MEDITATION: THE ESSENCE II – Concentration & Focus


MEDITATION — THE ESSENCE

Basic Meditation Instructions, Part II

  FREE: Right here, right now, no charge.

 Shiva

CONCENTRATIVE MEDITATION

Concentrative meditation develops your ability to know what you are doing with your attention at any given moment and to focus your attention (and often that of others with whom you are conversing) where you wish.  This ability has been shown to be useful in diverse areas of life.  It is also essential to witness consciousness or mindfulness meditation, which will be described in Part III. Two different forms are described here, and you can choose the one you prefer or use them both at different times.

Counting style.  Choose any object to focus your eyes on. As you did just above, count from one to ten.  This time silently count one number on each incoming breath, from one to ten. Then count the same number ten times on each outgoing breath.  Like this: 1-1, 2-1, 3-1, etc. up to 10-1.  Then take a single  breath in which you do not count.  Then count a second sequence of ten, like this:  1-2, 2-2, 3-2, etc. up to 10-2.  Another empty breath, then ten breaths with the number 3 on your exhalation, etc.  Ideally you will do this for 110 breaths, up to 10-10.  Then do ten more snapshot breaths to end your session.  Whenever you lose count, continue from the last pair of numbers you can remember clearly. If you don’t have time or don’t want to count up to 10-10, stop whenever you wish and end your session with ten snapshot breaths.

On each outbreath, notice all the chatter and images that have formed themselves in your mind and imagine them flowing out of you and away as you exhale, leaving your mind calmer and clearer. Whenever you notice that you have forgotten your counting or you are no longer looking at the object you chose for your visual focus, first notice where your mind has gone in case it’s to something important you need to remember (you might want to keep a pad and pen to jot down a word or two as a reminder when things occur to you.) Then gently move your mind back to your counting. Don’t try to keep things out of your mind – just bring your mind back to your counting, again and again if needed.

Mantra style.  Select a mantra that feels agreeable and useful to you.  You can find one by looking at the index at this link, or by doing a web search for “Sanskrit words” or “mantras.” Or even choose a word or phrase in your native language that refers to a quality you want to cultivate. Just as with the counting above, choose an object for your visual focus. On each inhalation, silently repeat your mantra to yourself.  On each exhalation, you can either (1) count the same number for ten numbers as described just above, and then move to a second number for the next set of ten breaths,  or (2) just repeat the mantra on your inhalation and let your mind go silent on the exhalation, allowing the thoughts that have formed themselves to flow away.  When you notice that you are no longer repeating your mantra, return your thoughts to it. DO NOT, however, use repetition of the mantra to try to “push” other thoughts, feelings, or sensations out of your mind. You could end up pushing out things you very much need to notice or hear. Just notice where your mind has gone, jot down a reminder of that if it’s important and you wish to, then bring your attention back to your mantra. Here too, ten snapshot breaths are a good way to end your session.

 

OR, you can regard the starting sequence and a period of concentrative meditation as the first two stages of your sitting, and then go on to mindfulness / witness consciousness meditation or to a contemplative meditation.

Part I of this series of five mini-articles offered an introduction to what meditation can do for you and presented a useful meditation “starting sequence.”

Part II describes concentrative meditation.

 Part III will describe witness consciousness (yogic term) and  mindfulness meditation (Buddhist term) and They overlap considerably but not totally. (not yet posted)

 Part IV will describe contemplative meditation. (not yet posted)

 Part V will be on everyday awareness practices. (not yet posted)

All this is just “the essence.” If you’d like this and many advanced practices all in one handy place, you will enjoy Matrix Meditations, by Victor Daniels and Kooch N. Daniels. Click on the cover to go to the book’s home page. You can get the e-book for under $10.00, and used copies online for little more than postage. Of course, a brand-new hardcopy (from your local bookstore, the publisher, or another online vendor) is a treasure. 

 

Matrix Meditations: A 16 Week Program to Developing the Heart - Mind Connection

Matrix Meditations: A 16 Week Program to Developing the Heart – Mind Connection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MEDITATION – THE ESSENCE: Basic Meditation Instructions I

 

 

MEDITATION — THE ESSENCE

Basic Meditation Instructions, Part I

 

FREE: Right here right now, no charge

 

 

woman meditating by Ganges River

 

INTRODUCTION, & STARTING YOUR SESSION

 

 

BENEFITS OF MEDITATION

Reduce your stress, feel more relaxed, become more focused, centered, and probably more successful, and clean up problem areas in your life. Seldom be bored, as you can almost always find something interesting around you or inside you to notice.

