Welcome! Shinzen's Unified Mindfulness approach is a comprehensive framework that any individual at any stage of meditation practice can rely on to increase their well-being and reduce suffering.
If you have any questions during the course, feel free to send me an email.
Mindful Awareness: Equanimity, Clarity, and Concentration
I define mindful awareness as the process of achieving happiness through equanimity, clarity, and concentration.
Happiness is the most important variable in this formulation. It’s not only the destination, but also the journey and the motivation. We judge our meditation practice based on our level of happiness. If you manage to increase your happiness over the long run, you’re on the right track. Happiness is a broad concept and it involves five areas: more fulfillment, less suffering, more self-knowledge, more skillful action, and more service from love.
Equanimity is the second most important variable. Having high equanimity in all circumstances (e.g., in situations where your clarity and your concentration may be low) is very beneficial. You are equanimous when you allow inner and outer sensory experience to come and go without push and pull. You remain mentally and physically relaxed.
Clarity is the third most important aspect in mindful awareness. There are two types of clarity: conceptual clarity and sensory clarity.
Conceptual clarity is about knowing what technique you’re applying at a given moment. Conceptual clarity allows you to discriminate between foreground (i.e., a relevant object) and background (i.e., everything else).
The second type of clarity is sensory clarity, the ability to keep track of what you’re experiencing in the moment.
In the following two videos, Shinzen explains how to do noting to keep track of what you're experiencing.
Once you’re established in equanimity and clarity it’s time to bring concentration, the ability to focus on what you consider to be relevant at a given time. Concentration can be momentaneous (e.g., one second long) or prolonged (e.g., one hour), narrow (e.g., focus on the nostrils) or broad (e.g., focus on the body as a whole).
The lay of the land: six doors and seven objects
Dividing our experience into categories is a good way to enhance clarity. There are six doors or sensory modalities: see in (mental images), see out (physical sights), hear in (mental talk), hear out (physical sounds), feel in (emotions), and feel out (body sensations, including taste and smell).
When you meditate, you can pay attention to different items (e.g., a sound, a thought, your right hand, a bird, etc.). The list of possibilities is enormous. For simplicity, we can talk about seven basic objects. The first six objects you already know (i.e., the six doors). The seventh object consists in how you relate to the six doors. This object includes: equanimity (as well as other attitudes such as kindness or curiosity), clarity, concentration, and intention. Anything can be an object of meditation, including your mindful awareness!
This week we cover “Focus In”, a set of techniques about the inner world (see in, hear in, feel in, all in, vedana).
Before describing the different techniques, let's practice a little bit. Are you ready? Let's begin!
How did it go? Did you manage to remain focused or did you notice lots of mind wandering?
Remember to be kind to yourself. It takes some time to get results, because you need to find the right practice for you and work consistently with it for a while.
Let's describe now the techniques from the "Focus In" family, and practice a little bit more.
1. See In: This is the less common technique. Your goal here is to continuously track any mental images that may come up spontaneously. If for a period of time no images come up, enjoy that as a form of visual rest. If you are too distracted, you may want to say inwardly the label “see in”, every few seconds, when you become aware of a mental image.
2. Hear In: This is the practice you did a few minutes ago. When mental talk occurs, you listen to it with equanimity. If no mental talk occurs, you listen to the quiet in your head as a pleasant restful state. As a way to deal with distractions, you may want to say silently the label “hear in” or simply "hear", to bring you back to your present moment experience.
Some people like to work with the thinking process by dealing with mental images and mental talk simultaneously. In the following audio, you're invited to try that approach.
3. Feel In: If emotional body sensation occurs, focus on it with equanimity. If no emotion occurs, enjoy the restful state. As before, you may want to say to yourself the label “feel in”, every few seconds.
4. All In: Let your attention broadly float between mental images, mental talk, and emotional body sensations. If your mind wanders off, gently return to your inner world.
Many people prefer to work with mental images, mental talk, and emotions in sequence, as in the audio below.
5. Vedana: This is a variation on the “Feel In” theme. Notice if what you feel is positive, negative, or neutral. E.g., you may be looking at a beautiful picture and identify the visual experience as positive. You can use the labels: “positive”, “negative”, or “neutral”.
This is your homework for week 1.
Formal practice in stillness: practice one of the above techniques for at least 20 minutes per day.
Formal practice in motion: Do walking meditation while paying attention to mental images and mental talk. Let yourself walk with a sense of ease and dignity. Pay attention to your mental space. With each step notice if the mind is active or restful. Do this for at least 10 minutes per day.
Informal practice: In order to bring mindfulness to your daily life, you can choose between two options: micro-hit and background practice. In a micro-hit you apply the majority of your attention to a formal practice (e.g., vedana), several times per day (5-6 times at least). In a background practice you split your attention (e.g., 20% on the technique and 80% on your life activity). Informal practices can last from a few seconds to less than 10 minutes.
As Shinzen says, make practice decisions based on interest, opportunity, and necessity, not on craving, aversion, and unconsciousness.
If you want the Certificate of Completion, please complete this Practice Log and send it to us, using the subject line "UM week 1":
All tasks from week 1 completed? Move now to week 2.
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