Pitfalls of meditation

 

As different forms of meditation practice become more popular in the west, there is also a growing awareness of the possible pitfalls of meditation.

Here are a few:

We may be guided – either by ourselves or through a teacher – by misguided ideas. This may lead us to inadvertently practice or reinforce something unhelpful.

We may open up to various transcendent states and experiences and not know how to navigate them.

We may open up a Pandora’s Box of unprocessed psychological material.

In general, we may enter certain areas of the path or landscape without good guidance. Areas that are not fruitful. Or areas that are confusing, disorienting, and sometimes scary or overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to have access to a guide who understands and knows the terrain well from their own experience. Unfortunately, that’s often not

Unfortunately, many teachers – including many who have a formal training within a certain tradition – have a very limited skillset and experience. If anything slightly out of the ordinary happens, they may not know how to guide the student through it.

And fortunately, there are people out there who have this experience and the necessary skillset. What I have seen is that these are often people who are not bound by any one tradition. They may have training and experience from one or more tradition. But they also know and understand that the terrain we are exploring is far wider than any tradition typically covers, and that the pointers and skills needed to navigate is found in many different traditions and also outside of any tradition.

Of course, I am biased. The previous paragraph describes my own path and background, and the background of those who have guided me, so that’s naturally what I am more familiar with and inclined to see as helpful.

What’s the difference between sitting still and meditation?

 

What’s the difference between sitting still and meditation?

Sitting still.

If we just sit still without any particular intention, most of us will look for something to do or think about. This tends to just reinforce our habitual patterns of doing and thinking. There are no real shifts.

And if we sit still regularly, the mind tends to get still too. (I noticed that through all those hours of sitting at the Zen center. My mind got still and clarified even if I didn’t always intend to do a particular practice.)

Meditation.

There are many forms of meditation, including natural rest (notice, allow) and training a more stable attention. Other things we can do while sitting still includes heart-centered practices and inquiry.

These practices tend to shift our habitual patterns. Mainly, out of being caught in thinking (the stories, the content of thought) and into noticing thought, from a scattered attention to a more stable attention, and from being caught in occasional enemy images to befriending our experience. If we practice inquiry, there may also be a shift from taking units of sensations and imaginations at face value, to recognizing their distinct elements.

Also, many of these practices become more natural and habitual with time. They become our new normal, and they can be brought into more and more situations in daily life. Sitting still creates a container that reduces distractions and helps us go deeper with the practices, and this is helpful early on in our practice and also at any time later on. But we don’t need to sit still to engage in these new habits. They tend to enter the rest of our life as we go about our daily activities, and eventually even those situations that initially strongly pulled us into our old patterns.

So, yes, there is quite a difference between sitting still and engaging in various types of meditation. Unless you are a cat. I suspect cats naturally meditate while sitting. (Most animals probably do since they are less prone to be caught up in thinking compared to the human animal. Without the distraction of compelling thoughts, they are likely to be naturally inclined to notice and allow their experience in the moment.)

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Doing one thing, recommending another 

 

I sometimes hear spiritual teachers advice their students to use a different approach than what they themselves used on their path.

It’s understandable. They may wish to share their current view, and what seems the most helpful advice now.

And yet, it’s a bit like someone using a boat to cross a lake, and then – when on the other side – telling the people on the other shore that a boat is not needed anymore. They themselves don’t need the boat anymore, so they assume others don’t need it.

I especially see this in people who worked hard early on in their process – perhaps struggling and “muscling through” with meditation and a wide range of other practices – and then found more simplicity and clarity. They may recommend that their students skip the “work hard, do lots of meditation” phase, and instead suggest more “subtle” practices such as natural rest or looking. That’s what works for them now, so that’s what they recommend to others, ignoring that they themselves came to it through a different path and lots of hard work.

I can’t say that this is not good advice. I don’t know. But it does seem slightly odd. At the same time, I know that people will do what they’ll do. They will follow the impulse in them, wherever it takes them. Some may hear this advice, and still try to “muscle through”, and perhaps through that arrive at a similar place as where the teacher is coming from.

Others may follow the advice, and they may indeed have an easier time with it. That’s entirely possible. I don’t have enough information (yet) to say much about it.

