Detached Observation Meditation
by Charles MacInerney
Remember laying on your back as a kid, and watching the clouds without trying to change them, control them, or pass judgment on them? These are the very same qualities we look for in the practice of Detached Observation. There are only three rules to follow:
This practice will give you insights into the inner workings of your own mind. Let the mind wander where it will, without any interference, but stay with it always, watching from a distance. This practice will encourage a creative, spontaneous and "alive" mind whose spirit is unbroken.
Between each thought is a pause... a drop of silence. See if you can become aware of these moments of silence between thoughts and then focus on them. Gradually these moments of silence will become longer pauses, and come more frequently until you learn to tap into the silent source of all thoughts at will.
This technique is slower than some, and harder, but worth the extra time and trouble. It is like breaking a horse gently with love by winning it's trust, rather than breaking it's spirit with force until it submits to your will (Quicker but violent). *Note - this form of meditation can be done anywhere, at any time, with the eyes open or closed.
Think about the qualities you would look for in an ideal friend or lover. Imagine someone who allows you the freedom to be yourself, who pays attention to you, and does not judge you, but rather accepts you unconditionally. In the presence of such a person can you not see that you would flourish and do well, as opposed to someone who tried to control you, or did not pay attention to you, or judged you?
Now think about your relationship to your own mind! Do you try to control it? Do you ignore it often slipping into semiconscious? Do you judge it as good or bad? If you answer yes to any of these questions then you have a less than the ideal relationship to your own mind. Detached observation teaches you to become your own best friend. It gives you the key to knowing yourself. It creates a healthy relationship between the observer and the observed in the realm of your own mind and leads to healing and illumination.
Of all of the forms of meditation I have studied, Detached Observation Meditation is my favorite... and the best part is, you cannot do it wrong! After all, wrong implies there is a right way to do it and requires judgment which is not part of the exercise. If you find yourself judging yourself during this meditation, and realize it, do not try to stop judging yourself, as that is an act of control, which is not part of this exercise. If you are unable to stop yourself from controlling yourself so as not to judge yourself, do not judge yourself for your inability to control your judgment.... And so it goes, round and round chasing its own tail until the mind collapses exhausted, and catches a glimpse of itself in the mirror of self-awareness.
There is a simple formula for spiritual growth... Awareness and acceptance. Through acceptance of reality we become more aware, which requires additional acceptance which permits more awareness to flow through the iris of the 'I'. This is a positive spiral of illumination.
If you do not accept reality, then you reject it! And if you reject reality, are you not rejecting God? If you reject reality, what is left? Illusion! This is the choice, to live in a world of illusion and self delusion, or to move out into the world of awareness through continuing acceptance.
This is the same formula as detached observation... awareness of one's own mind, and acceptance, leading to greater awareness and in turn demanding more acceptance... as we slowly learn to love ourselves and the universe around us.
Working Meditation is ideal for those who feel they do not have time for a formal sitting or walking meditation practice. It is easy to fit it into your daily schedule and it is simple to learn. Benefits include improved performance and enhanced enjoyment of whatever activity you choose to practice with. Over time, Working Meditation can be a powerful tool for improving both your internal, and external environments.
There are several criteria to consider when choosing an activity to practice Working Meditation with. First is the length of time. Choose a task that takes between 2-30 minutes to complete. Choose an activity that you have to do anyway, but that usually you might consider as wasted time. Choose an activity that you do not usually enjoy. Some suggestions are: driving to work, washing the dishes, brushing/flossing your teeth, watering plants or doing yard work. Avoid the temptation to try to do long drawn out jobs as a working meditation. Concern yourself with the quality of the meditation, not the quantity. It is much better to do a 5 minute Working Meditation perfectly, than 2 hours fairly well. Only when you find that lengthening the duration of your Working Meditation actually improves the quality of the meditation should you choose a longer job to practice with.
Although you can do a Working Meditation anywhere, or any time, it is best when learning to choose an activity that is performed privately or independently.
The attitude with which you approach the job you have chosen is very important. Consider the following story, as told by Joseph Campbell - Three men are working together on the same job. An observer asks... "What are you doing?" The first answers, "I am working." The second answers, "I am laying bricks." The third answers, "I AM BUILDING A CATHEDRAL."
