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Meditative practices for Awakening

This is the third post in a series of three. In the first post I introduced the ambitious idea that it might be possible to get to ‘Awakening’ in only 18 weeks or so of regular practice. (Alternative terms that get at the same idea as ‘Awakening’ include ‘non-symbolic consciousness’, ‘non duality’, or perhaps even ‘Enlightenment’.) This is the claim of Jeffery Martin, a US academic and writer. In the second post I summarised the happiness (positive psychology) exercises that are an important auxiliary for this programme. But in this post I lay out the heart of the programme: what are you meant to be doing over these 18 weeks?

Let me get a disclaimer in first: I’m not a Buddhist or spiritual teacher, priest, nor have I published anything on this topic. And I certainly don’t claim to be Enlightened myself, or anything like that. (Not yet, anyway.) I know for sure that there are many, many people out there who know a lot more than I do about everything I’m about to mention. But on the other hand: this is an area I’ve been interested in, read up on, thought about – and most importantly, tried out in practice – for ten years or so. On that basis I hope there’s some value in my findings so far.

In the first post of this series, I summarised some of Jeffery Martin’s pertinent findings – that it is important to try lots of different meditative practices, to mix and match, accept that some won’t work for you (even though they might work for other people), and accept that some might work for a while and then become less useful over time. I find this highly pragmatic focus very refreshing (and typically American), which is why I built my own programme around this. However, Martin doesn’t give much detail about exactly which practices to do. (This is probably deliberate – as I mentioned previously, he does have an expensive course to sell, which I’m sure contains plenty of details.) So, I pulled a programme together myself, based on

The results are presented below. As you may remember, Martin adopts a broad categorisation of somatic awareness, cognitive awareness, and symbolic repetition, which I include in brackets. The numbers reflect weeks – i.e., the idea is to change practice roughly weekly. You’ll see I spilled a little over the 18 weeks originally suggested for the programme length.

  1. Breath (somatic): Counting breath; awareness of each part of body in relation to breathing; awareness of Breath Gone/ Breath Full; natural breathing, with no blockages. Every breath is different – it is being aware of each breath, not of breath in general.
  2. Tension (somatic): Progressive tense & relax of each muscle; Sekida – focus on tandem, and perform an active movement in imagination while sitting, maintaining tandem tension.
  3. Headless Way (cognitive): Experiments: Pointing here; The Single Eye; Closed Eyes Experiment (see the website linked to previously). Beginning to be aware of thought as something different to I.
  4. Goenka body scan (somatic): Move around body with awareness, with breath (see the website linked to previously). Feel your body from the inside.
  5. Consciousness questions (cognitive): From ’10 Zen Questions’: Am I conscious now? How does thought arise? Who is asking the question?
  6. Space, silence, presence (somatic): An alert presence, waiting, aware of this space, listening for the silence. Awareness of the space as it is itself, not something to be (e.g.) used.
  7. Noting/ Vipassana (cognitive): Observe, and note, whatever arises – one word labels, like ‘thinking’, ‘hearing’, ‘rising’/ ‘falling’ (of the breath), ‘wanting’, ‘fear’. The noting aids awareness, makes internal processes more explicit.
  8. Soto Zen (somatic): “Just leave thoughts alone, allowing them to come up and go away freely. The essential thing in doing zazen is to awaken (Kakusoku) from distraction and dullness, and return to the right posture moment by moment.” Posture is important – precise hand and sitting positions.
  9. Combination 1. The idea is to take what’s worked, and build on that – remix practices so far, combining some in new ways. (I tried ways of moving, across an hour, from awareness of breath and body, through awareness of thought, to awareness of self, or of awareness itself.)
  10. Release/ no craving (cognitive): Dogen: “please try releasing your hold”. Becoming aware of desires and wants. Recall that for Buddhists the origin of suffering is craving/ desiring.
  11. Feeling & thought (cognitive): from Gary Weber: “Feeling emotions, sensations, memories, stories and fears.  Feeling how sticky, emotionally-charged and powerful they were as they arose in consciousness.  Seeing if they were sticking together, if they were in longer or shorter strings, if the subject frequently changed, or if their number was decreasing. Feeling if they were I/me/my thoughts, and whether they were about the past and future.  Watching carefully where thoughts came from, and where they went to and who thought them up. Feeling their arising so carefully and closely that they actually stopped.”
  12. Calligraphy (repetition): see the link to Shakyo, above.
  13. Non-attachment (cognitive): from Gary Weber: “Feeling the difference and extent of individual attachments, like my dog, car, job, kids, house, etc.  Bringing them into consciousness and then feeling how strong their presence was and then when they weren’t there, feeling their absence, to see just how great that attachment was.  Following this by actively engaging them, and then letting go/surrendering them and feeling them fall away.  Then when an attempt was made to re-engage them, feeling if anything remained for future “letting go”.”
  14. Koans (cognitive): select three classic Koans, starting with ‘mu’. Work with each for 2 days, returning to the most fruitful for the last day of the week.
  15. Awareness of I (cognitive): from Gary Weber: “Feeling if the “I”s that manifested were the same or different as situations, functions and relationships changed during the day.  Feeling them as hundreds or thousands of “I”s.  As the many “I”s became dissociated in the “When am I?” practice, feeling them as mere blips on the great ocean of Stillness and Presence.  Feeling so completely and carefully when an “I” was beginning to manifest that it just didn’t manifest.”
  16. Mantras (repetition): Jeffery Martin strongly recommends using traditional mantras. Gary Weber: “Feeling every aspect of chanting.  Where it came from, where it went to, the space it occupied and was surrounded by, and what remained after it ended.  Feeling the energy change in body-mind during and after the chant.”
  17. Yantras (repetition): visual repetition, just as mantras are oral repetition. Try using Tibetan Mandhlas.
  18. Deconstruct I (cognitive): from Gary Weber: “Feeling for the nature, substance and location of the subject/watcher. Could I “stand” on the objects being perceived and look back at what had been the subject/watcher, and feel into what/where that subject had been, like feeling one’s way into a dark cave? Feeling if the subject and the object were One or two, non-dual or dual.  The subject and object need to dissolve into, merge with each other.  Could the object fully enter and displace the “me” that felt it was the body-mind?  Was there even a trace of anything resisting this?  If so, where/what was it?”
  19. Essential nature of mind (cognitive): Not one thing (awareness) seeing another (one’s nature), but awareness has turned into one’s nature; one’s nature is awareness; seeing without a seer.
  20. Combination 2
  21. Combination 3

The first half of the programme is intended to be ‘easier’, to get one used to sitting for a relatively long period of time, to help awareness become part of everyday life. The second half of the programme is meant to be challenging, and throw together quite divergent practices.

I will leave any detailed commentary on how it’s going/ gone for me personally until a future post, and will leave this one as a relatively impersonal presentation of a possible programme of meditative practices.

But, suffice to say at the time of writing this post, I’m about half way through the above, having just finished the middle ‘Combination’ practice. I’ve valued doing the practices; some have been incredible, with attendant insights, and radical changes to mood and outlook; though others have been extremely frustrating and/ or boring.

In case you missed the first post in the series, the central focus of this programme is to spend a solid hour every single day doing the above meditative practices. Yet I’ve continued to struggle with this (I tend to be a ‘busy’ person by nature), so it’s taken a little longer than the above schedule suggests, as I’ve stayed on a practice for longer than a week if I found I was missing days out in the previous week.

I really hope this is useful for someone out there. Do feel free to get in touch if you want to discuss anything or want more information on anything.


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