Welcome! Shinzen's Unified Mindfulness approach is a comprehensive framework that individuals at any stage of meditation practice can rely on to increase their happiness and reduce their suffering.
Mindful Awareness: Equanimity, Clarity, and Concentration
Mindful awareness may be defined in many helpful ways. For the purpose of this course, I'll define mindful awareness as the process of improving your well-being through equanimity, clarity, and concentration.
Well-being is the most important variable in this formulation: It’s not only the destination, but also the journey, and the motivation as well. We evaluate the success of our meditation practice based on our level of well-being. If you manage to increase your well-being over the long run, you’re on the right track. Well-being is a broad concept and it involves five areas:
more skillful action
more service from a place of kindness and compassion
Equanimity is the second most important variable in my definition of mindful awareness. You are equanimous when you allow the inner and outer sensory experience to come and go without push and pull. You are able to remain mentally and physically relaxed. Having high equanimity in all circumstances is very beneficial. It helps you to face difficult situations in the most effective and efficient way, in spite of feeling negative emotions and/or having a mind with low clarity and high dispersion.
Clarity is the third most important characteristic. We can distinguish between two types of clarity: (1) conceptual clarity and (2) sensory clarity.
(1) Conceptual clarity refers to knowing what technique you’re applying at a given moment. Conceptual clarity allows you to discriminate between foreground (i.e., a relevant object to focus on, such as the breath for example) and background (i.e., everything else, considered as a distraction).
(2) The second type of clarity is sensory clarity, the ability to discriminate, detect, and penetrate what you're experiencing:
Discrimination involves the ability to break down the experience into its core components (e.g., mental image, external sight, auditory thought, sound, emotion, body sensation).
Detection involves the ability to perceive how the experience changes, how a particular event arises and passes.
Penetration implies you briefly know the target through and through down the tiniest level of detail possible.
Verbally noting one's experiences can be a very useful tool to enhance sensory clarity. 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 last component of our definition of mindful awareness. Concentration is the ability to focus on what you consider to be relevant. Concentration can be momentaneous (e.g., one second long) or prolonged (e.g., several minutes or several hours), narrow (e.g., restricted to the nostrils) or broad (e.g., centered on the body as a whole).
The lay of the land: six doors and seven objects
In meditation, one can pay attention to different items (e.g., a candle, the right hand, a bird, etc.). The list of possibilities is enormous. For simplicity, we can talk about seven basic objects.
The first six objects are the 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).
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'll cover “Focus In”, a set of techniques about the inner world.
1. Hear In: Let's begin with this practice. 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.
How did it go? 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.
2. 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.
3. 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”.
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, the foreground in this particular technique.
Many people prefer to work with mental images, mental talk, and emotions in sequence, as in the audio below.
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 or 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 have any questions during the course, feel free to send me an email.
All tasks from week 1 completed? Move now to week 2.
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