The month of October is around exploring the fifth of the Seven Factors of Awakening – Calm or Tranquility. The Pali word for Calm is Passaddhi and it has two types; calm body, calm mind. Let’s start with calm body. To understand it we need to step back a moment because calm body is not about the physical body.
Basically, everything we experience in the physical is a result or residue from a mental phenomenon. Feeling tones (pleasant, unpleasant and neutral) are mental tags or labels that the mind attaches to everything we experience through the sense doors. Our reactions to the feeling tone are mental as well. The mind impulsively and habitually responds to pleasant with grasping for more; the unpleasant with pushing away or avoiding; and completely ignoring the neutral. Calming the body means calming our reactivity to these habitual impulses. For instance, we may feel unpleasantness in the physical body but we slow down the mental response by not pushing it away. We patiently relax, observe and allow the experience to unfold with genuine interest in how it came into being, how it it now and how it fades away.
By doing this, I think we profoundly confuse the mind. By not reacting in the habitual way we begin to question the original feeling tone tag or label. The mind can then re-tag or re-label the experience as neutral. This re-tagging/re-labeling takes the sting out of the moment. We in effect, rewrite the program or code from which the mind operates. This can be quite liberating.
The second type of calm we are cultivating is calming the mind. While the first is more akin to mental qualities, this is more likened to the function of mind. We have the capacity to know objects. Ear objects, eye objects, nose objects, mouth objects, objects associated with touch and objects associated with thought. Calming the mind means calming the enticement of the sense doors. It also means calming the mind’s obsession with mind obejects like the hindrances (desire, aversion, sloth&torpor, restlessness and doubt) and the vicissitudes (pain/pleasure; gain/loss; praise/blame and fame/ill repute). We simply let the sense doors objects and the mind objects flow through us.
Without a doubt, we need the upbeat energies of joy and investigation to enable the re-writing of the first type of calm and for the flowing nature of the second type. It also takes the open and gentle receptiveness of mindfulness to stick with the process over and over and over; even while everything in you wants to react. The main point (or take away) is to remember you don’t “do” the re-writing, nor do we force the flow of oobjects. We just relax, observe and allow the unfolding.
By letting the mind untangle itself, we enable the mind to awaken to the possibility of insight. Learning to cultivate awakening in this way is like laying high quality wood floorboards. Althought calm or tranquillity is what awakening rests upon, experiencing it is no easy task. This is mostly because we are uncomfortable with the experiance of neutrality. It seems boring, dull and unimportant. Our task is to become increasingly interested in and/or curious about sensations andmental qualities associated with neutral. The more we want to explore neutral, the closer we gt to a sense of liberation.