Essential Practice

Essential practice => a way of living that can be fruitfully applied in whatever situation or circumstance we find ourselves in.

An ‘essential practice’ for the maturing of our humanness – what I have come to think of as a path of ‘natural awakening’ or ‘contemplative science’, or ‘buddhadharma’ involves much more than practicing or rehearsing something with the idea of becoming good at it. When we speak of the practice of medicine, we are referring to a ‘praxis’, an ongoing discipline that interweaves study, observation and skilled application. I use the phrase ‘essential practice’ to hint at or point towards an essential praxis, a core/heart attitude, or matrix of activities, that when thoroughly integrated in all aspects of our life and living, will support a maturing of our capacity to participate with wisdom and compassion in this vast cosmos-wide mystery of inter-relational existence.

Essential practice is not just another contemplative exercise. It is a way of living that can be fruitfully applied in whatever situation or circumstance we find ourselves in; whether engaging in particular forms of meditation, or participating in community, or raising a family, or going to work, or involvement in social or political action, or pursuing academic enquiry or artistic endeavours. It can be applied when we are healthy or ill, privileged or oppressed, inspired or just quietly trundling along. This essential practice is a discipline in which we realise that our path of awakening is inseparable from the evolving flow of our own particular life and living.

In the natural flow of whatever is occurring,
cultivate a continuity of profoundly nourishing ease
suffused with serene alertness and vivid discernment.
Whether walking, sitting, reclining or standing still,
allow everything to rest in its own place.

In the natural flow of whatever is occurring, cultivate a continuity of profoundly nourishing ease. “Profoundly nourishing ease” – What does this mean? How is the universe functioning such that I call it profoundly nourishing ease? What does it actually mean to be easeful – to relax?

The ‘profound’ aspect of nourishing ease hints at relaxation in every domain of activity whether subtle or grossly manifest: easeful physiology, easeful body, easeful emotions, easeful feelings, easeful speaking, easeful listening, easeful thinking, easeful remembering, easeful planning, easeful fantasising, easeful analysing, easeful striving, easeful presence – what does this mean? Each one of us has to ask this question and to ask in ways that deepen the evolving process of our own understanding. What is the experience of functioning in a way that resonates profound ease and relaxation? For some it might involve softening. Softening physical tension. Softening emotional compulsions. Softening opinions and habitual preference and bias. For others it might involve forgiveness, or patience, or love. How is the universe functioning when we experience it as easefulness and relaxation? (relaxation => ease => smooth, fluid, subtle, responsive, malleable, workable, effortlessly integrated)

Profound ease is not merely a passive endpoint. It is proactively nourishing, in the sense that it feeds us in a total and complete way: physiologically, emotionally, conceptually. It is the basis of a strong and vibrantly resilient engagement in life and living. Initially, I get brief glimpses of what this might mean. Then, familiarizing with this glimpse and attempting to extend it becomes my practice . This, in turn, inevitably will reveal further unexpected subtle states of non-ease. The non-ease invites further enquiry into what is ease and how might we encourage it.

Gently, persistently, encouraging, again and again.
Revelation arising from these enquiries become our practice,
which leads to further revelation,
and so it goes,
this deepening,
this continuous refinement,
this on-going mastery of ease and nourishment.

Ease . . .
no conflict,
exquisite delicate yet robust integration,
a complete acceptance/appreciation of the utter legitimacy of other,
these universes of being and beingness that we perceive.
Ahhhh . . .
profoundly nourishing ease
this capacity for radical inclusivity,
this presence of immeasurable love.

“Profoundly nourishing ease suffused with serene alertness and vivid discernment“. Don’t take this as an instruction and feel hurried to put it into practice. Rather allow yourself to ask; what does this actually mean for me, in terms of lived experience? ‘Suffused’ hints at being blended evenly with and through something. Inseparable from profoundly nourishing ease is a vibrant, utterly alive alertness. Such blending; effortless presence, a voluminous space of poised wakefulness, a capacity for spontaneous effortless responsiveness; a natural presence and presencing, this ever-fresh nowness, this unpretentious immanence. And with it and through it – ‘completely suffusing it’ – are perceived edges and boundaries: – precision; clearly this and demonstrably that. This is red. That is green. This is square. That is round. This is clear. That is cloudy. This is encouraging integration and wholeness. That is encouraging fragmentation and conflict. Become familiar with this way of being; engaged discernment/awakeness, co-arising with profoundly nourishing ease.

Investigate this state of “serene alertness and vivid discernment”. How is your digestion happening when these qualities are present? How do your senses function? How do you use your eyes or your ears in the process of engaging with others? What is the texture of your knowing and how does this relate to accompanying emotion, expectation and ways of relating? How is the universe functioning when it is manifesting alertness and discernment and how might you encourage these qualities?

Ease/alertness/discernment is the heart business of samatha/vipassana.
In mahamudra it is referred to as a co-emergence – sahaja,
an immeasurable matrix of interdependent, interbeing, inter-knowing;
no need to embellish, to exaggerate or diminish,
all of me present with and for all of you,
this great surrendering, this great allowing,
this great honouring and respecting;
not you as I wish you to be or even you as I perceive you to be
but you as you are in all your unknowable unfathomable fullness.

For beginners, these experiences are patchy. They may appear as moments of blessing and then vanish into god-knows-where. Gradually it occurs to us that cultivating a continuity of ease/alertness/discernment is a way of functioning that flavours all effective dharma practice.

‘Cultivating’ anything is a rich and complex activity. It involves preparing the earth, planting seeds, watering, feeding, weeding and harvesting. It involves observing, learning, remembering and continually composting. It involves patience, intuition, generosity and forbearance and a sense of sacredness appearing in the everyday and ordinary. In time, effortful technique and practice becomes effortless wisdom-in-action, and we realise that we are becoming skilled in this. Faith and trust and wonderment are dawning.

Now every aspect of living invites our attentiveness. Everything – every activity – and everyone is potentially precious, deep, vast and meaningful. Whether walking, sitting, standing or lying down, whether practicing meditation or raising a family or studying or working – whatever we are doing – allowing everything and everyone to rest in its own place, in its own fullness.

These are mysteries,
deepening day by day,
revealing lives of blessing
in gratitude,
essential practice,