The four foundations of mindfulness are often discussed in terms of actively directing mindful awareness towards the body, feelings, states of mind and phenomena. Here is a slightly different approach that you may find enriching.
The phrase “awareness of body” most commonly invokes a sense of intently investigating one’s body or one’s experience of embodiment. We could however understand it in quite a different way. If I were to speak of the ‘activity of Tarchin’ we might take this to mean the activity or activities that compose Tarchin, or the activity that belongs to Tarchin, or the activity that Tarchin does. Now, consider the myriad moments of awareness/ responsiveness that collectively weave together, giving rise to a living body/form/shape in action. This multi-levelled matrix of awareness/ responsiveness, in a sense, belongs to the body or even better, is the body – hence the phrase ‘awareness of the body’, or ‘awareness that belongs to and with the body’. From this perspective, kāyānupassanā involves the experiential exploration of all the patterns of reciprocal responsiveness that together are your body in the act of living. How do these continuously interweaving responsive knowings: sub-atomic, atomic, molecular, cellular, metabolic, social, interspecies, ecological and so forth, bring forth the world of your body?
Let’s try to clarify this further. How would we know someone is aware? Actually, we only assume that they are aware based on the way we see them respond to stimulus. An appropriate response usually leads us to assume that there is a certain degree of awareness. If there are no signs of responsiveness, or if the responsiveness seems to be out of sync or disconnected from the stimulus, we might wonder if there is any awareness. Equating awareness and responsiveness, we could identify many dimensions of awareness. Electrons and protons respond to each other’s presence in the process of bringing forth an atom. This might be called a type of ‘sub-atomic’ or ‘quantum’ awareness. Atoms respond to other atoms in the process of forming molecules. We could think of this as a type of ‘atom awareness’. In a similar fashion we could have molecular awareness, cellular awareness, synaptic awareness, organ and organism awareness, colonial awareness, ecosystem awareness and so forth. Living form is a volume of interlinking of multi-levelled awareness/ responsiveness in action. Viewed this way, most expressions of awareness that are necessary for our body to exist would be either subconscious or unconscious. What we call conscious awareness or ego awareness, which often seems to appropriate the awareness as something one ‘has’ or ‘possesses’ rather than something one ‘is’, is just one aspect of a rich multi-levelled weaving of responsiveness.
With this in mind, the section on kāyānupassanā could be seen as an invitation to become extraordinarily quiet, relaxed and sensitive, and in this state of vibrant alertness and wide awake curiosity, to listen to, study, and more deeply understand, the process of shaping – this wisdom of embodiment that we are. Not ‘me’ being pointedly aware of an object called ‘my body’ but me softening into a space of stillness and profound sensitivity in order to appreciate the vast ocean of dynamic awareness(es) that together are my body in the process of knowing itself into being.
Through vedanānupassanā we investigate how the dancing awareness/responsiveness that composes our body, gives rise to a biological basis of values vis-a-vis homeostasis, the internal milieux of cells, the autoimmune system, symbiotic functioning and so forth. Living systems exhibit an automatic ‘pull’ towards health and good functioning and an ‘aversion’ to what threatens that. What we call liking, disliking and being neutral, are rooted in our biological functioning and then extended into the realm of concepts, memories, language and other habit patterns of preference and shared experience. Cultivating awareness of feelings, we investigate this matrix of myriad levels of awareness that together make up the realm of experience we call feeling/evaluation.
With cittānupassanā we explore the matrix of awareness that arises as states of mind and with dhammānupassanā we explore the vast field or community of awareness/ responsiveness in action that gives rise to the complex phenomena of living in relation with others.
Kāya: How does this ongoing multi-levelled dance of responsive knowing bring forth a world of embodiment in terms of identifiable forms?
Vedana: How does this dance of responsive knowing bring forth the world of your body in the act of valuing and preferencing?
Citta: How does this dance of responsive knowing bring forth the world of your body, along with the process of valuing, in terms of states of mind or flavours of knowing?
Dharma: How does this dance of responsive knowing bring forth the world of your body and the process of valuing, flavoured with a vast array of subtleties and nuances (states of mind), in terms of identifiable global understandings and involvements?
Putting this all together – this precious teaching of Satipaṭṭhāna – smiling and breathing, we might find ourselves.
Moving through fields of minds of beings
moving as a being of care-filled minding stillness,
movement as a play of mystery unfolding . . .
This flowering here of nowfulness.
rippling with zephyred thought and feeling,
photons of star parents,
touchings of brother,
scentings of sister,
a buzzing inter-pollination in every direction;
and we flow
as one river;
streams of magic
forging paths of openness,
tracks of transient creatureness,
weavings of life-lines lacing the open sky,
birthing an old forest of ever fresh worlds.
This article is taken from “Appendix C” in “Foundations of Mindfulness” Click here to download a copy of the entire 80 page text.