"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

Monday, February 21, 2022

Imagine That!

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

Margo Adair 1950-2010
Good fortune had me stumble across a copy of Margo Adair's Working Inside Out: Tools for Change, in the sale section of a local store a few years ago.  I immediately grabbed it, plunked down a dollar, and put it in my pack. 
That night I dove into it for quite awhile before rolling over, turning off the lights, and meditating into sleep.  

Then, in the wee hours of the morning, I experienced a quite wonderful sequence of lucid dreams.  For the first time in quite awhile I was able to experience the thrill of consciously leaving my body and taking flight.  
Although Margo passed to the other side twelve years ago, hers is a Gift that keeps on giving. Thanks, Margo.

Outside the Box
Being a bookworm, I'm grateful to all those who were led to offer their insights and practices through books.  Just reading about altered states of consciousness, whether it be Presence in the here and now -- or a lucid out of body experience --  can sometimes set the stage for their emergence.  
Although, Mindfulness Practice has tended to focus my attention more consciously on my "in-body" experiences, the times that I've experienced lucid dreaming, "astral travel," and other OBE have been powerful events in my life.  They have allowed me to experience directly a magical and much more expansive realm of human possibility than the constraints of "conventional" consciousness.  
Let's face it, we've been conditioned to perceive our world in a society steeped in scientific materialism and capitalism for several hundred years.  Add to this mix the systematic oppression of patriarchy, racism, militarism, ageism, etc.,  and we've each developed perceptual filters that determine what we take to be true, what we believe to be "real." 
This, of course, mostly operates subconsciously.
With Practice, we not only can see reality as it is, we can develop the insight and skill to change ourselves from the inside out.  As well as produce less suffering in our own lives, this gives us more agency to consciously influence the world around us. 
Here, too, is where Margo Adair's Gift keeps giving.

Engaged Spirituality
In the mid-1980's Working Inside Out: Tools for Change brought Margo's 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, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the late Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh had it right.   
Even as a teenager, before I'd ever heard of the Bodhisattva Vow, my heart was inspired by the civil rights movement.  Confronting the racism at the heart of legal segregation just seemed like the right thing to do.  As time went this led to recognizing and working to overcome other forms of systemic oppression.  As I came of age, I realized that the quest for peace, equality, and social justice was a profound and challenging spiritual practice. 
Margo Adair, was a master theorist and practitioner in this tradition.  Terming her special craft "applied meditation," her life's work was dedicated to healing the wounds of racism, sexism, homophobia and environmental degradation.   Offering a rich collection of guided visualizations and group mediation practices, Adair's work dissolved the perceived differences between inner work and outer work.  Like others who emerged in the spiritual uprising of the era, her work was grounded in a non-dual perception of being.  It emerged and returned to a space beyond 
the perceived barrier that appears to separate the self and other, real and imagery, the momentary and the eternal. 

Although Mindfulness Practice focuses on bringing our attention more fully into the present moment, there are many meditative techniques in Buddhism and other spiritual traditions that  make use of mental visualizations.  With these practices, we use words and images to consciously bring to mind states of being and events that may or may not be here -- yet.  These techniques enhance our ability to influence the future.  This is the realm of prayer, affirmations, and visualization practices.

Imagine All the People
Photo by Wally G  Creative Commons
Once we become more mindful, we will notice that our mind, left to its own devices, tends to generate all sorts of daydreams, thoughts, and images of  past or possible future events.  

One of the fruits of mindfulness is gaining more agency over our attention and focusing it where we choose.
Rather then let our subconscious mind generate a seemingly ceaseless Mulligan stew of random memories and fantasies, we can intentionally set aside time to concentrate our mind and consciously visualize what we would like to see emerge for ourselves and others.  

"May all beings be happy" is one of the most widely recognized expressions in traditional Buddhism.  This phrase and others form the set of meditations known as Brahmavihara practices.  Here in the West they are often referred to as Metta or Loving kindness meditations -- although they include practices that focus on the cultivation of True Love in its four aspects: kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity. 
Traditionally, each of these meditations is presented as a sequence of various steps and stages.  One common instruction is to begin with oneself, then expand this aspiration to others.  (May I be at peace, may he or she be at peace, may they be at peace, etc.).  As the practice develops we find that this actually helps to cultivate our own capacity for being kind and peaceful.  It seems that it may do that for others as well.  These meditations can be done as simple verbal recitations or as visualizations, bringing to bear our ability to "imagine" the desired state of being.

And that's not all.
We can expand the realm of our awareness through visualization practices.  In the Theravadan tradition the Kalaniya Metta Sutta (an excerpt is cited above) is often chanted.  The words are seen as useful in helping to evoke the desired feeling.  In Tibetan tradition, visualizations are more widely used.  Our power of "imagination"is brought to bear.
I've found that the practice of envisioning the existence of a "boundless heart," is a powerful practice.  As I breath in deeply with the image that I'm drawing energy in through every pore into my body, I can mentally see/feel a clear, luminous, spaciousness emerge from the center of my chest and expand beyond my body.  On the out-breath, I can get in touch with the kindness and goodwill I feel in my heart and envision radiating it outward, towards others specifically, or in every direction.  
When done over time, such practice gives us  the opportunity to see for ourselves that the line between what is considered "real" and what is "imaginary" is a lot more permeable than we were led to believe.  As we free ourselves from the limitations of conventional consciousness, a sense of Connection to something much grander emerges.  The lock box of our conditioned mind opens -- and Reality asserts itself.  A sense of spaciousness, limitless energy, and ease enters our life more consistently. 
Imagine that!
So, here's the Deal.  Most of us have sensed, intuitively, that there is a realm of being that exists beyond what we are currently experiencing.  For some of us this manifested as a deep yearning.  We sensed that there is something more to life, that there is more going on than we were led to believe. That is what propelled many of us to pursue spiritual practices.  
Then, through commitment and surrender, guts and grace, time, effort -- and patience -- we may get a clear glimpse of the Real Deal.  At that point, we will know in our hearts, in our bones, that we are inseparable from all that is.  We sense for ourselves that we are not merely individuated clumps of matter.  We are  emanations of a grand and mysterious force that flows within and beyond all that is.  Though the way we conceptualize it varies from person to person, we know that we know.  It feels like we always knew.  It is beyond belief.  
For me, it felt like coming hOMe.  

But don't take my word for any of this.  In this day and age there are a lot of good teachers around. Many have passed on guided meditations in text, audio and video.  In the past couple of years, the COVID pandemic has propelled numerous on-line teachings, courses, retreats. For those of you who would rather spend less time plugged into the Borg, there are numerous books, cd's, dvd's available as well.
With some time and effort, you'll find what techniques work for you.  Using the words and images that come to you, you'll be able to modify various meditation practices to suit the realities of your own life.  You will come to trust yourself.

At some point, you realize that you don'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.)

1 comment:

Jennie Ladew-Duncan said...

Thanks for sharing your mindful meanderings. I checked in, on this sunny blue skied day, after some shoveling. I am going to check out the work of Margo Adair later today.

Take care,