Monday, August 16, 2010

Book: Chapter Five

Chapter Five: Mindful Prostration

In this chapter, I will explain a third technique of meditation, one which is generally used as a preparatory exercise before walking and sitting meditation. This technique is called mindful prostration.

Prostration is something with which people of various religious traditions around the world are familiar. For instance, in Thailand it is used as a means of paying respect to one's parents, teachers or figures of religious reverence. In other religious traditions it is used as a form of worship towards a divinity, a god, an angel or some other object of worship.

In this meditation practice, you could say that we’re using the prostration as a means of paying respect to the actual meditation practice itself. So, besides being a warm up exercise, it is also a way of creating a humble and sincere attitude towards the meditation practice itself, bringing about an understanding that what we are about to practice is not just a hobby or for fun, but rather something we seriously hope to incorporate into our lives and make a part of who we are; that what we are to about to undertake is something of great significance, of great importance, and something worthy of our respect.

So it doesn’t mean that we are worshiping or bowing down to an individual or entity of any sort when we prostrate. It is simply a way of paying respect to the practice we’re about to undertake. And again, it can also be thought of as simply a warm up exercise, since we are going to be focusing on the movements of the body as we do the prostration.

Mindful prostration is performed on ones knees, traditionally with the person sitting on their toes, but if this is uncomfortable you can also sit down on the tops of your feet, or as is most comfortable for you. To start, the hands are placed on the thighs, the back is straight, the eyes are open, and we start by turning the right hand ninety degrees on our thigh so that the thumb is up, with our mind focused on the movements of the hand. As the hand turns we say to ourselves ‘turning’ and we say it three times, ‘turning, turning, turning’. As the hand begins to turn we say ‘turning’, when it’s in the middle of the movement, we say ‘turning’ again, and when it completes the movement, we say a third time ‘turning’. We say it three times, in order to become fully aware of all three parts of the movement, the beginning, middle and end.

Next, we raise the right hand to the chest, stopping right before it touches the chest itself, saying as we do, ‘raising, raising, raising’. Then touch the hand to the chest, saying ‘touching, touching, touching’, three times once the hand is touching the chest. Then we do the same with the left hand, ‘turning, turning, turning’, ‘raising, raising, raising’, ‘touching, touching, touching’.

Next, we bring both hands up to the forehead, saying ‘raising, raising, raising' while we raise the hands, and 'touching, touching, touching’ when the hands touch the forehead. Then back down to the chest, ‘lowering, lowering, lowering,', 'touching, touching, touching’.

Next, we do the actual prostration. First we bend the back to a forty-five degree angle, saying ‘bending, bending, bending’. Then lower the right hand to the floor in front, saying ‘lowering, lowering, lowering', 'touching, touching, touching’, still keeping it at a ninety degree angle to the floor. Then we turn the hand down to cover the floor palm down, saying in our mind 'covering, covering, covering'. Then we do the same with the left hand, ‘lowering, lowering, lowering', 'touching, touching, touching’, 'covering, covering, covering'. The hands should now be side by side with the thumbs touching. The hands should not be too close together, perhaps four inches between index fingers.

Next, lower the head to touch the thumbs, saying ‘bending, bending, bending’, and 'touching, touching, touching’ when the forehead actually touches the thumbs. Then raise the back again until the arms are straight, saying ‘raising, raising, raising’.

Once the arms are straight, we start all over, this time from the hands on the floor, saying as we start with the right hand, ‘turning, turning, turning’, ‘raising, raising, raising’, ‘touching, touching, touching’. Then the left hand, ‘turning, turning, turning’, ‘raising, raising, raising’, ‘touching, touching, touching’. As we raise the left hand this time, though, we must also raise the back from a forty-five degree angle to a straight upright position. We need not acknowledge this movement, simply straighten the back as we lift the right hand to the chest. Then both hands up again, ‘raising, raising, raising', 'touching, touching, touching’, and down again, ‘lowering, lowering, lowering', 'touching, touching, touching’. And bend the back again, ‘bending, bending, bending’. Then lower the hands again one by one, ‘lowering, lowering, lowering', 'touching, touching, touching’, 'covering, covering, covering', ‘lowering, lowering, lowering', 'touching, touching, touching’, 'covering, covering, covering'. Then touching the thumbs with the forehead, ‘bending, bending, bending’, 'touching, touching, touching’, and back up again, ‘raising, raising, raising’. And then a third time, exactly the same way.

After the third prostration we come up from the floor with the right hand as usual, ‘turning, turning, turning’, ‘raising, raising, raising’, ‘touching, touching, touching’, and the left hand, ‘turning, turning, turning’, ‘raising, raising, raising’, ‘touching, touching, touching’. Then we bring the hands up to the forehead again as normal, ‘raising, raising, raising'. 'touching, touching, touching’, and back down to the chest, ‘lowering, lowering, lowering', 'touching, touching, touching’, but this time, instead of bending to do a fourth prostration, we bring the hands down to rest on the thighs so they return to their original position, one by one starting with the right hand, ‘lowering, lowering, lowering', 'touching, touching, touching’, 'covering, covering, covering', and then the left hand, ‘lowering, lowering, lowering', 'touching, touching, touching’, 'covering, covering, covering'.

Once we finish the prostrations, we continue on with the walking meditation and then finally the sitting meditation. Again, it is important that once you finish the prostrations you maintain mindfulness, not just standing up quickly or unmindfully. Before you begin to stand, you should acknowledge to yourself ‘sitting, sitting’, and then ‘standing, standing’ as you go to stand up, then slowly begin the walking meditation making sure that your mindfulness, your clear awareness of the present moment is continuous. In this way, the mindful prostration will be a support for the walking meditation just as the walking meditation will be a support for the sitting meditation.

Once one has completed a round of all three meditation techniques, one should rest for a short time and, if one has dedicated themselves to undertake a meditation course, should then continue with another round and then another, for the whole of the duration one has set aside for meditation, normally one twenty-four hour period. Once the twenty-four hour period is over, one should seek out one's teacher to be given the next lesson. Since this book is aimed at giving the basics of meditation, advanced lessons will not be discussed herein, and should be sought from a qualified instructor after undertaking these practices in the manner proscribed.

If one is unable to enter a meditation course, one may begin by practicing these techniques once or twice a day and contacting a teacher on a weekly or monthly basis to obtain new lessons at a more gradual pace. This concludes my explanation of the formal meditation practice; in the next and final chapter I will discuss how to incorporate the concepts learned in this book in one's daily life. Thank you again for reading this, and again I hope that this practice brings you peace, happiness and clarity of mind.