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Spirituality Essay:

Observation Meditation    ( May 2009 )

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To become the spectator of one's own life is to escape the suffering of life.
Oscar Wilde

Zen Buddhist meditation focuses on the goal of being "empty minded." That is, in quiet stillness, mentally working for that elusive state where you slow, and ideally stop, your thought processes (mind chatter) -- your mind becomes "empty" -- and where, in that mental vacuum, a transcendence or spiritual high sweetly finds its way into your being ... where you feel gloriously `at one' with all around you. Most frequently, that empty mindedness lasts mere seconds, (before the mental ruminations jump back in), but most meditators report those fleeting seconds are so incredibly transformative that whole shifts in who you are, how you feel, and how your day goes typically occur.

A variation on this meditation technique focuses attention not on the creation of those empty-minded moments per se, but rather the opposite - noticing what the mind reverts to when it jumps back in. This "observation meditation" is a wonderful tool not only for getting to know yourself - at an unconscious level - but sharpening your keenness of `being aware' and deepening your connection with the world you're living in.

Plan 15 minutes of sitting quietly and comfortably. Breathe fully; observe and feel your breathing (the myriad, subtle sensations in your body). Concentrate only on your breathing ... the "monkey mind"), thinking, planning, jumping, drifting, worrying, obsessing.

The goal here is to notice what it is that your mind has started thinking about; just note it briefly; then go back to focusing on your breathing. If you get moments of that coveted empty- mindedness, great! ... but this meditation's goal is noticing what it is that your mind returns to when it starts up again. Just note it, and then let it go, as you gently return to focusing on your breathing again. There's plenty of time later for analysis.

If your body wants to move, or an itch wants to be scratched, don't succumb - let it be - just another part of you trying to take over - just to be observed and noted.

Simply "be" with whatever thoughts or sensations that present themselves to you. Don't judge them or act on them, no matter how challenging they may be - just observe them.

If you discover resistances - again, just observe them: the things that trouble you in this exercise are probably the same things that trouble you in life ... the shoulds, to-dos, and negative feelings that occupy so much of your life.

You'll probably soon discover a you that you hadn't been in touch with before - a different you ... a deeper and perhaps more total you. This is self-awareness and self-knowledge that is hard to come by, in normal ways. A gift of yourself, from yourself, to yourself.

But the benefits extend well beyond. You'll be different. You'll probably notice that people and things around you aren't the same, because now you're noticing them differently. A softer relationship with them seems to occur, ... the ego is letting go ... and a deeper, spiritual connection between you and all that is begins to open.

This is one in a series of essays on spirituality by Rick Childs, lay leader of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Mendocino Coast. You may want to:
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