Be with whatever moves through you

The path of receptivity

Receptivity is as simple as “being with.” In our meditation practice, we might find ourselves in a balancing act between over-efforting and under-efforting. We might struggle with what exactly it is we are supposed to be “doing.” The path of receptivity asks us to let go of the battle and find another way. What would we be like without the striving? How would the path look with no goal? What is the difference between relaxation and just vegging out? How do we know?

Learning to trust what’s here now

The path of receptivity supports us in letting go of our ideas of a person making any kind of progress on the path. When we open to what is right here, right now, we realise that we already have everything we need, and always have! We’ve put in so much effort up to this point, and now we can relax into the fruits of those efforts. Deep relaxation brings a concentrated, happy mind. This mind is incredibly lucid, pliable and boundariless. When practicing receptivity, such as during just sitting, we turn towards this awareness and begin to familiarise ourselves with its qualities. We allow those qualities to reflect more and more of who we actually are. These qualities help us to be willing to receive whatever comes next, which we can never actually know before it has arisen. We learn to trust deeply in that space of not-knowing, and whatever emerges in that space.

“Just sitting” is a practice where receptivity comes to the fore, yet receptivity actually embues all other practices. Without an openess and willingness to be with whatever arises in our meditation, we risk a kind of “spiritual bypassing” where we can get into habits of trying to curate our own awakening. For example, we might get very skilled at getting into mental states that are deeply pleasurable, identifying strongly with those states, clinging to them, and believing we are doing something wrong when we aren’t able to access them. Or we might be very good at visaulising all sorts of wonderful things, getting caught up in our imagination but loosing touch with our direct experience. Although the imagination is a critical aid in meditation, it can be used unskilfully if we aren’t careful. The danger here is that we develop habits of ignoring the parts of us that desperately want, in fact need, our attention if we are to break through delusion and realise the deepest of insights.

Cultivating choiceless awareness

The path of receptivity is one of choicelessness. We are moving beyond choosing any particular object of our meditation. Whereas in the mindfulness of breathing or metta bhavana we focused on the breath, the body, ourselves or others, now we are opening to a broader, expansive awareness that holds all of experience. One helpful way to train ourselves to open to this more expansive awareness is to investigate sensations as they arise and pass away. We can move through each sense; sound, sight, smell, taste, touch (including internal bodily sensations) and the mind, and simply observe sense-objects moving in and out of awareness. Then we can open to the totality of sensations, the rich fabric of multiple sensations moving through us at any one moment. This is our lives completely and totally in this moment, how wonderful!

Choicelessness also means we aren’t choosing to focus on the things we like, while ignoring the things we don’t like. In just sitting practice, we are opening to all sensations, whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. We are noticing how within us there might be an energetic movement towards the pleasant, a contracting around or moving away from the unpleasant, and perhaps a numbness or vagueness towards the neutral. We can get curious about these processes, without getting lost in indulgence, confusion or supression. We can open to the habitual urges that often go unnoticed and start to learn something about ourselves in the process.

The mind is like a camera lens

As we familiarise ourselves more and more with this awareness, we realise that we have the capacity to move in and out of this broad awareness and a more concentrated kind of awareness. Our minds are like a camera lens that can move between a wide angle view of things, which is broad and all encompassing, or a focused view, that can zoom in on specific aspects of our experience. We have the power to choose which type of awareness is necessary and helpful to us at any given time.

For example, if during the mindfulness of breathing the practice begins to feel rigid and stuck, we may choose to drop our effort to focus on the breath and simply broaden out our awareness to include the earth, sky, space, sensations in the body and sounds all around us. We may even choose to lean back a bit in the posture and open the eyes, maintaining a soft focus. Placing our hands palms up in our lap helps to facilitate a sense of opening and receiving, rather than staying in a gripped, contracted state.

Alternatively, we may find that we have become completely lost, everythings gone a bit foggy or soupy. When we awaken to this experience, we can decide to get curious and interested in what is actually happening. We may choose to place our awareness on the sensations that we call “fogginess”, to focus in on the direct experience. Or perhaps it may be helpful to bring our awareness back to the breath for a while, and the sensations of breathing in the body. Once we feel we have established enough concentration, then we can open again to a wider awareness.