Simultaneous Inclusion

Darlene Cohen is travelling to Southern California today to give a workshop to stressed out corporate executives on “simultaneous inclusion.” So on Tuesday night at our Healdsburg sangha, she gave her talk a practice run with us, and had us participate in an exercise.

“Simultaneous inclusion” is the practice that Darlene explains in her book “The One Who Is Not Busy.” It is a way of doing two things: focus at will, and focus inclusively.

Focus at will is best manifested through breath meditation. Keep attention on the breath. Everytime you wander away, just bring your focus back to your breath. Darlene likens it to paper training a puppy. The puppy wanders away, and you don’t scold him or punish him. You jst gently pick him up and place him back on the paper, over and over again. Going away is not wrong or undesirable. It simply is. In fact, the more you “go away,” the better off you are, because that means you get to keep practicing coming back, training that part of mind to focus.

Inclusive focus is when you widen your attention to bring everything into your awareness. Not simply those things based on your own self interest, but everything around you – that way, you can connect deeply with your activity, and find a more meaningful presence with your world.

Darlene says living only in the “form” world, or world of differentiating objects, creates stress – because that’s basically the “to do” list of your life. But you cannot exist completely in “emptiness” (absolute inclusion) either, because then you would not be able to meet deadlines, know when it was time to go to bed, or be able to prioritize projects. She says the ideal state is one of “simultaneous inclusion,” moving in and out of the present moment, forming a direct relationship with your work and your life. “Sink into the refuge of activity.”

As an exercise, Darlene instructed us to walk around the room in a large circle. First she had us focus on our breath. Then, after a time, she had us focus on what our bodies could feel: the clothing against our skin, the carpet under our feet. After that, we allowed everything in the room to come into our awareness, without labeling or differentiating, trying to just let things float in and out.

The next instruction was to notice everything that we liked in the room. And following that, we were to notice everything we didn’t like in the room.

It may sound bizarre, but that simple exercise made some things so clear. For me, the likes and dislikes were very enlightening. I had strong, loud internal opinions on almost everything in the room, either liking it (the art on the wall, the shoe rack, the potted plants) or disliking it (the blandness of the overall room, the light fixtures, the messiness of our cushions scattered across the floor). It was exhausting to become aware of all of that judgment, adding extra value to my interaction with every single item in the room. It was a huge relief to allow, once again, all of the objects to simply exist, beyond what I thought of them, beyond their function and form.

Darlene says many people fear “zoning out,” afraid that they’ll not be able to complete their work if they go into some meditative state. But she believes the opposite is true – by becoming fully engrossed in each task, we can become hyper-efficient.

And that “to do” list? It does have its place. But always thinking ahead creates a “hungry ghost” phenomenon, a craving feeling, which can leave you in a constant state of existential crisis, according to Darlene. Once again, that rings true for me – existential crisis about wraps up where I spend my stressful moments every day.

Now the challenge is to take this simple practice and incorporate it into more and more of my daily life, instead of thinking of it only when in a zendo…

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