Spiritual awakening begins to infiltrate our lives once we begin simple practices to bring us to the natural rest of the present moment. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter One of Scott’s book, “Natural Rest for Addiction” to help you get started with these simple practices.
How do we experience brief moments of thought-free presence? Below, I’ve provided some portals.
Three to Five Seconds
Relax for three to five seconds right now and simply be, without any conceptual labels for what’s presently happening. Stop thinking for one moment! Right now! It’s easier to start with just three to five seconds at first. As you practice these brief moments repeatedly throughout the day, it gets easier and the moments become naturally longer. It’s like riding a bicycle: At first you may be able to stay on the bike only for a short time, before you fall over. But after practice, you are able to stay on the bike and ride for much longer periods of time, until eventually riding a bicycle is second nature.
Awareness of Breath
If you find it difficult to stop thinking for a few seconds, focus your awareness on your breath. Breathe through your nostrils, not your mouth. Take a few deep, long breaths, keeping your attention on the breath the whole time. Watch your breath move all the way down the body into the stomach area, then watch it move all the way up and out of your nostrils. Focusing on the breath helps to stop or slow down the mind.
Noticing Thought Followed by Thought-Free Rest
Another portal into thought-free rest is the noticing of thought. Notice that you have the capacity to be aware of thought. Remember, thoughts are either mental pictures you see in the mind or words you hear or see in the mind. Notice the words or pictures that are currently appearing. Look directly and gently at the thoughts and watch them fade away naturally on their own. Notice them from a quiet, witnessing space, without judging, analyzing, or commenting on them. As they fade completely, simply rest in the thought-free space that remains.
Inner Body Awareness
Inner body awareness can also be an effective way to experience a brief moment of thought-free rest. Bring your attention into the felt-sense of peace or stillness within your chest or stomach area. As you bring attention there, you will likely notice some sensation, but you should also notice that, as attention is drawn away from the mind, there is a subtle sense of peace or stillness in the inner body. Rest your attention in that area for a few seconds. As you experience the peace or stillness within the body, expand your attention to notice that peace or stillness all around the body and everywhere else.
It doesn’t matter which portal you use; the key is to notice what a brief moment of rest feels and looks like. What’s here, in this moment, when you aren’t labeling it? Nothing can be said. Nothing needs to be known. The mind is quiet for a brief moment. For a few seconds, past and future thoughts aren’t arising.
Addictive seeking arises through emphasizing past and future thoughts. When you’re taking a brief moment of rest, you’re already completely free of the story of past and future—for that moment at least. It’s important to gain this insight, even if you realize it for only a few seconds. That moment of insight is revealing that your addiction resides mainly in your mind, although there is certainly a bodily component to it, as we will discuss later.
The key is to find one of the portals to thought-free rest that works for you and to use it as often as possible throughout the day.
How often is often? Well…as often as you can. As often as possible. If you can only take a brief moment every fifteen minutes, then start there. If you can take it more often—such as every five minutes, every minute, or even every thirty seconds—then start there. You may even want to wear a wristband or use a timer to remind you to rest repeatedly. The more you repeat this practice, the more often you will be able to rest in thought-free presence automatically, naturally, and effortlessly, with less time between those moments of rest.
When you stop thinking for a bit, you tap into the experience of awareness. Awareness isn’t any thought, emotion, craving, obsession, state, experience, sight, sound, smell, taste, or other sensation that appears and disappears. It’s not any of these things. These things are all temporary.
Different stories have come and gone within this presence throughout your life. The story coming through when you were ten years old is different than the story coming through at age twenty, thirty, and so on. But the presence in which those stories come and go never changes. It’s always here. I’m using presence and awareness synonymously.
It’s the same presence, no matter what’s coming through. This is an important insight. To gain this insight, you have to experience these brief moments of rest repeatedly. You have to actually notice that each time you take a brief moment, that open, spacious awareness is available. It’s the same awareness each time you take a brief moment.
In taking brief moments of resting in presence, we come to see for ourselves that this presence lies at the foundation of our experience, always. It is fundamental to our experience. It provides a stability and well-being in our lives that temporary words, pictures, and bodily energies cannot provide.
Presence is that which is aware of all of these temporary words, pictures, and energies coming and going.
Each time we rest in still, quiet, thought-free presence throughout the day, we experience the relaxed, open view of the present moment. Instead of narrowly focusing on a story in the mind or a single object, person, or event, we take in the fullness of the present moment without thought and allow our focus to be wide open and relaxed. We notice space in front of, behind, between, within, and all around everything we see.
In the beginning, resting in and as present moment awareness feels like a practice – something we have to do. But as we continue practicing, resting begins to become automatic and natural. We naturally begin to shift attention more and more to the peace and stability of the present moment, instead of being “in our heads” swirling in the pain of the past and worry about the future.