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Four elements meditation

In case you are wondering, I'm going through a progressive set of meditation instructions in a number of different posts that take you to the very essence of your own mind and being. I'm doing the exercises as I go along so it's kind of in real time. We've started with some body meditation and some ideas about mindfulness.

Now we move forward to start investigating the interface between mind, body and concepts (especially in relation to compactness which I will explain later). The launch pad for this type of  investigation is the four elements - earth, wind, fire and water - but let's not get hung about these labels. This meditation is derived from Buddhist meditation practices that were devised thousands of years ago when they hadn't discovered electricity and they hadn't figured out what a quark was - but they did have fire, earth, water and wind. In essence, this practice is nothing to with these elements - it's just a way of looking at experience that is different to the way we normally look at things. It's about seeing how the functioning of the body is an impersonal flow of information and how we project concepts on top of this flow.

It's highly useful because it helps with the discipline of mindfulness.

So:

- Begin by focusing on the breath. Breathe in and out.

- Establish the knowing faculty of the mind - you know something if you can label it. Know breathing in, breathing out, and the pause in between,

- Now, know pushing as you breathe in. Feel the breath pushing the rub cage apart and pressing against the diaphragm. This is the air in the atmosphere pushing into you.

- Next, know supporting. This is your muscles keeping your body together and in a certain posture.

- Know softness - the belly, your lips, relaxed muscles.

-  Know hardness - your teeth and bones. The hard floor. Feel them from within.

- Know heaviness. Feel gravity pulling you down. Feel the heaviness in your body.

- Know lightness. There's always some space in the body that is light and wispy.

- Know roughness. Clothes against your skin.

- Know smoothness. This would be silk on your skin, or a polished nail, or a smooth tooth.

- Know hot - warmth in the belly, the out breath on the lip.

- Know cold - fingertips, toes, the in breath on the lip

- Know flowing - the liquid mucus in the mouth, the blood in your body

- The last one is a bit tricky. Know cohesion. This is basically the fluid (water) that is everywhere in your body keeping it juicy and pliable.

And that's it. Keep cycling through the list and take a mental note of each characteristic. Do it as you move around. Notice how these things come and go, and shift about. Notice how external events influence these features of your bodily experience.

If you want to go a bit further, ask yourself something like: what is heat? How do I know heat? What sensations make me think heat is happening? How am I constructing the heat experience?

This is where we are ultimately headed but before we go there, we'll explore bliss and jhanas. It's an interesting but useful diversion.

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Here are the simplest instructions I know for meditation. It's a good place to start:

1. Find somewhere quiet and comfortable.

2. Pick something you want to rest your mind on: your breath coming in or out; staring (eyes half down) at an object; listening to a steady sound. As you breathe in and out, maintain relaxed attention on the object. Maintain attention on the object as you breathe in, as you breathe out and during the gaps in between.

3. Your mind will wander off.

4. Cultivate a laissez faire attitude to what is going on. Let things come and go. Return to gently to your object.


Do this for 10-15 minutes to begin with. Observe any relaxation that may occur: your body giving way, the mind calming.

From here, you can begin to investigate what is happening, but this is where you start.

A nice exercise in whole body awareness

It all starts with the body. Your body is your greatest asset.

Take a seat somewhere. Go inside your body and take a relaxing breath. Become aware of your body. Start at the feet and then expand from there. Sense your awareness of the body growing - become aware of the feet and legs; then feet, legs and torso; then feet, legs, torso, arms and hands. Have a sense of energy growing through the body.

Finally, as you breathe, hold your entire body in awareness - feet, legs, torso, arms, hands and head. Feel into a sense of openness and clarity. Notice any blockages in the flow of openness. Then enjoy three or more clear breaths. Nothing outside the present moment, you and your body.

During the day: try it standing up, or in everyday situations. Notice what undermines your attempts to do the practice.

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How do I fix myself with mindfulness

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So then, what is going on?

The mind is a tricky beast. It is used to taking action and seeing immediate results. Mindfulness is more subtle than this. It is about seeing the relationship between body, feelings, mind and thoughts and how they come and go. There is no explicit result to be found, just an on going relationship with the thing that is us. However, the longer we observe ourselves the more likely we are to see wisdom arising. That is to say, we begin to see what is beneficial and what is harmful to us. We begin to take responsibility for ourselves and our own happiness - we are no longer simply victims of circumstance. We know what we nee…

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Is that it?
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Why does it come and go?
The mind is a complex instrument that is rapidly switching between different modes of operation (for want of a better phrase). Mindfulness is not a mission critical thi…