Mindfulness of Posture or Movement

Discussion Facilitator: Bruce Cantwell. April 6, 2019.

For the past couple weeks, I've been going through the Satipatthana Sutta, which explores mindfulness of the body, feelings, mind, and experience. This series of exercises is sometimes called insight meditation.  

Last week we covered mindfulness of breathing and the instructions were pretty detailed. 

This week there are five objects of contemplation and the only instruction is to be aware of them. So, I'm really going to need your insight in figuring out we get from here to "a deep sense of flourishing that arises from an exceptionally healthy mind."

If I take out references to monks and problematic pronouns, the exercise instructions go like this.

How else does one contemplate the constituents of the body?   

While walking, be mindful of walking. 

While standing, pay close attention to standing. 

While sitting, carefully notice sitting. 

While lying down, bring full awareness to lying down.

Understand whichever position the body is in.  

Observe the posture or movement of the body internally.

Or contemplate the posture or movement of the body externally.

Notice in each posture or movement its nature of arising, 

or its nature of passing.

Or bring awareness to its arising and passing.

Or establish the understanding "this is body" to the extent necessary for bare knowledge and continuous awareness.

Dwell with detachment, without clinging to anything in the world of mind and matter.

This is how to observe posture and deportment in the body.[1]

1. Walking means we're moving, but standing, sitting, and lying down, can be interpreted as stillness or transition from one posture to another. This section is translated as both postures and deportment. What does this mean in terms of mindfulness?

We thought it was important to be aware of both posture and movement, and noted that it’s sometimes challenging to tune into a specific part of the body when sitting or doing a body scan, but that once one focuses, many parts of the body might start competing for attention.    

The goal of our practice is to become fully aware of all facets of our experience in an unbroken, moment-to-moment flow. Much of what we do and experience is completely unconscious in the sense that we do it with little or no attention. Our minds are on something else entirely. We spend most of our time running on automatic pilot, lost in the fog of day-dreams and preoccupations.[2]

2. What are some ways to interpret what it means to contemplate these postures or movements internally, externally, or internally and externally?

We explored the view that if you tune into sounds during meditation (and there are plenty of sounds to tune into in the sanctuary) it becomes more difficult to delineate whether the thoughts that accompany those sounds are internal or external. When we notice a cold floor as we walk, is that coldness experienced internally, externally, or both? Our lungs are constantly expanding and contracting and our blood is continuously coursing through our veins, so we are, at least internally, in constant motion.

Keeping in mind each step that you take when you walk can connect you with what is real.[3]

When sitting, the posture will often reveal a quality of mind, wakefulness, energy, sleepiness, sloth and torpor, etc. 

Are we restless in standing or grounded in the posture and rooted in the present. 

Are we sprawled out or lying with mindfulness.[4] 

3. How might this internal/external mindfulness be valuable when it comes to relating to others?

We briefly touched on how awareness of others’ body language might influence our interaction with them. It also might give us cues about how they are judging us. We also discussed how being mindful of activities such as running can strike a sense of interplay between us and our environment.

4. What does it mean to be aware of the arising, passing, or arising and passing of each posture or movement?

We observed that we’re not always aware of why we make a particular movement until after we make it. As I spoke, I moved from contentment to thirst during the discussion. I looked under my chair, and remembered I had left my bottle under one of the pews. Remembering the position of the bottle, I anticipated relief. I rose, walked over to it, returned, and took a sip, which brought me contentment.

Simplicity of awareness becomes the doorway to the three characteristics: impermanence is obvious when we move from one posture to another throughout the day.

We can also see impermanence in the innumerable minute changes as we go from one posture to the next.

Contemplate all of the changes in posture needed to go from standing to sitting.

Mindfulness also illuminates the truth of dukkha. Most of our movements are made to alleviate some discomfort or pain. Movement masks dukkha. We make slight changes when sitting or lying down. We eat to alleviate hunger. We go to the bathroom to alleviate discomfort. We bathe to alleviate discomfort. We lie down to alleviate tiredness. 

Mindfulness also deepens insight into anatta (selflessness). While in various postures, one might ask the unspoken question: "who is walking, who is standing?" Through sustained mindfulness of the body, we can begin to get insight into the impersonal nature of the body.[5]

[1] “MahāsatipaṭṭhānaSutta.” Mahasatipatthana Sutta - The Great Discourse on the Establishing of Awareness, www.tipitaka.org/stp-pali-eng-parallel.shtml#24.

[2] Gunaratana, Henepola. Mindfulness in Plain English. Wisdom Publications, 1991.

[3] Fronsdal, Gil. “Satipatthana Sutta.” Audio Dharma, www.audiodharma.org/series/1/talk/1742/.

[4] Goldstein, Joseph. “Joseph Goldstein on Satipatthana: The Four Establishments of Mindfulness : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming.” Internet Archive, archive.org/details/satipatthana-joseph-goldstein.

[5] Goldstein, Joseph. Op. cit.

Bruce Cantwell