Waking up the innate powers of connection to experience, and integration through practice.
For this written piece I want to assume something, offer something that is true and accessible in its first form, and highlight the principles that are demonstrated as a result.
My assumption is that yours and my senses work in much the same way, only differing in the degree of subtlety and particular detail. I also assume that we share the ability to connect to something, to a phenomena with our attention. By focusing with our attention we entrain ourselves to the object (or subject) of our focus. The connection deepens with repeated practice.
Another very important thing we share is the ability or the potential to be curious. Curiosity is a certain attitude of awareness to the unknown. Without curiosity, we can learn “by rote” and repeat certain patterns, but there is not the spark behind the action to also ignite joy and invigoration: the action is imitation only. Curiosity is fueled by something, propelling us forward effortlessly. We can be curious within repetition and discipline, but we must start with curiosity. It is like planting an orange tree before building a house, we work to construct the scaffold and the structure and so on, whilst knowing that the oranges are on their way. We can know that the house we build will be richer for its shared beginnings with the orange tree. Later in the life practice, the orange tree continues to give, and the life of the home is both structurally sound, and nourishing. In this way curiosity must be part of the foundation of any expedition of transformation practice.
There must be a certain level of innocence within this work: not naivety, but rather a lack of constrictive agenda. Our maps of meaning and value, and the story we tell about our experiences can either amplify or eliminate. An approach to practice that is open enough to allow the unexpected, to allow us to be surprised, is really essential to the process of making meaningful connections and learning through synthesis.
What I'm pointing to here is a certain power or character trait. It may seem an obvious statement, but consider the following: a thread has one loose end, as we follow the thread, we enter the weave, and as we pull and manipulate the thread, we change the weave. Curiosity then, is a way or method of pulling a thread, or following a trail. Using a curiosity with our senses in direct perception practice will have a certain affect on the weave. What we perceive will respond to that particular tone or attitude. It is not the only way to manipulate the weave, but having left gaps for the unexpected to flow through, we end up with a richer pattern, and a subtler experience.
So if the attitude of curiosity is at least somewhat established (or rediscovered), we can become aware of the way or feeling our attention works from that basis. Once the sentiment and practical focus are symbiotic, real change starts to occur.
But what is the weave? What realm do we want to focus our beings on? Assuming we can at least categorize the difference between thinking and feeling, ideas and sensation (or the combinations thereof), we can choose where to focus: thinking or feeling, imagination or sensation. I don't want to make value judgments on the personal practice of individuals, but rather offer a perspective on integration: Self-localization is the ongoing process of connecting to the resources of the present moment. I'm specifically referring to the sensory information presenting to the awareness, that precedes the layering of meaning that comes after. The assumption is that the attitude of curiosity is an open enough map to allow this direct experience to pass the filter.
So if we are practicing to localize the self, and approach deeper and deeper levels of embodied connection through direct perception, curiosity is a great attitude. By extension, trust is the glue of integrity. As the sensory experience within the present moment unfolds, as the weave shifts and shimmers, we slowly establish a deeper connection that is orientated around permission and non-violence; deeper subtlety, more reliable feedback; ongoing trust in the act of practice.
Another way to say this is that the mundane can be nourishing, if we approach our sensory experience with the right attitude, this curious focus. The point is not that we will have some kind of revelation (we likely will have many), but rather that we can begin to redefine success, redefine the feedback relationship with reality to allow the best conditions for simple satisfaction. Integration is moving towards the safety of being interconnected through voluntary practice, accessing resources made available according our own curiosity; personal allegiance with ever-present forces. The orientation around simplicity, localization and the present moment reduces the dynamic tension of transformation to a gentler level; I.e sustainable practice.
There is another assumption within this whole model: that practice can be in any moment, any space. That the living experience itself is one continuous thread within the weave of life. The way we wash the dishes, the way we sit and write, the way we sit and talk with friends, work and play, love and grieve, rest and travel. The way we move with each step, breathe each breath, all of this is the weave, and our particular point of awareness is a thread within the larger pattern.
Improvisation is a process of responding to the moment, making decisions within a state of flow that holds our attention and our sense of purpose. Improvisation allows focus through uncertainty, continuation through variation, and authentic connection to experience. Sensory improvisation then, is directing focus effortlessly in connection to sensory phenomena, relaxing into choice and curiosity in such a way that we nourished by our own awareness.
The way we follow the thread; pulling the string, affects the weave at large. We experience more of what we do; we are the weave, speaking back to ourselves through sensory phenomena.
