In our current series of drop in meditation classes we've been practicing a simple variation of the mindfulness of breathing. During the term I was going to be taking this one practice and developing various 'ways in'. The form was going to stay more or less the same but I'd emphasise various aspects of it each week. In the event what has happened is that we have struck on a way in which seems particularly helpful. It looks like we will stick with this for the rest of the term. What we are doing is working with the language and metaphor of listening.
I have effectively divided the practice into three stages. In stage one we actually listen. You could call this a period of the mindfulness of sounds. In the second stage we change direction and 'listen' to the body. In the third stage we change again and 'listen' to our hearts and minds, our inner landscape.
What is great about this approach is the nature of listening. To listen is very different from looking (which is the dominant sense faculty for most of us and also supplies a dominant metaphor in meditation - 'observation'). Listening, although it is in a sense active, involves a greater quality of receptivity, of sensitivity, than looking normally does. We don't go looking for sensations of sound, as it were the sounds come to us. All we have to do is open up to the sounds, receive the sounds.
I think it is this receptivity of actual listening that sets the scene beautifully for the following stages. As we turn our ear then to the body we notice more sensations than perhaps otherwise we would have. There is a virtual symphony of bodily sensations going on all the time. Having taken up a more receptive posture in the first stage towards sounds, the body now seems more alive and vital. And then in the third stage the same occurs - our feelings, thoughts and emotions seem all the more approachable, vivid and recognisable for having adopted this 'posture' of listening.
There is also something about listening that reflects, and is reflected in, the actual posture that we try to adopt while sitting in mediation. Our physical posture can enhance or distract from this metaphorical listening posture. The body both reflects, or shows up, our inner psychological posture, and it can have an influence on that inner posture. The physical posture of listening is soft, yet poised. There is an alertness that is also open. There is no defensiveness - our soft animal bodies are vulnerable and our meditation posture is one that embraces that vulnerability rather than hardening against it. Working at the level of the physical body through our posture we can then encourage this inner listening. Through adopting a good meditation posture we encourage the conditions whereby the inner ear can hear better.
That's a short ramble over the work in progress that is this term's drop in classes. If you're in Edinburgh and are curious to try it then come along - Wednesday evenings 6.15pm at the Healthy Life Centre on Bread Street. See the website for more details.