Basic forms of meditation: attention, notice, insights, heart, body

 

Here are a few basic forms of meditation. All of them are reasonably universal and they are – in their essential form – found in several different traditions. As with any skill, it’s helpful to be guided by someone who are experienced, and our own skills and understanding will develop with experience.

Training a more stable attention. This is helpful for just about anything in life, whether it’s work, studying, hobbies, relationships, or any inner or spiritual practice. It helps us bring our attention to something in a more stable way and for as long as we wish. It makes our attention a more useful and pliable tool for us. As a bonus, a more stable attention tends to bring in a sense of well being and grounding.

The easiest way of training this is to bring attention to the sensations of the breath (chest, nose, tip of nose), notice when it goes to something else, and then gently bring it back to the sensations. We can also use other objects: sounds, imagined or visual imagery etc.

This practice also gives us some insights into how the mind works. We notice that attention tends to go somewhere else, almost always to thoughts that have a charge, and it seems to go there on its own. We can also notice which thoughts attention tends to go to, notice the charge and that there may be something unresolved around it, and then explore it through inquiry or a healing approach, perhaps allowing it to resolve and the charge goes out of it. In a small way, this may give a greater sense of well being, allow us to function better in life, and make it easier for attention to stably rest on whatever we intend.

Notice and allow. The basic form is to notice and allow. Notice what’s here in the sense fields (sight, sound, sensations, smell, taste, thoughts). Allow it to be as it is.

Again, this can give us some simple insights. We may notice that what’s here is already allowed – by life, mind, space – to be here as is, and that it’s more restful to notice this. As before, we may notice attention going to thoughts with a charge. We can also explore noticing the space it all happens within and as.

We may notice the effects of this noticing and allowing. We may notice that it creates a sense of space around whatever happens. Attention may not be immediately caught up and drawn into thoughts with a charge. And that this becomes easier and more of a habit the more we do it.

As with training a more stable attention, we may also find that this noticing and allowing helps us in everyday life and that it brings with it a sense of well-being and grounding. (When attention is less caught up in charged thoughts, there is often a sense of well being and grounding.)

Insights. Insights can come as a byproduct of any of these explorations. When we over time notice how we function, insights are almost inevitable. Insights can also come through inquiry, and especially through more structured forms of inquiry such as The Work, Living Inquiries, or just noticing what’s happening in the sense fields (including thoughts).

These structured forms of inquiry are like training wheels, and although we may never outgrow them (or wish to do so), becoming familiar with them tends to lead to more spontaneous helpful noticing and simple forms on inquiry in everyday situations.

The main insights we may get from these inquiries is how thoughts combine with sensations, so sensations lend a sense of solidity, reality, and truth to the thoughts, and the thoughts lend a sense of meaning to the sensations. This is how thoughts get a charge, and how beliefs, identifications, reactivity, compulsions, and more are created.

Heart-centered. Heart-centered practices help us change our relationship to ourselves, others, the world, life, situations, and parts of ourselves. They help us shift from seeing (some of) them as a problem, mistake, or something that needs to go away, to genuinely befriending them. As with the explorations above, this tends to bring in a greater sense of well-being, ease, and grounding. And as my old Zen teacher used to say, we tend to become less of a nuisance to others….!

Some of my favorites here are tonglen (from Tibetan Buddhism), ho’oponopono (Hawaii), and all-inclusive gratitude practices. (See other articles for more on these.)

Continuous prayer. I’ll add this since it’s found in many traditions and can be a powerful and transformative practice. Say a brief prayer along with the in- and out-breath and the heart beats. Do it as often as you remember, and set aside time to do this exclusively. Over time, this will become a continuous prayer. You will even have a sense of it happening while you sleep.

The Christian version is the Jesus prayer or heart prayer: Lord Jesus Christ (on in-breath), have mercy on me (on outbreath). And synchronize the words with the heart beat (for instance, one heart beat for the three first words, then another, then one on “have mercy”, another for “on”, and then one on “me”).

Body-centered. These are the familiar ones, including yoga, chi gong, tai chi, Breema, and many others. Ordinary forms of physical activity can also be included here, if we bring our noticing and allowing to the sensations and movements of the body.

