The Primary or Central Practice

Ken presents this meditation practice in many retreat talks calling it either the primary or the central practice. You'll also find a longish version posted here, presented in the context of a workshop on the Heart Sutra.

Here's a version of the instructions for the primary practice that I like very much :).

The Primary Practice (from WS01: Warrior's Solution (retreat) (revised) 00:22:28.00 - 00:29:53.00)
(download into iTunes)

The clip has a low sound volume and a high noise level. Below is another version with a noise filter applied.  It has less noise, but a higher volume. 

The Primary Practice (from WS01: Warrior's Solution (retreat) (revised) 00:22:28.00 - 00:29:53.00)
(download into iTunes)
The awareness practice I will also introduce this evening. Many of you have had this before. It goes by the name, the primary practice and it is a method of coming into awareness. There are four steps: focus, field, internal material, presence.

So right now, pick a focus for your attention, it can be anything. It can be your breath. It can be an external object. It can be an internal sensation, it doesn't matter. It's simply a focus. And when you move into focus, you'll feel a shift in your energy.

Now, let the focus, or your attention rather, expand to the field, the whole field of sensory experience: sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, all of them. And you'll probably experience another shift in energy.

And resting in that experience, now include all of the stories, feelings, evaluations, beliefs, and perceptual frameworks in you, all of your internal material, all that you can be aware of in the moment. Just include it all.

And now, drop any sense of inside or outside, there is simply the totality of experience that arises in the moment.

And you rest there.

And when the sense of presence diminishes, return to focus, and field and internal material and dropping inside and outside.

In this work, do not try to hold states. That is a form of practice, but in a certain sense in which we live and practice, it doesn't seem to be the best form of practice.  The better form is when you feel the quality of presence or awareness fading, diminishing, being lost in confusion or cloudiness--however you experience it--then move into that experience through the primary practice, through the four steps. So there's a constant returning and resting rather than a sense of establishing and holding.

Return and rest, and then return and rest.

And return and rest.

Another version:

Primary Practice (from ATP10: A Trackless Path (retreat) 00:23:22.2 - 00:30:00.2) (download into iTunes)
Well, I think I'm going to just spend a few minutes on Pat's question to Tom to start off with, and then do something a little different this evening. I think we did this in Montreal at some point during the weekend,  what we're calling the primary practice. This is the name a very good friend of mine gives it. It's a way initially of coming into the experience of attention. As it matures it's coming into the experience of awareness, and eventually is a way of coming into the experience of presence.

The method is the same for all three essentially. And as Tom was saying we begin by opening to everything we experience through our senses. And there are a couple of different ways you can do that. One is to select a visual object and rest in the experience of that object and gradually expand the visual field until you're including everything in your visual field. And then add hearing and touch, smelling and tasting. There's no particular order there. You could also start with sound.

Another way, which I've often done, is to start with the sensation of breathing which is primarily a kinesthetic sensation. And expand from that to include all sensory sensations. That's the first step. Then one opens to all internal the material which is what Tom was referring to as all the thoughts and emotions and stuff like that. They'll be beliefs and attitudes. All kinds of things. Many of them disagreeing with each other but you don't worry about that. You just open to all of them.

And then the third step;  as you work both those steps you begin to get the sense of a field of experience, some of which we generally call internal and some of which we generally call external. But it's all experience. And there's a field of experience and so we open to that field. And then we open our hearts to everything that is experienced in that field.

And many people find the notion of opening one's heart to things a little strange. But more than once I've asked a person who says, you know, "How do you do that?" So I'll take a meditation cushion being a nice, you know, endearing object. And say, you know, "Think of your husband or your wife. Open your heart." They usually have no problem with that. If they have a problem with that then I'm in trouble. But they open that. I say "Okay, now, here's this meditation cushion. Do exactly the same thing with that." And they go, "Huh." But that's what you do.

And so there's a shift into a different kind of experience at that point because you're very explicitly including an emotional component of attention, not just an intellectual or conceptual or mental component. And you can feel that because there's a deeper level of engagement.

When you can rest in that then you pose the question, "What experiences all this?" And when you pose that question, you'll experience a shift, and that shift is into the experience of awareness itself. What a lot of people will do is try to answer that question and that just plunges them straight back into conceptual thinking. You just ask this question. Experience the shift, and rest in the shift.

Now one can work these four steps slowly, building up stability in each one. And as you practice this over a period of time, it progressively deepens because one is building a capacity in attention through this practice. And one is also transforming the energy of experience of each of these levels into attention. So there's two different things going on. It's a very simple and yet very, very effective practice. Okay?

And another: 

This Clip (from TNE07: There is No Enemy (retreat) 00:00:50.00 - 00:02:48.00) (download into iTunes)

And here's a version with a slightly different twist and excellent sound quality.

Opening Practice (from SUS05: Sutra Session (questions) 00:12:46.00 - 00:20:24.00) (download into iTunes)

And here are portions of a transcript from session 8 of the Five Elements Five Dakinis retreat where Ken talks about the initial steps of the primary practice in quite some detail: 

