Core Practices of Awakening in Life


Core Practices of Awakening in Life

Cultivating awakened embodiment and action.

There’s a Zen koan where a student asks a teacher what the point of awakening is:

A monk asked Yun Men, “What are the teachings of a whole lifetime?”
Yun Men said, “An appropriate response.”

The practice of response is where the rubber meets the road for awakening.

If we are only awake on the meditation cushion, our awakening is incomplete, and we feel this as a disconnect in our life.How we show up in life is both our expression of awakening and the fertile field where we continually deepen awakening.

Response of Awakening

The practice of response is consciously working with our embodiment and actions in the world, from the perspective of awakening, and taking our daily life itself as a direct method of awakening. Just sitting in meditation isn’t enough.

Over time through practice, our response to life arises in more immediacy and presence, naturally infused with more openness, clarity, acceptance, and flexibility.

Through the practices of settle, listen, and inquiry, our response rests more and more in the fundamental sense of being with things as they are. When we respond from this place of being with things as they are, what we say and do will more and more be what is most needed, even when we don’t fully understand or don’t know where things will end up.

Fear might arise, hope might arise, but we still respond with presence, care, and clarity of mind. We can relax and trust. This is a response of awakening.

Working with Habitual Reaction Patterns

More than anything, the practice of response is working with deep and fundamental reaction patterns and orientations to life. The most common and pervasive reactive patterns we face in awakening are:

  • Attachment, aversion, indifference
  • Anxiety, avoidance, apathy
  • Fear, control, resignation

In many ways, all of our reactive patterns, at their core, can be boiled down to attachment, aversion, and indifference.

Anxiety, avoidance, apathy, fear, control, and resignation are all synonyms, but are helpful pointers to tune into how fundamental reactivity shows up in your life.

And what we care about most is getting to the core of these deep seated reactive patterns that run unconsciously throughout our lives. They rob us of freedom, openness, presence, and fluidity in our body, words, and actions.

In the practice of awakening, we work with response in two ways. First, we cultivate experiences that uproot or reduce the momentum of these deep seated patterns of habitually reacting to the world.

Specifically, we work with these patterns to understand them, to see how they arise and how they are perpetuated, and what impact they have on ourselves and others.

And in particular we pay attention to the space that emerges in their absence, the freedom and clarity that arises, and the energy that is released.

The other way we work with response is cultivating qualities in ourselves that accord with how things truly are, and a fundamental ok-ness in ourselves, with others, and our lives.

The importance of inquiry in response

The practice of inquiry is one of the other core practices of Awakening in Life, but it’s incredibly relevant to the practice of response. How we respond to the world is greatly impacted by how willing we are to sit in the unknown, how willing we are to not know, and how willing we are to wrestle with ourselves and life as a question.

The stronger our capacity to inquire into the mystery of life, the more we avoid numbing out or trying to control everything, and the more we are present in the immediacy of life, as it and we are.

Results of The Practice of Response

More than anything you feel natural presence in real time more and more.

It’s a profound experience to feel fundamentally at ease in your life.

Secondly and equally important, you will feel more deeply attuned with life and find yourself responding in ways that are generally more helpful.

When you embody a fundamental ok-ness with the world, and you’re willing to not-know, to be surprised by life, you will respond with more ease, getting out of your own way and the way of life, and you will be willing to be vulnerable and courageous in all you do.

This won’t ever look perfect – I can’t stress this enough. The practice of response is not about perfect behavior. That’s just another idea we attach ourselves too and pulls us out of the present moment.

The practice of response is showing up as fully as we can with our presence, openness, and to respond to what is right in front of us, what is us.

How to – The Practice of Response

It’s tricky to give a single go-to practice for response because it includes the totality of your entire life – everything you do, your relationships all of its complexity and nuances. And in many ways your response to the world is, in part, the culmination of all the other core practices of awakening – settling, listening, inquiring, and trust.

However, there is a great deal you can work with both in formal practice and in your life at Improving the quality of your response, allowing awakening to be more easily expressed in your daily life.

Also, having a teacher or mentor can be incredibly helpful in the practice of response. Because response means working with your life in all its forms, it’s helpful to have reflection and guidance from others to help be a mirror for you, and to point you in the direction of the most relevant practices and methods for where you are on your path today.

At the heart of the practice of response is using your intuition and methods that focus on examining your embodiment in the world, looking at the ways in which you unconsciously close down and react to the world. These methods also serve top open you up in ways that are conscious and natural.

One final note that’s important: often practitioners of awakening hold a belief that being open means not having healthy boundaries in relationships. This is absolutely untrue.

When I mention being open, this means more open to naturally make choices around boundaries, both for your sake and for others you interact with. There are no stock answers in the practice of response. Response is about an embodied orientation and way of engaging the world.

A Short Practice on Response

One of the most helpful practices is to notice where reactive patterns are operating and running in your life, for example anxiety.

1. Take a moment to reflect on your life and everything happening in it.

Take note of any situation that feels particularly charged energetically for you. It could be charged with anxiety, fear or even excitement and anticipation. Pick one of these situations to bring to mind before you do a formal practice.

2. Bring this charged situation to mind, then begin the practice of settling.

Do the settling practice for at least 15 minutes. Once you feel settled, look at the charged situation with fresh eyes, feel into it with a relaxed body.

3. How does the situation look and feel now?

When you bring the ease and rest of being settled into this situation, letting it permeate your experience, notice any shifts in your relationship to it.

4. How do you want to respond?

Listen to whatever comes most immediately. Often this is the most reliable response, or at least worthy of exploring and diving into more deeply to see what emerges.

Whether or not you notice a shift right off the bat, over time with your practice, when you connect life situations intimately to your practice in this way, inevitably, your response to life and the situation will change, becoming more fluid and natural.

You can also apply the core practices of Awakening in Life in real time, the more you familiarize yourself with them in formal practice. You will simply feel reactive patterns arising and be able to settle, open, listen, and inquire, quickly and automatically, or perhaps simply taking a moment to stop and do this, wherever you are, and reengage with life.

Explore the next core practice of trust.

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