Whatever your Working Meditation is, determine to set about the activity with as much awareness and joy as possible. Incorporate as much yoga into the work as possible. As you work, breathe diaphragmatically. Make a game out of creating the most efficient, fun and flowing movements. Make each gesture a dance, moving as though you were practicing Tai Chi. Do not let the mind wander, keep bringing it back to the job at hand. Do not let any tension accumulate, either mental or physical. Take frequent breaks if necessary, for 15-30 seconds to stretch and enjoy your surroundings. Smile from the inside out, and put away all thoughts of trying to Finish by a certain deadline. Make this one chore the highlight of your entire day, and resolve to do it PERFECTLY. Make washing the dishes an act of worship.
The more energy and awareness you put into your work, the better the results, the less tiring the work is, and the more satisfaction you receive from your work. Working is an opportunity to practice and enhance your powers of concentration and meditation, and a chance to celebrate life. At first do this once a day, with a small project, and as you see the difference in the enjoyment of the chore, not to mention the quality of the work, and the satisfaction that accompanies a job well done, you will want to practice this Working Meditation more often throughout the day, every day, with joy and awareness.
Note: To enhance your practice, before undertaking your meditation, try doing 5 -20 minutes of yoga, with a 5 minute relaxation. Stretch, yawn, stand up slowly, and then turn your mind to the task at hand.
Walking Meditation is a wonderful initiation for beginners into the art of Meditation. It is easy to practice, and enhances both physical, mental and spiritual well-being. It is especially effective for those who find it difficult to sit still for long periods of time. Some people enjoy practicing in a beautiful outdoor setting, like a park. Others prefer to practice indoors, due to poor weather, or desire for privacy.
Walking Meditation should generally be practiced for between 15 minutes to 1 hour. A 20 minute walking meditation can also be used as a break between two 20 minute sitting meditations, allowing 1 hour of meditation without placing undue demands on the practitioner.
You can practice indoors by walking around the perimeter of your largest room. If you practice outdoors choose a scenic and quiet setting. Walk without a destination. Wander aimlessly without arriving, being somewhere rather than going somewhere.
Start out walking a little faster than normal, and gradually slow down to a normal walking speed, and then continue to slow down until you start to feel artificial or off balance. Speed up just enough to feel comfortable, physically and psychologically. At first you may need to walk fairly fast to feel smooth in your gait, but with practice, as your balance improves, you should be able to walk more slowly.
Be mindful of your breathing, without trying to control it. Allow the breath to become diaphragmatic if possible, but always make sure your breathing feels natural, not artificial. Allow the breath to become circular, and fluid.
Walk with 'soft vision' allowing the eyes to relax and focus upon nothing, while aware of everything. Smile softly with your eyes (see Mirror Exercise in Vision Chapter for details). Gradually allow the smile to spread from your eyes to your face and throughout your body. This is called an "organic smile" or a "thalamus smile". Imagine every cell of your body smiling softly. Let all worry and sadness fall away from you as you walk.
Walk in silence, both internal and external.
Be mindful of your walking, make each step a gesture, so that you move in a state of grace, and each footprint is an impression of the peace and love you feel for the universe. Walk with slow, small, deliberate, balanced, graceful foot steps.
After a while, when both the breath and the walking have slipped into a regular pattern of their own accord, become aware of the number of footsteps per breath. Make no effort to change the breath, rather lengthen or shorten the rhythm of your step just enough so that you have 2, 3 or 4 steps per inhalation and 2, 3 or 4 steps per exhalation. Once you have discovered your natural rhythm, lock into it, so that the rhythm of the walking sets the rhythm for the breath like a metronome.
After several weeks of regular practice you may experiment with the ratios adding a foot step to your exhalation and later to your inhalation as well. Whatever ratio of steps-to-breath that you settle on, it should feel comfortable, and you should be able to maintain it for the duration of the meditation comfortably. After several months you may find your lung capacity improving. If you are comfortable, lengthen your breath an extra step but avoid trying to slow the breath too much or you will do more harm than good.
Notice the beauty of your surroundings, both externally and internally. Smile with every cell in your body.