Intuitive or Personal Meditation
The space itself, and the dimension of Spatial-Awareness, within which spatial intelligence takes place, is available to all people. The malleability of the neural pathways and enerrgy is universal. Experience happens within space, inner or outer, and we can perceive the non-conceptual truth in our proximity, and further. Perhaps the real trick is making our presenting spatial experience important enough to warrant attention. This means we have to let go of the social masking that has such a strong affect on our attention and behavior. This is by no means easy, and requires patience and compassion, and above all courage. However, we can allow ourselves to rest in the knowledge that within us is the hardware inherited from our evolutionary past. The natural context of the wild human demanded a full spectrum of spatial experience, alertness and presence. Survival depends on it, and survive we do! Humanity has evolved for a high degree of spatial-intelligence, and the resources that ensured our survival are ready to be explored and enjoyed should we desire.
This type of approach to experience requires that we let go of as much of our modern conditioning on our behavior as possible. If we want to experience a creative consciousness in the space, we need to have a good grounding in the raw material itself. Rawness is mysterious, it is unshaped by humanity, it is potent, primal and downright scary. Uncertainty has a funny way of triggering a jump to a conceptual safety, but the deeper we can allow the raw spatial experience to be, the more of reality shows itself to us.
Foundation of Practice
Establishing a direct connection to the raw spatial experience in Meditation Practices can be difficult in the modern context. There is usually powerful conditions that will hijack the will-power and prescribe importance to our attention. Indeed, attention is a commodity to be bought and sold. Our attention has value! Powerful forces are at work to sculpt our neural maps. There are techniques available to us to reclaim first the familiarity with our own personal consciousness (attention), and then gain the proficiency to wield our attention willingly and consciously. As with all skills, we can become very good at it! But we have to overcome challenges and persist in order to really understand the empowerment of any skill.
Developing an understanding of the fundamental parameters within which technique takes place is a good place to start learning from. Put simply, start simple, but with an awareness of the larger context. Permaculture principles in gardening are good example. We do well to know the ground before we plant in it, including rainfall and sunlight hours etc...
In this article I will assume, on the part of the reader, an interest in individual experience, mind-body practices, exploring possibilities, and creative responses to life. I've used a bunch of ideas and my own understandings of some of my teachers theories to describe or point to insights I've gained from practice.
The Spatial Matrix - Being Conscious of Space
The Spatial Matrix is the space our senses take in information from. Here are a couple of definitions: Spatial means 'pertaining to space':
This Spatial Matrix also has 360degrees of direction on the horizontal and vertical planes, and all the space in between, forming a sphere of space. This extends outwards infinitely, and also inwards as the scale of increments decreases.
Obviously there things that are physically in this matrix, and unless we were in the vacuum of 'outer-space', we are able to perceive those things.
So we can locate objects by turning our attention with our sight, and likewise our hearing. We can also locate or sense things with a felt sensation. Importantly, we can sense the absence of an object, we can sense and perceive empty space. We can sense the shape of a space, using a combination of sight and 'putting ourselves in the space', from a distance. For example, a person can measure (unconsciously usually) the size of a doorway with their spatial awareness and come to the conclusion that they will fit through (or not!). We can, just by looking, and using our own 'body-map' awareness, tell if a moving car is close enough to hit us when we cross the road. This goes on with any number of actions, throwing or catching a ball or ducking under a branch.
Spatial Matrix as Canvas – Consciousness as Paint – Attention as Brush.
Much of my exposure to 'spiritual teachings' and ideas has focused on the cessation of suffering, healing, or progressing on the path to some form of enlightenment. It was through these kinds of lenses that I was introduced to the Vipassana tradition, awareness of multiple different conceptual paradigms, the occult, psychology and motivation in human experience, creative therapy, and embodiment practices.
This all happened alongside my formal training in sculpture, performance, and installation art. These days I can't help but run my 'Spatial Matrix' filters as move through the world. Shopping malls are INTENSE.
All of these topics and practices have informed this metaphor:
Spatial Matrix as Canvas – Consciousness as Paint – Attention as Brush.
So hopefully I have defined the canvas as being an essentially limitless dimension of awareness, in any direction within our perception, on a sliding scale of size, the spatial matrix. Also hopefully I have attended to attention, (heh heh...) the ability to direct awareness, the brush.
