The Interval of Practice

Clear Lake SailboatsA friend of mine reports that he has trouble falling asleep, and getting back to sleep when he wakes up early.

I sent him a copy of Waking Up and Falling Asleep, and I wrote:

I think it’s easier to experience the things I talk about in “Waking Up and Falling Asleep” when you’re actually trying to fall asleep, but you could also try it sitting on the edge of one of your kitchen chairs.

Here’s the practice interval that Gautama the Shakyan (“the Blessed One”) recommended 2500 years ago, in a conversation with monks about “mindfulness of death”:

… the Blessed One addressed the monks. “Whoever develops mindfulness of death, thinking, ‘O, that I might live for a day and night… for a day… for the interval that it takes to eat a meal… for the interval that it takes to swallow having chewed up four morsels of food, that I might attend to the Blessed One’s instructions. I would have accomplished a great deal’–they are said to dwell heedlessly. They develop mindfulness of death slowly for the sake of ending the effluents.

“But whoever develops mindfulness of death, thinking, ‘O, that I might live for the interval that it takes to swallow having chewed up one morsel of food… for the interval that it takes to breathe out after breathing in, or to breathe in after breathing out, that I might attend to the Blessed One’s instructions. I would have accomplished a great deal’–they are said to dwell heedfully. They develop mindfulness of death acutely for the sake of ending the effluents.

“Therefore you should train yourselves: ‘We will dwell heedfully. We will develop mindfulness of death acutely for the sake of ending the effluents.’ That is how you should train yourselves.”

(AN III 303, Book of Sixes Chapter II “Be Considerate”, Pali Text Society AN volume III pg 218)

The practice in “Waking Up and Falling Asleep” can also be described as “turning the lamp around”, or “the backward step of turning the light and shining it back”. Attention is focused on the location of awareness in physical space, instead of on the object in awareness.

I usually sit for awhile before I retire for the night, and then when I lie down, I’m looking to stay with the location of awareness from moment to moment, one in-breath to the next out-breath, and one out-breath to the next in-breath.

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