November 28, 2011

9 Minute Enlightenment

How can we really address the issue of awakening as lay people caught up in our day-to-day activities? Joseph Goldstein has come up with a plan: "The nine-minute-a-day turbo-charged path to enlightenment!"* It consists of three 3-minute meditation sessions throughout the day, based on the following exercises: 1) Who is knowing? 2) Breaking Identification with the Body and 3) As the Thought Arises… He writes about it in the current Insight Newsletter for the Insight Meditation Society.

Session 1: Who is Knowing?
During the first three-minute session we simply sit and listen to sounds, in whatever surroundings we find ourselves. It makes no difference whether we’re on a noisy street or in a quiet room. As we open and relax into the awareness of the various sounds, we ask ourselves a question, “Can I find what’s knowing these sounds?” Clearly, we’re aware of them. But can we find what is knowing? When we investigate, we see there’s nothing to find. There’s no knower, even though knowing is happening.

This seems a very straightforward way of loosening and hopefully breaking the identification with the knowing as a knower. All that’s going on is just hearing. There’s no ‘I’ behind it. No knower can be found.

So that’s the first three-minute exercise: listen to sounds, see if you can find what’s knowing them, and then explore the experience of not being able to find a knower, even though knowing is still there.

Sign up for the newsletter and read the rest here.

* He's also quick to point out "that nine minutes a day by itself wouldn’t be enough. It needs to be built on the foundation of a daily meditation practice, together with the cultivation of the first strand of Right Understanding mentioned earlier: the awareness that our actions have consequences. If this nine-minute-a-day program is combined with other aspects of a daily practice, then I believe it can really enliven our understanding of how to apply the teachings in the midst of a very busy life."


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Danny's picture

This is clearly an easy accessible way to integrate extra meditation practice and application of the teachings throughout a busy day. Thank you!

jodyr's picture

Brace yourself, people. It's studies like these and the understanding they help to generate that will replace much of what Buddhism and Hinduism have to say about meditation:

wtompepper's picture

This is an interesting study. It is much more sophisticated than biofeedback has ever been before. However, it is just biofeedback, and doesn't warrant the claims they make about it. Improved concentration is just one small part of meditation. It is important note to use scientific sounding terms to conflate the actual content of thought with neurological activity. This kind of research may help people concentrate on boring tasks, quit smoking, even control their blood pressure--but that's not enlightenment!

This is yet another example of research and health-practices that could be perfectly good and useful on its own, instead being made into pure ideology by trying to use Buddhism to "popularize" it.

And as far as the 9-minute-a-day thing, I think it's great to get a reminder that practice doesn't have to be all or nothing. 9-minutes a day is certainly not the ideal, and won't work if it's your only practice (as Mr. Goldstein points out), but I do have a habit of either intense practice, or none at all.

Sareen's picture

It is exciting that science may be able to help us improve the efficiency of our meditation practices. Thanks for pointing out these areas of research.

Patricia.I's picture

"Break" is an unfortunate word, I agree.
I have the same problem with practice instructions that set us up to see ourselves, or parts of ourselves (knowing is a good example), as inimical to our true nature. They shape ideas and attitudes to practice that may be at the least counter-productive.
Here is another example:
Tricycle is hosting a retreat on "bravery and warriorship". What kind of images, what ideas and attitudes, do these words convey?
Thanissaro Bhikkhu, in his commentray of the Yodhajiva Sutta, suggests that such notions were originally used to appeal to masculine pride. Perhaps it is time to feed our practice machismo to the fire of awareness...
I learned this week (from Ken McLeod's comment to his 37 Practices) that meditation means "make familiar" in Tibetan, the root of which is of course the word "family".
Can one sit with oneself as at a family gathering rather than as with an army of enemies to slay?

jodyr's picture

Neurologically, meditation is about reducing and/or repatterning neural activity, period. All the leftover notions of ancient Hindu and Buddhist ideology will go away once they are shown to not map to the neurological ground truth.

jodyr's picture

The idea we must break identification with the body to come to enlightenment is nonsense, and worse, will get in the way of what you seek. The reason is that the idea of a non-identification with the body becomes itself an image the mind holds about enlightenment. These images—most of which are firmly established in Buddhist, Hindu, and most other non dual spiritual ideologies—come to exist as neurological schemas in the brain, and function as very effective awareness sinks. Rather than seeing the ongoing truth of awareness, we are instead presented an idea of it. Unfortunately, Goldstein has just presented another of these ideas.

fishman.ellen's picture

As I see it, the body does not break at all but is in essence a fluid and ongoing adaptation to the very thing that that is so diffcult to accept, that life is suffering. How one relates to the world is through the senses and the body is our gatekeeper as such. My take is he is really sharing wisdom here- that how we relate to the world through our body speaks volumes about about our practice.

