When a thought ends, and before the next one begins, there is an open opportunity for exploration. Have you ever wondered or paid attention to the fine-tuning of the mind? It is not an easy thing to do and it is why Buddha encouraged the deep focus on the mind to come after there has been deep attention and focus on the first two Foundations of Mindfulness, which are body/breath and emotions. Mind and mind moments/impermanence follow as the third and fourth foundations. So, how can we begin to train ourselves in this mindful attention while knowing that it will be a challenge to delve directly into the nature of the mind?
We can begin with the first foundation breath and body/bodily sensations. When I teach a yoga class and do my own asana (posture) practice, I encourage the focus on paying attention to when we reach a sensation in the body that “wakes us up.” Often in yoga we call this the “edge” of a sensation. It is the point of the sensation leading to the questions can I be with this? Can I sustain this? Should I sustain this? Should I let go and find another way? The point being, it is the edge that makes you question. This is a good thing. It may not always be a comfortable space in your body but the arising of sensation, particularly the edge of sensation leads us to question. It moves us into self-inquiry, and self-inquiry is what is needed to go further to the deeper attention to mind and the development of mindfulness.
To explore the edge of sensation I often like to focus on an area of the body that I know is one that for most of us will be a challenge. Areas that are usually tight to begin with are the ones that offer the most opportunity in fine-tuning where to go and how to move and how to stay and/or release. The hamstrings are one of those areas. I encourage you to come to lying on your back and have with you either a yoga strap or a few ties tied together. Something that is long enough for you to reach your foot when your leg is outstretched. Lying down lift your right leg and place the strap under the sole of your foot. Begin to bend your knee and straighten. Keep doing this a few times over and over. Then leave the leg straight, inhale and walk your hands up the strap as you reach your forehead toward your leg. As you exhale come on back down. Keep this movement going between the inhale lifting up and the exhale lowering. At the same time begin to fine-tune your inquiry. Notice when you reach the edge of a sensation. At what point do you first feel it? Can you sustain the hold or is it beyond the edge for you? Do you need to modify it, let it go? Keep the inquiry going. What can you notice, what can you learn?
You can practice this line of questioning with all areas of your body (especially on the mat) as a way to awaken into mindfulness and keeping your attention to the moment. If we do not take sensation to the edge we have the tendency to drift away and get lost in thought. Over the edge, and we are in fear and protective mode, which blocks awareness and inquiry. This embodied practice of the First Foundation sets the stage for deeper awareness. After we gain awareness through the body we can move on to awareness of emotions and understanding when we are at the edge of an emotion. It then sets the stage for opening the door to questions such as, what is the space between the thoughts? You do not have to answer this one now. Just keep coming back to your body for the practice of the first step and trust that with practice the awareness will follow.
May All Beings Live In Peace and Ease