Dark Zen & Mindfulness in Plain English
I ran into an interview with 'Dark Zen,' who operates a very interesting website
where he actually explains very well the 'before the breath' awareness meditation I've been doing. Some excerpts:
Dark Zen: Just sit down and try Dark Zen Meditation. Try and become anterior to in and out breathing. Once there, anyone will sense, for the first time, the sovereign will. They will also understand that this is the beginning of nirvana in which the will is coming near to itself. But remember, you are not going to gain access to the fullness of sovereign will in a matter of minutes. It will take time. Most people are still heavily tied to the breath. It is unimaginable for them that, as will, they are really thoroughly before the breath -- including the physical body.
Ramon: His 'anterior' to breath is what I call "before where breath arises at every instant." It's not a 'place' in the body, but a particular niche in the Now. I know when I'm 'in the anterior groove' because I feel my heartbeat spread to my extremities and a certain warmth radiate from my chest. Try it! You'll like it!
As for his 'the sovereign will' as the description of the place, I'm not too sure that's what I'd call it. 'Will' has a bit of a 'push' to it. I feel THAT might be a better name, but I'll have to experience it more and deeper for an answer.
For the whole interview, go to http://www.darkzen.com/Articles/meditationQA.htm.
While I'm boring you with unsolicited meditation tips, I append another one that I just mailed a friend:
Yours for puddles of peace spreading ever wider... (Riqui our dog approves of this -- sort of Nirvana tagging...)
I'm also reading the "Mindfulness in Plain English" book by Henepola Gunaratana, which I've found very accessible, although "wet" Vipassana teacher Jeff Brooks tends to put it down as too academic. But I've found some good tips in it, such as the chapter on 'Mindfulness versus Concentration.' A few quotes:
Concentration and mindfulness are distinctly different functions. They each have their role to play in meditation, and the relationship between them i.e. definite and delicate. Concentration is often called one-pointedness pf ,omd/ It consists of forcing the mind to remain on one static point. Please note the word 'force.' Concentration is pretty much a forced type of activity. It can be developed by force, by sheer unremitting willpower. And once developed, it retains some of that forced flavor. Mindfulness, on the other hand, is a delicate function leading to refined sensibilities. These two are partners in the job of meditation. Mindfulness is the sensitive one. She notices things. Concentration provides the power. He keeps the attention pinned down to one item. Mindfulness picks the objects of attention and notices when the attention has gone astray. Comcentation does the actual work of holding the attention on that chosen object. If either of these partners is weak, your meditation goes astray [or I would say 'out of balance with the other].
Concentration should be regarded as a tool. Like any tool, it can be used for good or for ill. A sharp knife can be used to create a beautiful carving or to harm someone. It is all up to the one who uses the knife. Properly used, concentration can assist you toward Liberation. But it also can be used in the service of the ego. You can use concentration to dominate others. The real problem is that concentration alone will not give you a perspective on yourself. It won't throw light on the basic nature of suffering. . . . Only mindfulness can do that. If mindfulness is not there then it is all for nothing. Only mindfulness understands. Only mindfulness brings wisdom. Concentration has other limitations too.
[He then goes on to explain how really deep concentration requires specific set and setting provided either by monasteries -- someone to brush off the ants, so to speak -- or in seclusion -- controlled environments]
Mindfulness, on the other hand, is free from all these drawbacks. Mindfulness is not dependent on any such particular circumstance, physical or otherwise. It is a pure noticing factor. Thus it is free to notice whatever comes up -- lust, hatred, or noise. Mindfulness is not limited by any condition. It exists to some extent in every moment, in every circumstance that arises. Also, mindfulness has no fixed object of focus. It observes change. Thus it has an unlimited number of objects of attention. It just looks at whatever is passing through the mind and does not categorize.
Distractions and interruptions are noticed with the same a mount of attentions as the formal objects of meditation. In a state of pure mindfulness, you attention just flows along with whatever changes are taking place in the mind, "Shift, shift, shift. Now this, now this, and now this."
You cannot develop mindfulness by force. Active teeth-gritting willpower wo't do you any good at all. As a matter of fact, it will hinder progress. Mindfulness cannot be cultivated by struggle. It grows by realizing, by letting go, by just settling down in the moment and letting yourself get comfortable with whatever you are experiencing. This does not mean that mindfulness happens all by itself. Energy is required, Effort is required. But this effort is different from force. Mindfulness is cultivated by a gentle effort. The meditator cultivates mindfulness by constantly reminding him/ herself in a gentle way to maintain awareness of whatever is happening right now. Persistence and a light touch are the secrets. Mindfulness is cultivated by constantly pulling oneself back to a state of awareness, gently, gently, gently.
