Saturday, November 29, 2008

Expanding to sensations

As soon as you’ve developed a certain ease in following your breath, you can expand your awareness as you meditate to include the full range of sensations both inside and outside your body — feeling, smelling, hearing, seeing. Imagine that your awareness is like the zoom lens on a camera. Until now, you’ve been focused exclusively on your breath; now you can back away slightly to include the field of sensations that surrounds your breath. If you find it difficult to expand your awareness all at once, you can begin by exploring a sensation when it calls attention to itself. For example, you’re following your breath when a pain in your back cries out for your attention. Instead of staying focused on your breath as you would have done before, you can turn your attention to the pain and explore it fully until it no longer predominates in your field of experience. Then come back to your breath until you’re once again called away.
You can also experiment with expanding your awareness to include one particular kind of sensation, such as bodily feelings or sounds. For example, you can spend an entire meditation just listening to the sounds around you, without focusing on any sounds in particular. In this way, you’re able to balance the highly concentrated awareness required to follow your breath with the more receptive, all-inclusive awareness necessary to welcome a broad range of sensations. This blend of focus and receptivity lies at the heart of the practice of mindfulness.
As you get the knack of including sensations in your meditations, you can experiment with expanding your awareness to include the full sensate field (that is, hearing, seeing, smelling, touching, and tasting). Begin by following your breathing and then just open your lens wide, allowing sensations to arise and pass away in your awareness.

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