No Fixed Object Meditation
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Awareness and Time
Whether we realise it or not during our normal lives our attention is constantly jumping from one object to another, this happens so fast that outside of meditation it is very hard to observe. Meditation has the ability to slow things down, almost like time has slowed down. Of course time does not slow down or speed up but the efficiency of our mind to observe what is happening in each moment can give the feeling that it has.
This experience is very similar to when we find ourself in a dangerous situation, a car crash for example. During the accident the efficiency of our brain to be aware of what is happening in each moment increases, past and future no longer exist and time itself seems to slow down. This survival mode allows us to react in a more informed way and hopefully avoid injury.
During meditation we can develop a similar skill; heightened awareness makes our ability to perceive experiences more efficient. This slows down each moment and allows us to view it at microscopic levels; we can even experience thought before it becomes thinking, sound whilst it is still a vibration and consciousness itself.
During this meditation practice whatever experience is the most dominant to us in any moment is our focus, it doesn’t matter what that experience is, what matters is the quality of our attention. When the experience we are watching starts to fade and another is calling for our attention then we go to it and so on. The trick here is to be aware of and follow the pull of each distraction, not getting attached to any one object. Do not hang onto anything, be aware of your attention being dragged from object to object, door to door and go along for the ride.
During meditation we perceive the world as a flow of experience that enters through the six sense doors. These doors are the eye, ear, nose, tongue, touch and mind (thinking, emotions etc).
The Buddha mentioned these in the Subba Sutta (S4.15)
“I will teach you everything … And what is everything? The eye and forms; ear and sounds; nose and scents; tongue and tastes; body and tangible things; mind and phenomena.”
Whoever would say “Rejecting this everything, I declare another everything, the basis for this would be mere words, and if asked they could not sustain it. Furthermore, they would become distressed. Why? Because it is beyond experience.”
We watch these six sense doors, in the same way a gatekeeper watches the gates in a palace. The gatekeeper’s job is to stand at the gate and keep note of everyone that enters and leaves the palace. Just noticing is enough. If the gatekeeper strikes up a conversation with any of the visitors they will miss and not see the new visitors coming behind them. Instead they should identify each visitor and let them pass so if they see them in the future they will recognise them.
How to Do It
For this meditation lying down can work just as well as staying in a traditional meditation sitting posture. The only thing you have to be careful of when lying down is falling asleep, and you do this by holding strong awareness of the feeling of your body. The effort from this will generate enough energy to keep you awake and if it doesn’t then it is not a loss, you will wake up feeling regenerated and refreshed.
This technique can be used as a method of falling asleep, especially if you have insomnia or are feeling stressed, if this is the case then practice it lying on your back in a bed, hands by your side. It will help with obsessive thinking and inability to sleep due to noise or distractions; this is because the thinking, distraction or noise and your relationship to it becomes the object of meditation.
If you wish to lie down but not to fall asleep I have had great success with lying flat on my back on the floor, you do this with your arms slightly out from your side and legs slightly apart. The solidness of the floor will generally stop you from falling asleep but if you do then it isn’t really a bad thing.
Often you can wake up from this feeling like you have had the most relaxing sleep you have ever experienced. This is because as your mind quietens and your present moment awareness grows, all thinking and negative emotional states are temporarily suppressed, allowing you to experience pure sleep untainted by emotional charge and chatter.
Take a comfortable sitting posture that you can stay in without moving for the desired length of your meditation or lie on the floor or your bed on your back. Close your eyes and take a deep breath then breathe out letting all thoughts and tension drop away.
Slowly scan from the top of your head to your feet and release any knots and tensions you come across by breathing into them.
Make a half smile on your face and then be aware of your whole body, of its heaviness and the sensations within. Every time you breathe out allow your body and mind to relax and grow heavier.
1. Focus on the feeling of your body, the tension within it and as you breathe out let that tension go, relax.
2. Next feel the weight of your body and the sensations within, hold your attention on the feeling letting yourself relax and the awareness grow.
3. If anything draws your attention from your body awareness like an itch, thought or sound, place your attention on it and see what it feels like. Once its pull weakens, you can go back to placing your attention on the feeling of your body.
4. Do not rush this process, forget about time, obligations and the world, this time is yours, enjoy it and watch, explore. During this technique do not think but soundlessly watch, ignoring past and future.
5. Try not to imagine or place your body anywhere, just be aware of the most dominant experience at any of the six sense doors, remember what it is most important, the quality of your attention is.
6. Be careful to look at the experience itself rather then the content of the experience, an example of this is when observing thinking do not focus on what the thought is about but on the feeling of thinking itself. The same goes for a sound, what you hear isn’t important, the sensation / experience of hearing is your object.
Ability to Break Habits
As this skill of awareness grows with regular practice you will start to notice patterns. Just as the gatekeeper will start to notice that everyday around a certain time this person comes and goes. Also just as the gatekeeper starts to notice the relationships between people, you will also start to notice the relationship between experiences; this is where the gold is.
For by understanding and clearly seeing the relationships you will also get to know them so well that you will be able to break them. This is because as with any process if you interrupt it at any time in the chain of events the process will cease.
The Buddha said in regards to this in the Nidana Sutta:
“When this is, that is; when this is not, that is not;
Because this arises, that arises; because this ceases, that ceases.”
This practice can lead to freedom from unhappy states of mind; anger, anxiety, sadness and many more; you know them all, they visit us all regularly. That is if we let them in, but by understanding clearly how they come into being, how they are fed and how they cease we too can be a good gatekeeper and only let visitors into our palace that will bring us happiness and peace.
It’s our choice; all we have to do is pay attention instead of sleepwalking through life, what do you choose to do?
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This article was written by Stephen Procter, instructor from Tai Chi Health for Life, Australian College of Tai Chi & Qi Gong and Meditation Instructor from Meditation in the Shire, Kirrawee NSW, Australia. If you wish to post this article on another website or in a publication please respect the author and reference / link back to this website, thank you