Mindfulness can't be used in any selfish way, either. It is egoless alertness. There is no 'me' in a state of pure mindfulness, so there is no self to be selfish... In a state of mindfulness you see yourself as you are... You see your own suffering, and you see how you create that suffering. You see how you hurt others. You pierce right through the layer of lies that you normally tell yourself, and you see what is really there. Mindfulness leads to wisdom.
There is however a Catch-22. Mindfulness does not react to what it sees. It just sees and understands. Mindfulness is the essence of patience. Therefore, whatever you see must simply be accepted, acknowledged, and dispassionately observed. This is not easy, but it is utterly necessary. We are ignorance. We are selfish and greedy. We lust and we lie. These are facts. Mindfulness means seeing these facts and being patient with ourselves. [I call it 'Be your own baby. Change the baby's diapers, nurse it with bliss, burp it frequently].
If we want to grow in mindfulness, we must accept what mindfulness finds. It may be boredom, irritation, or fear. It may be weakness, inadequacy or faults. Whatever it is, that is the way we are. That is what is real.
If you want to grow in mindfulness, patience acceptance is the only route. Mindfulness grows only one way: by continuous practice of mindfulness, by simply trying to be mindful, and that means being parient. The process cannot be forced, and it cannot be rushed. It proceeds at its own pace.
Concentration and mindfulness go hand in hand in the job of meditation . Mindfulness directs the power of concentration. Mind- fulness is the manager of the operation. Concentration furnishes the power by which mindfulness can penetrate into the deepest level of mind. Their cooperation results in insight and understanding. These must be cultivated together in a balanced manner. Just a bit more emphasis is given to mindfulness because mindfulness is the center of meditation. The deepest levels of concentration are not really needed to do the job of liberation. Still, a balance is essential. Too much awarenesss without calm to balance it will result in a wildly over-sensitized state similar to abusing LSD. Too much concentration without a balancing ratio of awareness will result in the "Stone Buddha" syndrome. The meditator gets so tranquilized that he/she sits there like a rock. Both of these are to be avoided.
The initial stages of mental cultivation are especially delicate. Too much emphasis on mindfulness at this point will actually retard the development of concentration. When getting started in meditation, one of the first things you will notice is how incredibly active the mind really is. The Theravada tradition calls this phenomenon "monkey mind." The Tibetan tradition likens it to a waterfall of thought. If you emphasize the awareness function at this point, there will be so much to be aware of that concentration will be impossible.
Don't get discouraged. This happens to everyone, and there is a simple solution. Put most of your effort in at beginning into one-pointedness. Just keep calling the attention from wandering over and over again. Tough it out. A couple of months down the track and you will have developed concentration power. Then you can start pumping your energy into mindfulness. Do not, however, go so far with concentration that you find yourself going into a stupor.
Mindfulness is still the more important of the two components. It should be built as soon as you comfortably can do so. Mind- fulness provides the needed foundation for the subsequent develop- ment of deeper concentration. Most blunders in this area of balance will correct themselves in time. Right concentration develops naturally in the wake of strong mindfulness. The more you develop the noticing factor, the quicker you will notice the distraction and the quicker you will pull out of it and return to the formal object of attention. The natural result is increased concentration, and as concentration develops, it assists the development of mindfulness. The more concentration power you have, the less chance there is of launching off on a long chain of analysis about the distraction. You simply note the distraction and return to your attention to where it is supposed to be [to the place in the NOW before the breath]. ...
One of the most difficult things to learn is that mindfulness is not dependent on any emotional or mental state. We have certain images of meditation, of something done in quiet caves by tranquil people who move slowly. Those are training conditions. They are set up to foster concentration and learn the skill of mindfulness. Once you have learned that skill, however, you can dispense with the training restrictions, and you should. You don't need to move at a snail's pace to be mindful. You don't even need to be calm. You can be mindful while solving problems in intensive calculus. You can be mindful in the middle of a football scrimmage. You can even be mindful in the midst of a raging fury. Mental and physical activities are no bar to mindfulness. If you find your mind extremely active, then simply observe the nature and degree of that activity. It is just a part of the passing show within.
(end of quote from "Mindfulness in Plain English" by Henepola Gunaratana)