 

If you have never meditated, have tried and been unsuccessful, or are unsatisfied with your method, try this. (If you are an experienced and expert meditator and are looking for new depths and horizons in your practice, you’ll find them in other blogs soon to be posted and at this link.)

 

FOUR FORMS OF MEDITATION

The four kinds of meditation described here are suitable for ordinary people in their everyday lives. You do not have to sit in a cave in the mountains or go to a retreat center. The four are:

 

Concentrative meditation.  You become able to focus your mind where you want it. (Research has shown that this skill improves life-effectiveness of diverse kinds.) Developing this capacity, and your mindfulness or witness consciousness, occur at the same time in the method described here.

 

Mindfulness meditation, aka witness consciousness.  You learn to notice what your mind, emotions, and body are doing, moment by moment, rather than being completely caught up in your thoughts (as most people are most of the time.) This is called “mindfulness” in the Buddhist tradition and “witness consciousness” or “developing the witness” in the Yogic tradition. There are small differences between the two forms but they mostly overlap.

 

Everyday awareness practices.  These help you take a more meditative consciousness into your everyday life.  They are also ideal for people who have a hard time sitting still to meditate.

 

Contemplative meditation. Once you have mastered the two meditative forms just above, you will have the ability to meditate on specific aspects of your inner self or on outer concerns important to you. The resources of your large and creative unconscious mind will become available to supplement the conceptual thought, daydreams, and “monkey mind” that comprise most of most people’s ordinary waking consciousness.

 

HOW LONG SHOULD YOU MEDITATE?

Sit for at least five minutes to get any value from this. Ten or fifteen is better—but if you think, “I don’t want to spare that much time,” then just commit yourself to five minutes. When that time is up, sometimes you will probably want to continue.  When you are starting out, don’t sit for more than half an hour. When you feel ready, you can allow yourself 45 minutes, or even an hour.  Once you are experienced, you might want to go to a retreat where you sit for a day, or several, or even longer. But unless you have the supervision of a capable meditation teacher, stop after no more than an hour.

 

BEGINNING YOUR MEDITATION SESSION: YOUR POSTURE

For most people, the best thing is to sit up straight with no support for your back if you can do that. (Just noticing when you lose this position and slump helps you maintain a present-centered consciousness.) If your back muscles won’t hold you straight up you can sit with your back against a wall or the back of a chair. If all else fails, I have had some students meditate successfully while lying down.

If you are sitting cross-legged on the floor or the ground, sit on the front edge of a doubled-over pillow or a meditation cushion to raise your butt a few inches off the ground. Outdoors, sitting on a slope with your butt a little higher than your  knees and feet will do. Or use any other object to raise your butt slightly. Otherwise you will have a hard time sitting up straight. You can sit in a full lotus posture with each foot upside down across the other thigh, a half lotus posture with just one leg above the other thigh, or a regular everyday cross-legged position.

If you are on a chair, choose one with no arms or low or wide arms so that both your elbows can extend outward comfortably. You can either put your feet facing forward just below your knees and about shoulder-width apart or you can cross them as if you were sitting cross-legged on the ground.

           In any other position, do what feels best. Just know that it will be somewhat harder to develop your mental focus than in one of the positions just above.

          Position your arms with your palms face up. Touch your thumb and forefinger  or middle finger of each hand together. This is a mudra. As you inhale, let them separate about a sixteenth of an inch.  As you exhale, let them touch each other. This is a moving mudra. (The moving mudra will help you focus and watch your mind. When you notice that they have stopped opening and closing as you breathe, it tells you that your attention has drifted off.)

 

A STARTING SEQUENCE

  1. 1.    Balance. Find a sitting position in which you are totally centered in relation to gravity, so that if you move even a little forward or backward or to either side you feel unbalanced. Try those movements, then return to your center.  I suggest that you also try this standing up. Imprint in your mind what that totally balanced position feels like. (Then later in the world, when you start feeling “off balance” or emotionally “pushed out of shape,” take a minute to physically balance as you just did. That’s your first “everyday awareness practice.)
  2. 2.    Breathe.  Sit (or lie down or whatever you do) in a position that opens your windpipe and lungs as fully as possible. If you are sitting or standing up, pushing your chin backward with one finger can help do this. . . .

