Integrative practice hinges on meditation.
No amount of listening, no amount of contemplating, however creative and powerful, will bridge the gap between intellectual understanding and an experiential absorption that guides our action. That is what integration is, bringing view so deep into the bone that it steers our conduct of body, speech, and mind.
All the ingesting of listening, all the digesting of contemplation leads to this. We have pinpointed our material and downloaded it, developed listening and contemplating prajna. Now it is time to install experiential prajna as the operating system for interfacing with reality.
The style of meditation that we apply in integrative practice does not feel much like the image of a tranquil, blissed out cross-legged yogin that may come to mind when we hear the word. This is analytical meditation, the processing of the semantic and intellectual prajnas into the raw material we seek to integrate.
Why is this so important?
Not to belabor the point, without meditation, we remain stuck in our heads. Stuck at the ear level, processing words and their meaning. Stuck at the brain level, connecting the dots conceptually. This is not to belittle the prajnas that arise from listening and contemplating; just to emphasize that they have a place, a purpose, and a point.
That point is to develop the prajna that arises from meditation.
When we sit on a cushion to implement the meditation phase of integrative practice, we turn inward. Up until now, we have faced outwards, so to speak—towards a teacher speaking Dharma to which we listen, towards others in discussion, even towards the world from the perspective of our experience. This has brought us closer, brought the Dharma in nearer to our views, opinions, beliefs, experience.
Now we turn all the way in. We leave aside the talking and the singing and the writing and the thinking. Meditation in integrative practice is a quizzical thing, both conceptual and visceral in alternation. The conceptual side of things is still in dialogue, active living dialogue with the teachings of the Buddhas and great masters. The visceral side of things closes the gap between conceptual and nonconceptual, habituates us to draw near to the edge of conceptuality, readying ourselves for the leap to direct realization.
How is that even possible? Integrative practice meditation begins where we left off in contemplation. We engage in inward dialogue with the teachings we heard and contemplated, once again engendering the clear knowing that pierces through superimposition—a word which simply means laying something inaccurate over what is actually present.
Hitting on that visceral sense of clear knowing can feel like a jolt, like warmth, like electricity, like a cool drink on a hot summer day. Everyone is different, and every topic brings its own charge to the practice. One way or another, at the gut, the head, the heart, or what have you, there is a felt sense of clarity in knowing, of parting a curtain to see what has been lying beyond it. That is clear knowing, a moment of epiphany, the eureka of analysis. It is the prajna that comes of contemplation, now cleaner and clearer than ever, in the space of meditation.
Is that it then? Not quite. As soon as that clear knowing arises, we stop the analysis. We go deeper. How? By using that very experience, that very clear knowing, as the object of our meditation. The practice now shifts to shamatha, or tranquility, mode. Just as in breath meditation we focus on our breath without disctraction, sustaining that concentration with all the balance of lucidity and stillness we can muster for as long as we are able, here, we remain in equipoise, right within the experience of clear knowing, lucid and still, without distraction. This is where the integrating happens.
In practice, we start out hardly able to sustain such a focused concentration. When we fall away, we return to the experiential analysis, again kindling another instance of clear knowing. We sit in equipoise within that. And so on, alternating between analysis and equipoise again and again for the space of the meditation session.
With many topics, we find that we need to repeat this process countless times. From the very start, however, the clear knowing is beginning to color our actions. The view that we listen to and contemplate begins to become integrated through meditation such that it influences our actions. We walk the walk.
Over time, continual practice of listening, contemplating, and meditating brings us right to the edge, face to face with the gap between dualistic knowledge and experience on one hand and nondual realization on the other. Prajna is rising to the critical mass vital to transmission across that synapse, into the space of direct realization.