Lately, I have been practicing longer sittings, slowly working my way up to full hour. And I have been struggling with physical pain. A lot.
This morning, it became very clear to me I was dealing with two main obstacles:
- First was a natural difficulty with tolerating the primary physical pain, that translated into an urge to get up and move, so as to distract myself from the pain.
- Second was the mind thinking about the amount of time left sitting, and anticipating that I was going to remain stuck in the pain. Of course this was a perfect example of deluded mind that leads one into believing in reality of mere concept.
I was reminded of Stephen Batchelor's talk on his reconstruction of the Four Noble Truths:
1) All of life is suffering, due to its inherently unreliable, always changing, and tragic nature. We are to fully know life's suffering, as a precondition for our liberation. This can only be accomplished through concentrated attention, moment to moment, deeply feeling the fabric of existence, starting with breath to ground us. So that we can transform our habitual distaste for suffering, into accepting it fully, and therefore radically change the way we are with ourselves, and others.
2) Craving is the effect of suffering, not its cause. Because of dukkha, and five aggregates coming into contact with dukkha, we are naturally moved to look for ways to escape present unpleasantness. We want to get this to get rid of that. Hence craving, with its attendant army of unwholesome states, symbolized by Mara. Even Buddha, after he had conquered power of Mara, kept being confronted with Mara throughout his life. We are to let go of our craving, abandoning its hold on us, even for discrete moments. We turn away from our habitual surface preoccupation with sense gratification, to face the miracle of life and the reality of death. We cease to be victims of our attachments and fears. That can be accomplished through mindfulness.
3) Next comes the cessation of craving, not suffering. Buddha knew tremendous suffering throughout his life, even after he got enlightened. The traditional distinction between pain and added suffering from clinging is really an artificial one. More relevant goal is not to not suffer, but rather to lead flourishing life. We are to experience life free from craving. That is true liberation, at which point the possibility of another way of life opens up. To be unconditioned means to not be conditioned by the three poisons of greed, hate, and delusion. Leading us to be free to enter the stream.
4) Next is the Eightfold Path, in which we engage the world in a meaningful way. This is a thread that has never been really developed under the traditional dogma. It says, we have the capacity to be awakened at every moment. Once craving is let go of, and we have successfully conquered Mara, we are no longer blocked from experiencing the path. We are to cultivate the path. We become stream-enterer. We become free from morality as just a set of rules. We become independent, autonomous, and free according to light shining within us. It is an affirmation of our transformation, of what really matters to us in our lives, of what it means to be fully awake.
Accordingly, the antidotes that kept me in my seat all related to the Eightfold Path, particularly:
- right view: understanding of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, which helped place transient experience of discomfort within larger context of attainable freedom.
- right effort: not giving up, instead staying with the experience, no matter how difficult, and finding within myself the energy and fortitude to do so; this was very hard.
- right mindfulness: being present for the whole experience moment to moment, including the pain, the thoughts and emotions associated with the pain, and the overall feeling towards the pain, other phenomena outside of painful experience, such as contact with sounds, etc . . .
- right concentration: sustaining the attention on chosen object, whether pain, or breath, or sounds, whatever I found to be most predominant or useful; as with right effort, I struggled with that one as well.
Mindfulness, like anything else, is about practice, practice, practice. Tomorrow morning, I shall sit again, and practice with all my mind and heart.