 

  1. 3.    Notice and release tension. The first time you do this, use the method described by Edmund Jacobson in 1929. Starting at the top of your head and going down to the tips of your toes, do an internal body scan. Notice each place in your body where you are holding even a teeny weeny bit of tension, intensify it for several seconds – tighter, tighter – then let it go. Some places many people hold tension is in their forehead, around the eyes, jaw, neck, shoulders, hands, arms, stomach, anal sphincter, thighs, and calves.   (You may have your own unusual tight spots.)

 

After the first time, you can skip the tightening. Just do an eyes-closed body scan in which you release the tension you find at every point, except for whatever tension you need to sit upright. When you’re done – probably just a minute or two – notice how good your body feels when you let go of the places you chronically hold tight.

 

  1. 4.    Take ten “snapshot” breaths. Count your breaths from one to ten. With each cycle of inhalation and exhalation, let your eyes rest on a different visual object. It can be anything from a statue to a smudge on the wall. Imagine that you’re taking a picture of it, and also that after you’re done you will have to draw it from memory, so scrutinize every detail of it as carefully as you can during that one breath. (You could also do this by listening to a different sound with each breath.) Why do these ten snapshot breaths? Because it is very nearly impossible to do them with a wandering mind. To do them successfully REQUIRES you to maintain mental focus. This gives you a hold on the reins of the wild horse of your attention, giving you enough mental focus that you can go on to other meditative practices.

 

CONGRATULATIONS! You are now meditating. You can stop now, or continue your session by simply continuing to count your breaths, or by repeating any mantra that has value for you on each breath for as long as you wish to continue.

 

 

When you are ready, you can go on by clicking on the links below.

 

 

Part I of this series of five mini-articles offered an introduction to what meditation can do for you and presented a useful meditation “starting sequence.”

 

Part II will describe concentrative meditation.

 

Part III will describe witness consciousness (yogic term) and  mindfulness meditation (Buddhist term) and They overlap considerably but not totally. (not yet posted)

 

Part IV will describe contemplative meditation. (not yet posted)

 

Part V will be on everyday awareness practices. (not yet posted)

 

Remember—all this is just “the essence.” If you’d like all this and many advanced practices too all in one handy place, you will enjoy Matrix Meditations, by Victor Daniels and Kooch N. Daniels. Click on the cover to go to the book’s home page. You can get the e-book for under $10.00, and used copies online for little more than postage. Of course, a brand-new hardcopy (from your local bookstore, the publisher, or another online vendor) is a treasure. 

 

[INSERT MM HERE]

 

2-12-14

 

 

 

Holistic gestalt therapy

HOLISTIC GESTALT THERAPY

Victor Daniels
Sonoma State University

Today’s blog is for psychologists, psychotherapists, counselors, and students in those areas—but a few others may be interested.

Why “holistic?” Perhaps you find the title surprising. You might think, “But the Gestalt approach is inherently holistic.”

Yes and no. Max Wertheimer, whose philosophical genius was the midwife for the birth of Gestalt Psychology, articulated a view of human experience and behavior that was more holistic than that of any other psychologist of his time. Kurt Lewin expanded that view into a perspective that provided a holistic grasp of the person in his or her lived environment. Lewin’s concept of the “life space” included both the immediate and extended social and physical environments, and also the vicarious environments that were part of a person’s thinking and feeling as a result of hearing stories, reading, and watching movies and videos. For example, I love Will and Ariel Durant’s monumental work The Story of Civilization because I can open a page and be instantly transported through Durant’s clear, engaging prose into the midst of the Italian Renaissance, or into any other place and time of which the Durants wrote. Thereby a skeletal sense of Renaissance Italy becomes part of my life-space. This embracing holistic view that is inherent in Lewin’s Field Theory is part of the ground of Gestalt Therapy.

Gestalt process work is inherently holistic in the sense of its attitude toward the client. The therapist or counselor takes a phenomenological stance of trying to comprehend the client’s lived world as it is, without interpretation or embroidery, and uses some variation of the phenomenological method of “bracketing” to set personal reactions aside in order to achieve that comprehension. Then the practitioner may (or may not) draw on his or her own bracketed reactions and mention them to the client to see whether this leads the client to fuller awareness and deeper understanding.

Methodologically, a holistic approach implies that the therapist or counselor (a) has a repertoire of approaches and methods; (b) can choose appropriately among them to find what best suits any given client in any given situation; while also (c) remaining true to his or her own preferred, most comfortable, and most skillful ways of working. This is analogous to a doctor who has a variety of medical tools and procedures available, and chooses that which best fits the patient’s needs. (With this analogy, I do not mean to imply that a medical model fits most psychological difficulties. It fits some but not most. I prefer Thomas Szasz’ description of psychological and relational issues as “problems in living.”

