Tuesday, 2 October 2012

How to Contemplate

“Who understands the inner meaning
And how can I come to the same understanding?”
- Naropa

How do we come to “the inner meaning”? Most our lives are occupied with surface meanings - pat answers and shared understandings that have little resonance, little ability to shake us up and transform. The lineage of Chogyam Trungpa - whose stream of descent flows directly through the great scholar Naropa - offers many tools to help us touch a more vibrant understanding of our lives. One of the most powerful, in my experience, is contemplation.

Contemplation is a meditation practice. When we mediate, the basic process involves placing our attention - on the breath at the edge of the nostrils, for example - and staying there. Whenever we wander from this placement - which we will do - whenever we begin thinking or drifting away, we return to the breath. Over time we settle and relax. Feelings and energies, images and insights arise; we let these be.

In contemplation we place attention upon a word or phrase. With the ‘note cards’ we place attention on those three lines, repeating them again and again in our mind. Sometimes a particular word or line will grab us; in this case, our attention rests here. As with any meditation, when attention wanders from this placement we simply relax and return - back to the verse, again and again.

We are not just thinking the lines, exactly. There is also a felt sense to this process. As we think the word ‘Life’, for instance, we place our attention upon this - we feel our attention contacting, resting with, pressing against that thought. Again, it’s very much like meditating upon the breath at the edge of the nostrils. When meditating we let attention touch the breath. In contemplation we let attention touch the thought. In this sense, we both think and attend during this process.  

Over time we settle and relax. With relaxation the thought opens up for us. This may happen quickly, it may happen slowly; eventually, however, the hard conceptual shell we have been resting our attention upon softens and the thought opens as if a blossom. Now we are able to experience what lay inside the word(s). We feel, hear, see, smell, and taste, in this instance, ‘Life’.

Resting in this experience for as long as possible, we relax and immerse. When we begin thinking again, return to the twin processes of thinking and attending described above: Repeat the note card again and again, resting attention upon this until another blossom unfolds.

In many ways, the inner meaning we are moving toward is revealed in kind of ‘Eureka!’ moment. We rest on the surface for as long as necessary, sensing little if any depth. Then, quite suddenly, somebody turns on the light. ‘Ohhhh,’ we might think. ‘Now I get it!’ 

With the note cards I am finding this process particularly dramatic. It is as if there is something within these three-lined appearances wanting expression. When this yearned for moment arrives, a fair amount of energy is released. My sense of how life unfolds shifts; I am transformed. I wish the same for all who feel drawn to this work.