How do we work with the Formless Meditation instructions ‘Wake, Heart, Open, Be’? Doesn’t using them just involve more thinking?


I still get a bit confused with meditation practice. On the one hand I focus on the out-breath and allow thoughts to rise and pass but it seems to me that focusing on the instructions ‘wake’, ‘heart’, ‘opening into spaciousness’ and ‘be present’ involve thinking, which somehow seems to block the objective.

Lama Shenpen:

The instruction is not to focus on the heart, wake, open and be. The words are there to give you the co-ordinates as it were.  

When you say “heart” or simply think of the word, for a fraction of a second you experience something – and if you have been ‘in your head’ as it were, or miles away, it brings you back to that place in your being where your heart is and from there you notice thoughts and can let them go or let them be there.

You just stay relaxed where your heart is, but not particularly focusing on it. There is no use or point in doing that. If you think you have to focus on the heart it will definitely defeat the objective.  It is more like remembering something you know very well but keep forgetting and getting distracted away from.

Focusing on thoughts can have that effect. As we notice them we don’t focus on them, we let them go because it’s their nature to just go somehow and yet they don’t really ever come from anywhere do they?  There is no need to focus on them but still we know they are there or are sort of there…

And it’s the same with the heart except it is not its nature to come and go like thoughts.  We are always where our heart is, that doesn’t change. So it’s just a matter of reminding ourselves that that is always the case and then not focus on that – as you say the focusing is a kind of thought and we are just letting thoughts go.

It is the same with ‘wake’. When we hear ‘wake’ something happens for a fraction of a second – it reminds us to wake and somehow intuitively we know what that means – but it’s not something we can focus on or even ‘do’ in the ordinary sense. But when we suddenly wake up we are aware in a sharp and alive way and that is how to be when we sit in meditation.

‘Open’ sounds like something I could do but it’s not telling us to do anything – it’s reminding us how open our awareness naturally is and we can let go into that openness – openness of awareness itself – that quality of not being anywhere or any time or anything, just relaxed and open.

It is intuitive and not something you focus on or try to maintain – you simply remember from time to time when you wake and you open from the heart, it’s not an intellectual exercise at all.

‘Be’ is very mysterious – we are ‘be’-ing already so how to ‘be’ more? We cannot focus on ‘be’-ing. It is just a very, very short reminder that there is nothing to ‘do’ and for a fraction of a second that might seem to make sense, and then somehow it doesn’t.

Just let the thought go and to what extent you can, just let yourself be yourself, just as you are fine, in essence you always were and always will be just fine – that is a way of being to aspire to.  

Maybe remembering ‘be’-ing helps to let go of habits of thought that are constantly telling us to do or to be different from how we naturally are.
That is all really. There is nothing to focus on at all in this instruction, and that is what makes it seem confusing and difficult!

Lama Shenpen

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