Emancipation or freedom from slavery and bondage is ultimately what the human spirit craves. From the perspective of your spirit, slavery encompasses how the attachments in your life—such as sex, material items, money, power and all that they bring—prevent you from being free. Bondage has to do with the ways in which your ego (or collection of identities) and your karmic loops bind you into the reality you experience, and thereby limit your human growth. So the question is: How can you free your spirit and, in so doing, realise your human potential?
Making The Body Conscious
The Four Primary Skills
- Presence—the ability to be in the here and now;
- Awareness—the ability to be conscious of what is;
- Focus—that which guides and directs your awareness;
- Concentration—that ability to stay on point and thereby generate a continuum of unified consciousness (at least to some degree).
By definition, authentic masters (an entitlement that has become utterly thrashed and thoroughly exploited in the West) are capable of being continuously present and therefore can very powerfully affect the subject of their attention. Beginners (which we all are to varying degrees unless or until we become masters) drift in and out of consciousness, creating an intermittent, peek-a-boo experience. If we compare this waxing and waning presence to the accelerator of an airplane on the runway, the aircraft would never take flight as the engine revs would not produce enough thrust or speed.
In meditation practice, each stage of your development requires ever-more subtle levels of presence to energy. You start by becoming present to your body, but soon delve into the emotional and mental realms within yourself. That’s all fine and well, but awakening to the emotional and mental debris encrusted in your body can create a rollercoaster ride for the mind, causing dissociation—the opposite of being present. There’s no question that it can be challenging to remain present when the mind encounters the emotional and/or mental realms of either the past (e.g. memories, traumas or analysis), or the future (e.g. hopes, fears or planning).
When these energetically or emotionally charged, stored energies in the body are contacted, often times the mind swings like a pendulum between the past and future. So you need an anchor, a focal point on which to focus your mind and stay in the present moment: your physical body. Keeping the mind firmly rooted in the physical body allows the release of emotional-mental energies that have become trapped in the flesh—without the need to journey with them. This is why Water tradition Taoists pay so much credence to making the body conscious.
Expanding Your Awareness
Awareness of what is sets the foundation for change, and creates the momentum necessary to enter into the realms of actually resolving the issues you encounter. Just try being aware while you’re spacing out… If you are not aware of any particular state, you cannot change that state. This is why acceptance is an important stage in all healing programs. For example, until someone recognizes that they are an alcoholic—i.e. becomes aware of their repeating behavioral pattern—they can do little to change the status quo.
When you focus your mind on any body part, energy and blood are drawn to that place. Energy follows the mind’s intent; and blood follows energy. With increased energy and blood flow, the focal point is flooded with life-sustaining energy and nutrients, which, together, upgrade the felt sensations in that localized area. With this heightened awareness, we can more easily feel deeper into the more subtle sensations in this space—that which is under the surface, not only the gross.
Feeling into your body not only changes your experience of your body, but allows you to go deeper into your being, especially into the emotional and mental realms. From there, you can begin the process of recognizing your emotional and mental states. This awareness is what enables you to eventually let go of all that is negative or life- diminishing. (Of course this says nothing about whether the process will be easy or hard.)
In the beginning stages, simply recognizing what is negative or detrimental to your development and having the willingness to let it go—whatever “it” is— can be enough to send you down the path that aligns with your deeper desires and aspirations.
Directing Your Focus
To make the shift to a softer focus, you must develop your ability to draw more and more of your mind into one stream of consciousness and become comfortable in this focused state. As you relax into the experience, you can more easily maintain it and stop the mind from segmenting. Initially, all your effort is required to gather your mind and focus, but with relaxed persistence you may soon find that you can sustain a gathered and focused mind with little effort, and eventually without any effort.
Creating a Stream of Concentration
- Focus arises from awareness;
- Awareness arises from presence.
- You begin with presence practices and train them to a certain degree—not to the point of perfection (which isn’t possible anyway), but until you can clearly identify some level of progress.
- Then, you continue around the circle to awareness practices, next to developing your focus and finally to your ability to concentrate.
- When you revisit presence practices, your ability to be aware, to focus and to concentrate has also grown, and can amplify and deepen your ability to be ever-more present.
It is impossible to completely separate the four primary skills as they are intrinsically linked. So by engaging or paying attention to one, you will automatically engage all others to some degree.
In Lao Tzu’s meditation tradition, the practitioner works around the circle time and time again, slowly sinking deeper into the depths of their mind and being with each revolution. However, the depth you achieve is not governed by the practices themselves, but rather by your patience and stamina from training regularly over time.