the Analayo text chapter by chapter.  What a treasure!!


I’m very excited to make my way through this series and continue reading the book.  Why not join me!