Living from the Center

This, then, is the second level of practice: the waking practice of staying in touch with our center, cultivating our character, contemplating and learning from the situations life presents to us, and discovering the techniques, teachings, disciplines, and forms of open-eyed practice that will allow us to live from the developing awareness of the Self.

Maintaining Inner Attention
In the Shaiva yogic tradition of northern India, an enlightened being is said to live in shambhavi mudra, a state in which, even when her eyes are open, her attention is centered in the inner field of unchanging luminous Awareness. This is a powerful depiction of the enlightened state; it is also a key to open-eyed practice. Open-eyed practice is a kind of "as if" game. You are practicing to be an enlightened being by acting and thinking as you would if you were actually in that state. A key practice for this is to maintain inner awareness—a steady current of attentiveness to your own Awareness, to the sense of being or Presence that you tune into when you turn attention back on itself.

Like most essential practices, this one is extremely simple without being at all easy. Inner attentiveness has a frustrating way of dissolving at crucial moments, when you are worried, excited, or under pressure. Even on ordinary days, you naturally move in and out of it, since that essential Awareness tends to be experienced in flashes, in glimpses that come and go. That is why it is helpful to work with different practices at different moments. At times you will face directly into the light of Awareness. At other times you will approach it sideways, through the breath, a positive thought, or even a physical posture.

To maintain inner attention in a steady way demands a threefold effort:

First of all, you need a set of practices for inner focus or remembering the Self. They should be practices that work for you, and you need to do them regularly.

Second, you need to be doing "character work," examining your motives and attitudes and learning how to express the qualities of the Self—compassion, gentleness, kindness, steady wisdom, truthfulness, and the rest.

Third, you need to develop the habit of checking in with yourself to monitor your state so that you can recognize when you have slipped off center and then discover how to return.

Many meditation practices—practices like mantra repetition, awareness of Awareness, focus on the inner witness, attention to the breath, seeing thoughts as energy—are also meant to be practiced in day-to-day situations. So are the different attitudes you work with when you meditate. Just as you can begin meditation by offering your practice to God, or for the benefit of others, you can also offer your daily actions as service and see how that simple act shifts you out of self-centeredness and unknots the tendency to grasp at outcomes.

Your sitting practice of becoming aware of Awareness, or being the witness of your thoughts, can become an inner baseline that you return to during the day. It helps you move out of heavy emotions, distractions, or neurotic thinking patterns. Remembering oneness, holding the understanding that the seemingly solid world is essentially energy, will let you act in the world with more openness and fluidity, and with a sense of your kinship with others, with nature, and even with inanimate objects like your computer or your car.

Walking-Around Practice
It can be helpful to create set times in your schedule for your practice of mantra repetition, awareness of Awareness, or remembering oneness. You could make offering your actions, thoughts, and feelings a daily ritual at the beginning and end of the workday. You could make a habit of remembering to place your attention in your heart once every hour, or you could set your wrist alarm to ring five minutes before the hour, and then use that five minutes to bring to mind a teaching you are contemplating, or to ask yourself a question like "What would love do now?" or "What would kindness do now?"

You might work with a different practice every day until you find the practice or practices that feel like yours, and then spend some time exploring them deeply. As you practice this open-eyed meditation, you will see its effects. First of all, you should feel more integrated. There will be less of a gap between sitting meditation and the rest of your day. It will be easier to go into meditation when you sit; and you should need to spend less time "deprogramming" yourself from the stresses of the day. Then, during your waking, working hours, there should be a certain sweetness to life, a sense of openness and space in your world. You'll find yourself feeling closer to others, less afraid, calmer, and more inspired.

During anxious moments, busy days, and periods when life seems to be caving in on you, these practices can become a real refuge. They help you stabilize your state.

2/15/2011 5:00:00 AM
  • Hindu
  • Meditation for Life
  • Meditation
  • Hinduism
  • Sally Kempton
    About Sally Kempton
    An internationally known teacher of meditation and spiritual wisdom, Kempton is the author of Meditation for the Love of It and writes a monthly column for Yoga Journal. Follow her on Facebook and visit her website at www.sallykempton.com.
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