Progressive Stages of Meditation on Compassion
Compassion is the biological instinct to care for self and others. It is based on a view that the essence of a being human is basically good. Therefore selflessness and selfless activity such as compassion is both joyful and magical. In the practices I describe below, each is a stage that can be practiced by itself before proceeding to the next. In general, the first two stages are about self-compassion. Self-compassion and self-care are vitally important as the seed for compassion and the watering of that seed. It is important to view our own inner experience and perception without judgement. We can bring our experience into closer view and let it transform itself rather than pushing it away.
The third stage is based on giving empathy to others through the natural radiance of the heart. Stage four develops compassion more fully with a sense of Primary Respiration breathing heart to heart. Finally, the fifth stage is a resting in stillness and great compassion. All stages are based on developing an embodied sense of Primary Respiration (PR).
Stage One: Posture
As Suzuki Roshi once said in his book Zen Mind Beginners Mind, “the posture itself is enlightenment.” Consequently, when practicing meditation or biodynamic craniosacral therapy, the posture itself is extremely important. This is because it orients us to the body and where to locate our attention while exploring states of compassion for ourselves and others. This posture is especially suited for the acquisition and embodied perception of the different attributes and qualities of PR.
The posture has three components. The first component is to sit comfortably with the knees slightly below the plane of the hips and the legs relaxed and open. The back of the body is firm while the front of the body is soft. Then we locate the center via the diaphragms.
The second component is the alignment of the lower three diaphragms. The respiratory diaphragm is aligned over the pelvic diaphragm by hinging the trunk of the body forward and backwards with micromotions over the hips. Imagine the trunk is hinged on an axle going through the two hips. Play with it. Wait until there is a sense of the respiratory diaphragm softening, aligning over the top of the pelvic diaphragm. In addition, the sacrum can be slightly flexed forward and back in order to sense the lower fibers of the respiratory diaphragm (crura) along the transverse processes of the lumbar spine. The inner sensation is that of the respiratory diaphragm softening, lifting and floating like a jellyfish. Then wait for a deep breath, which signifies the synchronizing of PR with secondary respiration. Breathing changes. It might feel as if it is slowing down but also the respiratory diaphragm is free to be moved by PR. Gradually, the movement of the breath and PR become completely synchronized and are experienced as one thing. The breath is PR. It has always been PR and will always be PR.
Then the thoracic diaphragm is aligned with the respiratory diaphragm in order to sense the spatial location and movement of the heart. The clavicles gently lift and become more horizontal with a thought and image rather than a muscular contraction or puffing up of the chest. The scapulae drop back and in towards the spine in the same way with a thought and image of an eagle spreading its wings and then retracting them so the hands and arms rest comfortably on the legs or on support cushions while in contact with a client. The sternum softens, making room for the pericardium to swing like a pendulum. The heart is suspended between the thoracic and respiratory diaphragms even though the pericardium is fixed to the respiratory diaphragm. It literal heart now has the freedom to move and soften even more. The heart is free to be lifted by PR.
The third component is the alignment of the upper three diaphragms. Start by placing the forward portion of the tongue gently on the roof of the mouth or close to the front teeth. The teeth and lips are slightly apart allowing inner space to mix with outer space. The next part is to slightly tuck the chin back a few millimeters in order to soften the sub occipital triangle of muscles. This allows the occiput to float on top of the cervical spine. It is about sensing balance as opposed to holding a posture like in a yoga class. The next part is to align the tentorium and the Diaphragm of Sellae on top of the thoracic, respiratory and pelvic diaphragms. This is achieved partially by sensing all of the diaphragms as if they were jellyfish and consequently moving ever so gently in the aquarium of the body, the fluid body. Micromovement is important as the fluid body becomes active with the jellyfish. Thus the posture in general is not rigid nor is it too loose.