I am saying this partly since my early process also involved lots of hard work – hours of meditation and prayer daily – and now feels much more simple. And I also notice that I can’t unreservedly recommend others to start with what I now find most helpful. It may just be most helpful to me now because of what I did earlier. I can’t recommend others to start where I, and others who have explored these things for a while, am now. What I can do is share what’s been helpful to me at different phases in my process, and then let people go with what seems most helpful to them. They’ll do that anyway, which is a good thing. (Not that anyone has asked. And I still feel I am in the middle of my own process so others probably have much more perspective than I do.)

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Adyashanti: Meditation

 

Meditation is neither a means to an end nor something to perfect. Meditation done correctly is an expression of Reality, not a path to it. Meditation done incorrectly is a perfect mirror of how you are resisting the present moment, judging it, or attaching to it.

Meditation acts as a perfect mirror, which reflects your relationship with yourself, life, and the present moment. By becoming intimately aware of how you are resisting or attaching to the content of the present moment, and how futile it is to continue to do so, you may discover what it means to truly drop all of your resistance to the present moment.

Meditation has a very specific definition, purpose, and application. Meditation is the art of allowing everything to simply be in the deepest possible way. In order to let everything be, we must let go of the effort to control and manipulate our experience—which means letting go of personal will.

This cuts right to the heart of the egoic make-up, which seeks happiness through control, seeking, striving, and manipulation. Many forms of meditation are based on learning to control one’s experience as a means of attaining peace. Such methods often lead to a dead end, where one only attains peace of mind as long as the ego is being constrained by meditative technique.

– Adyashanti, from his free e-book The Way of Liberation.

Focus, field and curiosity in meditation

 

In meditation, there are three dimensions I think of as field, focus, and curiosity.

Focus can be narrow or wide. Bringing attention to the sensations of the breath at the tip of the nose narrow focus. Bringing attention to lines or colors of an image, or the shapes of letters, is also relatively narrow. Bringing attention to the sensations of the breath as a whole, or a contraction in the shoulders, is wider. Bringing attention to the space a sensation, image or word happens within and as is wider. In either case, it trains a more stable attention. And a more stable attention benefits just about any activity in our life.

Attention can also be brought to any content of awareness as awareness itself. And the whole field of awareness, with its content, as awareness. The latter is an even wider and more inclusive focus.

Curiosity is an inherent part of this exploration, at least if the exploration is held lightly, and comes from a natural interest in who and what we are, and how reality reveals itself to us.

We may notice…..

How training a more stable attention allows attention to naturally stabilize over time.

How attention is drawn to identifications, to beliefs, to velcro (sensations “stuck” on words and images.)

That any content of awareness – any sensation, word, image – is awareness, it’s “made up of” awareness.

That any content of awareness, and the whole field of experience as it is, is already allowed – by life, mind, awareness.

That what we are is really this field of awareness, as it is. And looking more closely, the capacity for awareness and its content.

That identification with ideas – a.k.a. beliefs, velcro – creates an appearance of being a small part of content of experience, an I with an Other.

And much more.

Traditionally, these three are spoken of as distinct practices. We train a more stable attention. (Samatha.) We notice the field of experience, that it already allows its content as it is, and that this is what we are. (Natural Rest, Shikantaza.) We find a natural curiosity for what’s there, and explore it intentionally. (Inquiry, self-inquiry.)

It makes sense to speak of them separately, and it makes sense to begin our exploration of each of these separately. And yet, the closer I look, the more I see that they are all woven in with each other. Explore one for any length of time and you’ll notice and find the other two.

Note: I was reminded of this when a friend of mine said “those are two very different practices” when I had spoken of focus and natural rest in the same sentence. Yes, they are distinct. And yes, they also blend into each other.

Focus can be explored within the context of natural rest. We can bring attention to a sensation, image or word, notice it’s already allowed, and rest with and as it. And this focus can be expanded to include the whole field of awareness – as awareness, already allowing its content.

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Body, then mind

 

Sometimes, it’s difficult to do inquiry, or various forms of meditation, or even shift into natural rest. The mind is too busy, too agitated, perhaps in too much reactivity.

At these times, it can be especially helpful to do something physical. Go for a walk. Run. Lift weights. Seek out nurturing touch. Do yoga. Tai chi. Chi gong. Breema. Even tapping. Or just take a break.

After this, it can be easier to do inquiry, meditation, or shift into natural rest.

