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Go Deeper: Practice Modalities for Exploration

Buddhism has well-developed practices for the illumination, development and transformation of consciousness. The most classic form is “on the cushion,” that is, contemplation of an inquiry or concept as formal meditation, but highly structured conversation can also be powerful.

Here we offer instructions for several modes of practice–individual, dyad/triad, and small group–that you can use to explore the the post-session inquiry questions. Choose the form of practice according to what you feel would best serve you (and of course the availability of amenable friends). For example, if you feel you’d engage best with a particular inquiry with the support of one or two other people, try doing that inquiry in the dyad/triad mode. If you sense that you’d be able to engage more deeply with another inquiry through solitary contemplation, do that inquiry in the individual mode.

The intention with each modality is to create a non-judgmental space in which you can explore the inquiry and allow the deep intelligence of your body, heart, and mind to respond.

  1. Individual practice:Take a formal meditation posture and spend a few minutes gathering the mind and body. Then, when you feel ready, drop the inquiry question into the space of this relatively-gathered field. Try not to answer the inquiry cognitively, but rather notice what responses arise on the levels of the body, emotions, and thoughts. Are there places of constriction or opening, pleasant or unpleasant sensation, in the body? Do you notice any strong or subtle emotions? Try to be aware of your thoughts without necessarily believing them. Try to meet what arises in the field of the body, the heart, and the mind with curiosity. How does your experience change as you stay with it? What wisdom does your system offer up in this moment? If at any point you begin to feel overwhelmed by strong thoughts, emotions, or sensations, acknowledge what experience has come to the fore and then let yourself drop back into an experience that supports mindful presence—hearing, the breath, or the sensations of the body touching the ground, for example. When you feel more gathered, try gently dropping the inquiry into your practice again. You may find it helpful to go through this process—gathering, then dropping in the inquiry question—multiple times in the course of your meditation. As you draw your meditation to a close, try appreciating your system for its intelligence and responsiveness. When you have ended this meditation, feel free to journal otherwise reflect in any other way on what you experienced.
  2. Dyad/triad practice:This practice can be done with a total of two (dyad) or three (triad) people. Sit comfortably facing your partner(s) and make sure you have a timing device at hand. Decide who will take the role of the speaker and who will take the role of the listener(s) for the first round. The speaker begins by taking 5 minutes to voice their responses to the inquiry question. When you’re the speaker, don’t feel you need to speak quickly or continuously. If it would be helpful to slow down or to take a pause at any point, feel free to do so. However, we do recommend you take the whole 5 minutes, even if you feel you’ve run out of things to say. Sometimes, by sticking with the discomfort of this feeling, it’s possible to uncover new layers of response and wisdom. When you’re speaking, it’s not necessary to make eye-contact or even keep your eyes open for the whole time, though it can be helpful to let yourself notice every now and then that there are others here with you, supporting your inquiry. It is the responsibility of the listener(s) to hold a space for exploration by listening deeply and non-judgmentally, without offering any response to what the speaker says. Mindfulness of body is a great support for helping both/all members of the dyad/triad to stay grounded while listening and speaking. When the timer goes off, the speaker draws their reflections to a close. Feel free to thank each other for your offerings/attention. Then change roles and allow the other/another person to respond to the inquiry for 5 minutes. When you have both/all taken a turn as speaker, spend another 5-10 minutes talking freely together about what this experience was like for you. Were you surprised by anything you said or heard? What did you notice on the levels of the body, the heart, and the mind as you were speaking and listening?
  3. Dyad/triad adaptation:This adaptation can work well for helping you uncover layers of response or meaning around an inquiry. Decide who will be the speaker first and who will be the questioner (in a triad, there will be one person without a speaking role; the job of both this person and the questioner is to listen and hold the space for the speaker). When you’ve started the timer, the questioner begins the inquiry by posing the question to the speaker. The speaker responds, and when they have finished offering a response to the question, the questioner says, “Thank you.” They then repeat the question, to which the speaker offers another response, and the questioner offers another “Thank you.” This continues until the 5 minutes is up, at which point you can thank each other and change roles. The point of this exercise is not for the questioner to interrogate the speaker, but to create space for dropping more deeply into the question by returning to it again and again and to honor the multiplicity of responses that arise.
  4. Small group practice: Take a silent minute to sense into the various manifestations of body that are present in this particular small group configuration: individual body, social body, earth’s body. Then each person can take turns speaking for several minutes in response to the inquiry question. Feel free to use a timer if the group feels this would be helpful. All of the speaking and listening guidelines offered above apply here. Then spend 5-10 minutes talking as a group about what the experience of speaking and listening on the terrain of this particular inquiry was like for you.

No matter what mode of practice you chose, we invite you to share your reflections on each sessions “community discussion” section (at the bottom of each session page).