“Satipatthana in a Tangerine”

“Satipatthana in a Tangerine”

A reflection on practice by Jean Smith

An engaging way to teach a course in beginning mindfulness is to hand each new yogi a tangerine when they arrive. They’ll sit down & gingerly hold the fruit as if it’s too hot, occasionally taking discreet glances at it to make sure it really is a tangerine, wondering what it’s for. They soon learn: It’s the object of a guided 30-minute mindfulness meditation. Even experienced yogis graced with Beginner’s Mind find this meditation unexpectedly intriguing. Briefly, this is the guidance:

*Hear & follow the meditation instructions.

*Lightly juggle the tangerine so your fingers can sense its firmness & weight.

*Look at the colors to see which are clear orange or mottled.

*Run your fingers over all of the fruit to feel where it is smooth or bumpy or creased.

*Smell the outside of the tangerine. Does this bring up memories such as the “smell of Christmas” or fruit in a holiday stocking?

*Bite the tangerine, smell & taste the inside & outside of the skin. Is either one pleasant or unpleasant? Do you want more tastes or none at all? Peel the tangerine.

*Break off a fruit section & put it in your mouth but don’t chew it. How do your taste buds react to the taste? Do you want more?

*Chew, swallow, and slowly finish eating the tangerine mindfully.

When the meditation is over, new students usually make comments like “Where did you find these tangerines?” or “This is the best tangerine I’ve ever tasted.” Their remarks are the perfect opening for the teacher to say, “Every aspect of your life can be just as delicious if you live it as mindfully as you ate this tangerine.” These students have just taken advantage of their amazing sense doors, sense discriminations of pleasant or unpleasant, and desire or aversion to eating more. They’ve probably also had short memories of holidays or picnics.

Unbeknownst to them, they have also had a short, guided tour of the Satipatthana Sutta, perhaps the Buddha’s most studied discourse because of its comprehensiveness in teaching the objects that are the best for cultivating mindfulness through meditation: the body, feeling tones of pleasant-impermanent-unpleasant, the mind, and Dhammas (teachings of the Buddha).

Why start new yogis here or invite experienced meditators to immerse themselves in the experience? Because every step of this meditation opens us to the absolutely amazing body we inhabit. After hundreds of millions of years, we beings have evolved exceptional color vision, hearing ability that would challenge the finest sound studios, tenderness of touch. We can perceive & identify through our senses most elements of the world around us, and usually know if we like or don’t like what we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. And we can think about & experience emotional responses to this perceived world.

With the intention to cultivate mindfulness, we’re not merely setting off on a path of touchy-feely pleasures. As we meditate mindfully, we are directly & in the present moment exposed to the shifts of physical & mental sensations. These experiences condition our mind to wisdom: the ability to discern what is real. Even in the smallest increments, we are moving toward a wiser, kinder, more contented life.

To learn more about the Satipatthana Sutta, CLICK HERE
to read Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s description & excellent translation.

Jean Smith has practiced Buddhist meditation in the Vipassana-Insight Meditation tradition since 1986 & has led sanghas in New York City, the Adirondack Mountains & online from Taos NM. She has published nine books on Buddhism, including The Beginner’s Guide to Insight Meditation (with Arinna Weisman) & Life is Spiritual Practice (the Paramis). Jean serves on the board of The Mountain Hermitage.

See more about Jean Smith