Meditation as taught in most yoga classes invites us to follow the path of Patanjali's method, which starts with Pratyahara, meaning "to relieve your senses of their external distractions." Put differently, it's a practice of isolation, one in which we go inside, separating our awareness from a world that Patanjalian yoga (indeed, most yoga) sees as illusory.
Tantrics take a different path, an expansive approach that affirms the reality of this world and everything in it as expression of divine energy. Rather than isolating the senses and thereby the self from experience in this world, in tantra we open to the fullness and wholeness of it all. It’s about embracing the fullness of our energy, in this realizing that pure joy resides within.
What is the actual practice? One of the many approaches within tantra taps into the 8th century Vijnana Bhairava, which offers 112 techniques for opening to ecstatic awareness. The different techniques are tailored to different emotional, mental, and energetic dispositions, and much like most approaches to meditation, one idea is to recognize and let go of clinging to fixed patterns of thought and awareness.
I most gravitate to the micro-practices that can work really well when the mind moves quickly – this being just what the mind tends to do. Here the practice starts with small moments, even just a few seconds, in which we’re entirely present to something that’s happening. Imagine walking in the woods and in just one brief moment your foot crushes a dry leaf, and there you are fully present just to its crackling sound. Or you pass your cup of morning tea or coffee beneath your nostrils and in just that moment there you are, fully absorbed in the experience of your olfactory senses.
The idea is to start very small, very simple, and to be as present as you can be in that very short period of time. Then expand the practice to being just as fully present to all that you sense across the span of a full inhalation of breath. Let this be the practice: just being aware of all you sense as the breath flows in. Then expand the practice to an entire cycle of breath, with inhalation, pause, exhalation, pause, and be fully in it.
Keeping expanding. Next explore focusing on whatever feeling is most intensely with you – what you’re most tripping on, distracted by, concerned about – and visualize breathing that feeling into the vast spaciousness of your heart. Really visualize it, as through the word or feeling is flowing right into your heart, and be fully with it, fully with all of your senses as you feel it that spaciousness. Just as simply watch the thought or feeling fading as though into the wake of the breath behind you as the breath flows out. Stay wit this practice for awhile.
Keep expanding. Now you’re in conversation with a friend, or in an intense moment with your child or your lover. Rather than isolating yourself, or letting your awareness drift away, be just as present to the fullness and wholeness of everything coming to your senses as you were with the leaf crackling under your step. Stay in the breath, and be as present as can as you listen and feel it all.
These are not attainment practices, something with a goal, but just being as present as can be in the full enjoyment of your life experience.