Most, or all (?), spiritual traditions have known this, and often recommend doing a body-centered activity before (or during) inquiry, meditation, natural rest, or prayer.

It helps channel the restlessness or agitation in a way that’s more supportive of these practices.

It can also be helpful to inquire into ideas about this such as: “I have to be in the right state of mind to inquiry/meditate/pray”, “I need to inquire/meditate/pray now”, “it’s better if I inquire now”, “this agitation/distress is preventing me from …..” and so on. (The Work.) Also, can I find agitation, distress, reactivity, or even inquiry, meditation, or prayer? Or someone unable to do inquiry now, or someone who should? (Living Inquiries.)

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Taking care of more aspects of our health and well-being

 

There has been an odd myth in modern western culture that said that we cannot take care of certain aspects of our own health through our lifestyle.

Fortunately, that’s changing, and it has been for a while.

We know that by acting healthy, we can maintain good health into old age. (Staying physically and mentally active, and perhaps even doing forms of yoga, meditation and inquiry.)

We know that by exercising our eyes, we can maintain good eye health or sometimes even reverse eye problems. (I used glasses from my teens. Started eye exercises in my mid-twenties. After a few weeks went back to the eye doctor who said my vision was good and I was in no need to glasses. And when I asked, she said that poor vision can’t be reversed….! My vision went from mildly near sighted – 0.75 to normal.) See f.ex. Natural Vision Improvement by Janet Goodrich.

We know that the mind can be trained. We can train a more stable attention. We can find kindness and love towards ourselves and others. We can even recognize our “true nature” (the layers of it). And all of this can be invited in and made into new habits. See f.ex. shamata (stable attention), ho’oponopono, loving kindness/metta, tonglen, holding satsang with parts of ourselves (kindness, love), and forms of insight meditation and inquiry (recognizing the dynamics of the mind and our human nature, and our true nature).

We know that by making a few relatively simple changes, we can maintain health free from (most or all) infections diseases, and many other diseases. See f.ex. K.P. Khalsa (my herbalist).

We know that by making similar simple changes, we can prevent and even reverse tooth and gum problems. See f.ex. How I healed my Teeth Eating Sugar by Joey Lott. (I am just starting this now.)

We know that tension and trauma can be released in a simple and natural way. (Neurogenic tremors, Tension & Trauma Release Exercises.)

We know that the source of stress and distress, and even trauma, can be recognized and even undone through inquiry. See f.ex. The Work and the Living Inquiries.

There is a lot more here, and it keeps being further explored, adapted to our current modern culture, and widely available. Some of it – such as the effects of some types of meditation – is gaining increasing attention through research.

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Stepping stones to what’s more natural

 

Many practices I have explored seem to function as stepping stones to what’s more natural. They take me from a disconnected and fragmented state to what’s simpler and more natural. And that includes meditation, yoga (tai chi, chi gong, Breema), inquiry, prayer, loving kindness, gratitude, precepts and shaking (TRE, spontaneous movement, dance), and a variety of other practices.

The mental body is the newest in our human evolution, so it is perhaps natural that it’s been emphasized during the last few thousand years at least. This has led to a temporary over-emphasizing of role of the mental faculties (they are important, but function best in service to the heart), the appearance of our thoughts as more real and solid than they are, and identification with and as thought. So many or most of the practices developed over this time period are aimed at remedy and balance this. They are medicines for a temporary over-emphasis of the mental body. They are a bridge from this to seeing what’s already here, and a simpler and more natural way of being and living.

Some examples:

Precepts highlight what in us – usually fears, shoulds and beliefs – that prevent us from living with a natural and simple kindness towards ourselves and others. As with the other practices, it can feel a bit artificial at first, and then it shifts into a more natural and free living from kindness.

Natural meditation (Shikantaza) is what’s already here, although attention may be drawn to the complexities and drama of the mental and emotional bodies. It’s also how the mind naturally is when it’s less identified.

Yoga helps us connect more consciously with the body and movement, and allows us to experience ourselves as the body-mind whole. The whole is already here, although it’s not always noticed. And an experience of it can be cultivated through various movement practices.

Prayer is a giving of ourselves to God, an offering of our human self to Spirit. Again, it’s already that way, and this helps us notice it. It’s also how we naturally live when mind is less identified.

Loving kindness is again what’s here when mind is less identified. There is a natural and simple love and kindness for whatever is here in myself, others and the world. It’s what I am and life is.

