Excerpts from Newly Revised and Extended Satipaṭṭhāna E-book

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I’m happy to post a newly revised E-book – Satipaṭṭhāna: Foundations of Mindfulness; A Manual for Meditators.

This revised edition has been extended from 46 pages to 80. Click here to download the complete text in PDF format. For those of you who are ongoingly working with this teaching, you might consider having it printed and coil bound so that you can take it away from your computer.

Here are two excepts.

The Buddha constantly urged his followers to cultivate sati. Today, sati is most commonly translated into English as ‘mindfulness’. Given the fact that western educated people tend to see mind as something quite different from body, I often wonder if the current popular understanding of mindfulness is broad enough to include everything the Buddha intended when he used the word ‘sati’.

As recently as the 1950s, the idea of psychosomatic was a radical and challenging concept. Bodies were quite separate from minds. If you were physically ill you would go to a medical doctor but if you were mentally ill you would visit a psychiatrist. Today it is increasingly ‘mainstream’ to assume your physical functioning intimately affects your mind and mental processes, while simultaneously your mental functioning is affecting your physiology. Many people are comfortable with the compounded idea of ‘body/mind’ and yet those same people can still make a fundamental distinction between the brain and the body. It’s common to speak of consciousness occurring through brain functioning as if the body serves merely as a support to keep the brain alive and to walk it around. With only a little investigation it becomes obvious that the functioning of the brain is utterly embedded in the functioning of the body and vice-versa. To remedy this artificial split and to remind ourselves of the innate unity of our organism, perhaps it would help to expand ‘body/mind’ to ‘body/brain/mind’. But even this is not inclusive enough because of the tendency to think of ourselves as single autonomous units. I feel like a ‘me’ – not a ‘we’. And yet revelations about the micro-biome are demonstrating that it would be more accurate to think of ourselves as complex evolving ecosystems. Perhaps it is time to expand the concept of body/brain/mind and begin to think of ourselves as body/brain/mind/communities!

So here is the question. What would it imply for a body/brain/mind/community to engage in sati? I’d like to suggest an acronym that might remind us of a richer understanding of sati. The acronym is EMAP. It stands for embodied/mindfulness/awareness/in-placeness.

Sati (mindfulness) always arises in a particular living body. At the same time, the integrated functioning of that body/brain/mind/community determines the arising richness and expression of sati. Mindfulness doesn’t float around in space. It is always an expression of embodiment. To remind us of this we have the first letter ‘E’ – embodied.

Sati involves an aspect of conscious attentiveness. One chooses to be mindful of something. For example, I am being mindful of my breathing. The body/brain/mind/community that is me is actively and consciously engaged in cultivating more and more refined powers of attentiveness and discrimination, using breathing as a support. To remind us of the wilful, choiceful, directed, aspect of sati we now have ‘EM’ – embodied/mindfulness.

Considering the inconceivable sum total range of activities of the trillions of cells that compose a human adult in the act of living, it is obvious that myriad dancings of awareness/responsiveness; atomic, molecular, cellular, synaptic, organ system and so forth, are functions that I, as an ego personality, will never be able to be ‘mindful’ of in all their detail. A matured sense of sati will need to include an appreciation of this ocean of choiceless attentiveness that is singing our ’embodied/mindfulness’ into being. To remind ourselves of this, sati could be rendered ‘EMA’ – embodied/mindfulness/awareness.

Finally, every organism lives in relationship with an ‘outer’ environment. In any given moment, where we are affects who and what we are. Sati also embraces this dimension of living and so we have ‘EMAP’ – embodied/mindfulness/awareness/in-placeness.

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Beyond simply being a collection of meditation instructions on mindfulness, the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutra encourages an active life of ‘sensitive, engaged, experiential, exploration-unfolding’. From an evolutionary perspective, you could say we were born to do this. Our ongoing experience is, and has always been, essentially whole and radically (at the root) inclusive. After all, to make anything from scratch requires the collaboration of an entire evolving universe. To illustrate this further, consider what is happening right now in the midst of your reading these words. You are a mirror-like morphing of physiology and mental processes, each reflecting the other. Your posture, breathing, metabolising and neural functioning along with your thinking, reflecting, evaluating, remembering and even your moments of drifting attentiveness; the sounds of the birds outside and the traffic on the street, in fact everything that makes up the world within you and around you; all these processes are responding with and to each other. Everything is mutually shaping. Your ongoing lived experience, your ongoing ‘beingness’, is a summation of an entire universe of experience in a dance of continual transformation. You’re not composed of fundamentally separate bits with gaps between the bits. There are no ‘gaps’ between these things. The on going living process that makes you up is a dynamic seamless whole with only arbitrary beginnings and endings or inner edges and outer edges. In the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutra, the Buddha invites us to explore this unfolding mystery.

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