Stable attention, rest, inquiry, prayer, body-inclusive practices, and precepts

 

Although I am not an expert on these things, I thought I would share how I experience a few basic practices that have been helpful for and important to me.

One of these is stable attention, or samatha. It’s a way of training attention to be more stable and pliable, often through focusing on the sensations of the breath (for instance at the nostrils) or an imagined or visual (object in front of you) image. This benefits almost any activity in life, from interactions with family and friends to work, and any of the other forms of meditation or practice.

Another is rest, also called natural rest, natural meditation, or shikantaza in Zen. This is an allowing of everything to be as it is. Or, more precisely, noticing that it’s already this way. Everything that’s here now is already allowed as it is. There is a shift in gravity from being identified with certain viewpoints and identities, to noticing that what we are is what’s here now as it is. This rest can happen within a great deal of activity. It’s a rest that’s not necessarily obvious to an outside observer.

Yet another is insight, inquiry or vipassana. Some insight into the nature and dynamics of the mind comes naturally through any of the other practices mentioned here. And it can also come from a more intentional and dedicated investigation, for instance through exploring the sense fields, The Work, the Living Inquiries, or other forms of inquiry. This insight is into the nature of mind (what we are, that which all happens within and as), the dynamics of the mind (the nature of clarity and delusion), and also everyday insights into our lives, history, and interactions and relationships with others and the world (who we are, as human beings).

Then there is prayer. This may be a noticing or setting of intention. It may be a request for guidance, clarity and support. It may be an opening to what’s larger than and beyond ourselves as a human being. It may be a noticing of what we are.

There is also body-inclusive practices, such as yoga, tai chi, chi gong, and Breema. The body may be a support for training a more stable attention. There may be insights into the body and the subtle energy system, and how these interact with the rest of who we are. And body centered practices may also invite the three soul centers – head, heart and belly – to open, as do natural rest, inquiry, and prayer.

There are practical guidelines for how to be in the world, aka precepts. Following these, to the best of our ability, tends to bring some stability and ease to our lives and relationships with others and the world. They tend to give a preview of how it is to live from clarity. They show me that I am unable to follow all of them all of the time, so it gives me a sense of understanding and empathy when others don’t follow them. And they highlight places in me where there is still confusion. If I notice that I lie, I can investigate this. For instance, I can ask myself what’s the perceived benefit of this particular lie? What are the consequences of this lie? Do I lie from fear? If so, what do I fear would happen if I am honest? If what I fear happens, is it still OK? 

Finally, there is a large number of approaches to healing and health, such as Tension and Trauma Release Exercises which I have found very helpful for myself. Trauma – which here is used in a broad sense – can wreak havoc in any life, regardless of the amount of practice we do, so it’s good to address it and invite it to heal. This also brings insight into the dynamics of the mind, and a sense of empathy and understanding for others who have gone through stressful experiences and may have some amount of trauma in their system – which includes almost all of us.

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