Gratitude is similar. It’s what’s naturally here when mind is less identified. This may be a gratitude for what it’s easy to find gratitude for (friends, family, health, shelter, good food), and also for life itself as it shows up, with warts and calamities and all.

Inquiry is an examination of our thoughts and how it relates to emotions, sensations and our lives. Again, when mind is less identified it is naturally curious and attentive of these dynamics.

Shaking is what any mammal does to relieve stress and tension. It allows the body and mind to restore itself to a more healthy state.

With all of these, it can feel a bit artificial at first. We learn a form and a method, apply it, and it can feel clumsy. It also brings up what’s in us that prevents us from living it in a natural and simple form, it brings us face to face with identifications, wounds, fears, shoulds and more. And over time, as these soften, are held in love, and are seen through, the natural way of living this is gradually revealed. Form gives way to a very natural and simple way of living. These practices is a bridge from a temporary over-emphasizing of the mental body, with accompanying identifications, to a more simple and less identified way of being and living. (more…)

Fear of meditation

 

For about ten years, from late teens to late twenties, I meditated and prayed daily, often more than once and for an hour or longer each time. I did it because I loved the connection with soul and Spirit so much.

Then, as I left myself and my guidance, this changed. (I moved geographically because of a relationship, which felt deeply wrong.) I wasn’t able to meditate or pray anymore. It was too painful. It brought me face to face with the pain of leaving myself and my guidance, and the shoulds and fears that made me leave myself. This was the beginning of a dark night of the soul for me, and the ability to meditate and pray were among the many casualties of me leaving myself.

This inability to meditate and pray lasted for a few years. I then got back into meditation again, which led to a nondual/selfless state for a few months followed by a very intense dark night.

And during this phase of the dark night, it was again very difficult for me to meditate or pray, at least in the more formal way I was used to previously. It was as if I lost the capacity to engage in these practices. I was able to – at least at times – breathe and feel the feelings, be with what’s here, pray for guidance and assistance, and some other variations of what may be called meditation or prayer. But the ability to do more formal sitting practice, and more formal prayer sessions, went out the window.

There is still an inability to do much sitting practice, and I see that one reason may be fear. There is still a fear of facing the pain and discomfort of leaving myself, a fear of meeting the shoulds and fears that led to me leaving myself, and a fear of facing the pain of the consequences (all the losses) of me leaving myself. (Even though I have now left the situation created by me leaving myself.)

One thing that came out of this is a deepened humility. There is a deeper empathy and understanding of others who experience a fear of meditation. For me, meditation and prayer was so deeply satisfying and nurturing that I didn’t “get” this fear earlier. Now I do.  There is also a deeper understanding of the possible consequences of leaving myself, both “inner” (pain, distress) and “outer” (loss of much of what was most important to me).  (more…)

Notes about meditation

 

It looks like I’ll teach (show, guide) meditation for a group of teenagers, so I thought I would go over the basics again here, as a reminder for myself.

There are three basic forms of meditation: Stable attention, rest, and inquiry.

Stable attention / samatha. Attention can be trained. Untrained, it may easily be scattered and unruly. Trained, it can become stable and pliable, and a stable attention is helpful for almost any activity in our lives – from relationships to sports to learning and working. One way to train it is to bring attention to the breath, for instance the sensations at the nostrils as the breath naturally goes in and out. Attention may wander, and when that’s noticed, bring attention back to the breath. The noticing happens as grace.

Rest / shikantaza. Allow everything to be as it is. Notice it’s already allowed to be as it is. Notice what’s here – the sensations, sights, sounds, smell, taste, words and images. It all comes and goes. It lives it’s own life. Rest and notice what’s here. Even notice any resistance or trying. It’s all happening within and as the field of what’s here. There is nowhere to go and nothing to do. Just notice what’s already here.

Inquiry / vipassana. Insights into what the mind is, and how it works. These happen, to some extent, through the two previous ones. And they also happen through guided inquiry or exploration. such as sense field explorations, the Living Inquiries, The Work, the Big Mind process, and also holding satsang with what’s here.

Mutual support. Each of these support the others. A stable attention makes it easier to rest and do inquiry. Familiarity with rest makes it easier to explore a stable attention and inquiry from rest. And inquiry gives insights – and a release of identification with words and images – that supports a stable attention and rest.

