February 21

Techniques to Stay Present


 February 21

At the meditation classes I conduct, there are always questions on what to do “in between” the sitting sessions when we tend to get pulled or hooked into stuff, be it interactions with others or our own addictive behavior. The following are some useful strategies, depending on how far into the “pull” one is.

Initially, without established inner silence, this pull/hook may only be noticed after the fact, either while still in the throes of it or much later after all has quieted down. As we cultivate inner silence through meditation, this pull is noticed more and more “upstream” until there comes a time when the beginning of the subtle fluctuations in energy are noticed at a very deep level, even before they crystallize into thought and /or action (response).

Strategies from gross (downstream) to subtle (upstream):

A. The pull or hook is noticed in retrospect:
Usually the tendency is to re-live the incidence again and again, with the inner critic going over all the ways the past outcome could have been different.

1. At the end of a meditation session, bring up the emotion as intensely as possible – the sense of being wronged/insulted/disrespected (or the juicy temptation of the addiction) along with the bodily reactions that accompany it plus the compulsive need to react to it.
2. Become intensely familiar with it all. The more intensely this can be brought up, the easier it is to practice in “real life”.
3. When vividly brought up, gently bring the mind back to the mantra/breath or other familiar meditation technique.
4. Bring it up again, going back to the technique when the pull is felt as if real.

As this practice goes on, the package of sensations becomes so familiar that it can be noticed more and more upstream. With every repetition, the intensity of the package becomes less and less, to where it can finally be recognized as a non-issue.

B. In the throes of the pull:
As soon as it is noticed that the hook has been bitten, the first thing that may arise is dismay – oh no, I’ve done it again! This can lead to added frustration. There are many strategies that help at this stage:
1. Mantra – for those who enjoy mantra sadhana, this is one very powerful application. Bring the mantra into sharp focus, concentrating on each syllable. I find that the more complex the mantra, the faster I get “off” the hook. Any mantra I’m working on at the moment will do.
2. Breathe – place both your hands on the belly, fingertips touching at the solar plexus, and see how far you can push the fingertips apart during inhalation and how much the fingertips will overlap during exhalation. Simply bringing attention to the movement of the diaphragm works wonders.
3. Notice the sound of the breath – for this, it helps to become familiar with the inherent “soundless sound” of quiet breathing during peaceful times – “So” during inhalation and “Ham” during exhalation. Noticing changes in rhythm while going about daily activities is very helpful, because the jagged rhythm that occurs spontaneously when agitated can be easily recognized when it happens. If able to recognize this, consciously change the rhythm to what is remembered from the quiet times.
4. Pay attention to the breath – notice the length of the breath by counting, and increase the length by double for 5 breaths and triple for 5.
5. Bring full attention to where the hands are. This is simple but works even as a constant practice – always attend to whatever the hands are engaged in.

C. About to “bite” the hook:
1. Mantra (as above) – diverting the heat and turning it to bhakti in mantra works superbly well at any stage.
2. Once more established in inner silence, notice the change in texture of the energy behind the thought-emotion, the “felt-sense”. By noticing that felt-sense as well as the energy behind “wanting” to react but not reacting, the impermanence of the hook can be seen through. It can be allowed to pass.

D. There is a subtle arising of the temptation to “bite” the hook:
As we get firmly established in inner silence and the witness arises, the slightest change in texture or feel of the energy (felt-sense) is immediately noticed. As we become more sensitive to this, there can be a general feeling of being unwell every time the baseline of peace and contentment is “off”. Not letting things be is felt as resistance.

1. Samyama – this most powerful technique is an advanced yogic practice of bringing up an emotion from a place of stillness and releasing it back into the stillness. When practiced diligently, samyama becomes a way of life, where everything that arises is released into stillness even as we go about our daily lives.
2. Self-inquiry – another powerful practice, it works best when there is enough inner silence. Self-inquiry is the practice of looking deep within to find the “one who knows this”. In the present context, it is useful to simply notice the resistance and then work backwards from it, from “why is this such a problem?” to “where in me is this pointing?” to “who is this that notices?”
3. Become aware of awareness. An extension of self-inquiry, in this advanced practice, we are far more interested in the one that knows rather than “what” this one knows.
4. “Open” from the contracted state – the “something is off” feels like trying to squeeze through a tight opening. Relaxing or opening from that is like opening the door and walking into fresh air.
5. Stay with the raw energy – without labeling it as anger, sadness, etc, merely allow the energy to be felt “as is”. Anytime a story arises in the mind about the feeling (example, “how could she do this?” or “wish I had never met him”), return to the felt-sense. Without labeling and story-telling, the lifespan of such subtle shifts becomes exceedingly short and the present moment awareness is never “lost”.

I find that as I become more adept at this, it is fun to notice all the triggers (and sometimes even seek them out), to practice, to find new ways to let go into the vastness and loving acceptance of the present moment. The fun is akin to progressing along levels in an endless video game.

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