The Mirror of Co-Meditation

-by Rob Schmidt (with thanks to Stuart Goodnick)

After the primary practice of Self-Observation meditation, Co-Meditation is the next most prominent aspect of Tayu spiritual practice. Co-Meditation is a social meditation, meaning that more than one person is involved in its practice. The basic form is simple: two practitioners sit with erect spines as close to one another as possible without touching; when the meditation starts, the two establish and maintain eye contact throughout the practice, with each person attempting to place full attention upon the other. No words, no gestures, no facial expressions are exchanged. The immediate goal throughout the practice is simply to maintain attention upon one’s meditation partner.

For those who have never practiced Co-Meditation, reactions to this description may range widely. To some, Co-Meditation may sound innocuous or even boring, but more commonly the potentially threatening aspects of the practice loom large. After all, humans are social animals, and it is precisely our (physical, emotional, and intellectual) dependence upon other people that makes them the most dangerous creatures in our lives. For most of us, any social encounter in a context that is unfamiliar has the potential to “go wrong” – meaning that another person (whether he/she is a stranger, an acquaintance or colleague, or a family member) may physically harm, threaten to harm, or express something negative about oneself. Those who do not meditate are usually unequipped to appreciate how much personal energy is habitually deployed in defensive postures within the mind and heart. In the emotional realm, we establish defenses in order to prevent, or if prevention is unsuccessful, to buffer confrontations containing expressions of disapproval, dislike, hatred, etc. from others.

Moreover, if one has never engaged in any sort of meditative self-examination practice, it may be difficult to appreciate how hard it can be to maintain the focus of one’s attention upon any object, whether the focus is upon another person, one’s own breathing, a candle flame, etc. Given these and other difficulties associated with Co-Meditation practice, why did Tayu founder Robert Ennis stress the importance of Co-Meditation? More to the point, what can contemporary Tayu practitioners derive from the practice of Co-Meditation?

The first benefit is one that Co-Meditation shares with other forms of meditation: the sharpening of one’s ability to focus attention. Assiduous and consistent practice in focusing attention, as with exercising a muscle, leads to greater strength in the faculty being exercised. The value of increasing this ability can hardly be overestimated.

A second benefit of Co-Meditation constitutes a special case of a general benefit deriving from any kind of meditation: the cultivation of inner peace and clarity of mind and heart. Individually conducted, or “solo” meditation techniques often explicitly guide the practitioner in such a direction. The achievement of inner peace and lucidity through solo meditation is unquestionably a marvelously beneficial accomplishment. But because humans are social animals, most of us customarily spend a considerable amount of time in the company of others. As is recognized in many spiritual practices that rely upon individual meditation techniques, bringing the peace and clarity derived from solo meditation into the arena of relationships with others can pose a considerable challenge.

Co-Meditation addresses this challenge directly. One of the explicit goals of Co-Meditation is the cultivation of peace and clarity in the company of others. It is an admirable thing to develop peace and clarity in a cave, or sitting alone on a cushion in a meditation hall, although when confronted with the pressures of everyday life, this peace and clarity may be relatively fragile. Through Co-Meditation we can learn to cultivate a robust attitude of inner neutrality towards the manifestations of others, whether “good” or “bad.” Cultivation of inner neutrality creates conditions wherein peace and clarity can arise within the context of relationship, because we need no longer identify with compulsive reactions to what others say and do. Moreover, just as we can apply the cultivation of inner neutrality to the manifestations of others, we can also apply the fruits of this cultivation to the manifestations that arise within ourselves.

The basic form of Co-Meditation establishes the safest possible social context within which to cultivate peace and clarity in the presence of relationship. Within this relatively non-threatening context, Co-Meditation presents the opportunity to see the parts of ourselves that scheme to manipulate the perceptions and actions of others, as well as our own perceptions and actions. While these will almost certainly eventually display themselves in continuing solo meditation practice, Co-Meditation provides circumstances within which such aspects of consciousness arise quickly and easily, so that they can be readily observed. By bringing meditative awareness into the social realm, insight into the many compulsive habits of mind and heart that formed during socialization can more quickly develop. As the practice of Co-Meditation deepens, we begin to gain experience in simply being with another person without the constant presence of personal agendas interfering in the relationship.

A third benefit to be gained from Co-Meditation derives from the antidote that experience of Co-Meditation presents to those aspects of consciousness that incline toward self-centeredness. Rather than directing attention toward selfish desires and concerns, Co-Meditation provides experience of others when the mind is at peace, when one’s manipulative agendas are silent. Thus, Co-Meditation provides evidence for the existence and importance of compassionate connections with others. As insight into compassion grows, we come increasingly to appreciate how our own make-up reflects the make-up of others. Compassion permits us to forgive the flaws that we find in ourselves and in others. Compassion supports the arising of gratitude for what we have been given, rather than dissatisfaction and desire for things we “lack.”

The basic form of Co-Meditation described here is but the first of many forms of Co-Meditation employed by Tayu practitioners. Other forms include techniques intended to facilitate the development of habits of clear communication under conditions of stress within relationships. Through cultivation of these techniques, practitioners can learn to use every relationship – without regard for duration or intensity of the relationship – as an opportunity for meditative practice. With their complementary emphases, Self-Observation and Co-Meditation can be compared with the two lines that comprise the “Prayer of the One” chanted at the start of the Tayu Meditation Service: “I am that I am/ Thou art that I am.” Self-Observation is a technique for exploration of the self in the self. Co-Meditation is a technique for exploration of the self in the other. Spiritual exploration begins within; no one else is as well-equipped to know me as I am. But no one is an island; each of us is constituted by our connections with the rest of the universe. Taken together, Self-Observation and Co-Meditation offer practitioners a complementary two-pronged approach to meditative self-enquiry.