The Four Foundations of Mindfulness (pp. 29-41)
Mindfulness of the Body: The Four Postures
“Again, monks, when walking, he knows ‘I am walking’; when standing, he knows ‘I am standing’; when sitting, he knows ‘I am sitting’; when lying down, he knows ‘I am lying down’; or he knows accordingly however his body is disposed.”
“In this way, in regard to the body he abides contemplating the body internally, or he abides contemplating the body externally, or he abides contemplating the body both internally and externally. Or, he abides contemplating the nature of arising in the body, or he abides contemplating the nature of passing away in the body, or he abides contemplating the nature of both arising and passing away in the body. Or, mindfulness that ‘There is a body’ is established in him to the extent necessary for bare knowledge and continuous mindfulness. And he abides independent, not clinging to anything in the world.
“That is how in regard to the body he abides contemplating the body. Goldstein, Joseph. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening (p. 366).
For one entire night, Venerable Ananda practiced the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. Because his mindfulness was pure, sharp, and powerful, he perceived that each part of his body, each tiny physical movement, feeling, perception, thought, and even consciousness itself is impermanent, unsatisfactory, and selfless. At dawn, as he was beginning to lie down, he lifted his foot. In that instant, he reached enlightenment. Certainly, when the mind is perfectly clear and mindfulness is strong, it is possible to attain enlightenment quickly, even while lifting a foot.
Just as with mindfulness of the breath, paying attention to the other parts and movements of the body can benefit our practice and lead to peace and freedom.
Goldstein cites several benefits:
It strengthens continuity of awareness.
We can maintain our awareness longer by just noticing as we move from posture to the next throughout the day.
It reveals our states of mind.
When rushed, our walking posture can reveal this state of mind by our leaning forward as if we were toppling forward
When we are aware, we are just walking: “When walking, just walk.”
It supports our understanding of the three characteristics.
Impermanence: each movement arises and falls away.
Inability to have lasting satisfaction: we constantly shift positions to be more comfortable as noted in the saying, “Movement masks dukkha (suffering). Note that the suffering is more discomfort, a finer form of dissatisfaction or wanting things to be other than they are.
Selfness nature: we see that movement just happens (arises from causes and conditions). As with shifting the body to avoid discomfort, this just happens. No one is directing the movement. “As we walk, we can hold in our minds the unspoken question, “Who is walking, and who is standing?”
The four postures are sitting, standing, walking and lying down.
There are several postures for sitting in meditation: full lotus, half lotus, Burmese posture, easy style, meditation bench and sitting in a chair. Any of the postures may be used; consider what is acceptable for your body. Sitting with constant pain and discomfort is not treating your body wisely! When sitting a chair, try not to lean against the back support of the chair, if possible.
Mindfulness of sitting starts when you assume the sitting position. Immediately you can become aware of the body making contact with the cushion, bench or chair. You may feel hardness or softness and that the sensation changes over time. It may even become uncomfortable. Thoughts about the sitting position may arise. Note that all of these feelings, perceptions, and thoughts just happen and are constantly changing. Mindfulness of sitting reminds us that all is impermanent, inability to have lasting satisfaction and is of selfness nature. We can experience so much from just sitting!
When we stand, just as in sitting, we can be mindful of the sensations and thoughts that accompany this posture. Discomfort may arise and we can experience the three characteristics of impermanence, inability to have lasting satisfaction and is of selfness nature.
Walking is another opportunity for mindfulness. Waking can be experienced as a sequence of several actions as noted below:
- We begin by standing for a couple of minutes, relaxing the hands and body and focusing on our breathing.
- We lift the heel of one foot— let’s say, the left foot.
- We rest the left foot on its toes. We are mindful of the contact of the toes with the floor and the feeling arising from that contact. We notice how the feeling changes as the contact changes.
- We lift the left foot.
- We move the left foot forward. We notice that the feeling we had while standing is no longer there when we lift the heel of the left foot. Likewise, the feeling that we had while lifting the heel is no longer there when we rest the left foot on its toes. Now, new feelings arise as we lift the whole foot and move it forward. The thoughts “this is the foot; this is the movement; this is the forward motion; this is the change” arise, remain briefly, and pass away. Until the left foot is placed on the floor and firmly settled, we balance the body on the right foot. If we become unmindful, we lose the balance.
- The forward motion of the left foot stops.
- We lower the left foot.
- We touch the left foot to the ground.
- Finally, we press the left foot against the ground.
- Then the cycle of movements, feelings, perceptions, and thoughts begins again with the other foot.
Though you can practice walking meditation anywhere, a private place is best. Make sure there is enough space for you to walk at least five to ten paces in a straight line, though this is the bare minimum distance. Ideally, the walking distance should be much longer; some meditation centers have thirty-foot long walking paths.
- Do not control your breath; perform the walking as the in breath and out breath occur
- As you inhale: raise the heel of one foot
- As you exhale: maintain this position
- As you inhale: Raise the entire foot and move it forward
- As you exhale: lower your foot to the floor
- As you inhale: lift the heel of the other foot
- As you exhale: maintain this posture
- As you inhale: raise the entire foot and move it forward
- As you exhale: lower your foot to the floor.
- After five to ten paces, rest in standing posture for one minute, turn around, stand again for another minute, and repeat the sequence to walk back to where you started.
- As you walk, keep your head up and your neck relaxed. Walk slowly and naturally. Keep your eyes open to maintain balance, but avoid looking at anything in particular.
- Strive to be mindful of as many of the changes taking place in your body and mind as you can.
Lying down can be challenging when practicing mindfulness because of the tendency to fall asleep. However, it can be a good technique to use when you want to fall asleep!
When lying down, you can be mindful of the sensations generated by the contact of the body with the surface. Notice the changing sensations and experience the three characteristics of impermanence, inability to provide lasting satisfaction and selfless nature. Until you fall asleep you can remain mindful.
- Reread this talk and reflect on it.
- Off the cushion, be mindful of the posture that you are in and when you change postures. Use this mindfulness to experience the three characteristics of impermanence, inability to have lasting satisfaction and the selfless nature.
- Practice walking meditation. What do you experience?