I'm working with a new meditation practice, and finding it useful. It's actually probably not new to some, but it's new to me. I cobbled it together out of various other bits and pieces of remembered strategies I have at one time or another been taught or have read in books, and it has been serving me well in the past few weeks. I thought I'd pass it along.
It's breath-based, of course, and it starts with the usual: a few moments of whole-body breathing to get centered and calm, then metta--wishing goodwill first to myself, then to family and friends, to those I know and like, those I dislike, spreading in ever wider circles to encompass all of my fellow human beings, and finally all of my fellow living beings, north, south, east and west, above and below... You know the drill.
Next, to bring focus to my concentration, I bring my attention first to toe nails and then finger nails. I find them small and clearly defined enough to really focus the breath. I may pause here to meditate on how they constantly grow and change. Then the teeth, top row and bottom, side to side. Again, I find the size of them useful to get focused, and the space between them--narrow, clearly definable. This first step helps me to arrive at a much greater clarity and precision than the regular body scan. It sets me up for the next part.
From nails and teeth, I move on to the skeletal structure, starting with the skull and jaw--here's where thoughts of death may enter, and linger as I follow the rest of the bone structure: the vertebrae in the neck, working out through the shoulders and down the arms to the multiple small bones in the fingers; the upper backbone and the rib cage; the vertebrae in the lower back and the pelvic bone; the balls of the hip joint, and on down each leg in turn to the small bones in the toes.
Now, starting at the top again, I bring my attention to the internal organs, starting with the brain--I like to give it some time to get relaxed--and the sense organs in the head: ears, nose, tongue, throat. Then down to the lungs, a great place to give thanks for the breath; and the heart. I linger here, too, sometimes, to ask what's going on at the center of my emotional life: is it open and generous, loving this morning? Or tight and closed? I do what I can to open it to the world...
I move down to the rest of the internal organs, the messy ones, where I have less idea of their structure, placement and contour: kidneys and liver, large and small intestines, bowels, sex. It's here that I often recall a dharma talk by Than Geoff reminding us that what arouses our concupiscence from the outside is really a pretty revolting spectacle beneath the skin! And hasten on. Well, actually, I try not to hasten; I try to bring some thoughtful contemplation to the gooey stuff and make myself aware of what we're made of.
Next, then, the muscular structure, top to bottom. I like to dwell as much as possible particularly on the micro muscles around the eyes, for example, and in the face; and find it useful to tense and release each area as I pass through--more easily done, for sure, with the major muscle groups than the tiny little ones. But the little ones, again, help to focus the concentration.
Skin, all over. Where it's tight, around the scalp, for example; where it's complex in its folds around fingers and toes; where it gets hard to distinguish where external skin ends as it begins to enter the body--around, say, the ears or lips. The loose parts. I try to experience the skin as a single, unbroken wrap that contains everything I think of as my physical me. And when that's done, I arrive finally at the external stuff, the hair, from tiny hairs on fingers and toes to the helmet of hair around the scalp. Eyebrows and lashes. Nasal hairs and ears, upper lip and beard. Armpits and chest. I do not spare myself the public area--and try to retain my objectivity here: the mind tends to get engaged in other than calming thoughts!
Before closing, I put it all together again, returning to a full-body meditation for the time that remains. There are delicious moments, after all the work, when I manage to expand the consciousness beyond the physical body, arriving at that wonderful sense of being breathed, rather than simply breathing; of being so completely one with everything that surrounds me, even out to infinity, that I lose that sense of a separate "I" and seem to evaporate into a kind of timeless bliss.
It's quite hard work, this meditation--and it is, well, intimate. But I do find it ultimately rewarding, and a great way to keep the concentration going. I offer it to anyone who feels inclined to give it a try.