A Zen Meditation Practicing the Verb or Practicing the Noun?

We have a lot of terminology concerning the art of meditation. A lot of words and phrases that point to something but cannot actually define the thing. A large part of that is due to us working with the ephemeral mind. If we pay attention we are constantly running a variety of thoughts within a thought stream. One of the areas in which we train and study is Awareness. We call it an Awareness Practice.

One of the conclusions I have is that, in Awareness practice, we are training to be intentionally aware of awareness, how to focus our awareness, and what to focus our awareness upon. We are not trying to gain more awareness or develop awareness, we are developing the intent to remain aware of awareness and it’s application.

We are always “aware.” There is no state that exists from which we are developing awareness. So, we are never practicing to be aware, we are practicing application of the awareness. The state of “Aware” is modified by the swing between Conditioned awareness, which is what we experience most of the time, and Attentional awareness, which is that state of genuine focus, clarity, and sense of presence. It’s a state of awareness being aware of itself.

Our central nervous system is set up to scan. We inherit that from our ancestors who needed to keep scanning the environment to stay alive. No one actually knows how much we can increase our ability to resist scanning. I think it’s going to depend on multiple factors including, biology, chemistry, genetic hard wiring, emotional structure, psychology, intelligence, physical capabilities, emotional state, and creative state. Humans vary by degrees in many ways and on many levels. One of the most beautiful things about being human is when we take the time to celebrate the difference.

When we say we are practicing it means we are engaged in being aware. There is more than one aware state just as there is more than one definition of “Practice.”

Conditioned awareness rests on automatic reactions to environment and is built on memory and imagination of possible futures. It has little clarity. It’s the mechanism that allows us to react and not have to learn a reaction over and over. Learning everything as a separate experience would eat up an enormous amount of time in our lives and would run contrary to our survival. Conditioned awareness relies heavily on the narrative that is run by Conditioned personality. It is opinionated, critical, judgmental, and grasping. If we allow it power it will act as the cruise director, judge, guilt producer, and giver of both punishment and reward.

Attentional awareness is built on inclusive awareness, breathing, a sense of Being, and responding in conjunction with “What is.” It is accepting and compassionate. Because it holds clarity it sees things closer to what they are instead of what they are “supposed” to be. In other words, it sees things approximate to the body in the now in which we intend awareness. It’s aware of the narrative that Conditioned awareness offers but does not engage in the dialogue. Attentional awareness has a strength that is built on non-verbal awareness. It doesn’t necessarily need language to process contact. Attentional awareness can be anywhere from broad scanning to a narrow focus depending on interest and engagement.

Practice as a Verb: Performing an exercise or activity on a regular basis or repeatedly to gain or improve proficiency.  Preparation oriented. 

Practice as a Noun: The actual Application or use of an idea, belief, or method as opposed to theories about application. Application orientation.

Knowing the difference between these two forms of practicing is vital. There is a tendency to become stuck in the verbal form and spend years “training” but never actually finding a place of application in our daily lives. These definitions are truthful for any endeavor we label “practice” and applies to all things pertaining to our expansion. How many times do we need to “Study” something before we apply and actualize it?

The reason I find the difference crucial? Initially our intent is to acquire some skills. If we continue to believe that we are “practicing” to acquire, and to be more proficient at meditation, we use our time in preparation instead of application. We can find ourselves “Getting Ready” forever. This allows Conditioned Personality to simply keep extending the time spent with the fantasy that we aren’t ready “Yet” and need to keep “practicing.” We find ourselves focused on the sitting as the practice. (Or, standing, walking, and lying down.) It also leaves an “out” if we find ourselves off course. After all, we’re just “beginners practicing.”

Big difference. You can prepare forever or you can expand to be in application every second of your life.

When we first learn to meditate it can be viewed as the verbal state of practice. We initiate by repeating a method we have learned to build some proficiency. Ex: Sitting meditation has certain encouragements concerning holding the body and counting the breath. Then, once we become proficient, we move from a “practicing” state to an application state.

We call our sittings in Sangha “practicing” but in reality we are not training to meditate, we using the noun version of practice called Attentional Meditation. It would be the same state we take and apply to our lives. We are taking the time to exist in Being, Being in a state of perspective. As soon as we gain a space of Intentional awareness we realize that this state can be carried at all times. Meditation practice means gaining more and more ability to intend application because we acclimating not accumulating. We are only practicing as long as we are going through the process of the mechanics. No one can speak to the processing of mind and heart except the experimenter themselves. You mind and heart processes are intimate, personal, and fairly inscrutable to others.

We are talking about a perspective of mind. We are not practicing or training for Ice Hockey. It’s not a body memory, emotional control, or psychological trick. Using the perspective is a decision and intent based on what you know. My belief is that in our relationship with the universe there is nothing more important than paying attention to the artificial narrative that runs continuously in our mind. Until we start to see through that everything is going to be manipulated and devised by past conditioned aspects and future fantasies.

The narrative is not good or bad. The reason we want to pay attention to the narrative? It is conditioned and lives in fantasy, resistance, and denial. It will use any interaction or event to create a dramatic life threatening moment that has no real life except in our mind. it triggers extended emotion experiences that serve no useful purpose.

I always liked the Engaged Buddhist perspective. My understanding is the Buddhism has always been engaged. And I think that’s the difference between spending our lives getting ready or simply moving to engaging.

I am curious about how you see your “Practice” and how you see yourself engaged on a daily level.

Thank you and be well,


2 thoughts on “A Zen Meditation Practicing the Verb or Practicing the Noun?

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  1. When I first started trying to sit quietly, just focus on breathing, it made so little sense, I was very resistant, almost thumbing my nose at how ludicrous the whole meditation thing seemed. I knew invisible realms were real, spirit was real, I didn’t see how meditation would make that more clear.
    In the beginning, I did have to practice. I had to attempt -repeatedly- to return my mind instead of letting it wander. To actually sit still for three focused minutes took a lot of desire really. It sounds so easy, focus on your breath hahaha And then I had to practice not judging the wandering. And then I had to sit with the unpleasant stuff without hightailing it, and more returning and gently learning to find silence. It took a good couple years of practicing -sitting when I wanted to sit- instead of running from my insides and then feeling half crazy because I was trying to run from my own self. Now I can practice feeling safe, feeling nothing, or some other focused state. I can just be in my body. Being in my body is now my practice and I try to apply it as often as I can. I engage the practice now as a gift to myself, a way to nurture and love the mind and body. Hard things to always find the words for.
    Thank you for clarifying 🙂 It helps me see the curve of the change.
    Many blessings

    Liked by 1 person

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