Contemplation is the most rewarding of skills we may choose to develop in life
Having learned the skill of garnering presence, we may now look at learning contemplation as a structured practice. As such, it’s a mental skill we undertake for a brief spell whilst alone in a quiet environment, sat comfortably upon a chair with our eyes closed. I choose to distinguish the experience as being a contemplative rather than meditative one, as there’s no stress on concentrating the mind as a necessary condition or objective. Whilst the focus of attention is somewhat looser, we become as in any deep meditation, similarly tranquil and insightful, yet are more readily able to transfer the skill out into daily life. Taking this more adaptable approach, little encroachment of time is made into our working day – the commonest cause of any rapid demise in even the most well-intentioned of meditative careers.
We can contemplatively reflect on all aspects of experience
So the technique discussed here is largely introspective – the bringing about of a mental state which primarily observes itself. This isn’t the exclusive sphere of the practice though, and the contemplative mode attends equally to any impinging sensory contacts, which of course still occasionally occur even amidst the quietened environment of the practice with its inwardly directed awareness. This isn’t then, a technique which remains stuck in the head as it were, and the observing state is in fact the whole sensory system reflecting upon itself. We may think of it as our sentient body reflecting its own imagery to itself. For the most part though, we’re observing our private mental sphere and what is generated without overt influence upon the senses from the external world – the senses of touch, taste, smell, sound, and sight.
Spending a few minutes each day developing awareness is time to be cherished
To proceed: Finding a quiet space away from ‘phones and other potential distractions, we predetermine a period of 10 – 20 minutes and set that on a kitchen timer or alarm clock. The morning is the best time to do this as our minds are more alert then. These few minutes are spent sitting comfortably on a dining or typist’s chair, both of which ensure the back is erect. There’s no need whatsoever to sit cross-legged on the floor or in yogic positions. We place the hands palm down on our thighs as this opens our chest and shoulders, though if preferred we can cup the hands together. Our feet can be crossed or side-by-side though we don’t extend our legs as this weakens stability. Lastly, we give our mood an uplifting fillip by very slightly raising the corners of our mouth as in the remnant or subsidence of a smile. We then start the timer.
In contemplation, our cares may dissolve as the world and mind quieten
Next, we spend a couple of minutes doing this: Having closed our eyes softly we then relax our body and mind so as to bring about in them an ‘attitude’ [i.e. a readiness state] of a gentle and non-grasping attentiveness. We can achieve this by imagining ourselves standing alone on a cliff top or deserted beach gazing softly out across the ocean toward the just visible horizon, one which isn’t too sharply delineated by the sea and sky – the horizon is featureless, only barely discernible. We aren’t anticipating anything appearing on this featureless horizon; so whilst we are indeed gazing softly and attentively outwards, there’s no searching for visible changes, no visual grasping. We imagine also that we have no concerns, no commitments, and remain aloof as to the passage of time as well as to all ideas of past and future.
The mind becomes lucid and the body free of tension as presence engages
If we’re successful, our attitude is now one of a gently stable ‘outward gazing’ in a softly pliant, lucid and non-grasping attentiveness. Our body is free of tension as there is no anticipation in the mind, and the two are as if in postural congruence. At this point we drop the imagery as it was only a priming device used to bring about the attitude necessary for our now refined and attentive awareness. To be clear, this awareness is still in some ways dumb, as we have no clear sense of our own being; this is despite the object being extremely refined – that subtle sense of outward gazing. Next, we gently sustain awareness of the attitude that is manifested as gazing softly outwards whilst simultaneously drawing back into a silent knowledge of our being, the ‘I am-ness’ that we learned of previously and which is felt as presence.
We cling to nothing, allowing all things to arrive and pass freely as they will
Without effort or exertion, we remain attentively within our non-grasping attitude whilst all the while gently holding it in this participatory and engaged sense of outward gazing. As we’re not clinging rigidly to any object of awareness, this state can and will repeatedly begin to dissolve, say perhaps 3 or 4 times a minute – we do not resist this. In the course of its dissolution, we’ll find that this attitude of the mind/body system shifts as presence is temporarily weakened and dumb awareness collapses and coalesces around some novel object in a fundamental sense representation. At the point this is noticed we simply and gently re-garner the attitude – if necessary as we did before – and again draw the whole into presence or ‘I am-ness’. As our skill increases, this re-garnering is accomplished within a few seconds or less.
Acceptance and being non-judgemental are key; the ego has left the room
We fully accept that this shifting and dissolving attitude is perfectly natural and is to be anticipated upon commencement of the practice. Resultantly, we make no judgement of our ability, or comparison with prior expectations. It doesn’t matter that we get distracted or lost in thought for a few moments. We simply keep returning to an attitude of gentle attentiveness in a non-grasping, outwardly gazing awareness with presence – our softly pliant, relaxed, lucid and aloof contemplative state. We’ve now brought about the required attitude of the whole mind/body system such that is has become most conducive to contemplation and the practice is underway. I recommend spending at least the first two or three weeks of practice getting a foothold in this skill before moving on to what follows in parts 2 and 3 of this article.