Vertical Awareness

Vertical Awareness

The concept that most inspires me lately is  the instruction to live in vertical awareness.

The words  come from meditation teacher  Rodney Smith. I discovered the phrase in his book, Stepping out of Self Deception. I have respected the teachings of Rodney since sitting a meditation retreat with him years ago in the lovely rolling hills of Texas.  He has a soft presence and kind heartedness but  he didn’t hold back in his admonishment to us long time practitioners to stop stalling and go for the true freedom the Buddha pointed to.

Mindfulness is a common concept in our culture these days. It is at the heart of Buddhist teachings. But how many moments in any given day do you really pay attention to what you are doing. And why does it matter anyways? Isn’t it easier sometimes to get through the hard stuff easily distracted and entertained?

Beloved teacher Thich Nhat Hahn says this, ” when we don’t practice mindfulness, we suffer in our body, our mind, and in our relationships. In practicing mindfulness, we become a peaceful refuge for ourselves and others. When the seed of mindfulness in us is watered, it can grow into enlightenment, understanding, compassion, and transformation. The more we practice mindfulness the stronger the seed will grow.”

Ok sounds good! I would like to be a peaceful refuge. I want to be compassionate and kind. I really do want a felt sense of  unity that will move me to a deeper sense of service to others.  So what holds me back?

I don’t remember. I fall asleep behind the wheel on my weekly commute. I watch another movie instead of the stars. I pick up another magazine. I buy another book.

I need that string tied around my finger.

The concept of vertical awareness gives me a tool. In horizontal awareness we are looking back – we are looking forward. Planning, regretting, hoping, worrying. In vertical upright awareness we are present in our mind, heart and body right here, right now. Living in our bodies. The three dan tiens lined up!

Mindfulness can at times seem so full of mind. But add to that the beating and breath of the heart and the wisdom of the gut and the possibility to be  more consistently and fully engaged in the present becomes a tantalizing and very real possibility.