If we want to wake up and see tangible changes to our lives as a result, continual practice throughout the day supported by a regular meditation practice is by far the fastest and most effective way to do this.
Lots of people talk about continuous mindfulness practice. This is actually only one aspect of experience, we are in fact a mind-heart-soul-body, and this guide talks about a more holistic approach to continuous practice, which is about bringing us into presence and allowing ourselves to step into our lives.
We want to develop embodiment, whole-heartedness, mindfulness and soulfulness in some sort of even balance.
Awakening comes from opening up to all these different aspects of ourselves; we are developing a sensitivity and clarity to all of experience, so that we can be more present with what is really going on in each moment.
Mindfulness, which is obviously the most common form of meditation, focuses on how we perceive things. It’s incredibly powerful but on it’s own it can be a little incomplete and overdosing on it without engaging with other forms of practice can cause issues.
This more holistic approach is about the entirety of how we experience things – how we see things, how we feel about things, what it’s like being in our bodies and our underlying values and beliefs about the world.
Seeing practice as something we do throughout the day, allows it to become a part of your life, rather than something that you keep separate.
If you separate off your meditation practice and see it as something other than your daily life, you are limiting the benefits you are going to get from it.
One key aspect of meditation and awakening is becoming more accepting of the fact that we never arrive anywhere – life is just a continuous process that we are a part of – and blurring the boundaries between daily life and practice allows us to open to that and embody that realisation more fully.
It also provides the opportunity to develop a wider range of what we are able to connect to. By being willing to meet all of life with an open mind and an open heart we are connecting with different aspects of experience that we wouldn’t encounter sat on a cushion.
Rather than awakening and spiritual experiences being something we can only access when in very controlled and specific situations, we become comfortable with integrating these ways of being into our daily lives and experience of reality.
It can be a difficult process but the rewards are huge – opening to allowing our entire lives to be permeated with magic and a deep understanding of how things are in this moment.
When we are practicing continually, there is a meta-level attitude of heartfulness that we need to adopt in order for it to work.
We need to make sure our practice is coming from a place of kindness and compassion towards ourselves. We already have enough sticks to beat ourselves with in life and a deep sense of care is a far more powerful tool for change than punishment.
Kindness and compassion does not necessarily mean we have to be nicey-nicey all the time. Toxic positivity can be just as destructive as punishing ourselves. It’s about understanding that this is hard and putting in place the things that will support us.
It also helps to feel a sense of joy and enthusiasm for the practice. This doesn’t mean that we expect it to be easy all the time but feeling naturally motivated and excited about the practices we choose to partake in will be a lot more effective than forcing ourselves through endless drudgery.
This can be counterintuitive but you will see far higher reward if you choose a practice that is naturally engaging for you, rather than one that is difficult in a boring way.
This meta-attitude isn’t about forcing ourselves to feel good about certain situations or expecting ourselves to behave like angels. We are allowing ourselves to be in the darkness and difficulty without believing that we deserve it or needing it to be anything different to what it is.
We also don’t need to be the perfect meditators, we are meeting the challenge of life with a willingness while still honouring our limitations as human beings.
The three main attitudes that help us stay open to experience are:
Compassion: Remember that life is hard and it’s ok to feel all the feels.
Joy: We want to connect with a deep sense of joy and purposefulness – that this is meaningful and worth doing even if it is hard. This will help you connect with a wider range of your experience.
Curiosity: Can you relate to this in an open-minded and curious way? Is there something about your experience that you can be interested in rather than judgemental of?
Cultivating this capacity to meet everything as it is in our experience, even the hard stuff, is the part of practice where you will experience the biggest transformations.
There is all sorts of hard stuff that we don’t even realise we are carrying around and we exhaust a huge amount of energy in resisting it in our experience. Awakening is the process of meeting this stuff, in all its different forms.
By learning to be present with it or transmuting it into something less stressful for ourselves and others, we create a whole load of ease and clarity in the world. It can be like putting down a heavy bag you’ve been carrying around your whole life.
Choosing this meta-attitude of heartfulness is the allegory of the two wolves. In micro-moments throughout the day we are choosing to show up with love, presence, vulnerability, understanding, care and gratitude. By doing this we are reinforcing the pathway to keep choosing the heart over fear and narcissism.
Part of adopting this attitude is also understanding that we are complex beings. Life is hard and we have a lot of layers to us. It takes time, patience, a certain degree of trust and safety and a lot of mistakes to learn who we truly are and to open to our experience with love. This meta-level of heartfulness allows us to be in this process without needing to be perfect.
Any situation where we are holding space for each other in a mindful and allowing way is incredibly powerful for this, for example, social noting, coaching or group sharing.
We can spend hours sat on a cushion not able to see a way forward or beating ourselves up about something that can be dissolved in an instant when it is met and witnessed with love and understanding by another human.
Getting clear on why you practice is a fast-track to keeping your practice heart-centred.
It is helpful to be able to feel very clearly into these things:
The practice itself is very simple – it is essentially just showing up for what is here in this moment – but our beings and our environments are an endless web of knots that we have to slowly and patiently untie.
By having the intention to do continual practice, we are reminding ourselves to orient to reality in these ways. Over time this will develop a deep sense of enlivened presence in us.
These are the core of the practices. You can dive into the specifics of this more in my practice guides.
Embodiment – developing presence by arriving in our bodies in this moment, even if it is painful or difficult in some way.
Whole-Heartedness – being committed to seeing things as they, being honest with ourselves about that, acknowledging that there are large parts of experience that we turn away from and setting the intention to be open to experiencing these things. The mantra, ‘show me things as they are’ can be helpful.
Mindfulness – continually bringing your awareness back to this present moment.
Soulfulness – connecting with the ineffable
You can read more about each area, including ways in which they show up in daily life and ideas for practices, in my practice guides.
The four areas of experience are continuously interacting with each other and opening one part will allow other parts to open by creating more space in the system.
It can sometimes feel like we are moving backwards in practice when we are being faced with difficult aspects of experience. Be kind to yourself and allow things to unfold over a longer period of time to evaluate the benefits you are getting from your practice. Sometimes we have to go through difficult stuff in order to deepen our practice. Getting support if this feels overwhelming can be incredibly helpful.
Ultimately, we will always be shifting fluidly through the different states from one moment to the next and the more open each of them this the more we can connect with all aspects of experience and reality.