Meditation


I have benefited from others sharing effective meditation methods, which I have encountered starting with study of martial arts in childhood with a teacher who it turned out was also an accomplished yogi, then later though my continuing studies of texts and with teachers stemming from both eastern and western traditions.
I will share different methods of meditation here, which reflect a distillation of my own studies and practice.

Fitness is also a big part of my life and is relevant for meditation, so, I will add a ‘note on fitness’ after this meditation section.

Breathing in the Well

‘The Well’ (as I like to call it) is roughly in the centre of the lower abdomen.
This meditation is to sit comfortably with back reasonably straight (on a chair or cushion, whatever is preferred), and to do deep, slow, rhythmic breathing, not so deep that one becomes overly tense, while steadily and calmly focusing on The Well. It can help to consciously expand the lower abdomen upon breathing in, and to consciously (in a relaxed manner) pull in the lower abdomen upon breathing out. Whatever thoughts or sensory experiences come up, one simply keeps focusing on both the deep, relaxed rhythmic breathing, and on The Well in the centre of the lower abdomen. Do this for roughly twenty minutes sessions (it’s better to keep it a regular time period for the first while), once or twice per day.

This is integral to many meditation traditions (Taoist martial arts, Indian yoga, Chan/Zen Buddhism, certain Christian monastic traditions, and ancient Celtic training of bards).

Note: It might seem that smoking is problematic for this kind of breath-oriented meditation. Actually it is not an obstacle; it would be a pity if a person who smokes to whatever extent felt barred from this kind of practice, thinking that first they must quit before engaging in this healthy practice – I have found that people can fell that way. However, I know for a fact that they needn’t feel that way. For example, some of the greatest martial artists/qigong masters smoke (smoking is still very common in China). It’s unhealthy for sure, but we are talking about a possible, quite different and powerful level of health that is accessible to virtually everyone, regardless of their good or bad habits in terms of indulgences. If it helps to think of it as ‘cheating’, then do that!  Incorporating practices like these can be a great ally in your life and you don’t have to wait or adjust your sense of what is healthy and virtuous before beginning.

On the other hand, anyone, smoker or not, may find, even if they are experienced in this meditation, that at first there is resistance, awkwardness, for the first little while. What happens with calm persistence though (again, smoker or not), is that the body changes, establishes a rhythm with the breath, and becomes ‘hyper-oxygenated’ (the blood actually becomes beautifully more bright and clear red). A positive feedback loop gets set up, such that it becomes more and more pleasant and relaxing, where focus on ‘the well’ facilitates this–a thickening of sensation, and a grounded, comfortable and energized condition may come about there. With practice it can get easier and easier to induce this kind of experience, perhaps even just by focusing the mind in the well, which can be linked with increased connection to the ground, and to raising the energy level of the whole body.

The Waterwheel

This is a classic Taoist-inspired meditation. First do the well meditation for a few minutes. At a point where you have just done an out breath, on your next in breath, bring the attention to the lower back of the head as you are slowly breathing in. Then: as you are breathing out again, focus on the top of the head; then upon breathing in, focus on the cleft of the upper lip; then, focusing on the well again, do one out breath, one in breath, and another final out breath (so it’s a beat of three at the well, which is emphasized over the other stations of the waterwheel); continue again to lower back of head with in breath, etcetera, continuing the waterwheel cycle. Do this, as per with the well meditation, for say around ten to twenty minutes. It’s good to finish with a minute or so of just well meditation.

Heart Meditation

Do the same meditation as per the well, but use the inner centre of the chest as a focus, for ten or twenty minutes. Finish with a brief meditation on the well (it is healthy and grounding to close with focus on the well).

Solar Plexus/Throat/Third Eye

The same can be done for each of these locales–centre of the throat, solar plexus region, and for the inner forehead area-cum-centre of the head (‘third eye’). Finish with brief well meditation.

Distilling Reflexivity

It’s good to do the well or heart meditation, or the waterwheel, for a while first, though not strictly necessary. At a certain point, observe how your experience is always changing. ‘Notice yourself noticing’ your experience—bodily sensations, breathing, emotions, the environment, where you are at in whatever situations in your life, reflections on the past, thinking/feeling about what’s to come—reflect on how you are aware of your experience moment by moment. It is good to periodically go back to just straightforwardly doing the rhythmic breathing and focusing on the well or heart. You may find that doing this takes the sting out of thought tangents/emotions, that it emphasizes your basic presence, over the content of that presence, whatever that may be, good, bad, or in between.