So what of consciousness as paint? Well consciousness is an interesting term, it is used in lots of different ways and I want to be clear what I mean. Here is the Google definition:
Consciousness as Paint
Phew, that was chunky as! SO...Consciousness as Paint. Cool. Well paint has different qualities, and also quantities. Qualities include color, tone, brightness etc. Also when painting, one can dollop a whole lot of paint on the canvas, or put just a little spot in the corner. A painter might choose a color of paint to represent something or communicate a 'feeling or mood'. For example 'what mood do you want in the children's bedroom'. It could also be totally random, and then the audience interprets as they will.
Likewise, consciousness has different qualities. It can be sharp, or vague, light or heavy. It can have an emotional aspect. For example happy feelings can be associated with consciousness of the beach, either as symbolized in memory, or as in actual experience of being at the beach. Other qualities could include 'comfortable, peaceful, content, inspired', for instance. I know I'm often inspired to update my consciousness of the contents of the fridge.
In what way are we painting?
So when we apply paint to canvas, we do so with a certain technique. We might aggressively gesture with the black acrylic, or delicately paint a small circle with sky blue. In each case a quality is being recorded. Consciousness is no different. The way in which we put our attention on the subject, either a symbol or a space within the spatial matrix, will be part of the information recorded by the neural-map.
There are many techniques of 'painting with consciousness'. And there is a spectrum of awareness about whats happening when it's happening. This is why we can say 'so and so seemed very unconscious with their affect on the space'. They might also be very conscious and just not really mind what the consequences are.
'Don't look a gift horse in the mouth', 'Biting the hand that feeds', 'looking on the bright-side of life', 'bull in a china-shop', 'appreciate the little things in life'.
All of these metaphors refer to techniques for painting with consciousness. It is arguable that the 'bull in a china-shop' is not using any technique, but still getting results...
The calligraphy traditions of China and Japan are some of my favorite visual art disciplines in the world. The refinement of touch, the conviction of gesture, and the simplicity of composition all speak to something deep in my psyche. In much the same way, slow deliberate movement and comfortable arcs in martial arts and dance are symbolic of time and care put into technique.
The technique required to create beauty is closely associated to the technique required to perceive beauty. The care and consideration, the balance of creative intention and attention to the medium that is demonstrated in these art forms is applicable to the spatial-matrix.
The term gratitude can mean 'appreciating something' or recognizing its value. In this way, gratitude is a quality of consciousness. It is a way of seeing, a way of looking and perceiving deeply without bias. It is an essentially practical method of painting with consciousness.
Whats super cool is that the better get at using a technique in one context, the more readily accessible that technique is in others, this is to say that if we get really good at painting a certain pattern, we can get a brand new canvas and make use of our access to the practiced skill within our neural-map. You can put a rock-singer or a comedian on any stage and if they are well practiced, should be able to access their established patterns, or techniques of consciousness. So the skill is transferable in ideal circumstance, with 'best practice'.
What do we want to paint?
So it seems to be clear now that the possibilities are vast if not endless. Whoa, that can be overwhelming. Well since we are using our own attention as the brush, and our own consciousness as the paint, the choice is undeniably up to the individual themselves. There are myriad coloring in books of consciousness available to those who want to experiment with color. There are 'connect the dots', 'learn how to draw aliens', 'paint like Van Gogh' courses and teachings. The are go-to guides and how-tos. But is there a DIY section for the 'consciousness artist', the 'wizards and witches' of the world? A mentor can offer the techniques that they use to paint their canvas.
As a student of such mentors, I fumbled through clumsy attempts to get 'my blue to look like the instructions' and 'get the perspective right in the landscape image'. One of the main barriers to my progress was trying to paint with consciousness before understanding the colors or the canvas. This is to say I only had limited resources. Therapy in this context can be thought of as rediscovering resources within ourselves. I had lots of black and red, but not much else. And my canvas as all torn and grubby, and I couldn't see the edges. You get the idea.
So in many ways, we can only really 'work with what we have'. Some people get really good at this, and then don't ever want to move outside the comfort zone. However! Other people go on a mad rainbow ride, rediscovering colors and shapes and techniques they either never knew existed, or had forgotten within themselves.
Perhaps health is simply effective process, essential to which is curiosity, experimentation and appreciation of ones works, and the works of others.
The point is, it's a trans formative process...We change as we practice. Maybe some-days we want to paint big and bold, and others we are more inconspicuous.
The flexibility to both try new things, and practice the ones we love, means that we can have a variety of resources to 'draw on' (pun intended), and tangle with the wondrous mess of life.
2 Examples of Creative Use of Meditation Practice: