In the last two posts we discussed breath meditation practice.
Today we will discuss open monitoring meditation. This is the next logical step in the development of your practice. We’d appreciate hearing comments and suggestions from others. There are many paths!
We left off with following the breath meditation practice. As we moved from counting every inbreath and every outbreath to silently following the sensations associated with breathing we moved from a very focused task with internal speech (counting) to a silent, much more unfocused, task of attending to all of the body sensations associated with breathing. The idea is to remove the mind from the process and thereby let the mind quiet.
Open monitoring meditation goes one step further. In this practice we open up our awareness to everything that we’re experiencing regardless of its origin. We still pay attention to the sensations associated with breathing but open it up further to all bodily sensations, including the feelings from the skin of touch, coldness or hotness, the pressure exerted by gravity on our rear ends sitting on the chair or cushion, tingling sensations on the skin and elsewhere, sensations from muscles and joints, sensations of balance and body position, the subtle feeling of our heart beating with the consequent blood pressure surges, and the feelings from our internal organs such as from our stomachs, bowels, bladder, etc.
In addition, we open up our awareness and pay attention to external stimuli, sights, sounds, tastes, and smells. Even with our eyes closed we can perceive visual stimulation, some due to light penetrating the eyelids and some due to spontaneous activity in the neural systems underlying vision. In open monitoring meditation we let it all into awareness and don’t try to focus on any one thing or exclude anything.
The openness extends to thoughts. Although we don’t try to engage in thinking, thoughts will inevitably arise anyway. In open monitoring meditation we don’t try to stop them. We just watch them rising up and falling away. As a friend remarked we let them in the front door and out the back and don’t serve them tea! We don’t judge them or censure ourselves for having them, no matter what their content. We just observe them and let them go.
There’s a lot going on and it is impossible to take it all in at once. You just let it happen. Let attention go where it may. But, don’t hold onto anything. Just let it naturally flow. Don’t try to pay attention to one thing or another. Just let whatever captures attention capture it and allow it to shift whenever it does. Don’t judge the experiences that you have as pleasant or unpleasant, good or bad, right or wrong, interesting or dull. Just experience them as they are.
As Adyashanti likes to say, we simply “let everything be as it is.” This sounds simple but it is devilishly difficult. The mind easily drifts away and our mind wanders. There is nothing to hold it, nothing to entertain it, so it wanders away. This meditation involves frequent mind wandering. This is different than simply watching the thoughts. You’ve been taken away by your thought and aren’t watching them, you’ve become them. But, don’t worry. This is what happens normally and to some extent will continue even after years of practice. When you notice this happening, just gently return to your open awareness feeling grateful for reentering a peaceful state.
Be patient, slowly but surely, the mind wandering will happen less and less often for shorter and shorter periods and open monitoring will increase in duration. All of the mind activity will slowly dissipate and you’ll open up to a beautiful, peaceful, quiet experience.
After you’ve completed the proscribed length of the meditation again review your experience. Ask yourself what thoughts arose and why. It may be as simple as some sight or sound captured your attention and the mind followed, dwelled on it, and free associated to it. But often there are repeating themes that can be seen as indicative of your wants and needs or unresolved issues. It can be very illuminating to follow up on these. Ponder them for they can be very revealing.
Often during the meditation you will begin to go deep into the experience when suddenly the mind takes over and tries to control the experience. This sometimes occurs with an overt sensation of fear. Take a careful look at this. The mind may be acting as if it’s threatened and doesn’t want you to proceed further. This is a wonderful indicator that you’re really making progress. You may not think so, but it is. Deep, deep, meditative states are often resisted by the mind. When this happens take it as a sign that you’re on the right track.
The mind will often subtly silently take control and direct your attention to one thing or another. It takes some experience to detect the difference from true free open experience and that directly silently behind the scenes by the mind. You may think that you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be. The mind can be tricky. Stay with your practice and persevere. These mind takeovers will occur less and less often.
Practice open monitoring meditation and begin to see things simply as they are.