Stage 2: Aliveness
The second stage regards the object of meditation or perceptual process of acquiring PR. It is being with one’s aliveness. Our aliveness has several components associated with it. First is the body sense or totality of the sensory experience of the body. Second is the thought sense or noticing the quality of thoughts, feelings, emotions, storylines and other mental fragments happening all the time in the foreground and background of our thought sense world (the mind). In this stage, body sense and thought sense are synchronized and integrated perceptually as one thing. This is also known as body-mind synchronization. Body sense takes precedence over thought sense both while meditating and in biodynamic practice. This is because body sense is more oriented in the present moment while thoughts are frequently oriented to the past or future.
Inside the Breath
In order to experience aliveness, attention is placed inside the breath in order to regularly synchronize with PR. Sensing the breath from inside the lungs and inside the respiratory diaphragm is essential. These components constitute a general sense of aliveness as inclusive of everything in our experience. Frequently, while we are working with our hands on a client, there is a tendency to over analyze what the hands are experiencing. This is where it is important to recognize thoughts of judgement or evaluation about the client being flawed. This includes thoughts that something inside one’s self (the therapist) needs to be fixed. In biodynamic practice the view of health is basic goodness or inherent completeness. This constitutes the essence of being a human being. Health in a biodynamic sense is unconditional. Frequently, while we are working with our hands on a client, there is a tendency to over analyze what the hands are experiencing and interpret sensation and movement as problematic. When we are inside the breath we are inside the health. When we are inside the health we are inside Primary Respiration.
Inside the Heart
The next step is placing attention inside the heart. This has four parts to it. Each part can be practiced for weeks or months before moving to the next part. The first part is the simple sensibility of the movement of the heart. This means becoming consciously aware of its movement frequently and regularly during the day and night. I like to recite my favorite prayer nonverbally in the cadence of the heart’s movement. The movement of the heart is differentiated between the front, which is more open and soft, and the back of the heart, which is firmer and fixed anatomically. It’s important to learn to move one’s attention between the front and back of the heart depending on the rapidity of the heartbeat. This might also mean dropping one’s awareness back to the breath to settle the heart.
The second part is to sense the space in which the movement as occurring. The movement of the heart causes other tissues and fluids to respond and move like a ripple effect of concentric circles moving out from the center of the heart. So, by maintaining awareness of an ever-expanding space in which the movement is occurring, the heart is able to synchronize with the brain and strengthen its self-regulation circuits, becoming much more resilient by reducing fear and anxiety. It is like the Sufi meditation in which one can experience the heart moving in the fullness of one’s entire body!
Stage 3: Heart Radiation
The third stage is to connect with the potency of the heart. Frequently the movement might seem faster or stronger. By checking one’s pulse, it may be that the heartbeat is slow and the potency is being experienced. There are so many sensory and metabolic inputs coming into the heart from the body. It is like the heart has a giant fuse box. It is having to manage multiple frequencies in the body metabolically and physiologically. Thus each heartbeat is different. That is the meaning of heart rate variability (HRV). When a lot of circuits are lit up in the fuse box, there is so much potency that can be experienced consciously!
The potency also refers to the electromagnetic field of the heart. This heart field extends out about 15 feet around the body in a Taurus shape, a type of a figure 8 in constant motion, like a fountain emanating from every human heart. Our hearts are constantly broadcasting this potency which, according to research, is picked up by other hearts close by and interpreted as coherent or not coherent. Coherency allows the embodiment of empathy. It also generates the embodiment of safety.
While sensing the movement, space and potency of your own heart, you can generate thoughts of gratitude, which are then broadcast through the heart field creating coherency and safety. Think of someone or some experience big or small for just a few moments and it will broadcast through the heart field! Loving kindness can be broadcast as well. Bring the mind of compassion to the movement, space and potency of your heart. It is already happening naturally and only requires taking your own pulse internally and thinking thoughts of kindness, gratitude and forgiveness. It is simple (most of the time).
Stage 4: Heart to Heart
Stage four is sensing PR heart to heart with one or more people. It includes everything that has just been mentioned. Consequently, it is not always easy to get to this step in human interactions. However, when treating biodynamically it is a bit easier. But this practice is not just for clients in the treatment room, it is for everyday life as well. It is a stage of compassion in which the practitioner receives the pain and anxieties of another person and sends him or her well-being in the return phase of PR. In all human interactions there is the opportunity, when one is in the heart field of another person, to be interconnected through the Tide of compassion.
The preceding stages of posture, aliveness, being inside the breath and heart, plus the four parts of heart awareness, form the ground of sensing PR heart to heart.
This begins by synchronizing with PR as it originates from the back of the heart or the myocardium of the heart. It is possible for example, to sense PR moving in the heart field like a very gentle push or pull on the sternum. This is a micro movement; it can be subtle but conscious. Another possibility is to sense the heart and its pericardial sac hanging from the inside of the neck, swinging slowly like a pendulum forward and backward in the tempo of PR. The very first phase of embryological heart development is transparency, fluids are flowing through it because the early heart is permeable and not yet tubular. We retain that transparency through the life span. In this case, the experience of transparency is the sense of PR moving through the body subtly in one or more directions at the same time or separately.
Then there is a time when PR is extended to everyone on the planet and thus we offer our heart to all others and receive all other’s hearts on the Tide of PR. This is frequently done at the end of a session or the end of a day after seeing many clients.
The last part of making a heart to heart connection is to feel the heart of the natural world in the environment that surrounds us. We connect heart to heart with the natural world and its simplicity, purity and nonaggression. This is the very subtle wind of PR.
Stage 5: Resting in the Stillness
Stage 5 is resting completely in the stillness whenever it comes forward in our perception. All molecules in nature require stillness to transform themselves based on their unique structure and function. By resting in the stillness, we allow the body to heal itself at a cellular level. We are able to bear witness to pain and suffering in the middle of our breath and the middle of our heart without the need to fix anything. The Tide of PR always returns and, with it, the skillful means of how and where to place our hands.
It’s vitally important to be still and synchronize our attention with the stillness whenever it is available to us inwardly and outwardly. It is the pause that refreshes. This is a simple step: to take a pause and relax all the perceptual machinery of all the preceding steps and thoroughly rest in the stillness. There is no waiting, there is only resting. The mind and body is one drop of experience in the present moment. The Tide will come again because compassion never stops.
To review, stages one and two are acts of self compassion via posture and aliveness. The practice always begins with self-compassion. Stage three develops empathy and shares that with others. Stage four builds compassion by sensing one’s own and others’ inner states of suffering or emotional turmoil as a color or thought on the Tide of PR. This is accomplished by being inside of your breath and inside of your heart while continually synchronizing with PR. The fifth stage of resting in stillness is called great compassion. Great compassion is the ability to bear witness from the point of view of holding experience in the mind of the heart. Stay in the refuge of your own heart.
You are our protection and strength
Help in the storm of anguish and despair
Precisely and easily found close at hand
So we are not afraid
Even when earth’s in upheaval
When mountains are carried to the sea
When the sea’s waters roar and foam
And the mountains quake and tremble with the waters’ swelling
In the middle of the world there is a river
Streams run to it, making glad your cities
Making glad the places where you are known
You flow as the water of that river
And she shall not be moved
For you are with her
You are the morning that dawns over the quiet waters
Nations rage, kingdoms tumble
This is the sound of your voice
This is the earth melting away
You are with us, our defense, our silent center
What we see is all your doing
These terrifying moments
Only your unmoving movement
You cause wars to cease when they cease, to cease forever
You break the weapon, snap the knife blade
Burn up the war machines
Be still – be still
And know me
Be still and know
That I am what nations grope for
I am earth’s desire
So we know you are with us
Our defense at the silent center of things
Transliterated by Michael Shea from various versions of the Old Testament
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Stephen Elliott is the originator of The Coherent Breathing method.