Up until this point, my Dying Practice has consisted mainly of Soft-Belly Practice, and Observing and Noticing Practice. To briefly recap what these practices involved:
Soft-Belly Practice is a type of "Opening Practice" whereby we attempt to make room in the body and mind for our 'whole life'. The point of the physical "Soft-Belly" is to create a physical trigger to assist us in letting go. This softening melts the 'armor' that we have created over the course of our lifetime up to this point through whatever afflictive emotions or unskillful habits we may have developed.
Observing and Noting (Or Noticing) Practice is a form of "Labeling Practice" - Labeling or Noticing is simply a method of developing self-awareness.. what we in the Zen Community refer to as 'Mindfulness'. We are attempting to train ourselves to notice various mental and/or physical states and body patterns of mental states (the body patterns help to cue us in regarding what is transpiring within the confines of our mind.. which may be much more difficult to detect, and the shifts that occur between them, such as Open (minded) to Closed/Closed to Open, Liking/Disliking, Desiring/Averting.
The point of both of these practices is to assist us in gaining the skills and habits to further our overall 'Dying Practice' goals:
Some of these (and these may be extremely personal, and, thus, different to some degree for each practitioner). My goals are as follows:
- Practice Dying (as opposed to 'Death' - Dying is a process... Death is a state... and will take care of itself) Be fully alive
- Investigate the dread of, and resistance to, life & death
- To comlete my 'birth' before it is over! (Birth being a constant process of development and growth into a spiritually mature being.
- To investigate that part of myself that refuses to take birth fully, and which hops about as though it still had one foot in the womb
- To enter the healing process
- To place both of my feet upon the ground at last
- To live with mercy and awareness in the midst of the consequences or love... or the lack thereof
- To explore this ground; this "ground of being", out of which this impermanent body and ever-changing mind originate
- To cut through a lifetime of confusion and forgetfulness
- To undertake a life review with gratitude and forgiveness
- To explore that which holds to its suffering, and to cultivate a heart that cannot be distracted - even by death
The process of this practice is:
- Open to pain, discomfort, illness, fear. Observe grief, self-pity, helplessness and other afflictive emotions that are attracted by discomfort and pain.
- Learn to respond to discomfort rather than simply (and mindlessly) react to it.
- Rather than meeting pain with fear - meet it with love - develop compassion. Do not try to escape from the pain. Open to the sensations at the very point of their origin - soften in to awareness that embraces rather than disclaims.
- Break the implanting!
- Experience the personal in its Universal aspect.
- Learn and internalize the fact that survival is overrated. Learn to remember only one life-one death (this one!)
- Make a commitment to live through; awareness, being profoundly alive, taking responsibility for being alive, recognizing that it is the the ability to respond instead of of the compulsion to react, living life 'first hand' - and breaking the dreamlike quality of a half-attended life.
So: The One-Year life exploration begins by remembering that we are life itself unfolding as thought, as feeling, and as evolution.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Up until this point, my Dying Practice has consisted mainly of Soft-Belly Practice, and Observing and Noticing Practice.
Tomorrow begins the Life Review Practice process.
This practice essentially will involve a process of mentally reviewing my life as it has transpired thus far and inviting myself to resolve those issues which may be in need of resolution, chiefly by forgiving those individuals (including myself... in most cases, myself) who have caused me pain and suffering in the past and putting the resentment aside in order to create a 'clean slate' - a platform from which I may eventually embark upon the next phase of my life without the emotional burden of guilt, resentment, hatred, etc.
My plan for going through this process is to begin as early in my life as I am capable of remembering, and reviewing approximately five years per each (approximately) three-week period. During the 'off-time' - time not actually spent in meditation, I will use photos, letters, or any other memorabilia to help to assist my recall of the time period that I am reviewing.
This mental process will be a visualization of encountering the situation and the individual who is involved, and engaging in dialog with that person... even if it is a past version of myself (i.e., 10 year old Bunan, or 25 year old Bunan.. etc.). I will start with those persons and circumstances that caused the least amount of pain to me... essentially working from easy to more difficult. I imagine that some circumstances or persons may take multiple encounters, and that during the process my mind may 'jump' forward or backwards through time as certain situations move to the forefront of my awareness. I do not plan to try to discourage this from occurring, but will allow a certain amount of free-association to occur, gently pulling my focus back to the time period that I am currently working on when it seems most appropriate to do so.
This process also involves physically purging unnecessary clutter, belongings and habits (a good match since I am doing precisely the same thing emotionally and mentally!).
The first step will be to create a personal inventory - listing persons, items, or circumstances of interest, or which I feel requires my attention. Naturally, this list may grow or shrink depending upon my memory, or how the process flows. The persons of interest will be persons who I have placed burdens upon, or who I have hurt in some way, and persons who have injured or wronged me (or who I have perceived to have done so). The circumstances would be any type of unfinished business at all.
The Life-Review then, is basically a form of Forgiveness practice. In many cases, the issues cannot be resolved due to loss of contact, untenable differences, or what have you... in this process, the main concern is with what is going on internally - i.e., my feelings, and my reactions/responses to those people, or to those circumstances.
Not all of the Life Review will involve negative situations... those memories that bring happiness and contentment will also be addressed, as will those persons who gave me love and joy.
I will oscillate between three basic types of practice. Forgiveness, where I deliberately introduce a person or situation and deal with it or allow it to unfold. Gratitude, where I recognize those circumstances or situations, or those persons (even circumstances, situations or persons that caused me suffering, pain or difficulty) which helped me to mature, grow, and learn... and to formally express my gratitude for having had the experience. Lastly, I will practice what is termed 'Open-Gate Practice', where I will flow through time in chronological order... allowing memories and thoughts to come in whatever order they present themselves... basically letting the process unfold in its own way. I will take a particular period and first work with 'Forgiveness' practice for a week... and then revisit it with'Gratitude Practice' and finally once again with 'Open-Gate' practice for the final week... and then I will move on to the next five year period. (The math will not work out exactly for the 'counters' out there... this is a mutable and more or less free-flowing practice. I have given it a light semblance of a structure.. but this is simply a guide... which is meant to assist me in ensuring that I cover the entire course of my life, and hopefully to help me to achieve my overall goals).
This process will cycle through the three types of practice, moving through the years until the week of 30 November 2008 when I will begin to gather and organize all of my personal documents, photos, etc. - both to bring a chaotic mess under some control, and also as a gift of kindness and compassion to whoever the task of setting my affairs in order happens to fall to after my inevitable death. It is my hope to make this task as simple and as painless as possible for whoever must see to it.
At a later date, I will be introducing additional forms of practice, as well as some other projects and exercises. Essentially, we have ended the first phase of the practice, which, for me, involved a certain degree of difficulty... a 'Dark Night' of sorts... but, I can feel an upswing beginning, and am looking forward to beginning this next portion of the practice.