Gentle Transitions

by Dan Nussbaum

We are not used to things changing by being gentle and kind, thinking that we must take decisive action or discipline ourselves with harsh methods. Jason Siff, Unlearning Meditation, p.11.

I think Recollective Awareness meditation is beautiful.

When meditators don’t have to begin sittings by doing something to manage the flow of thinking, a gentle transition into meditation can take place. Meditators can allow the conditions that are present determine the pace of moving from pre-meditation states of mind into more deeply meditative ones. As meditators offer less resistance to their thinking, they have less sense of being somebody who has to make something happen.

People understand the beauty in patience. A rush to get to “real meditation” can be driven by a view that meditation must stand apart from the rest of daily experience.  An intention to rapidly leave behind worldly cares makes a patient transition not only unlikely, but unwanted. It’s not difficult to see the irony of hurrying to reach a good state of mind.

Because gentleness is a quality that doesn’t need to have its way, during meditation disagreeable inner experiences can be allowed to go on; conflicts don’t have to be smoothed over or sidestepped. Someone who sits this way can be a little more gentle with experiences that don’t themselves exhibit that quality. This might mean just noticing how tightly a thought is held or what it actually feels like to defend a position. It’s not giving yourself a strong suggestion to let go, it’s learning to have sympathy for yourself as you go through unwanted experience. Gentleness comes along with listening to yourself without judgment or being kind when you hear the judging in your thinking.

When a sitting ends we move back into the sphere of ordinary concerns and responsibilities. A period of recollection after the sitting allows for a gentle transition in that direction. The sitting is over and our eyes are open; to suddenly get up might mean that ongoing processes that would benefit from attention instead get abandoned. Some meditations can leave us feeling exposed and unready to instantly resume life. Others are so interesting it feels natural to make notes to remember what happened. Others may have serious elements that deserve consideration before we move on. It can turn out we know very little of what we went through until we reflect on it.

When eventually I realized that my teacher was describing how meditation weaves itself through life’s fabric and that Recollective Awareness by design attunes itself to this process, I thought, “Of course. How could it be otherwise.” Still, I can’t name another approach to meditation that accounts for its dependently arisen nature. This understanding allows us to see sitting practice as coherently related to what we do off the cushion. It’s the consistent way that practice joins theory that I find beautiful.


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