Support of life. All these forms of meditation are in support of life. And there are, of course, many things that supports both life and meditation. Physical exercise is one, including forms of yoga (tai chi, chi gong, Breema), endurance and strength. Precepts is another, guidelines for how to live our lives. These give a preview of how it is to live from more clarity, they shows us what’s left (fears and beliefs that prevents us from living from clarity and love), and they support an easier and more stable relationship with others and ourselves. Different forms of therapies can also be very helpful in allowing our human self to align with clarity and love.

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Francis Lucille: Meditation is simple and easy

 

Meditation is simple and easy, like a fish swimming in water. If it is complicated, if it requires effort, it must be something else.

– Francis Lucille

And that goes for much of what we sometimes call meditation: (a) Training a more stable attention. Bringing attention to the breath, sensations, gently bringing it back. (b) Noticing that what’s here is already allowed. Noticing that identifications are already allowed. (c) A gentle curiosity, exploring the sense fields, how it is to meet and welcome what’s here, what it really is etc. It can all be simple, gentle and free of effort.

Inquiry, prayer, meditation, therapy, life

 

Holding satsang with aspect of the psyche is inquiry, prayer, meditation, therapy and life all in one.

It’s curiosity, exploration, inquiry. It’s taking a closer look to see what’s there.

It’s devotion, gratitude, humility. It’s a form of prayer.

It’s noting that which is already open to what’s here, and finding what I am as that. It’s basic meditation.

It benefits from and supports a more stable attention. It’s a form of training a more stable attention.

It invites subpersonalities to heal, liberate, and notice what they really are. It has some of the same effects as therapy.

And it’s life. All of it is an expression of life. And daily life brings subpersonalities into awareness, and is where any changes are lived.

Meditation, prayer, inquiry

 

In one sense, there is a mutuality among meditation, prayer, and inquiry. Each support the other.

And in another, very real, sense, there is very little or no difference between the three.

It all depends on what’s meant by the different words, of course.

Meditation may mean noticing that what’s here is already allowed. It’s already allowed by awareness, it already happens as awareness. Any response to it happens after the fact.

Prayer is an opening to what’s larger than what I may take as a me or I. It’s receptivity, and often awe, humility, gratitude.

Inquiry is curiosity about what’s here. What’s really here?

There is a mutuality among these. Meditation is a noticing of the context it’s all happening within, and this supports prayer and inquiry. Prayer opens for a sense of receptivity and humility, which supports meditation and inquiry. And inquiry invites in a sense of curiosity, which supports meditation and prayer.

And already here, the three are shown to be very close to each other. Receptivity and curiosity is part of meditation. Curiosity and recognizing the nature of reality/mind is part of prayer. Receptivity and recognizing the nature of reality/mind is part of inquiry.

It’s part of one movement of noticing, receptivity, curiosity.

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Opening to experience

 

A brief follow-up to the post on The Journey:

In The Journey, Brandon Bays describes a process of welcoming and staying with whatever painful emotion is here. Welcome it, stay with it. Allow it to transform, as it naturally does (new layers of hurt/wounds emerge). Until it all drops into the void.

It’s what I find happens naturally during meditation, especially if the sessions are regular and a bit on the longer side. What’s stuffed earlier in life surfaces, and there is an experience of intense emotions burning themselves out, leaving a brilliant clarity and awakeness.

It’s also something I can explore in everyday life, for instance asking myself can I be with what I am experiencing now? (Raphael Cushnir.) I can also explore it further: Is it true this is too much? Is it true it’s overwhelming? Is it true avoiding it is easier? 

And I can identify thoughts behind my impulse to fuel or avoid the emotion/stories surfacing, and take these to inquiry. Here are some I find for myself: (a) Opening to the emotion will make it worse. It’s overwhelming. It’s too much. (b) The thought is true. It’s pointless to inquire into it. Inquiring into the thought will make it worse. (c) It’s easier to avoid. It’s more comfortable to avoid. Something terrible will happen if I open to the emotion/inquire into the thought. 

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What can be trained: previous blind spots in mainstream western culture

 

Mainstream western culture has had some blind spots about what can be trained and what cannot, and that’s already changing.