I won’t say too much about these since they are reasonably well known in our society today. We bring our noticing to the sensations and movements of the body, and what’s described above under training attention and noticing applies here too. And these explorations too tend to bring in a deeper sense of well-being and grounding, and we may also experience ourselves – at a human level – more as a whole.

These are all practical approaches to exploring ourselves and our relationship with ourselves and the world. They tend to bring in a sense of well being, ease, and grounding, perhaps first as we engage in these and then more stably in our life in general. They tend to invite in healing and a noticing of what we really are.

An important aspect of any spiritual practice is what it may bring up in us that needs meeting, clarity, or healing.

At times, these practices may rub up against our beliefs, identifications, and habits. So we notice these, and can take them to inquiry, heart practices, or whatever healing work we are doing. This is an important aspect of any spiritual practice, at least if we wish to be thorough.

Healing work in general is an important complement to any of these practices. We will, inevitably, encounter parts of us that needs healing, so it’s helpful we are are familiar with effective forms of healing work, or can go to someone who are.

These practices may also bring up old wounds and trauma. Any good guide or coach will inform about this in advance, keep an eye on our practice to minimize the chances of it happening in a traumatic way, and offer guidance through it should it happen.

The last part is, unfortunately, often overlooked or not mentioned by people offering these practices to the public. I assume there will be a greater understanding of and transparency about it with time as it is an aspect of spiritual practice it’s important to be aware of.

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Using spare attention for noticing, resting, healing

 

Through the day, there are many periods where I have spare attention. It may be after I wake up and am still in bed, before falling asleep, when I walk, shower or cook, when I use public transportation, when I rest, and so on.

During these periods, I often use my spare attention intentionally. I may notice what’s here – sensations, thoughts, sight, sound, taste, smell. I may intentionally rest with – or as – what’s here. Nowadays I often use Vortex Healing for myself or others. And in the past (going back to my teens), I have often used heart prayer (Jesus prayer), ho’oponopono, or tonglen.

Sometimes, I just let the mind do what it does in the moment and gently notice it.

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Giving it over to God

 

For the first several years after the initial opening, my practices were simple and heartfelt. They consisted of resting with what’s here, notice all as awakeness (Spirit, the divine, intelligence, love), gratitude for whatever happened, prayer, Heart/Jesus prayer, Christ meditation, tonglen, and giving it all over to Spirit. All of these happened very naturally.

Then, I got “sidetracked” by traditions and teachers with ideas of how things should be done.

And now, I am hoping to find back to a more natural and simple approach. For instance, giving it all over to the divine.

Notice. Notice what’s here – emotions, stories, the fear or wounds behind them.

Rest with what’s here. Take time resting with and as it.

Give it all over to Spirit. To the divine.

There is a beautiful simplicity in this. It’s a reminder that all is Spirit. And it doesn’t exclude any other approach or exploration.

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Ways through the dark night III

 

Another way of organizing some of what can be helpful in a dark night of the soul.

Head center. Inquiry into our stories about what’s happening, who we are, and the nature of reality. Seeing through these stories helps us find equanimity (no need for drama when we see they are stories), and helps us be a loving presence for what’s surfacing. Inquiring into stories about what’s surfacing (emotional and physical pain, discomfort) is a support in feeling sensations as sensations, without getting (too much) caught up in the associated stories.

Heart center. Heart center practices helps us recognize what’s here as love, and meet it as love. These include prayer (for guidance, support), giving it all over to the divine (our body, mind life, pain, pleasure), metta (to ourselves, the suffering self, and also friends, enemies, the world), tonglen (same), ho’oponopono (same), all-inclusive gratitude practice, Christ meditation, and more.

Belly center. Breathe, feel the sensations, allowing them to move through. Notice any images or words “stuck on” the sensations, and inquire into these. That makes it easier to feel sensations as sensations. Also, body-centered activities and practices can be helpful such as walking in nature, gardening, or Breema, yoga, tai chi and more.

Support. Find support from friends, family, people who are in the same process as yourself, and guides who have gone through it. Eat well. Rest. Get plenty of sleep. Drink plenty of water. Find a nurturing environment. Engage in nurturing activities. Learn about the process. (Spiritual emergencies, dark nights.) Give yourself a break, when you need to. See if you can find patience, and trust in the process.

Also, if you are drawn to it, notice what makes it difficult to do any of the things that seems supportive and helpful, and take it to inquiry.

