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.

The Purpose of Precepts

Precepts may have many different purposes:

Keep people in line. (May be helpful in a society and in a spiritual community.)

Mimic and get somewhat used to how it is to live from more clarity. (May make the transition a bit easier.)

Stay out of trouble so there is more time and focus for practice. (Engaging in what the precepts aim to keep us out of tends to create messy situations.)

And the one I find most interesting for myself: The precepts helps me notice when I don’t follow them, or when there is an impulse to not follow them. I can then see if there is a belief behind that impulse, identify it and take it to inquiry. For instance, is there a belief/fear behind an impulse to lie, even if it is “just” a white lie? What do I fear may happen if I tell the truth?


Opening up or closing down

Again, it can seem obvious:

How I receive life opens it up for me, or closes it down.

And that is true for spiritual practices and traditions as well.

When they are taken as questions and an invitation for exploration, they may open up the world.

For instance, precepts can be a wonderful opportunity for exploration.

What happens when I encounter the precept? When I try to follow it? When I can’t follow it? Do I notice the symptoms of triggered beliefs? What do I find when I investigate those beliefs?

What are some of the layers I find when I work with a precept? What are some of the ways I can understand and apply it in daily life? How does this change over time?

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I don’t have much experience working formally with precepts, but also recognize their value.

As ethical guidelines they have an obvious practical function at a social level, and they also help keep us out of trouble at an individual level, reducing suffering for ourselves and others and – if we are into spiritual practice – freeing some time, energy and attention for practice.

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Precept practice

Why do precepts practice? I can find three reasons for myself.

First, in a conventional sense, following moral guidelines makes it easier for ourselves and others. It creates a more humane and civilized society, reducing suffering and freeing up energy for more than just survival. At an individual level, it keeps us out of trouble in the world and with ourselves.

Then, it mimics what happens when what we are awakens to itself, and functions through a relatively healthy and mature human self. This helps reorganize our human self, and also prepare the ground for that shift.

Finally, it helps us notice when we are not aligned with the precepts, and inquire into why. It helps us see where we attach to stories as true and some of the dynamics around it. What do I hope to get out of clinging to this story? What actually happens? Who would I be without it? Is there validity in its reversals?

Gifts of precepts

Some gifts of precepts, and of guidelines for ethical behavior in general…

  • Staying out of trouble, which means reduced suffering for who we take ourselves to be. (This also bring more respect and appreciation for our tradition, whichever it may be, in society, which makes it easier to practice and also may invite others to explore if it is for them.)
  • Reduced suffering for others.
  • Bringing attention to habitual body-mind patterns, and their effects. There is a continuing monitoring of the relationship between how we function in the world and the guidelines, which allows us to see more clearly our habitual patterns.
  • Mimicking how Big Mind/Heart, awake to itself, is typically expressed through a human self, which makes it easier for BM/BH to notice itself. Precepts and ethics generally invites for a deepening worldcentric view, which provides more fluidity of views, a wider embrace of the heart, and reduced identification with emotional reactivity, all of which makes it easier for BM/BH (and BB – Big Belly) to notice itself. Following an awakening of BM/BH to itself, they reduce the degree of reorganization needed for the human self, since much of it has already occurred.
  • Continually exploring new levels and layers of the precepts, understanding them in new ways, including ways directly relating to other practices. For instance, the precept of not killing can be taken in a conventional way (very beneficial for all of the other reasons), and also as not aiming to “kill” whatever phenomena is arising here now. It is an invitation to allow any phenomena its life, and to release identification with resistance to what is arising.