Times are urgent, and we need to slow down in order to decide how to respond to the many challenges we face—from environmental degradation to widespread war and violence, to name just a few. We need to make space to be with our experience as it is, to allow what is and to relax into it.
Connecting with our experience teaches us a lot about ourselves and how we meet and interpret the world. We can begin to notice our attitude towards what we encounter in any given moment by asking ourselves, How do I deal with this? What do I do with it? How do I relate to my experience? This investigation is the hallmark of the Buddha’s teaching, while experience itself is actually secondary. By looking at our lives in this way, we begin to see with increasing clarity that all phenomena are constantly changing and are therefore unable to offer us lasting satisfaction. This insight is the master key to freedom and the reason why we meditate.
First, find a posture you can sustain for half an hour or so, and as you take your seat, do so with all the beings behind you who have brought you to this moment—all the human ancestors, animal ancestors, and plant and mineral ancestors. Be aware of all of them behind you and all the future generations in front of you, and in the midst of all this, take your seat. Take your seat in order to know the path in this moment, to see yourself and the world a bit more clearly. Really honor this very deep impulse, which is in all of us. It’s a deep calling that we’ve had the good fortune to connect with and now we’re able to respond to. Just take that in—the fact that you can do this.
Begin by connecting with your body—feel your weight on the cushion, on the chair. This piece of earth, this piece of planet that we call our body is in constant exchange with the biosphere. Feel the gravity of the earth element pulling you toward the ground, offering you stability and a place to be and practice.
As you spend time with your body, be aware of the heart area as well and the emotions that you feel there. Notice what is present for you right now. If you’re not quite clear, that’s OK. Just notice the confusion or the numbness, the resistance to connect with what you’re feeling. Whatever it is, that is what’s happening, at least for now. Practice is not about changing our experience. Rather, practice increases our ability to be with what is. To accept and allow, to make space by creating a bigger container for our thoughts and feelings, to cultivate qualities that will help us work with our experience.
Next, be aware of the mind. Is it open or contracted? Is there a sense of hurry or stress? Just notice what’s there, and as you do this, be aware of your breathing. Allow your awareness to rest on the body breathing. If you notice the mind wandering off into thinking, just come back to the simplicity of the body breathing in and breathing out. With the in-breath be aware of the body and what’s happening inside you. Then relax into boundless space and silence with the out-breath. Listen to the space, listen to the silence, and allow the mind to open. Whenever you notice that the mind wants to contract around a thought, gently let go of the impulse and come back to listening. Gently lean into spaciousness and silence while allowing movement and change—giving room to it all.
If you become conscious of a feeling or some sort of response to what’s happening, just gently hold it in your heart and allow it to spread through the body—the form of your being. Let it deeply in-form you, so that through that knowing you’ll be able to sense what you need to do next. By inviting that seeing to ripple out through your body and mind, you stretch and grow and integrate a little more world and life into your being. How does that feel for you? Can you sense the raw energy that comes from releasing old feelings or tensions? Or do you need to honor that which still needs more time to release? Each decision is individual, and you’ll become more fluent as your practice unfolds.
Through repeated practice, we begin to see the futility of holding onto that which is constantly changing.
Now drop the perception of spaciousness and silence and just be aware of that which knows about the spaciousness and silence—what we call the knower, or conscious awareness. Be the knowing. Rest as knowing, like a mirror with the capacity to reflect without doing anything but simply knowing that something is happening. Just be the knowing without interfering with what is known.
Practicing in this way allows identification with our personality and our experiences to wash away, like removing a stain from a cloth. Through repeated practice, we begin to see the futility of holding onto that which is constantly changing. We see that all phenomena have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and then letting go occurs as a natural response of a mind that understands the way things really are.
Now come back to your body and the seat, becoming aware again of the gravity of the earth element pulling you toward the planet. We belong here and we have what it takes to respond to our situation. Starting with ourselves—by investigating our body, heart, and mind and what we bring to our experience—is the first step. From there we train to open and receive what is emerging so that we can respond more appropriately and skillfully.
Times are urgent, we need to slow down. We are vessels standing on the shoulders of all who came before us, and we also form part of the foundation for what comes next. Wisdom and compassion arise from physical and mental activities conjoined. Our daily lives and our meditation practice need to inform each other—that’s how we shed ballast and arrive at a greater perspective, enabling us to respond in a balanced manner and then let go. Being human is an experiment and always has been. The Buddha’s teachings show us how we might live that experiment in the clearest and most compassionate way.
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