This is obviously a very simplified outline, and a great deal more can be said about each point. I wrote this mostly because it’s interesting to see how the practices can be organized according to the three soul centers. I also see that Buddhist traditions tends to emphasize the head, while also including the heart and belly, and theistic traditions tend to emphasize the heart, with head and belly sometimes included. It seems that it may be possible to go through a dark night emphasizing practices from any one of the centers, perhaps with support from one or both of the two other.

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Ways to work with the dark night

 

I am no expert on how to work with or relate to the dark nights, but here are some things that seem helpful to me….

First, all of the usual practices can be helpful, whatever they may be. Ethics. Work in the world. Relationships. Inquire into beliefs. (Including those about the dark night.) Allowing experience as it is, as if it would never change. Be with experience, in a wholehearted and heartfelt way, with kindness. Be with emotions, with heart and kindness, allowing them to unfold and change as they want. Tong len. Rejoicing in others happiness. Jesus prayer. And so on.

And one that is especially helpful for me now is to explore how the dark night appears in each sense field. How does it appear, whatever it may be? (Despair, aridity, grief etc.) Is it content of experience, as any other experience? And then also notice the doer and observer of this inquiry. How does the doer + observer appear in each sense field? Are they content of experience as any other content of experience?

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Need a little help

 

Tank: Got him! He’s on the run.
Neo: Mr. Wizard, get me the hell out of here.
Tank: Got a patch on an old exit, Wabash and Lake.
Neo: Oh shit…. Help. Need a little help.
Tank: Door…. Door on your left. No, your other left…. Back door.
– The Matrix (transscript)

When I first watched The Matrix, I was touched by this moment of honesty and humanity. It is a little out of character for a hard-core action movie, but then The Matrix is more than that.

As always, it is a reminder and a question.

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Verbal prayer

 

Some forms of verbal prayer that I find very helpful. Nurturing and opening of the heart.

  • Prayer for the well being and awakening of all beings (including myself), and also for specific beings. (Some version of “May all beings find well-being and awaken.”)
  • Dedication of practice to the benefit of all beings. (“May this benefit all beings.”)
  • Expressions of gratitude. (Including the mantra “thank you”.)
  • Heart/Jesus prayer. (“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me” said with the breath and heart beats.)
  • Songs and chants. (The traditional Christian hymnals work well here too, much good stuff there if taken a certain way.)
  • Reading poetry of well-wishing and gratitude. (Rumi, Hafiz and others.)

I do these verbal prayers in my native language, since it seems closer to my heart. And I also use each of these as a mantra, repeated in a heartfelt way over and over, often while bringing attention to the heart.

Jesus Christ

 

A simple way to look at Jesus Christ…

Jesus was the human being, reorganized within the context of a soul awakening (alive presence, oneness) and quite possibly a nondual awakening.

The soul and nondual awakening is the Christ part. The awakening to who/what we are at the soul level, as this alive presence, and what we are as awakeness and this field of awakeness and form inherently absent of an I with an Other.

When we engage in Christian practices, such as the heart/Jesus prayer (brief prayer with the breath/heartbeats) or the Jesus meditation (visualizing Christ in the six directions and the heart) we invite our human self to reorganize within this new context, we tap into the particular Christ flavor of soul level awakening (one that I experience as especially fiery in the heart and on top of the head), and we invite what we are to notice itself.

Heart Prayer

 

The Heart Prayer was very alive for me some years back, and is now coming back more.

The basic form is simple: Come to the breath and/or the heartbeat, and say a simple prayer in the rythm of the breath and/or the heart.

The words can be…

Thank you, thank you, thank you – to open for gratitude for life, allowing an atmosphere of gratitude to permeate our life, where all of life’s experiences are included.

Or more traditionally, Lord Jesus Christ (on the inbreath), have mercy on me (on the outbreath) – to open for a connection with the divine in the form of Christ and allow it to to work on our human self. The inbreath is the ascending, the inviting in. The outbreath is the decending, the surrender and letting go.

In any case, this invites an atmosphere…

of prayerfullness which awakens and enlivens the heart.

of receptivity to life, as it is.

of surrender to the divine and to life as it shows up in the present.

which – after just a few days – tends to continue throughout the day and even through sleep.

that works on our human life. Our human life soaks in it – realigns, knots unravel, we find a deepening peace with what is, and so on.