I am writing this blog today in the wave of inspiration from a workshop I facilitated recently, entitled Fluid Mindfulness: Deepening into Being with Continuum Movement.
Continuum to me has always been a mindfulness practice. Before beginning my intensive dive into the mysteries of Continuum with its founder, Emilie Conrad, I had been meditating intensively with Vipassana as taught by S.N. Goenka. I had sat in silence observing the arising and passing of phenomena via breath and body sensations for ten, twenty or thirty days at a stretch for fourteen years. I had done various other meditation practices before that, having always been drawn to learning how to be present.
The essence of mindfulness is presence, being aware in the present moment. Our body sensations and feeling tones serve as gateways through which the present moment enters our experience directly. The mind's job is awareness, which enables us to appreciate and be with what is passing through, and to make informed decisions.
For most of us, our minds are very busy analyzing, categorizing, and sorting our experience. We tend to occupy ourselves preparing for the future by worrying and reviewing the past. Our minds whirr through the same old ruts over and over again, trying to work out what happened back then and how to avoid having it happen again, or how to get more of the same if we liked it. Present time is outside of the loop. We are so busy interpreting what happens that we do not actually pay attention as it happens. How do we break this cycle?
We need some way of quieting the active mind. There is nothing wrong with the mind being active. Our uniquely human characteristic of being able to look ahead and plan for the future is essential to being able to function in modern, civilized life. If we are locked into constant planning mode, however, we miss essential knowledge that enables us to plan wisely.
A major intention of mindfulness practice is to support the possibility of wise discernment. This requires being aware of what is actually happening in the moment. It is not about what we wish or hope to have happen. It is not about what we fear may happen, although these are part of what may be occurring in present time.
Being aware in this moment requires paying attention with equanimity. We practice receiving what this moment has to offer. We practice acceptance, being with, meeting what presents without criticism or judgment. We practice compassionate being. What is the gift of this moment?... And this moment?... And this one?...
In order to receive the gift of this instant, we must let go of what we received five minutes ago. We must free ourselves of the gift received one minute ago, or one year ago, or a lifetime ago. All that we let go of will still be there waiting for us if we want to attend to it again. If we are to meet this time fully, we must disrobe, remove our outfits from the past, and face this moment in naked awareness.
We are challenged to let go of the various ways we identify ourselves. Beginners' mind is about being here, being open to discover who and what and how we are in this moment. This requires a quiet attentive mind.
Where does Continuum fit in this picture?
Continuum quiets our minds and helps us to hone our attention in several ways. One important aspect of Continuum is that it slows us down. We use unusual breaths, sounds and movements that, amongst other things, interrupt familiar patterns of attention, thinking, and movement.
To do a Continuum sequence, we must pay attention to how we are sounding, breathing, or moving, or we will tend to revert to old patterns. In open attention, we listen for how our bodies respond to the breaths, sounds, or movement we have just offered. We orient to what is novel, unpredictable, unexpected, and outside our usual repertoire. This involves heightened awareness of the now.
When I practiced Vipassana, it could literally take days of silence for my mind to get quiet. One of the things I loved about Continuum immediately was that practicing the unfamiliar took all of my attention. My mind actually settled down!
Supporting the settling is the effect Continuum has on the nervous system. In our modern, western culture, we are probably all are on overdrive much of the time. We live with our sympathetic, fight-flight nervous system on guard, ready for the next threat to come at us. The high speed of our cars, electronics, even our stoves (or microwaves), keep us over-stimulated, on the alert. Rather than having time to balance this heightened level of alertness, we tend to either collapse with more stimulation like television, or with sleeping pills.
When people first come to Continuum, it is not unusual for them to fall asleep. They discover how exhausted they really are when they begin to slow down. As their nervous systems begin to settle, and their tissues become more fluid, awareness becomes more subtle. A plethora of interesting sensations and micro-movements begins to replace the dreams and snores.
The variety of experience catches our attention. We begin to find ourselves in present time, being aware and perhaps delighted.
Feeling Good, Being Present
As in other mindfulness practices, one challenge in Continuum is our tendency to become attached to what feels good or familiar. This can be particularly confusing in Continuum as we learn to open to the possibility of intense pleasure in the body-mind. Pleasure can be habit-forming once we allow ourselves to tolerate it.
Most of us have learned early in life that pleasure in the body is somehow sinful or shameful, to be associated only with sex. We have learned to limit ourselves in being with what feels good just as we have learned to numb ourselves against what feels bad. As we begin to thaw, the intensity of sensation we experience may be overwhelming, triggering old defense mechanisms we have developed in order to survive as sensitive little ones.
Learning to feel can become seductive. We may develop a new addiction, seeking pleasure in our Continuum practice. We are then shocked when we run up against old walls of protection, and we discover pain where we expected delight.
This is similar to the dangers of experiencing pleasant sensations during meditation. We then tend to look for and expect that experience to repeat itself. In other words, we become locked in the past, projecting it into the future, and missing what actually is available for us in the this moment.
Learning to open to pleasure can be a new experience if we have been in the habit of focusing on what hurts or annoys us. True delight however, awaits in our perception of the whole. Our challenge is to be with what is, to be with all of what is, rather than just little parts of it we happen to be interested in. Rather than swinging from one side of a pendulum to the other, we begin to rest in the middle, in the space between.
Can we hold in our awareness both the pleasure and the pain? Can we be with both the longing and the aversion? And the space between? Can we experience both the scars of our conditioned experience and the profound, ever-present bio-intelligence that knows how to form and re-form us in every moment?
I return here to the title, Fluid Mindfulness. Continuum takes us on a journey of discovery of our fluid nature. We melt into an intelligent and creative puddle and re-invent ourselves within a nurturing field.
It seems to me that mindfulness is by definition a practice of fluidity. If I am to be in each moment, I must flow from one experience to the next. Where I cling to the past or the familiar, I solidify. Where I let go, my tissues melt along with my psyche.
The question becomes then, if mindfulness is a practice of fluidity, is not fluidity a of mindfulness?