Setting the Stage for the First Meditation

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

Lecture 4, Part 1 of 18 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.

CTT: A couple classes ago, I talked about an aspect of meditation practice, or spiritual practice in general, that I don’t usually talk about because it felt more personal; and yet it feels like it’s time to say more things about it.

Before you actually begin spiritual practice, you remember the context you’re doing it in. You remember that this is not just, “Oh, 6:34pm, time to do my ten minutes of concentrative meditation,” but you remember you have a larger life purpose or larger context or a spiritual context in which you’re doing that practice; that in some sense it’s not just me and it’s not just you, that you’re undertaking your spiritual practice as part of a larger movement of humanity, as part of a compassionate movement. I’m not quite sure how to express this.

At any rate, I’m going to start us with an experiential exercise tonight. To precede that I’m going to share with you something I listened to in the car on the way down, a little musical selection by a guy named John Astin , a song he created that I think is a good reminder of why a lot of us actually practice this sort of thing. It’s just a couple minutes long, but I really dig it.

(Plays song “Love, Serve and Remember” from John Astin CD, Remembrance. This deals with whether we remember our purpose in incarnating on Earth. Words not reproduced here because of copyright restrictions.)

Now the exercise I’d like us to do this evening to start things off is done in pairs, and it both deepens your ability to do Vipassana and, at a teaching level, serves to demonstrate something about the power of collective consciousness in influencing what we’re doing, usually for the better.

So without talking, quietly pick a partner – preferably somebody you don’t know that well – and sit facing them. You can move chairs around if necessary.

(Students select partners)

Okay. Good. We’ve got a nice, even number.

Now you know that when you do Vipassana meditation with body sensation as your primary focus, you try to experience with clarity –you just look at what happens with openness, curiosity, wonder – and with equanimity. You don’t try to grab the good stuff or push away the bad stuff, but just to look clearly at whatever occurs, without getting caught up in accepting or rejecting, grasping or pushing away; and you follow the strongest sensation within the body, as we’ve talked about and practiced a little for Vipassana.

What I’m going to have you do this time is first pick who’s going to go first. We’ll call that the A partner. And having made that big decision, what’s going to happen is the A partner is going to close her or his eyes and then do Vipassana. But they’re going to do it aloud, so that your listening partner can hear you. Loud enough so that they can hear you, not so loud you dominate the whole room. And be as straightforwardly descriptive as possible. That is, it’s fine to say something like “There’s a burning sensation in my right foot,” but then don’t go into “and that reminds me of a foot injury I had on the ski slopes back in 1983,” and blah blah blah blah. Keep coming back to simply describing the most prominent sensation you’re experiencing at this moment.

When it changes, describe the next one. If it gets larger or smaller, changes shape or size, say something about that.

If it’s a totally socially unacceptable sensation, “I really feel like I need to fart and…”

(Laughter)

You can cheat and not say anything about that particular sensation.

Your listening partner is also doing Vipassana. But as listening partner, your primary focus is to look at your partner and listen to your partner’s words so that you, in a sense, are adding your concentration, your focus, your awareness to what your verbalizing partner is doing. You listen with equanimity, with openness, with clarity as much as possible. And of course, you don’t say anything. You just listen. So this expands the observing part of your mind in that very elastic sense.

So go ahead and start doing that. We’ll do that for five or ten minutes, and then I’ll have us switch roles. I’ll wander around, so my focus comes into your peripheral field every once in a while, just to do God knows what….

Questions?

Student: Person B has their eyes open?

CTT: Yes. Person B, the listener, has their eyes open. Unless you really want to try it with your eyes closed, just really listening to the tone of your partner’s voice. And you don’t have to try to reproduce their sensations in yourself. You listen to the tone of their voice. You obviously grasp the basic meaning of it and listen.

Okay. We have the big A-B decisions worked out now? Okay.

CTT: Ready?

[Bell rings, exercise begins]

[snippets of what students are saying as CTT walks around]

Student: My throat is expanding. My forearms – feel like there’s a pressure on the insides of my thumbs….

[Exercise continues]

Student: …feel my head. Also warm sensations throughout my whole head…..

[Exercise continues]

Student: Still have a warmth in my hands. An itch right in the lower right hand side of ….

[Exercise continues]

Student: Now my left toe is – or my left foot – it’s telling, all the five toes are. Now a vibration moved to the right side. I feel a little perspiration coming from my forehead. I feel the flickering of my right eyelid.

[Exercise continues]

Student: My feet feel tingly. I feel a buzzing in my head, in the front of my head, like my brain’s being massaged. My hands feel tingly. Right under my nose feels like it itches a little bit.

[Exercise continues]

CTT: Remember to be open and equanimous.

[Exercise continues]

Student: I can feel additional cognizance in my aura, and I feel my hands – a bit more sweat, putting a presence on my legs. I feel the position of my body as I’m sittin’, like I’m folded, on a chair, and a sense that I’m not standing straight.

[Exercise continues]

Student: Feel it’s cold. It is – it hurts. Pressure in my feelings. Throbbing under my left sole.

[Exercise continues]

CTT: Switch roles now.

[Exercise continues. Some conversation starts to break out.]

You don’t need to explain yourself to each other. Just stay aware and switch roles.

[Exercise continues]

Student: The itch in my head is still pretty permanent, and there’s still the pressure on my forehead.

[Exercise continues]

Student: I’m feeling itchiness in my hands and itchiness in my nose. I feel full, heavy, and my limbs are heavy.

[Exercise continues]

Student: I’m aware of kind of a numb, kind of still, like, vacuum of air just outside of my ears, under my ears now. It’s kind of weird. As if there’s this caught in a dead space, and I’m standing right next to my ears. My forehead feels kind of warm right now.

[Exercise continues]

CTT: Just continue with your eyes closed and everybody silently doing Vipassana now, noticing whatever the most prominent sensation in your body is from moment to moment.

OK, Bring your chairs back to their original position now, and try to maintain this attitude of openness and equanimity so that, in a way, we’ll be doing self-remembering, sensing, looking, and listening now for the rest of the class, even though we didn’t go through the formal morning exercise to get started. We moved into Vipassana.

And you can mindfully sign in when the pad goes around.

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