If you have been a reader of these blog posts in the past you’ll have noticed there have been NONE for a long time. Many personal changes, relocation from coastal NSW to central Victoria, and no home/office internet have something to do with that. They are starting up again—not likely to be more than once a week. I hope you appreciate some of the content.
In writing ‘So much more than technique’ I am referring not only to the art of meditation but to just about everything we do. Meditation just happens to be my speciality, and possibly one of the most important practices we can engage in for our wellbeing and personal development.
A chapter of my 2016 book Freedom from stress and anxiety that I most enjoyed writing was chapter five, “Beyond meditation techniques: metaskills”. It was not a planned chapter at the commencement of writing. It might have just been a few explanatory paragraphs in the chapters on meditation. But it pushed itself up and out through everything else as I wrote. It demanded to be a chapter.
In the Introduction chapter you find:
Chapter five presents understanding and guidance rarely put together in other books on mindfulness, meditation or anxiety. It is about the metaskills—the attitudinal stance or ‘spirit’— that you bring to meditation practice. Metaskills are qualities that go beyond and above the basic knowledge of meditation techniques. They can enliven your practice and have the greatest impact upon your progress toward freedom from stress and anxiety. Indeed these kind of metaskills or ‘spirit’ can enrich your everyday life well beyond meditation practice.
Other meditation teachers and writers have written on the attitudes and spirit behind your practice but in most books they are not presented as skills (metaskills) every bit as important as the techniques you learn. The main attitudes discussed in chapter five are: (i) curiosity and wonder, (ii) persistence, (iii) humour and lightness, (iv) playfulness, (v) compassion, (vi) gratitude.
Over the years and especially in recent years I have encountered students struggling to make their meditation practice satisfying and ‘alive’. A recent phenomena in classes has been people in their 50s, 60s or 70s telling me that they learned meditation many decades ago, practised for some years, then drifted away from it. Now, so many years later they need and want to get it going again, but it feels difficult, stale, awkward or something. Mostly they don’t need a new method or to have their old method corrected. It is a matter of metaskills.
Let’s say the basic method you are employing is ‘paying attention to your breath’. Fine; you are in good company with millions of other meditators from Buddhist, Yogic and other traditions. But it feels stale or boring. Too easy to do. Or your attention wanders away all the time because it is not interesting enough. How about rekindling metaskill (i), curiosity and wonder?
As a child did you lie on the grass outdoors and peer amongst the blades of grass and weeds and begin to notice the insect life, bugs and an occasional worm? The unique shapes of different grass and weed leaves. Did it fascinate you? Or did you lie on your back and gaze up at the sky fascinated by the shifting shapes of clouds? Perhaps seeing animals and witches faces in the clouds, or even pondering how far the sky went and what was beyond it. Did something else engage your endless curiosity and wonder? Let me remind you that something you have been doing all of your life, fifteen times every minute, can also be a subject of curiosity and wonder: BREATHING in and out.
* Notice the kind of sensation a breath that is moving in makes. Where do you feel it? Forget the instructions your meditation school gave you (eg. feel it at your nostrils) and find out where it makes the strongest sensation. Perhaps in your chest. Explore it. Be curious about whether you can feel it in other areas too, without changing the way you are breathing. In the belly, between the belly and chest, in the throat.
* How about when the breath is moving out? Does it make the same kind of sensation as when moving in, or different? Where is that felt?
* Be curious about those moments that are neither outbreath nor inbreath, the moments in between. When an outbreath finishes going out is there a pause, a stillness, or is it immediately coming back in? Neither is ‘right’ but it could be fascinating. Fascinating to see/feel if you have the kind of attention that can answer the question. Is it an unanswerable question? How about when an inbreath finishes coming in, what then? What shape does the transition to outbreath have?
*Which of your senses get most involved in ‘paying attention to your breath’? It might not be as obvious as it first seems.
All of the above is a ‘fleshing out’ of the very common, basic meditation instruction “Pay attention to your breathing”. Unfortunately, sometimes, that instruction is given too much of a regimented, “concentrate!” feeling, and not enough permission to engage your natural curiosity and wonder.
Chapter five of the book goes into many more possibilities for exercising curiosity and wonder for breath-based meditation and for other styles of meditation. Metaskills interweave with the technical skills to make meditation what it is. You may well be able to see that ‘curiosity and wonder’ are naturally linked to two other metaskills, ‘playfulness’ and ‘humour and lightness’. And perhaps there is a marked contrast with another, ‘persistence’.
Let’s explore more of these important metaskills in the coming posts. With a bit of luck I’ll be able to get a regular blog essay coming out weekly. Tuesday mornings is likely to be a good day.
See you soon. Let your meditation be fascinating and infused with curiosity and wonder.
- David has been teaching meditation / mindfulness, and holistic healthcare more generally since the 1970s. During the ’80s and ’90s he taught in Victoria, Australia in University medical schools, medical centres, a holistic cancer care program and many other venues. He now lives in central Victoria with his wife and a few fruit trees and vegies coming to life in the rocky, clay soil; and writes, lectures and teaches upon request.