What’s in my meditation quiver?

Tools for meditation practice

Richard McLean
3 min readFeb 8, 2023

Sometimes I write about what I’ve found most valuable from a book I’ve read or a training course I’ve done, in order to help me reflect, try to understand better what I’ve read/learnt, and remember it. As a bonus, I can thereby also share the key points, and easily refer to them later. For example, last year, I wrote up my top take aways from a management book — a set arrows that I wanted to keep in my management quiver.

This year, I’ve just completed a short, two-week meditation course as part of Henry Shukman’s year-long Original Love program. At the end of the course, we were invited to attend to our ‘quiver of practice tools’: “Which will you keep? Which worked for you? Which are you uncertain yet still curious about?”

Inspired by that program, and thanks to other teachings from Henry and others, I’ve gathered together in this blog post the tools I’ve currently got in my meditation quiver:

Ordinary Mind

This.

Just this.

Nothing extra.

Nothing special.

Enter here.

“The ordinary mind is the way.” [Case 19, Gateless Gate]

“Don’t expect anything. Just sit back and see what happens.
Treat the whole thing as an experiment.”
Bhante Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English

Mindfulness

I am here.

Occupy your body. Inhabit the space of your body.

The body is our primary entry point for meditation.

Hands, feet, seat.

Labelling:

  • Our conscious perceptions are generally either visual (seeing), auditory (hearing), or somatic (feeling). These are the building blocks of our conscious experience, and you can label each one: ‘see’ (images), ‘hear’ (sounds, talk), or ‘feel’ (sensations)
  • As you become aware of a thought (whether visual or auditory), put each one in a labelled box: ‘memories’, ‘planning’, ‘fantasties’.
  • You can use labels to distinguish between inner sights and outer sights, between inner sounds and outer sounds, and between inner sensations and outer sensations, using the labels ‘in’, or ‘out’.

Hear the silence beyond the sounds, feel the stillness.

Breath.

In and Out breathing.

Take a three-breathe journey.

Loosen, allow.

Begin again.

The Four Foundations of mindfulness:

  • mindfulness of the body (posture, breathe, and bodily sensations),
  • mindfulness of feelings — notice the affect/hedonic tone (pleasure or displeasure or neither) that comes bound up with each object that arises in the mind (the breath, a sensation, a thought, a smell),
  • mindfulness of mind — when something arises in the mind, do you notice a mood (eg agitation), or an attachment (also known as want­ing, a pull), or do you notice an aversion or resistance (a push away)?
  • mindfulness of Dhammas (phenomena), which are ways an analysing experiences, such as the hindrances.

Support, Trust & Self-Compassion

‘What’s it like to me right now?’ Just notice. Don’t try to change anything.

You don’t have to be different.

“You do not have to be good.” Mary Olivier, Wild Geese

Just sitting.

You belong right here, right now.

Darling, I’m here for you.

The earth beneath you holds you and supports you unconditionally.

“When you love someone, you have to be truly present for him or for her.”
Thich Nhat Hanh, The Four Mantras of True Presence

Open awareness

You are not that.

Just note gone

What is this?

“Not knowing is most intimate.” Master Dizang, The Book of Equanimity, Case 20

For exploring the shadows:

What am I avoiding right now? (HT Michael Taft) — only to be used when ready to handle difficult emotions

Meditation beyond the cushion

As you move from place to place and activity to activity, pause.
Take in your surroundings.
Give yourself the permission to ‘belong where you are’.

You Belong Where You Are, book by Kat Shannon of her 2015 exhibition, International Center of Photography — LIC Studios — New York, NY

Wherever you are, pause and listen for the stillness.

Open up to the possibility of surprise — of wonder — at the world, at being human. Interrupt the flow of your muscle memory with a pause, in order to really take in the details of experience.
Ask yourself: ‘what is this?’
Let your full, rich experience of the moment be the answer.

Taking out the rubbish is a task your body remembers well. Slow it down; forget how. Watch with wonder: the material of the binbag winding into a knot, the movements of your arm as you lift it, the colors and textures in the abyss of the bin that we neglect.

Throughout the day, whenever a transition comes, slow down.

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Richard McLean

Chief of staff @ElsevierConnect (Academic & Government group). Mainly writing about getting from A to B, teams, & digital product stuff. Personal account.