Practical advice on Mindfulness

Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,

Lecture 3, Part 11 of 13 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.

CTT: Nobody’s asking the question people always ask of how come only your arms and legs? So I’ll give you the answer anyway. Do some people at least wonder?

Student: Yeah.

CTT: Point one, it’s traditional. That’s the way it was taught to me and you know I’m a great respecter of tradition and don’t believe in any change.


Point two, I have heard a rationale for it which makes a fair amount of sense for me, but I don’t know if it’s an absolute truth, namely that arms and legs are neutral territory for most people. That is, there are psychologies that think that somehow our problems and traumas in our life get stored up in particular kinds of body locations, and those are mostly all in the torso, rather than your arms and legs. So you’re not going to reactivate any old traumas by keeping some attention in your arms and legs, because that’s kind of neutral territory.

Student: Okay.

CTT: It makes sense. Reason three, there are generally good quality sensations in your arms and legs from being moved around a lot in the course of daily life. It’s easy to find them. You know, if I said concentrate on the seventh vertebrae, duh, where’s that, and I’m not sure it’s got any feeling there. The arms and legs always have something.

The more practical way I personally apply it is I always sense my whole body, for instance, but that’s because I’ve been doing that sort of thing for years and I’m comfortable with my whole body. I don’t think I have any trauma bombs hidden in there ready to go off. So what I advise people is if you find you’re actually kind of sensing your whole body naturally, that’s fine, but don’t force yourself to sense your whole body if you’re not sure about that. And again, a more limited area like your arms and legs, is easier.

Do the priming exercise first thing in the morning, especially before you read the news. Do you want to prime your mind with the idea that you could be more conscious? Or that the world’s going to hell in a hand-basket? That’s what happens if you turn on the news, or that the traffic’s worse, or something like that. Do this sensing, looking, and listening (SLL) as much as you can during the day.

Now I would suggest you do it mainly in short bursts. That is, if you say I will do this process continuously for the next 16 hours, you’ll probably forget about it in 5 minutes and then start feeling guilty. It’s much better to say I’ll do this for a couple of minutes now while I walk to the other side of the building, or while I fix myself a cup of tea, or something like that, and have some success with it in a kind of limited process. And then think ah, I can go back to sleep for a minute, a vacation from larger consciousness….

Of course you might get to like this and want to do it all the time and that’s all right. But do it in a natural way. Don’t force. Ideally, you should have had at least a year’s practice in concentrative meditation before I even introduced this practice, and who has time for that in modern life? Even the Tibetan monks complain there isn’t proper time for concentrative meditation. They get more time at it than most people.

But by doing the sensing, looking, and listening process, you’re also practicing developing concentration. You’re also practicing Vipassana. You’re practicing staying in touch with body sensations. You’re not making them the main focus, but you’re keeping some attention in there and learning more sensitivity to your body that way.

If you would like to do some formal concentrative meditation or Vipassana meditation sessions in addition to sensing, looking and listening, that’s fine. All three of these things will reinforce each other. I’m going to make the sensing, looking, and listening (SLL) the main focus for the rest of the quarter, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t profit by more time spent sitting in more formal meditation periods.

One comment

  1. “That is, there are psychologies that think that somehow our problems and traumas in our life get stored up in particular kinds of body locations, and those are mostly all in the torso, rather than your arms and legs.”

    I suspect that there is a correlation between places where emotions get stored and phrases such as “a lump in the throat”, “a sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach”, “heart ache”, “bated breath” and also things like tension headaches, and incontinence from fear. Interestingly these locations in the body correlate with the chakras. This is consistent with my belief that kundalini, which is supposedly released by meditating on the chakras, is a physiological phenomenon related to releasing stored emotions.

    Sometimes people make fists when thinking angry thoughts so I think it’s possible that the hands might also store emotions.

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