For instance, from spiritual traditions from around the world, including western ones, we know that we can train (a) a stable attention (supports almost any activity), (b) empathy and an open heart (tonglen, prayer, ho’o), (c) opening to the experience that’s here (inquiry, true meditation, tonglen, prayer, ho’o), (d) what we are recognizing itself (true meditation, inquiry, prayer), and (e) that we can inquire into our most basic assumptions and find what’s more true for us. Many newer versions of these practices are also available now, including headless experiments and the Big Mind process (what we are noticing itself), and The Work (inquiry into our beliefs, including our most basic assumptions).

And some traditions also shows us that we can train more “mundane” things such as our eyes and sight (sometimes recover from or prevent eye problems), our body so it has a good chance of staying supple and healthy throughout life (yoga, tai chi, Breema), and even our ability to notice and support a flow of subtle energy in and around our body for ourselves (chi gong) and sometimes others.

This is a training and a practice, although it’s equally much an exploration and investigation. What happens when I engage in these activities?

Inquiry as meditation

 

I had stress around inquiry as meditation come up for me this morning. I notice The Work works when I use it as meditation, and also that I often don’t.

Some of my thoughts:

I am not doing it right. I am wasting my time. Others know how to do it. I am not up to the task. I am too scatter-brained. I avoid opening to reality/truth. I don’t trust reality/truth. I am not going deep enough. I will stay on the surface. I am just going through the motions. I will continue to stay in confusion.

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Inquiry and meditation

 

Inquiry and meditation go hand-in-hand.

A more stable attention is helpful in any activity – whether it is meditation, inquiry, prayer or activities in daily life. The simplest way to invite attention to stabilize is to bring attention to the sensations of the breath – for instance at the nostrils – for a few minutes a day and in a relaxed way. How is it to bring attention to the breath in a relaxed way? Can I be as relaxed as if in a hammock a summer’s day watching the leaves moving in the breeze? How is it to bring attention to the breath with interest and curiosity?

Through this practice, I also get to see how easily attention goes to beliefs – to stories and images I take as true or important – and that’s one of the inquiry aspects of inviting attention to stabilize. What happens when I bring attention to the breath? It’s a good way to get more familiar with these dynamics of the mind. Attention is brought to the breath. Attention goes into stories. Something noticed this and attention goes back to the breath. And so on.

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Meditation and brain changes

 

Participating in an 8-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress.
– From Mindfulness meditation training changes brain structure in 8 weeks, Massachusetts General Hospital

It seems that even brief daily practice over a few weeks can create measurable changes in the brain.

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Meditation: Noticing what we are

 

Someone asked me yesterday what meditation is, and as usual I didn’t quite know what to say, apart from mentioning that there are many types and describing briefly the most easily explained type of inviting attention to stabilize.

What it really is about, of course, is noticing what we really are. But that sounds perhaps too grandiose. I could say something simple like are you your body, or are your body in you? which invites people to look there and then, but in a casual social setting that seems a little contrived too.

The truth is that what we are, and what meditation really is about, is too simple to put in words very easily. It easily sounds too naive. It is, in many ways, too obvious. And in other ways, too weird. And using fancy words from tradition – Brahman, Buddha Mind, Tao and so on – makes it sound far more abstract, exotic and unreachable than it is.

So asking are you in the body, or the body in you? is maybe not a bad approach. It may at least spark some curiosity, or rather bring attention to a curiosity that is naturally there.

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Lying-down meditation

 

I am familiar with sitting meditation from my time at the Zen center, and also before and after that time. I have done quite a bit of moving meditation through tai chi and chi gong, and now Breema. And recently, it has been lying down meditation that has drawn my interest. It seems that each one has its own benefits.

Sitting practice, in my experience, is great for finding a very stable attention, shifting into samadhi, and for very detailed and specific inquiries into the dynamics of what is happening. I also find that it is easy for me to be a little tense and sometimes try a little too hard.

Moving meditation is great for shifting into Big Mind and see everything happening as Big Mind itself. The movements of this body and whatever is happening in the wider world happens within and as Big Mind. In some ways, the more this body moves, the easier it is to find myself as that which everything happens within and as, as that which is is free from, allows and manifests as movement.

Moving meditation is also helpful since it can be done any time in daily life, for instance while walking, making food, showering, typing at the computer or whatever else I am doing.

