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meditation 101: practicing with sensation

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I meet the day with a sense of heaviness, as if weighted down by too many blankets. What is this? drowsy mind wants to know. Lines from a Rumi poem pop up: 

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument. …

Instead of following habit, which would be to ‘get up and forget this nonsense,’ I direct awareness inward. Following the breath I encounter grey colours, then a fist-sized tightness somewhere in my stomach. Thinking mind immediately looks for an explanation, but I (who or what is this I?) focus on pure sensation. Holding the tightness in my awareness, it softens its grip, shrinks to the size of a walnut but no further. inhaling, exhaling. What is this? Not why, but what and how.

Sadness arises. Thinking mind, naturally, wants to figure out sadness. The very act of labelling (so that I can write these lines) requires thinking. But instead of following the thoughts away from sensation, I return to awareness, using the concept “sad” as a temporary tool for exploration. How does ‘sad’ manifest itself? What are its qualities? Where, in the body, does it begin? What are its colours, its texture, its essence?

I get out of bed, stand up to look at the tree and crows outside the window. The knot in the stomach has dissolved, what remains is a sense of calm, with slight traces of melancholy. Walking to the bookshelf, randomly opening a collection of Rumi poems, I find this:

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
     Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
     Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
     where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
     Don’t go back to sleep.


source: (1995). The essential Rumi. Translation by Coleman Barks with John Moyne. Edison, NJ: Castle Books, p. 36. image:


7 responses »

  1. you must ask for what you really want and then give it to yourself. being in the ninth bull and the market place become the same. don’t be asleep in the market place. be awake when you sleep. don’t go back to sleep, arnie. I think I will go build a bed for the guest room.

  2. kind sir, could you be a little less obscure with this comment. some readers may not be familiar with your use of “bull” and “market place.”

    yours, as always.

    • to me, the references to sleeping and awakening in Rumi’s words and my own early-morning meditation are about spiritual awareness.

  3. lol… is that reference to the ninth bull some kind of baseball thing? don’t sleep to be awake – lovely. pls elucidate!

  4. the short answer (for Me) is to send you to .
    — reference the ninth and tenth bull: awakened and then returning to the market place. My answer is akin, nancy, to the conversation we had at sit on tuesday. Ninth bull is like the totally focused state we reach in doing our art. the market is that crazy daily chaotic life. in the ten bulls one finally reaches that state of focus, but our task is not yet completed or, rather, not yet fully begun until we take that focus and concentration, that non-judgmental state, that state of non-suffering compassion into the restless relentless world. although to be more correct I should say that doing our art is more like bull eight.or bull seven or maybe all of it is all ten bulls at every moment. where exactly are we in respect to the bulls at any moment?

  5. i too often awake to live and fertile dread / melancholy / fatigue, and often sit with feelings of sorrow in the morning. these, i have learned, are always without object, without reason, and are not to be solved or chased away. your words, peter, of staring into the grey day that awaits each of us, are soothing, if only because we can gather that our sorrow is never only our own. thanks for sharing it.
    – b


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