THE FOUR SKILLS A MEDITATOR NEEDS TO DEVELOP: SKILL NUMBER THREE - MOVE FURTHER AWAY FROM EXPERIENCE -- PART ONE

Given that Skill Number Two is "moving closer to experience" and that Skill Number Two arises from Skill Number One, which is "calming the heart and mind," folks can be confused as to why we would want to move farther from experience. Shouldn’t we simply continue to move closer to experience, so that we can understand its true nature (Skill Number Four)?  Well, yes and no. Let me explain:

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PRACTICING THE FOUR SKILLS A MEDITATOR MUST DEVELOP: First Skill

Practicing With the First Skill: Calming and Collecting the Heart & Mind

Two things come to mind that can be helpful:

  • DO IT! You can’t learn how to play an instrument by looking at it, you have to pick it up and practice with it. Same holds true for cultivating a heart & mind that is somewhat steady and at ease. Take time to practice formally every day. There’s no getting around this. Don’t fall into the trap of, “I practice by being mindful of what I do during the day.” Yes, we want to be mindful during the day, but it’s not a substitute for the clear intentionality of sitting still, not talking, not doing anything, and cultivating presence.

  • Having said that, you do want to also practice during the day. To be mindful of what you are doing, yes. Also, and just as importantly, to find moments of being present, when you can connect with the body and allow it to relax. Keep the attention on this relaxation process and enjoy whatever level of stillness manifests. This could be three seconds or a few minutes. The idea is to do it often. Start to get into the habit of the heart and mind settling frequently. This can pick up momentum and being to happen more spontaneously over time. 

PRACTICING THE FOUR SKILLS A MEDITATOR MUST DEVELOP: Second Skill

Practicing With The Second Skill: Moving Closer to Experience

There are many meditation suggestions, teachings and instructions in this arena. To simplify things and add some structure, I want to offer a template of sorts that can be helpful. We can apply this template to any experience that arises.

The idea is that we want to stay away from two opposite extremes of how we could relate to experience. On one side of things there is repression, denial and suppression. We literally don’t connect with it. One way or another, the experience is pushed or kept out of consciousness. The opposite extreme is being lost in, identified with and overtaken by experience. We’re not really with it, we’ve become it!

The middle ground is that we are aware that the experience, (naming it is very helpful) is happening, so in this way, we’re not repressing it. And yet, we’re not carried away by it. There’s something that is not the experience that is knowing it. It doesn’t mean we don’t feel the experience or aren’t affected by it. It means we know it’s happening and aren’t totally lost in it.

One area where most people find difficulty moving closer to experience is when the experience is unpleasant, especially with unpleasant or difficult emotions. I want to offer you a very simple way to practice with this particular arena of experience. First is to name the difficult emotion. Jealousy, anger, lust, fear, etc. The reason to do this is because if you can name it, it means, at least for that moment, you are not completely identified with it (one of the extremes we want to stay away from), and it means you are aware of it and not suppressing it (the other extreme we want to stay away from).

Once you can name the emotion, then bring your attention to your body and see if you can notice where the emotion is manifesting in the body. Is it anger manifesting as tight stomach? Fear as a clenched jaw? Anxiety as a rapid heart beat? Etc. Sometimes you will be able to notice the emotion in the body, sometimes you won’t. It almost doesn’t matter as the reason we want the attention in the body is so that it’s not caught up in the looping thoughts and stories that often accompany difficult emotions. As long as the attention is in the body feeling the emotion, or trying to feel the emotion, it won’t be caught in the mind.

Now, if you can ascertain where the emotion is in the body, then let your attention stay with the sensation that you feel. Perhaps name them. Tightness, pressure, vibration, etc. Stay with the sensations and notice how they change and notice when they are no longer there.