"Mindfulness and Meditation allow us to open our hearts, relax our bodies, and clear our minds enough to experience the vast, mysterious, sacred reality of life directly. With Practice we come to know for ourselves that eternity is available in each moment.

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call:
Musings on Life and Practice
by a Longtime Student of Meditation

Friday, January 10, 2014

Imagine That!

"Imagine all the people living life in peace."
--- John Lennon, Imagine

"So, with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world,  spreading upward to the skies
and downward to depths, outwards and unbounded."
--- from Karaniya Metta Sutta of the Pali Canon*

Margo Adair 1950-2010
Good fortune had me stumble across a great book, Margo Adair's Working Inside Out: Tools for Change, in the sale section of a local store this week.  I immediately grabbed it, plunked down a dollar, and put it in my pack. That night I dove into it for awhile before I turned off the lights and meditated into sleep.  Then, in the wee hours of the morning, I experienced a quite wonderful sequence of lucid dreams.  I even got to levitate and fly around again. Thanks, Margo.

I hadn't thought of Margo Adair in quite awhile. In the mid-1980's this book brought her brilliant synthesis of Spirituality and Activism to a wider public.  It made quite an impact on many of us who were -- and still are -- convinced that Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr had it right.  A master theorist and practitioner of what she characterized as "applied meditation", Margo Adair offered forth a rich collection of guided visualizations and group practices that bridged what some folks may consider the chasm between "inner work" and "outer work." Her work and her life also bridged the perceived gaps between the present moment and the eternal, the "real" and the "possible',  helping to transform and heal some of the wounds of the racism, sexism, and homophobia of our times.

Although Mindfulness Practice primarily focuses on the quality of consciousness that we bring to bear in the present moment, there are many meditative techniques in the Buddhist,  and other spiritual, traditions that make use of mental visualizations.  Using words and images, these practices can act to expand our awareness into different dimensions of being than readily "meet the eye."  We mentally create things that may or may not be there -- yet.

If you think about it, we are often doing just that as we daydream our way through the day, right?

Once we start paying attention to it, we notice how frequently we're imagining what is going to happen in the future --oftentimes with a substrata of fear or desire propelling us to cast ourselves into leading roles in a future heaven or hell in the screenplay of our own lives. We also notice that we are often "imagining" what happened yesterday more than really remembering, tending to re-write the script to come out better in our own eyes.  We're quite randomly "visualizing" a lot.

A fundamental tool of the Practice is, of course, to notice ourselves doing just that and to then recalibrate our awareness.  We learn to "get out of our heads" and "come to our senses",  shifting the focus of our attention to establish an open and caring awareness.  Although it could be said that this is both the ends and means of Practice, various visualization practices can also be quite useful along the way as well.   It seems it might be wise to consciously decide what we choose to visualize rather than leave it up to chance all the time -- right?

The traditional metta practices of Theravadan Buddhism are one set of visualization practices.  "May all beings be at peace" is one of the most widely recognized phrases from this ancient body of mental recitations/visualizations.  Starting with ourselves and then expanding to others, (may I be, may he or she be, may they be, etc.) we focus on the aspiration for certain specific qualities of being, using the words, images, and feelings we choose to bring to mind.  As the practice develops we find that this actually helps to cultivate our capacity for being kind and peaceful, that a greater sense of ease and clarity can and does emerge for ourselves, perhaps even for others.

And that's not all.

In other visualizations like the excerpt from the Kalaniya Metta Sutta above,  the process of actually visualizing our connection to a "boundless heart" and radiating kindness outward into the expanse of the universe seems to expand the dimension of our experience beyond the limited scope of our own conditioning.  The line between what is considered "real" and what is "imaginary" is a lot more permeable than we were led to believe.  Intuition and creativity dance freely across that interface.

Then, at a certain point, there can be a palpable shift in perspective.  We come to sense, intuitively, that we are much more than we may have been led to believe -- and always have been.  Sometimes we may even get a pretty clear glimpse of our True Nature, that we are not just "skull encapsulated egos" as Alan Watts described it.  We feel in our bones the reality that we're not just individuated clumps of matter and mind fundamentally separate from everything else. 

I like it when that happens.

But don't take my word for any of this.  In this day and age there are a lot of good teachers around. Some have passed on guided meditations in text, audio and video.  There are books, cd's, dvd's and their parallels on the web. If you haven't done so already, you may want to dive in as part of your meditation practice.  With some time and effort, you'll find what works for you and even be able to modify it to suit the realities of your own life.  At some point, you won't need "external" guidance at all -- other than the Universe itself.

How cool is that?

( *The Pali Canon is the most complete early Buddhist collection of scriptures.  Living on as an oral tradition for centuries, it was written down at the Fourth Buddhist Council in Sri Lanka in 29 BCE. It is the central scripture of the what is considered to be the oldest surviving school of Buddhism, the Theravada.)


GennaSisšŸ«„ said...

Thank you for this, today.

Anonymous said...

I am really enjoying your web page. Beautiful, thought provoking, and uplifting.

Anonymous said...

I look forward to your MMM page every week with anticipation of learning, feeling, provoking thoughts that didn't exist prior to this point in time....and you never disappoint. I can't thank you enough for bringing yourself into my life in this way.

Lance Smith said...

Thanks so much for the kind words.

Doing the MMM blog as a weekly commitment has become a form of contemplative practice at this point. It's certainly being a labor of love. I'm pleased that you find some value in these pieces.

One Love,