The Basic Practice is the main weapon of Therapy, the process of eliminating Disease from our life. As I mentioned in the former feuilleton, our attitude must consider Disease as a pathological state of mind. That is especially important at the beginning of our Therapy, which in this case is Basic Practice. Its importance cannot be overstated, and it is the foundation on which we build the whole Therapy.
In this feuilleton, I will present simple instructions on how to begin. As I mentioned earlier, they are adapted from a 14-th century text authored by Longchen Rabjam, who is considered a foremost authority in Dzogchen mind training. However, I have adapted the instructions to our modern view on reality to make them more acceptable.
Later on, in the feuilleton that will follow, I will present a justification as to why this practice can eliminate our attachment to Disease and its manifestations. It will be based primarily on a combination of neuroscience, physics and common sense. Also, I would like to add again that Therapy is strictly non-religious despite borrowing many ideas and methods from Mahayana Buddhism and Dzogchen.
To begin the Basic Practice, we have to choose the environment where it will take place. Ideally, it should be a quiet place, as much as possible free from audible and visual distractions. So we do not try to practice in a room filled with the clatter and clutter of television or children chasing each other.
On the other hand, such distractions as traffic noise or a dog’s barking next door may be unavoidable in our life situation and should not discourage us from practice. Later on, the requirements can be gradually relaxed, but at the beginning, we should practice in a conducive environment.
For those who have done some kind of meditation practice, your environment is most likely already set up in a way sympathetic to your needs, perhaps with some kind of shrine, pictures, incense, candles. The important point, whether simple or more ornate, is to have a quiet spot. It is unnecessary to feel obliged to sit on some kind of pillow in a cross-legged position. It is usually challenging for adult westerners. As a personal comment: I suffered while practicing in such postures for many years and definitely do not encourage others to experience the same. It is recommended to be comfortable while doing the Basic Practice. A comfortable chair with a solid back makes it possible to sit relaxed but upright. However, if there is back pain, leaning on the support, if it eases pressure, is possible — the comfort of sitting is very important, especially when we intend to practice for a long time. I would like to emphasize this issue because the practice should be associated with relaxation and enjoyment rather than an exercise in pain endurance, which is sometimes suggested in some religious meditation.
Below is a photo of myself in the practice position, which I find most favourable, though it does not mean that everyone should follow me.
We begin by sitting comfortably in an upright posture. After settling down, we direct our gaze straight ahead or slightly above the horizon, depending on which is more comfortable. We can switch from one to another, depending on what we feel at the time. Our eyes are wide open, though we can close them for a while if we find it discomforting.
Now we simply rest both our mind and body. This is the heart of Basic Practice and the most important element of Therapy as a whole. We can also put it differently: we avoid any unnecessary effort.
The feeling associated with that state is that we are finished with thinking about all burdensome activities. We do not need to think about preparing a talk or report, making a phone call we tried to avoid, deciding what to cook for dinner or, which new kind of phone to buy, regret something we have done – we can make a sigh of relief and delightfully rest.
Below there is a short video of me doing Basic Practice. According to my experience, looking at a person, who does the practice, may help beginners to do that themselves.
However, after the initial period of such rest, unavoidably, thoughts will begin to reoccur. They are a natural response of the mind’s energy to perceptions or flashes of memory. After that, they continue forming a process where one thought provokes another.
However, it is very important not to attempt to block thoughts or, like a cat waiting for a mouse, wait to catch one when it arises. That would not help but only add additional effort, which goes against the very idea of resting. Instead, when we notice that we are thinking, we relax and remind ourselves that it is not a big deal but a natural response of the mind. This very realization causes thoughts to dissolve without a trace, and we effortlessly return to the state of rest. On the other hand, the fact that thinking is a natural response of the mind does not excuse us to begin and continue to indulge in our thinking.
As we rest, we should avoid focusing on any particular visual object, body sensation, sound, smell, etc., but we must not block them. They will dissolve unless we begin to speculate about their causes and consequences, their qualities, etc. So rather than focusing on a particular perception, we are becoming aware of their totality.
Basic Practice outside of the “greenhouse” environment
The environment we began our practice is special and protective, so I call “greenhouse.” However, as our Basic Practice progresses, we can gradually expand it. How much depends on your life situation and the desire to eliminate Disease from your and others’ lives.
In the beginning, it is suggested to do it when we are in our home and feel free from necessary duties. Of course, what is “necessary” is often disputable: there is a world of difference between working at an Amazon warehouse and spending hours on Facebook.
However, since looking for entertainment and distractions is our lifetime habit, which does not easily go away, we should not be hard on ourselves. That would turn Basic Practice into some kind of moral punishment, an attitude to avoid, which goes against its resting and relieving quality.
To help you resolve a potential dilemma, I would like to stress that the practice session’s place and duration are not fixed according to some rules carved in stone. That means that we can do it for a few minutes or few hours, whatever we decide. Since it requires a comfortable place to sit and no special accoutrements or some exotic behaviour needed, it can be done in one’s office or even easier when what becomes more popular, working from home. For people whose workplace does not permit the opportunity to practice, the only suggestion is to do it during a lunch break. Of course, there also weekends and holidays, which provided an ideal opportunity.
During the practice, especially when the practice sessions become longer, we begin to encounter emotions. They usually happen during longer periods of “unawareness” when we find ourselves regurgitating repetitive, upsetting thoughts that arise from our memory. Their scope is vast; it can be irritation, regret, fear, our fame, a recollection of the wonderful vacation in the Caribbean, or self-anger that we forgot to do something important.
After we notice that we are immersed in an emotion, we realize, as in the case of thoughts, that it is the reaction of the mind’s energy to information, which arose from memory. The only difference is that this reaction may be much more intense. If it is the case, such emotion tends to return. A good analogy is an echo, which recreates the original sound several times but gradually fades. Similarly, the force of the emotion becomes weaker and weaker and eventually fades away. After it is gone for good, we usually experience a vivid sense of relief.
Working with emotions, which results from recollections arising from memory, is the best preparation for those that we may experience “online,” so to speak. They may be instigated by direct interactions with other people or disturbing information. The next feuilleton, dedicated to expanding the scope of Therapy to everyday life situations, will discuss working with emotions in more detail.
As I mentioned earlier, while the practice of resting of mind progresses, we can gradually expand the situations where and when we can do it. However, it should be done gradually; first, we must stabilize ourselves well in Basic Practice before expanding its scope. By stabilizing, I mean the ability to rest one’s mind for longer periods free from the arising of thoughts. Otherwise, premature expansion may become counterproductive, creating a belief that one can only do the resting of mind in the special “greenhouse” situations.
In a future feuilleton, I will present some ideas based on modern physics and neuroscience, which (hopefully) will justify the strategy used in Basic Practice.
Finally, before ending, I would like once more to remind you that the essence of Basic Practice is allowing our minds to rest naturally. In other words, we must not apply some effort to force the mind to rest. Instead, we allow it to do so. The following analogy may be helpful: when we had a long, energetic walk and finally found a place to sit, we certainly do not have to force ourselves to rest. It happens naturally.