An added element is to notice that your sense of being a self/persona, caught up in circumstances, and also the very activity of engaging in this meditation, is itself ‘thought’, that follows strong themes, but is always in motion, morphing, moment by moment—your basic presence, together with the basic ability to be aware, take precedence over ‘being a person’ who over time has built up likes and dislikes, hopes, fears, preferences, biases, ambitions, resentments, loves etc. It’s a way of distilling awareness/reflexivity and making it a calm, spacious constant – this can become a new basis for being a self, a person, like finding a reliable ‘true north’ to steer by. It does work well to first get into the energized calm state that deep, relaxed rhythmic breathing and focus on the well/heart/waterwheel encourages, and to then do this kind of clever, more philosophical or Zen-like ‘distilling of reflexivity’ (and to go back and forth between these modes), but it is also possible to plunge right into it (you may simply find you have a knack for it, and also you can get better at it with practice of course, so that what is at first awkward and laborious becomes easy and quick). Again, it is healthy and grounding to finish with brief meditation on the well.

For a more in depth treatment of this topic, see this essay post on this site: https://theinfinitelivingroom.com/2017/01/11/felt-sense-and-nonsense-zen-and-zen/

Compassionate Resonance

Begin with the well, and move on after a while to the heart as focus, using the breathing as above. Bring to mind someone you sincerely love, for whom you have deep love and respect, whom you want to be safe, happy, and protected from harm. Get into that emotional atmosphere of affection and loving intent, keeping up breathing and focus on the heart. Begin to extend your focus to include other loved ones, friends, acquaintances. Then also people you don’t particularly care for–but keep the familiarity, the connection to that original easy feeling of honest affection, and try to include these others in it as well. Keep expanding to focus wider and wider, city, country, world. It is interesting to try and reach down into the earth, to include the earth in this meditation. Finish with focus on the well.

Ingrasp

‘Ingrasp’ is a word I came up with (inspired by the word ‘yi’ (intention/intent) as it is used in Chinese qigong and martial arts theory) as a way of making clear a certain faculty we all have: the ability to localize attention at a given point, to keep bringing the attention/the mind back to that place, to ‘hold’ it there–to ingrasp that location; it is an inward act, yet it is also a kind of grasping. So in the above meditations on centres or locations in the body, this faculty of ingrasp is being used.  A traditional meditation rule of thumb is that the energy goes where the mind/intent goes–energy follows ingrasp. If the mind is scattered the energy will be scattered and diffuse; if the mind is calm and focused, the energy will be gathered and potent, health-promoting. Conscious rhythmic breathing is a very reliable aid in this.

A Note on Fitness

Being in good shape is also helpful for meditation and working with energy.

Generally, we accept that ‘getting enough exercise’ is a good thing – healthy and good for the waistline, kind of thing.

I attained a very high level of fitness, like that of a professional athlete, when I was very young due to starting with traditional martial arts as a child with a teacher who also happened to be a master yogi and meditation teacher. But I also came to know the experience of losing that fitness through letting it slide in my twenties, then regaining it later in life – so, I am aware of the contrast between being out of shape and being in extremely good shape, and intimately know the process of moving from one to the other.

I would like to suggest that getting in extremely good shape is something quite different than just ‘getting enough exercise’ – which is completely fine, of course, but my intent here is to give you licence to go further, to let you know that you can actually do that.

After a certain point, when your fitness has reached a very high level, your body experience radically changes: you start to experience your body as akin to a musical instrument, such that ‘exercise’ becomes pleasure, like playing an instrument you have become very good at playing, like the way dancers, martial artists, gymnasts, etc., experience their bodies. We tend to view such people from the outside, as people who put on displays that we marvel at, not seeing ourselves in them, not imagining what the internal experience of having such a body would mean for our lives, our state of mind.

Particularly taking traditional hard-core yoga and energy-oriented martial arts far can lead to a very desirable state of fitness. There are other similar modes of fitness, lots of options (Pilates, dance, fencing, gymnastics, etc.) – you can learn multiple modes. You really can do that if you stick with it, until you become a person who can do, for example, perfect yogic handstands, who has control of your inner abdominal muscles, of breathing, balance, subtle body awareness. All kinds of health issues are obviated in that condition – they just won’t arise for you, becoming non-issues; on the contrary, your experience of body becomes pleasure, a means of joyful expression, which rubs off. Similarly, indulging is also more fun and tends to become very minor in its side effects – and your basic body experience is so positive, healthy, and skillful that indulging in substances naturally becomes secondary, not as persuasive in its effects in comparison to the positive experience of your fitness, energy, and meditation practice. Your state of mind, your emotions, become qualified by that excellent and pleasurable state of health.

In terms of a personal fitness regimen, in a way, this simply means changing how you aim: you aim higher, allowing yourself the possibility of realizing that high potential, and proceed with gradual, steady practice, continually raising the bar of your practice when the time is right to do so. ‘I personally can realize that high level.’ As opposed to ‘I should really get some exercise to ward off sickness and death,’ that change in view can make it truly exciting to engage in fitness, modulating how you think and feel about it, making it more like learning to play a musical instrument extremely well. Your own body-mind becomes that instrument.

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