Lying-down meditation is great for letting go of effort and trying. I can find a deeply relaxed and stable attention. I can do inquiries in a relaxed way. And I can find myself as what I am in a relaxed way. The drawback is, of course, that it is easy to drift off into sleep, but I can notice even that as happening within and as what I am, and pick up where I left when I shift out of sleep again.

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Not juicy enough

 

When there is still a sense of a separate I, and the content of experience gets very quiet, for instance in sitting practice, it can seem pretty boring. Not much is happening. It feels sort of dry. It is not very juicy.

So the tendency then, coming from pure innocence, is to go to a thought for juice. If it is not there in what is happening, I can at least find it in the inside of a thought.

And the shift is to just stay with it. Allow it. Be curious about the dryness. Invite in peace with it.

After a while, we may notice that we are this awakeness that not much is happening within, and that is actually quite juicy. There is an aliveness there. Presence. It is enough in itself, without a lot of excitement happening in the content.

Our identification shifts from taking ourselves as a part of content of awareness, which can be pretty boring when the content is quiet, to that which this content happens within, to and as, and the quitet joy and bliss in just noticing what we already are.

Energy/consciousness & self/other grid

 

In talking with someone local who has done Buddhist meditation for a couple of decades, and is also a diksha giver, I was reminded of the energy/consciousness and self/other grid, and also how much I appreciate being free to move among and include each of the quadrants.

In the awakening process, we can work from the energy side or consciousness side, each supporting and in mutual influence with the other. And we can also do our own work, or have it done for us (shocking, for many in a Buddhist world view.)

Diksha, and any other form of shaktipat, is an example of work on the energy side influencing the consciousness side, and also an example of the “other” quadrant. It is something that is given to us from outside of this human self, without much or any effort on our own part.

Regular meditation and inquiry is an example of self-initiated work on the consciousness side, which inevitably influences the energy side.

Different forms of yoga is an example of self-initiated work on the energy side.

And in terms of other-initiated work on the consciousness side, I am not sure. Maybe different forms of pointing-out instructions, such as the Big Mind process, could fall into this quadrant, although these are more of a other-self partnership.

We can of course also include other levels here, such as the physical. Self-initiated work here include exercise and yoga, and other-initiated work includes massage and other forms of bodywork.

The benefit of limiting oneself to one quadrant or side of the grid is that we get to explore that one in depth. We get intimately familiar with that part of the terrain. The drawback may be slight one-sidedness, both in view and practice. We may end up discounting the other side of the grid. And we may end up being overly self-reliant, reinforcing a sense of a separate self and a “doer” that way. Or we may end up being overly other-reliant, not trusting what can be initiated from this – the human self – side.

So with all of this available to us, why limit ourselves to any one quadrant, or even any one side of the grid? In my experience, it all goes hand in hand, seamlessly, with activities in each quadrant shedding some light on the other quadrants. Each one contributing to exploring the terrain in slightly new ways.

As with any map, this grid is false and also potentially useful in a practical way.

Even if we focus on one quadrant, each of the other ones are included. I may focus on self-initiated meditation and inquiry, which in turn influences the energy, and also invites Ground as “other” to notice itself. I initiate prayer, and “other” comes in and shifts both energy and consciousness. I receive diksha, and lots of old patterns come up to be seen, and I actively stay with it and may even work with beliefs around it. Or I receive diksha, and go into samadhi, which helps me inquire into what is here now in more detail.

And without the boundaries created by this map, we see that it is all a seamless whole of awake void and form, only with appearances of I and Other, consciousness and energy. It is all the play of God, it is all Lila.

Crystallizing

 

This is something I have noticed since my teens, but not written down before. It is the sense of a transition between a slightly disorganized field and a crystallizing field.

It is especially tangible in sitting mediation, where the transition usually happens within the first few minutes, and it is also tangible in daily life, where the sense of crystallization is more or less present depending on how much sitting practice I do and other things going on. (During the couple of months last fall where any sense of I fell away, the emptiness itself took on a crystal quality.)

It shows up as a tangible sense of crystallization (or not), and also visually in the energy fields of myself and others. When there is no or less crystallization, there is also less awareness of the energy field and what it represents. As it is brought more into awareness, the crystallization also takes place.

So again, it appears to be more literal than it may be taken by many. There seems to be a literal reconfiguring of the subtle energies which is experienced, and seen, as a crystallization.

Christ meditation

 

I did the Christ meditation last night, and noticed a new shift and a few familiar things as well.