Last night I talked briefly about the three kinds of meditation practices: the practice of presence or direct awareness, purification practices and energy transformation practices. Up to this point, the principle way we've been working with the dakinis, is as a purification practice. That is, developing a relationship with the dakinis, as a way of transforming the reaction chains associated with each element into the experience of presence. Particular emphasis on the aspect of pristine awareness associated with each element. And yesterday we moved from working with each dakini separately, to working through all of them and touching each of the centers in the body. 
So today, I want to shift the emphasis of the practice from purification, that is undoing the reactive patterns, to transformation of energy and from there movement into practice of direct awareness. Now some of you who have worked with me before are familiar with the practice we call ecstatic practice. But I think it's probably worthwhile to go over it again, particularly for people who haven't had that opportunity. So, if you just sit for a few moments. 
What ecstatic practice consists of is a way of opening to experience. And it can be done in a variety of ways. For today, just pick an object that's in your natural line of vision or something that's when you look straight ahead is just there. So you can pick the book besides Dick's knee. Let your attention rest on that. That step's called focus. You don't do anything with it, just let your attention rest there. 
And then, without moving your eyes, include in your awareness progressively more, expanding from that book. In my case, to include the floor, carpet, other objects around it, people, all the different clothes they wear, out to the walls and ceiling, windows, everybody in the room. So you see everything, all at once. 
When you do this you may find your attention grabbed by a particular object, maybe the color of somebody's shirt. That's equivalent of being distracted by a thought. What we do here is a little bit different. If you find yourself looking at something like that, then just begin again, expanding from that object to your whole field of vision. 
And as you become used to seeing everything in your field of vision at one time, at the same time, slowly move your head and your eyes so you can look around the room. But all the time, you're seeing everything. You're seeing both everything and every detail. So take it all in. 
Okay, relax your efforts. 
Now this is something you can practice when you're walking around. You can look at the river, see the whole river and every swirl and ripple and eddy. You can look at a tree and see every branch and leaf. You can look at a field, and see every blade of grass. And you can look at the road, and see every pebble. If you live in a city--a very good place to practice this, shopping malls. See everything. Go into a glassware store, so you see every glass and the reflection of every glass in every glass. 
One can take this a little bit further. So again, pick an object. Let your attention rest there, that's the focus. Let your field of vision expand to include everything. But now include everything you hear also. Sound of the river, sound of birds, sound of my voice, as well as everything in your visual field. And you can also include all the sensations you experience in your body. Sitting where you do, texture of your clothes, pressure of your body against whatever you're sitting on. You may find your attention just goes to that, in that case just expand back to include all the visual, all the sound. So you sit in the totality of your sensory experience. One can also include taste and smell. There is no editing here. One just includes everything. 
And now as you rest in your sensory fields, include all the internal material. All of the emotions, all of the stories, all of the beliefs, all the values, all the memories of the past, all the anticipations of the future, everything you're concerned about right now. Include it all as you rest in the field of sensations, for all your senses. Don't move from one to the other. You stay present in the sensations and the senses and include all of the internal material.
And there may be stuff pulling here and pulling there. Whenever you feel any of those tugs, expand from there to include everything. And we usually begin with the sense of inside and outside. Sensory sensations are out there, internal material is in here. But all of it's just experience, so drop any sense of inside or outside. There's just experience. 
As you include more and more, you may find your body tenses a bit. If you find that, just include the sensations of the tension. Maybe it relaxes, maybe it doesn't. But just include those sensations. Maybe there's fear or relief--other feelings come. Just include those. No inside, no outside. Just experience. 
And then pose this question, but don't try to answer it. Just experience the shift and ask, "What experiences all this?" There is a shift. Rest in the shift, including everything. 
The version I just gave you here is sometimes known as the primary practice. Because it actually works from the ecstatic practice but it actually includes the essential points of both mahamudra and dzogchen all in one very simple practice. 
Full transcript

And from session 2 of  A Trackless Path:
Now, the steps in the primary practice are four just to make it nice. The first one is, open to the experience of all sensory sensations. What we see, and the experience of seeing; what we hear, and the experience of hearing; what we touch, and the experience of touching. One can include smell and taste but those are usually fairly ephemeral. So unless one's sitting beside a garbage dump or a flower bed or something like that, then it would become quite vivid. That's the first step. And there are a couple of different ways of doing that, which I'll come back to in a moment.

The second step is to open to all of the emotions, all of the internal material: emotions, feelings and so forth. Stories, as well.

The third step is to open your heart to everything you're experiencing. Now it's very interesting--a little digression here--frequently when I say that people go, "Huh? How do you open your heart to experience?" And rather than give a long-winded explanation I usually ask them if they're in a relationship. And they say, "Yes." So can you open your heart to partner, your husband, spouse, whomever? They say, "Yes." I say, "Do that." And they go, "Okay." So now you see that cushion there, do the same thing. And almost everybody gets it. There is a way of just opening--and I'm not quite sure how to put it into words--emotionally, heartfelt way or something like that. But it isn't actually dependent on the object though ordinarily we think it's dependent on the object. You follow?

So people get that quite quickly. What this reminds me of is a passage I read in a book called Against Essentialism, which is a 200 pages of high level sociological theory, which is a sustained argument for non-self. And one of the things he [Stephan Fuchs] points out--and I just love this--we ordinarily think, you know, this is a thing. And it's glass or this gong or book and you are people. But what he points out is that peopleness and thingness doesn't reside in the object, it resides in the relationship.

How many of you know people who relate to, say, a flower or a garden or a car or even a rock possibly, as a person? You all know people like that? And how many of you have been treated by someone or other as a thing. So it's actually the quality in the relationship that determines peopleness and thingness. And this applies very much to this business of opening our heart to what we experience. Ordinarily we say, okay, we open our heart to people. Maybe pets too. But beyond that we don't go. But it's actually possible to open our heart to everything we experience. And it changes things. So that's the third step.

And the fourth step is to open to the experience of awareness itself. That is usually done by asking the question, "What experiences this?" When that question is asked a shift takes place and one rests in the shift. One doesn't seek to answer the question. One simply rests in the shift.

Among all these different versions of instructions for this practice, I hope you'll find one that speaks to you, as this is one of Ken's tried and true work horse practices for building capacity in attention.