Open Practice: Algorithmic Approach to Meditation

In my previous post I described how I do Vipassana practice with lucid dreaming. In this post I’ll share the details of my algorithmic approach to meditation practice.

What do I mean by algorithmic? Algorithmic simply means having a characteristic of a step-by-step logical process–i.e., do this; then do this; if this is true then do this, else do this; repeat until done. In short, it’s like a recipe or a computer program.

I first learned the algorithmic approach to meditation from Shinzen Young (whom I consider to be my primary kick ass dharma teacher). For more details on this approach check out Shinzen’s interview on Buddhist Geeks.

I’m really grooving with Shinzen’s approach to vipassana meditation practice. I find it to be very practical, clear, concise, secular, and uber-scientific. That’s why I’m using it as foundation for my “open practice.” For this reason it is essential for me to cover the basics of Shinzen’s methodology and technical lingo.

The 5 Ways

Shinzen Young is an ordained monk in the Shingon (Japanese Vajrayana) tradition. He also trained under Zen Master Sasaki Roshi.ย  However, Shinzen presents himself as a Vipassana (or mindfulness/insight) meditation teacher. In short, Shinzen has a background in the three main Buddhist traditions (Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana). One of his main goals is to integrate various meditation techniques, not only in the Buddhist traditions but also across the board of different traditions. He calls his integrated techniques, “5 Ways.”

watching Shinzen Young Youtube video on the iPhone

watching Shinzen Young Youtube video on the iPhone

The 5 Ways is comprised of five core practices: focus in, focus out, focus on rest, focus on change, and focus on positive. Each core practice represents a meditation tradition. Each is a technique in itself. They can be mixed and matched depending on the preference and temperament of the practitioner. In addition, Shinzen has a unique approach to noting meditation. See How to Note and Label. For more details on the 5 ways listen to this interview with Shinzen Young by Stephanie Nash.

At first it seems that Shinzen’s methodology is very complicated and technical. And yes, it is technical and it requires a small learning curve to get familiar with Shinzen’s lingo. However, once you’ve learned the terminology and method, you’ll appreciate the simplicity, clarity, and conciseness of Shinzen’s teachings. In fact, he’s the most clear and articulate dharma teacher I’ve ever encountered. But don’t just take my word for it. You can find it out for yourself by giving it a try.

Now that I got that out of the way, I’ll now describe my algorithmic implementation of the 5 ways.

Algorithmic Meditation

Below is the general algorithm I follow when doing meditation. Note that instead of picking just one practice I make use of three core practices every session. I’ve discovered that these three techniques are very effective for my temperament and personality.

Here’s the sequence. I basically go through Step 1 to Step 3 and repeat the sequence until meditation session is over.

Step 1: Focus Out – I focus on the sensations of the breath. I note the sensation of the “rising” and “falling” of the abdomen. When attention wanders I note it and then gently go back to noting the sensation of the rising and falling. Sooner or later awareness shifts or deepens.

If I feel a sense of deep relaxation, I proceed to Step 2.

If I feel a sense of vibrations or waves, I proceed to Step 3.

Step 2: Focus on Rest – I focus on the restful sensations of the body and note it as “relaxed.” I then place some attention on the darkness/brightness in front of my closed eyes and note it as “blank.” I alternate between noting “relaxed” and “blank.” Then I let go… Sooner or later awareness shifts or deepens.

If concentration is poor and keeps wavering, I go back to Step 1.

If I feel a sense of vibrations or waves, I proceed to Step 3.

Step 3: Focus on Change – I focus on the vibratory/wave sensations. I note it as “flow”, “expansion”, “contraction”, and “gone.” From here I just let go, ride out and surrender to the vibratory sensations while noting it as best as I can.ย  Sooner or later awareness shifts and the vibratory sensations disappear.

If concentration is poor and keeps wavering, I go back to Step 1.

If I feel a sense of deep relaxation, I proceed to Step 2.

That’s it. Simple as pie ๐Ÿ™‚

Implementation: Sitting and Lying Down Meditation

I reserve 2.5 hours a day for meditation practice–one in the morning and one in the evening. Each session takes 1 hour and 15 minutes. I use the algorithmic meditation for both sitting and lying down meditation. I use my iPhone as meditation timer.

Generally, my practice sessions go like this:

Morning practice: (around 7 am in the morning before going to work)

45 minutes of sitting, eyes closed, open lotus posture (using the algorithmic meditation)

30 minutes of lying down, eyes closed, corpse postureย  (using the algorithmic meditation)

Evening practice: (around 10pm at night before going to sleep)

45 minutes of sitting, eyes closed, open lotus posture (using the algorithmic meditation)

30 minutes of lying down, eyes closed, corpse posture (using the algorithmic meditation)

Note, however, that I’m not that strict with the timing. For example, I can do 30 minutes of sitting and 45 minutes lying down. I let my mood, my body, and the quality of my awareness during practice dictate the flow of practice. The important thing is that I stick to the practice and make each session at least 1 hour and 15 minutes in duration. There’s nothing special with the timing. I just find this to be the optimal schedule based on my available time and life condition. I’ve decided to do extended daily practice since I don’t have the opportunity to go into long extensive retreats.

I then conclude every practice session by putting my hands together, bowing, and saying “Thank You” to the Divine to express my deep gratitude for the opportunity to practice, to be alive, and to be able to share this “open practice” to all the serendipitous visitors on this site.

I hope you find this information useful. Thank you for your attention.

Comments (7)

  1. Vince wrote::

    Awesome bro!

    Friday, April 3, 2009 at 9:33 pm #
  2. Mike wrote::

    very cool. always enjoy your posts. Shinzen definitely rules! Keep ’em coming man, really helpful.

    Saturday, April 4, 2009 at 7:04 am #
  3. BuddhaFrog wrote::

    Hey thanks for this, I’m going to give it a try. I stumbled upon your blog through the post of Shinzen’s video on Tricycle, which I enjoyed watching; so thanks for that too. Rather different from the Zen I am used to, yet strangely same ๐Ÿ™‚

    Sunday, April 12, 2009 at 7:18 am #
  4. happyseaurchin wrote::

    would like you to relate your algorithm to the 5th way ๐Ÿ™‚

    be well!

    Wednesday, June 10, 2009 at 11:31 am #
  5. c4chaos wrote::


    the 5th way? are you referring to the Lovingkindness (aka Focus on Positive)? if that’s what you mean, then in my case, i don’t incorporate that on a daily basis. at this time, i’m more interested in focusing on impermanence.

    however, depending on the window of opportunity, i can always replace focus on impermanence with focus on positive (as i laid out in the above algorithm). that’s why i love the Five Ways because it allows me to be very flexible with practice ๐Ÿ™‚


    Wednesday, June 10, 2009 at 6:20 pm #
  6. I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own
    weblog and was curious what all is required to get setup?

    I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty
    penny? I’m not very internet smart so I’m not 100% sure.
    Any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated. Many thanks

    Tuesday, April 29, 2014 at 5:55 pm #
  7. My family always say that I am killing my time here at net, however I know I am getting familiarity all the time by
    reading such pleasant articles.

    Saturday, August 30, 2014 at 12:18 am #

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