In the Christ meditation, I visualize Christ in my heart, and in front and behind, on the left and right, and above and below, about 5-8 feet out. Christ can be visualized as a presence, a light, or even in the physical form of Jesus, depending of what resonates the most and gives the strongest sense of presence. For me, a combination of presence and golden light seems to work best.

Soft alive loving intelligent receptive luminosity

The difference this time was the quality of the light. This time, it had a soft rounded quality, as a soft luminous deep infinitely loving, intelligent and receptive luminosity, with an alive presence. It has the deep velvety quality of the fertile darkness, and the aliveness and love, intelligence and receptivity of the alive luminosity.

In my dream that morning, the fertile blackness took on the qualities of the alive luminosity, revealing itself as luminous blackness. And during this meditation, the luminosity took on the deep soft quiet qualities of the fertile darkness. They seem to be revealing themselves as just two facets of the same, in different ways, with one in the foreground, then the other.

Directions

I also noticed the experience of the directions again, as I often do.

The front seems to have to do with my conscious daily life and interactions.

The back with my individual shadows, maybe shared with people in my groups such as culture and nationality, and in general what I tend to be unaware of in my daily life.

The sides with community and relationships with humanity, animals, plants and the Earth.

Above with traditional yang spirituality, such as transcendence and ascension.

And below with deep feminine spirituality, and also deeper collective shadows.

Placing, or noticing, the Christ there allows the light of awareness into these realms, allowing them to reorganize within the light of consciousness.

Unique quality

I also notice the unique Christ quality. It involves the heart center, but so do anything else related to Big Heart, such as Avalokiteshwara (Chenrezig, Kanzeon, Quan Yin). It involves the head center as well, especially the crown. But it also has a very distinct quality, a fiery alive presence that I have not experienced with anything else.

Tongues of fire

I also took the opportunity to look at the tongue of fire in the mirror afterwards (I know this is weird! I am definitely pushing my comfort zone by writing about this.) It looks like a cylinder of very clear light attached to the crown, maybe about 1.5-2 inches wide and 5-6 inches tall. When I move my head around, it follows exactly, as if solidly attached to the crown.

So it doesn’t really look like a tongue of fire, but it is very understandable why it may be described – and depicted – that way. It is of clear brilliant light, attached to the top as a flame to a candle (!), and it also has the fiery quality of the Christ presence itself.

Feeding awareness

 

During a brief Shikantaza practice tonight, I noticed again how it feeds awareness.

Of course, whatever happens, awareness is fed: content arises within awareness.

And this can happen in two quite different ways. One way is with drama, and this brings the drama itself into the foreground. (The muddy water is stirred.)

The other way is with an absence or reduction of drama, through for instance meditation and self-inquiry. (The mud falls to the bottom revealing the clarity of the water.)

It seems that the simplicity of this allows it to be processed in a different way, one that allows for both awakening and a healing and reorganization of our human self.

Meditation: Ground revealed to itself

 

I notice that a part of me wants to sensor much of this, because it either seems to simple and obvious, or too confused. But I know of course that all this are relative and provisional truths at most, as anything expressed in words or any other way. Relative truths, in this case coming from a not clear awakening, and written down so they can be let go of more easily.

Allowing content to come and go on its own

So in basic meditation, such as Shikantaza, everything is allowed to be as it is. Sights, sounds, tastes, smells, sensations, thoughts arise. They come and go on their own. They live their own life. If there is an impulse to change any of it, then that is included as well. That too is just noticed. It is all fed to awareness, simply, with ease.

Initial mimicking of Ground

In this, there is initially a conscious mimicking of what Ground already does: allowing all content to come and go on its own, freely. It is the seeing (or more accurately emptiness) inherently free from the always changing content, and naturally and effortlessly allowing the seen to live its own life.

Ground shifts into foreground

After a while, Ground tends to shift into the foreground. It notices itself, becomes aware of itself, brings itself into the foreground of awareness. The shifting content falls into the background, and may be recognized as no different and no other than Ground itself.

There is just the Ground of seeing and seen, inherently absent of I anywhere.

Ground recognizing itself

So by mimicking Ground, allowing content to come and go on its own, Ground is allowed to more easily recognize itself, to bring itself into awareness, as the Ground of seeing and seen inherently absent of I anywhere.