Memories are strange. I've forgotten so much about the past, yet some memories have stuck with me in a surprising fashion.
Fairly early in my meditating years (I've meditated daily since 1970), I'd attend talks by Gordon Limbrick, a Canadian. He habitually offered three pieces of advice: "Keep your back straight; smile inwardly; visualize a trap door opening in the ceiling of your mind."
I liked all three tips back then. I still think of them now. With some variations.
Such as visualizing myself opening a trap door on the ground floor of my body also. This reflects my Tai Chi practice. Often our instructor says, "Draw up from above, sink down from below, feel the ground beneath your feet and breathe"." In Tai Chi you want to be rooted in both earth and sky.
Recently I came across a meditation practice in Lewis Richmond's Aging as a Spiritual Practice (I'm an expert!) that fit in nicely with my usual follow-the-breath approach. It focuses on the difference between horizontal and vertical time.
Here's how Richmond describes the two ways of experiencing time:
To age means to feel the passage of time. It is a little like driving down a long desert highway. Each day or month is a passing road sign. We remember where we were, imagine where we might be going, and have the distinct sense that the car keeps moving faster and faster. I call this kind of time "horizontal time."
Horizontal time begins in childhood -- or rather the childhood we remember -- and continues through adolescence, young adulthood, full maturity, and beyond. The story doesn't end today; it continues around the bend toward various imagined futures.
...There is another kind of time I call "vertical time," which means this present moment: this room, this book, this body, this breath. While horizontal time is largely mental, vertical time is more physical and is expressed in the body and breath.
Unlike horizontal time, vertical time has no before and after. It is always just here. It doesn't have room for memories or imagined futures. Memories and futures are like beads on a string; they roll into view one after another. Vertical time is more like the string itself.
As such, vertical time is much less religious than horizontal time.
Religions emphasize the past and future. The teachings of revelations, prophets, sages, gurus, and holy books point to back then. Promises of heaven, enlightenment, god-realization, and knowledge of ultimate reality point to sometime later.
Richmond is a Zen Buddhist priest, so his religiosity is minimal. Mostly in his book he focuses on how to live happily now, not being overly concerned with where we've come from or where we're going.
A WildMind blog post has a nice summary of the vertical time meditation practice.
Here is a mindfulness practice from Lewis Richmond’s book, Aging as a Spiritual Practice:
Think of your life and its major events as a horizontal line. Your past stretches to the left of wherever you are on that line; your future stretches to the right. The events that stretch into the past are clear and unchangeable; the future is blurred: you don’t really know what events will eventually occupy that line or how long the line will eventually be. Think of this as horizontal time.
Now let’s move from horizontal time to vertical time. As you breathe in, imagine your breath moves up in a column from your cushion or chair. Breathing out, imagine the breath sinking down into the same place. “This vertical movement doesn’t go anywhere in space,” writes Richmond. “It doesn’t move from a certain past to an uncertain future. It just rests continually in the same spot.”
I've been doing this for a few days during my morning meditation. I like it.
As mentioned above, I prefer to visualize my breath rising out of a trap door at the top of my head and soaring up into the sky, then sinking through a trap door at the bottom of my spine (or feet) and descending down into the earth.
Richmond also says:
In contrast to a vehicle on the highway of horizontal time, vertical time is like a house resting on a foundation. It is solid.
Even in vertical time, regret and worry do not disappear. But they are no longer the only possibilities. When we include vertical time -- the timeless conviction of the present moment -- we can find relief from the signposts on horizontal time's highway.
Notice too that vertical and horizontal are not separate. They meet in the center of the body. At every moment, we exist simultaneously in horizontal and vertical time.
Yes. But often I'm imbalanced. Horizontal time is too much with me. I'm only semi-present with whatever I'm doing and wherever I am.
Today, while lifting weights at an exercise club, I noticed how becoming mindful of my breathing seemed to bring me into the here and now more powerfully than usual, probably because of the several meditation sessions where I associated my breath with vertical time.
In this four minute You Tube video (past the two minute mark), RIchmond talks about the column of breath and vertical time -- summarizing the meditation practice in his book.