Primal Zen

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  Table of Contents

1) Introduction
2) Words
3) Silence, Feeling, and Attention
4) Thought
5) Forms of Attention
6) Essential Practices of Silence - Still Attention
7) Essential Practices of Silence - Active Attention
8) Zen & Primal

Chapter Seven: Essential Practices of Silence – Active Attention

The active practices of silence are simply attentiveness of mind while you are physically moving. Because there are an almost limitless number of things we can do, there tend to be more active forms than still forms.

When we are active, there tends to be a lot of outside stimulus and there is a greater possibility of distraction - allowing the mind to be inattentive. For this reason, active practices that promote silence are designed with repetition and monotony. The activity, no matter how energetic, is less stimulating and distracting than regular activity. Without realizing it, the distractive mind is "calmed" by the compelling monotony and unable to think. As in still attention, when the mind wanders, you can witness its busyness and let it settle.

Various Forms of Active Attention

When choosing an active practice, be selective and critical of its essential intent. Keep close to your personal style and needs. All the suggestions in the previous section regarding attentiveness and thinking apply here as well.

Many mystic orders use walking "meditation" as a variation from sitting. During this type of walking (often in large circles), you can continue the same practice - counting the breath, chanting, etc. Often walkers switch their focus from their breathing to their feet - instead of inhale/exhale, it is right foot/left foot.

If you wish to walk more actively, especially outside, the focus at first must be strongly on the feet, or a spot ahead on the ground. I say this because until you're able to hold a broader focus, you may lose yourself in your counting and trip or bump into things. Eventually you can try focusing both on the breath and the path ahead, or, of course, total "un-focus" to include everything within your sensory field. This can be deceptive, as the bright, active outside world can allow attention to rest in subtle levels of thinking that appear to be silence, because you're not "talking to yourself." If you're attentive, you'll notice the difference.

Chanting aloud while you sit is a gentle active form only using your mouth, throat and chest. Chanting can be made more active by walking or dancing. Contrary to the usual belief, meaningful phrases often block silence, as the meaning itself is a word-based concept, and can promote more thinking. Nonsense phrases or untranslated foreign languages are best because they are perceived simply as groups of sounds. You can make them up or borrow them from others. It doesn't matter what they are, but a limit of 8 syllables or less will keep you from thinking about whether you're saying it right. Sometimes two phrases with different endings work well together.

Different cultures have tended to create different syllabic groupings and styles. Feel free to use your own imagination or borrow from the singing and chanting styles of the cultures you feel an affinity for.

Stretching Movement
Attentive movement and stretching was made into formal religious practice as the Hindu tradition of Hatha Yoga and the Taoist practices of Tai Chi and Chi Kung. Although there are claims that these postures affect certain body systems and "energy" fields, the simplest and most effective result is the allowance of silence. If one wishes to practice silence during these disciplines, focus the attention on every deliberate movement.

I personally prefer the innate simplicity of intuitive stretching. Just allow your body to slowly move into whatever position it prefers. It's usually good to spend a certain amount of time on the floor so that more muscles can relax. This is not, however, a repetitive form, and can, for that reason, be distracting by virtue of its creative variability.

This is also an extension of stretching, especially when moving slowly and with grace. It can be practiced alone or with a partner, and tends to be considerably more physical. If the movements are creative and improvisational, again it may be distracting and require diligent attention.

The forms of dancing that allow for a more aware attendance to silence are definitely repetitive. Native North American spiritual dancing tends to involve a slow shuffling two-step (right-right, left-left) done in circles, with the eyes down in front. This is often accompanied by chanting, drumming or rattling. In this case, the attention is focused on the feet, breath, chant, drum, rattle or everything at once. In a sense, this is very similar to some forms of walking attention.

Other cultures have different dance steps and movements. Like chanting, the simpler the movement, the less the mind has to think about it.

Hand drums, stick drums, rattles, bells, sticks - any number of percussion instruments can be employed provided their use is simple, repetitive and requiring of little memory or musical knowledge. Steadiness of beat is the key, and at times, certain beats can be accented (hit harder) to give a pulse to the rhythm e.g. -

1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4

1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4

1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4,

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8, 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8,

It makes no difference whether you use both hands or one - whatever works for you. You can sit, stand or dance. Drumming in groups is fine provided everyone falls in with the same beat, or its rhythmic variations. Concentrate on the act and sound of the drumming. At times, subdued lighting, or out-of-focus eyesight helps the mind to attend to the drum.

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© January 2000 by Sam Turton.