Finally, a holistic approach acknowledges the value of a spectrum of valid Gestalt approaches and methods used by others which may or may not be part of a given practitioner’s own repertoire. (“Valid” means a method that fits the criteria of being phenomenological, awareness-based, present-centered, existential, and field-define. And, we might add, competent, skillful, and fully cognizant of the need to provide both sufficient safety and sufficient opportunity for exploration and for adventurous growth.) In this sense, Gestalt work may or may not be holistic. Historically, as in so many psychotherapies, spiritual traditions, and other realms of life, some Gestalt practitioners have disapproved of approaches used by others even when those approaches fully met the criteria described just above. Such biases have sometimes been overt and sometimes subtle. In recent years, for example, in the English-speaking Gestalt world there has been a welcome development, most especially by those trained by Laura Perls and Isadore From, of methods that emphasize the relationship and the dialogue between client and therapist. Some practitioners of this approach have assumed that their “dialogical relational” approach is contemporary, and that the work of other practitioners is outdated. In reality, practitioners trained by Fritz Perls, Jim Simkin, and others at Esalen Institute, Lake Cowichan, and the old San Francisco Gestalt Institute, and second-generation practitioners trained by them, have also evolved and developed their methods and perspectives into new and more effective forms. Fortunately, the disapproval of some Gestalt approaches by practitioners of others has been far milder than, for example, in classical psychoanalysis, where Freud declared that such geniuses as Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, and Wilhelm Reich were no longer psychoanalysts when their creative development of new ideas and practices diverged too far from Freud’s central orthodoxies—in particular from the Libido theory. Nonetheless, there is value in explicitly acknowledging a contemporary attitude of inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness of method and perspective.

Therefore, use of the term ”holistic” in the title explicitly implies a “large tent” definition of Gestalt process that welcomes diverse ways of working and recognizing that we can all learn from the “otherness” of practitioners who have evolved their work in directions different from our own. It allows those who have felt that their working approach has been marginalized by the biases of some colleagues to come in from the shadows. And it highlights the interesting reality that the dominant views about which approaches are central and which are peripheral differs from one country and linguistic region to another. I welcome the large tent that makes space for diverse working processes and welcomes all who legitimately think of themselves as part of the Gestalt community. This includes dialogical-relational approaches, two-chair and sometime even multiple-chair work, dreamwork, use of diverse artistic media, movement and body-oriented work, and Gestalt group process work, to name some but not all of the orientations that can be found within this large tent.

In so saying, I am keenly aware of the danger becoming too diffuse, and of the need to keep a sharp focus. For me personally, the central focus is onprocess work within a working session—that is, within the therapeutic or counseling hour, or within one person’s working session when individual work is done in a group context. Of course that exists within the larger context of concerns that may take weeks or months, and multiple sessions to work through.

A phenomenon that has become more widespread in recent years is the inclusion and integration of methods from Gestalt therapy into other working modalities, such as alchemical hypnotherapy. I find that I am beginning to turn the tables on that process, and integrate perspective and methods from other approaches into my Gestalt work. Most notably these include humanistic and existential approaches, assertiveness training, and Yogic and Buddhist meditative disciplines. Such integration is highly selective, with close attention to maintaining a sharp focus on the client, the moment, and the way of working that is most appropriate now.

Already I hear the objection, “Gestalt therapy is a depth psychology, a process of exploration. How can you include something from a programmatic approach like assertiveness training?” There are two answers. First, good assertiveness training is also exploratory and based on the expansion of awareness as well as being programmatic. The “program” arises out of the exploration and awareness. Second, I find it appropriate only occasionally, and only when “pure” gestalt work has led to clear awareness of maladaptive behavior but the client keeps falling back into the old patterns and fails to behave differently. In this context, “assertiveness” can be a misnomer, for the methodological approach can be used with someone who needs to become more respectful and courteous toward others just as well as with someone who needs to learn to stand his or her ground.

With existential and phenomenological approaches, what I borrow is less often methods than attention to particular phenomena, or classes of phenomena, that have had a tendency to be overlooked in Gestalt therapy. These too are appropriately part of a holistic gestalt perspective, even though some gestalt training institutes do not emphasize them. In the present brief overview, I merely mention this outlook and not to delve into it in depth, which would require extended discussion of the work of such figures as Carl Rogers, Rollo May, Abraham Maslow, Soren Kierkegaard, Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, James Bugenthal, Sidney Jourard, and others. That is a project for another day.

2-4-14