Of all the meditation tips, tools, approaches and frames that I draw upon in my own practice and teaching, none has received more praise and consistently positive feedback than the metaphor of the perch.
For context, in virtually every system of meditation I’ve explored (Buddhist and yogic), the instructions invariably reference using the body or breath as an anchor for one’s attention. The idea being: anchor your awareness to something specific, to something concrete, otherwise like an unanchored ship, your mind is vulnerable to disaster – the rocky shoreline, or worse… adrift and lost at sea. As metaphors go, the anchor has its upshot: it’s clear, specific, and straightforward. But what is not so commonly acknowledged is the way in which this metaphor often carries an anxious skepticism about the natural state of the mind. As if the mind were an untrained and naughty pet, or an undisciplined and mischievous child, there is sanction against letting the mind be, and so the sincere practitioner will labor at keeping their attention chained to the anchor as precondition for all subsequent spiritual growth and development. As I type, I can feel the memory of the anchor’s weight on my own spiritual back, having carried it long and far.
After being introduced (by Jason Siff) to a different metaphor – the perch – I noticed how an immediate lightness infused my practice. Chaining the mind’s ship of attention to an anchor gave way to resting the mind’s bird of attention on a perch. The perch conferred an implicit freedom to explore and delight in the full spectrum of experience; the perch opened to everything beyond its own narrow ledge; and for many that I have shared it with, the perch ended the unnecessary tension between what the meditator experienced and what was authorized (by instruction) as correct meditative experience.
In many ways, the perch is the cornerstone concept from which both steadiness of being (samatha) and deeper understanding (vipassana) emerge. And within my model (see here for an introductory overview) of contemplative approaches, Yin Meditation encourages a receptivity to all experience, and in this approach the perch functions as a place of safety and rest when deemed necessary by the meditator.
For much of the last year – the first full year of the River Bird Sangha’s life – my teaching has primarily emphasized Yin Meditation: a receptivity to experience and the safety of the perch. With the passing of the Sangha’s first birthday, I plan to now emphasize aspects of practice beyond the foundational tenets of Yin Meditation. This brings me to Yang Meditation, an approach I’ll loosely define as emphasizing what the meditator does with the experiences they receive, specifically, how the meditator perceives and relates to their life.
In Yang Meditation, I emphasize the quartet of heart qualities known in Buddhism as the Divine Abodes (brahma viharas): kindness, compassion, joy and peace. Moving from the perch of safety to the development of the Heart’s divinity will serve as the intentional frame for, at least the beginning, our next year of practice together.
Terry and I had a wonderfully rejuvenating staycation, and we’re excited to connect and practice with you again soon. See below for the upcoming workshop this Saturday, as well as other ways to practice with us.
In kindness, compassion, joy and peace,
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