Shamatha practice has three stages:
- Sit upright with legs crossed. If you are sitting in a chair, place your feet on the floor. Rest your hands on your thighs. Straighten your back, relax your shoulders, and soften your gaze. Keep your eyes open during the practice to help you relax while staying open to your environment. The gaze is soft and directed about 6 feet in front / downward 45 degrees.
- Become aware of your breath as it moves in and out. Twenty-five percent of your attention is on the breath and the other seventy-five percent is on your senses; sound, sight, smell, taste, and touch. Imagine you are tuning into the overall quality of the space.
- When you realize your mind has wandered, say to yourself, “thinking” and come back to your breath and the present moment. It doesn’t matter if your thoughts are brilliant, insightful, embarrassing, or aggressive. Just label them all as “thinking” and return to your breath. “Thoughts” include emotions and all perceptions, basically anything that distracts us. When you notice this happening, just say thinking and keep coming back to your breath.
Tonglen practice has four stages:
- The first is called “flashing absolute bodhicitta” which means suddenly bringing to mind whatever opens your heart fully and instantly. You can think of someone you love and who loves you unconditionally. It can be a pet, a tree, the ocean, it does not matter. Whatever gives you that immediate feeling of openness and warmth with no holding back. Try to connect with those states to give you a sense of inspiration.
- Focus on your breath; breathing in a quality of darkness and heaviness and breathing out a feeling of spaciousness and light.
- Breath in whatever situation of suffering is before you, e.g., you or someone you know has suffered a loss. Breath in the heaviness of grief and breath out a sense of lightness, ease, and freedom, whatever you imagine would be helpful and healing.
- Extend this practice to all sentient beings who are feeling the same thing in this very moment, e.g. all beings who are suffering from loss. Breath in the heaviness and breath out peace. Make the circle of generating compassion wider and wider.