As I become aware of how the body moves through the world, certain insights have become fruitful and productive. Checking in as he suggests is a step toward non-ideas, no? For the body's movements are just that sensations rather than thoughts.

jodyr's picture

All the body's movements are in fact, the genesis of thought itself. Cognitive neuroscience shows that ALL cognition is tied to the body. More specifically, thought is generated out of a set of notions that mirror things we can do with our bodies, and the corresponding neural schema are located throughout our bodies, not just in our brains. These are called embodied metaphors, and they form the alphabet of human reason. Therefore, anytime anyone anywhere has any thought about anything, from the most mundane to the most abstract to the most spiritual, their bodies are in front and at the center of the process.

Thus, we lose before we begin if we make it a goal to break identification with the body. While the Rishis and such may have been operating from the assumption this was possible, they did not have the benefit of cognitive science, which is set to sweep aside the centuries of notions they left with us that have been getting in the way of enlightenment rather than serving it.

Sareen's picture

Reading Joseph's instructions in this article on the body, it is a meditation on death and the impermanence of the body. My experience with connecting with impermanence in the body is that it allows transformation to occur in the patterns that have been established in my neurohormonal networks that are the substrate of my conditioning. I often hold the two concepts of knowing and not knowing together as I rest as deeply as I am able in my body with kind attention. My attention seems to naturally move to an area of contraction and with this kind attention there is a gradual release of the neural patterning and slowly(very slowly!) transformation takes place and there is a movement towards wakefulness.

jodyr's picture

I'd suggest doing away with the concept of "wakefulness" itself. Consciousness is always awake within awareness. The asleep/awake metaphor comes packed with the notion of on or off consciousness. This is not true, even though not all may live in recognition. It's not that you are asleep, it's just that you have not yet noticed. Thus, to be seeking a state of "wakefulness," you automatically generate your belief in not being awake. If you haven't noticed something, you are only an instant away from seeing it without having to undergo any state changes. The second metaphor has less engagement with the embodied metaphor system, and thus provides less opportunities for conceptual occlusion to occur.

Sareen's picture

I appreciate your words. They are very similar to the words of my dzogchen teachers. Science is expressing this truth in new ways, but the truth has not changed and can be found in many spiritual traditions.

Practice for many years has revealed that there is an open spacious unimpeded compassionate awareness always available(yes, I have recognized it many times). Practice has also made me aware that conditioning is very powerful and that I am not able to operate in life at the level of a buddha due to the power of this conditioning. Practice gradually releases me from this conditioning and this is encouraging. Awareness includes the conditioned and the unconditioned and through the power of unconditioned, compassion for the nature of suffering in myself and others gradually increases.

jodyr's picture

For what it may be worth to you, I have observed that the truth as it is expressed in many traditions is in fact counterproductive to the realization of that truth—particularly due to the embodied implications of the metaphors employed. I don't mean to suggest any cessation in anyone's practice, but I would suggest a more critical analysis of the metaphors you (and the texts you read) are using to conceptualize your practice and its goals, with the intent to identify and then permanently discard any conceptualizations of truth you may harbor or may come across in your reading. For example, "open spacious unimpeded compassionate awareness" is just such a conceptualization, and while these terms may for you map to an experience you have had, I would suggest this is a conceptual overlay rather than a recognition of true emptiness, which has absolutely no hooks for a conceptual framework to attach to, including the meaning of the term 'emptiness' itself.

Sareen's picture

Words always reflect experience and are never experience itself.

Different words work for different people to evoke or describe experience. Whenever we think we have "the answer", it is a sign to pay attention...we may be holding on to ourselves:)