by Dr. Charles Gant, M.D., Ph.D
There are two main forms of meditation, namely open and closed field approaches. Closed field techniques are the most popular and simply promote focusing on various auditory, visual or kinesthetic “sensory objects,” in order to divert one’s attention away from stressful thoughts and feelings. For instance, the breath can be used as a focus point. The feelings in the abdomen as one breathes in and out are less likely to cause fight/flight stress than thinking about financial or relationship problems and represent a good way to begin a meditation practice. In closed field approaches, one begins to appreciate how distracted the mind is and how to relocate one’s attention in “the now”.
Open field meditation is altogether different. Instead of bringing attention to a single, sensory “anchoring” point to quiet the mind, one opens the mind to any sensory, cognitive or emotional object that arises and falls in the present moment. With practice, one gradually becomes more mindful in everyday life, including mundane experiences. “Heartfulness” may be better term. As one opens the heart to fully experiencing the immediacy of life’s experiences, some very interesting changes can happen.
With heartfulness practice, the illusory division between the experiencer and one’s experiences begins to dissolve. For most people, the ego erects “boundaries”, believing that “the separate self” exists independently from one’s life’s experiences. Within an open field practice, it becomes clear that these boundaries dissipate, and the experience is the experiencer.
For most individuals, this merger of one’s self with one’s experiences into a vastly expanded ego can require enormous courage. Discussions about culturing a warrior mentality as one works towards open field meditation are well-described in most major religions. Shambhala, the sacred path of the warrior and the Zen ox-herding pictures are perfect examples. The highest jihad or struggle in Islam is the jihad of the heart—the struggle inwardly with one’s fear, hate, envy, deceit and attachment. How much courage did the Gnostic Christians muster when they were massacred by the early church for promoting Theodotus’ philosophy that “each person recognizes the Lord in his own way, not all alike,” according to The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels?
In various ways, organized religions have made the mistake of condemning the ego as sinful, because human minds are capable of tremendous mischief. It seems like half the world is dedicated to anaesthetizing the ego with various psychotropic chemicals. Open field meditation and heartfulness takes us in the opposite direction. The full ownership of one’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors, an objective often promoted by psychotherapists, breaks down that dichotomy between experiencer and experiences. In other words, at this moment: “I am not having thoughts; I am my thoughts. I don’t have feelings; I am my feelings. I don’t do anything; I am the doing.” A fragmented ego becomes whole, which is the root of the words holy and holistic. Didn’t Moses get a message on a hill that went something like, I am that, I am?
In clinical studies on open field meditation, judgementalness was a studied parameter which had the highest correlation to mindfulness, and therefore, cultivating a state of non-judgmentalism is a good place to begin a practice. One doesn’t have to sit or breathe a certain way or attend to sensory objects. One simply becomes more aware of making judgements about others.
The sense of separateness or loneliness breaks down as one heartfully lets go of judgementalness. It becomes clear that the obstacles to true intimacy with friends, family and your partner was never about how they were, but was caused by an unawareness of how we had judged them. By freeing ourselves from the burden of judging, recognizing that our thoughts are who we are, not “me” having thoughts, acceptance of others as they actually are, is easier. Loving and accepting others begins with the courage to love and accept oneself.
Dr. Gant M.D., Ph.D., has practiced mindfulness for 45 years and he incorporates mindfulness-based psychotherapies into his integrative and functional medical practice as an essential tool for assisting his patients to lead healthier, happier lives. For more information, visit Nihadc.com/Health-Programs/Functional-Medicine.html.