QUESTIONS ABOUT MEDITATION

I’ve received a lot of questions about how to do meditation.  The other day a student brought up such a question and I realized why people have so much trouble with meditation.  They miss or misunderstand the basic principle.  It is the same problem students have with some types of chi-gung practice. 

My student’s question was, “Should I pay attention to breathing or not pay attention to breathing”?  The basic purpose of the meditation aspects of Tai-chi is to strengthen the consciousness (the attention) of the body.  We have all invested so much consciousness in the thinking mind, that the energy of consciousness has been drained from the body and we are only dimly aware of it.  This is a very unbalanced and unhealthy way to be. 

So I explained to my student that he has come to believe in a story that was told to him.  It is the story itself that is the problem.  The story is that there is this character called, “I” that either does things or doesn’t do things.  We think that this is the central character in our lives and that his doings or not-doings are what will help us progress in our meditation and Tai-chi practice. 

I explained that our practice is not about the doings or not-doings of “I”.  It is about re-building the strength of the consciousness of the body.  The Tai-chi forms, Zookinesis exercises, Push Hands and other such practices (as well as such practices as Yoga and Pilates) help to bring back the feeling-awareness of the body.  Our practice is also about allowing that consciousness to regain its connection to the consciousness of the rest of nature so that we no longer feel isolated. 

Those students who practice such chi-gung exercises as moving energy around the body in particular ways, generally wind up moving even more attention to their thinking minds.  This is because they have the attitude that this character, “I”, is pushing and shoving around energy in “correct” paths.  This approach is still a way of “I” ordering the body around. 

My teachers taught a gentle approach.  Strengthen what is weak and calm what is too intense – the basis of Oriental medicine.  In this approach you balance internal energy (“chi”) and consciousness so that it evenly fills the whole body and your surroundings. 

But, you may ask, “If there is no real ‘I’, then who is doing the balancing”?  As you do your practice, you will find that the body’s consciousness strengthens just as plants grow in the spring.  There is no one who goes around ordering the seeds to sprout.  There is an internal sense of balance which allows all your parts to work together efficiently. 

This natural sense is called, “The Elixir of Immortality”.  It is the elixir which cures the deadness of the body and even allows the thinking mind to become more connected to reality.  When you feel your body and are intimately aware of the world around you, your thoughts are more grounded.  You feel more comfortable in your body and therefore more sensuous.  

“Mixing” the elixir really means doing your practice.  Each time you do your exercise, the elixir (sense of energy balance) strengthens each muscle, nerve, bone, etc.  Gradually the awareness of the interconnectedness of all your parts and your connection to nature and to other people becomes the central character in your life, rather than “I” being the central character.   It is a more relaxed and vibrant way of life and certainly more fulfilling. 

While the student can legitimately ask about the techniques of his practice, it is important to point out that techniques should not be used to prop up the “I” feeling and order the body around.  Wisdom comes from Body-Mind (the consciousness of the body) and its connection to nature.  Allow that wisdom to bubble up to the thinking mind so that it can be expressed in words, but don’t forget the source of the wisdom. 

The thinking mind can toss ideas around like juggling balls, but only the Body-Mind, connected to the rest of nature, is creative.  Body-Mind is like the inventor who comes up with a new idea and the thinking mind is like the technician who designs the product.  Both are intelligent in a sense, but it is the inventor who creates the new idea. If you try to invent from the thinking mind, your source of inspiration will soon dry up.  Rather – live and experience to churn up the Body-Mind.  So either pay attention to your breath or don’t pay attention to your breath, but in any case – feel!

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