Soft Vision: This is a wonderful release for the overworked eyes. Moreover, it is a spiritual practice used independently in many widely divergent disciplines spanning the planet. This technique is practiced by Indian Yogi's, certain tribes of American Indians, students of the Russian Gurdjeff Schools, European Gypsies, and it is described in detail in the series of books by Carlos Castaneda based upon his friendship with a Mexican Indian named Don Juan. Soft vision is a way of looking at the world without straining the eyes. Equally important, it gives the practitioner a whole new perspective on the universe, turning the ordinary into the magical and giving insight into the mysterious. It is the first step in a series of visionary exercises designed to expand awareness.
Look straight ahead at the most distant object in your field of vision. Now cross your eyes slightly, so that your field of vision is blurred and seen in double vision. Spread your awareness evenly in an ever larger circle until you are aware of the entire field of vision. Soften your eyes with a smile (smiling with your eyes, not grinning with your mouth!). Completely relax the eyes without any attempt to influence what or how they see. Rather than focusing on a specific object and jumping from object to object, the eyes become equally aware of your entire field of vision, and they rest softly without jumping around. As the eyes relax, so the mind becomes calm. Smile with your eyes and allow that smile to soften your face and spread throughout your body. Focusing on nothing, you become aware of everything.
Trakata: This technique enhances your control over the senses and increases your awareness and control of your external environment. Open your eyes and look at an object that evokes in you a pleasant reaction and hold it in your vision excluding all else. Do not let your eyes or your mind or your other senses wander! Release your eyes before they get tired or dry out and then splash cold water on your eyes to relieve fatigue. With practice you may experience the sense of separation between you and the object you observe melt away and allow yourself to become one with the object of your concentration.
Eyes Up!: This technique, once mastered, quickly shuts down your internal dialogue and quiets the mind, bringing your full attention into the present moment. It also can generate feelings of mild euphoria. Caution should be exercised when learning as it can lead to eye strain or headaches if overdone or done incorrectly. Contacts should be removed if they cause any discomfort while doing this exercise.
Open your eyes and gently roll them up to look at the ceiling, then drop your chin an inch as you continue to look at the same spot on the ceiling. Let you eyes slip out of focus and relax the eyes and the face and your whole body. Let the eyes be drawn toward the third-eye, a little above and between the eyebrows. Notice if there is any strain or unpleasant sensation in the eyes. If there is, immediately lower the eyes just enough so that there is no sensation of straining, but do not quit. The eyes should be positioned as high as possible without causing any strain. Then learn to breath and relax while holding this position. If it starts to feel good, roll up a little further. If it starts to feel unpleasant, immediately back off a little bit. Try to adjust for maximum pleasure with no discomfort. Hold for 1 minute at first and over a period of time, build to 3-5 minutes. Afterwards perform a facial and eye massage for a minute and then move into your favorite sitting meditation.
Eyes Down!: This technique, once mastered, also shuts down your internal dialogue and quiets the mind, bringing your full attention into the present moment. It often increases students awareness of their own bodies, and especially of their posture. Caution should be exercised when learning this exercise as it can lead to eye strain or headaches if overdone or done incorrectly. Contacts should be removed if they cause any discomfort while doing this exercise.
Open your eyes and gently drop them down to look at the floor, then raise your chin an inch as you continue to look at the same spot on the floor. Let you eyes slip out of focus and relax the eyes and the face and your whole body. Notice if there is any strain or unpleasant sensation in the eyes. If there is, immediately lift the eyes just enough that there is no sensation of straining, but do not quit. The eyes should be positioned as low as possible, without causing any strain. Then learn to breathe and relax while holding this position. If it starts to feel good, roll down a little further, if it starts to feel unpleasant, immediately back off a little bit. Try to adjust for maximum pleasure with no discomfort. Hold for 1 minute at first and over a period of time, build to 3-5 minutes. Afterwards perform a facial and eye massage for a minute and then move into your favorite sitting meditation.Charles MacInerney teaches hatha and raja yoga, meditation and is an accomplished public speaker, trainer and facilitator. He founded Expanding Paradigms in Austin, Texas in 1991 in order to make yoga available in schools, hospitals and corporations. Visit his website at www.yogateacher.com E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org