Clarifying Meditative Work
~ A Fresh Look ~
Saturdays 12/14, 1/18, 2/15, 3/22, 4/19, 5/17
2 to 5 pm
(ok to leave at the break at 3:45 pm)
$2 Donation (or as you are able)
(We're not affiliated with the Wat.)
Explore more deeply what meditative work is and how it sheds light on the concerns of our lives, not theoretically, but from a quiet listening that includes others and myself.
Meditative work is not theoretical, not goal oriented. It is the direct entering into a simple, compassionate, open awareness that allows the myriad fears, clingings and confusions of the mind to be revealed in a new way and at the same time brings us intimately, undividedly and lovingly in touch with the wide universe in all its profound stillness.
On Meditative Discussion
We sit for about a half hour and then have an hour for discussion, followed by another sitting and then a final half hour or so of discussion.
The spirit of the discussion time is, rather than talking "about" meditation or "about" our lives, to inquire directly as issues, images, reactions and insights come up, all in a quiet space of presence that allows us to hear each other and our selves, along with the simple sounds and movement of life around us and the stillness that pervades it all.
Talking with each other can bring up many strongly ingrained memories of the difficulties of our human relationships - power struggles through using words, fear of sounding stupid and the desire to say something good, fear of having nothing to say at all, the exhaustion and confusion of talking and thinking. It also exposes us to mind states (through things others say) that are hard wired to strong reactions and aversions in us. In fact, it exposes us to the entire human mind. In all of this, the deeply ingrained resistance to simply being with these things can be felt.
This kind of talking and listening takes a different kind of energy than simple quiet sitting but it also brings us intimately in touch with the patterns that dominate our lives in a way that quiet sitting alone may not. This new energy that allows us to be directly with the flood of reactions moving through the body/mind, brought up by the talking, without being swept away by it, is the very thing that is needed to start shedding light on the way we live.
In talking with people and visiting different groups, I have come to feel that this kind of direct verbal inquiry together is rather unique. It is a difficult thing to enter into and most discussion that happpens in groups usually centers on things such as encouragement, sharing experiences, establishing a theoretical framework for meditative work, quoting from scriptures, giving strategies and techniques or perhaps trying to point to what is often called the absolute.
Direct inquiry into an issue, personally entering into a confusion, concern, a reactivity in presence is a different energy. The energy of presence then does not want to go off into the usual talking described above but stays here with the issue and with the breathing and the sound of the fan and indeed with all life, right here. This is a shining of light into all corners.
This silent, fresh energy is not always available. But coming together in a group is a wonderful way that may make it more accessible. This is the purpose of our meeting, retreating, talking and inquiring together.
What is Meditative Work?
I recently read
a description of meditation by Vimala
Thakar, an Indian woman who
worked with students in a non-traditional
way. She had attended talks by Krishnamurti
and was apparently moved by his way of
approaching meditative work and the human
The impression that I came away with after reading her words was one of meditation as a simple act of sitting still and abstaining for a bit from exposure to the usual input into the nervous system. Taking a little time in which the usual talking input, social input, hearing input, doing things with the eyes, actively thinking about something, and purposefully moving the body are all set aside.
For many people there is no resistance at all to the deep healing, when it finally begins to take root. It may be recognized for what it is - the release of stuff that has to come out, including the stuff of feeling like an isolated individual. One goes to retreat again and again, entering into the stillness that seems to so simply take care of what needs to happen, to heal, to change, to open, to strengthen.
Facilitated by Jay Cutts. Jay has attended retreats with Toni Packer for over 30 years. He meets from time to time with people from varying backgrounds to clarify meditative work together.
Reservations and Info: 281-0684
|The New Mexico Center for Meditative Inquiry and Retreat offers monthly sittings with group dialogue (verbal inquiry) and an annual 7-day silent meditation retreat in the countryside outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico. All events are non-traditional in a spirit of direct inquiry, allowing people to inquire deeply, whether they are working non-traditionally or working within a tradition such as Zen, Vipassana or Tibetan Buddhism or other meditation tradition.|
For Why Retreat and Deciding on Going to Retreat, please click to the retreat page.
I want to talk again about the nature of the meditative discussion – or verbal inquiry – that we engage in during our monthly sessions and our retreat. It's becoming clearer to me that in coming together in dialogue, in the stillness of listening and speaking, what emerges is the functioning of mind that does not belong to one person. One person says something. Another person responds, or maybe has a reaction to the first person. Someone else doesn't understand what these two are talking about and feels irritated or stupid. Someone else gives advice. But it is becoming clear to me that we are all being affected by what comes up. We are all swimming in the same pool of thoughts, feelings, reactions, defenses and sometimes simple listening.
And the amazing thing is that we are also swimming in the same pool of wisdom. In other words as people speak and listen together, there is a latent communal wisdom that seems to become activated. I'm thinking especially of retreat, during which we sit, meet, and talk together over a period of days. During this time, the undividedness of listening together becomes more obvious. We begin to live each other's issues directly, to experience them in our bodies and minds. If one person talks about self-judgment, we all become more aware of self-judment and begin to understand the issues, the dynamics, directly, in our bodies and minds. It is as though we are all working together on each other's issues and when we come back together, light is shed.
On the one hand this listening together is difficult. It can bring up many reactions. It can be difficult to follow and understand what people are saying in the usual way and this can make people feel uncomfortable or ignorant or that everyone else understands but me. It can bring up any or all of the resistances that we, on our own, have learned to repress, ignore, or sidetrack. In this group Presence, we aren't able to apply those strategies. On the other hand, when this undivided listening begins to function in a group, there is much greater pool of energy available for the opening up and healing of self-defensiveness, of powerful blind patterns, of fundamental fear.
The awakening of this undivided mind functioning through a group of people is not a common thing. In most groups of people we are simply a conglomeration of isolated energies, body/minds trying very hard not to be affected by others. But we ARE affecting each other. We are reinforcing each other's isolation. We do like groups in which we have something in common. Then we can feel a small thread of undividedness, one that is safe. But the moment that something unsafe comes up, we tend to run. Perhaps there is a deep feeling in most of us that other people are fundamentally unsafe. And yet, when a group of people begin to be able to hear each other, to be vulnerable, to really function as one undivided listening, it is so clear that that is our real nature and that undivided listening is the key – the only key really – to the coming to light and healing of our deep internal fears, anxieties, confusions.
It's not that we have to create undivided mind or develop it. It is already what is. We are, already, all in the same pool – one pool of the arising of things and the dying of things – but we don't notice it. Because we don't notice it, we don't trust it. Because we don't trust it, we hold back from being vulnerable, influencable, sensitive. And so we act out our lives as if holding back is the only way to survive. The dialogue groups, along with one on one meeting, are a good way, in relation with other people, to start to explore undivided listening, to see it in operation, to see how it reveals things no matter how painful and that in being revealed, difficulties heal. To see that the energy of all life is right here and available to touch our most difficult darknesses.
This takes a lot of patience. The more chance I have to sit together with a particular group of people, the more strongly and smoothly this undivided listening seems to function through us. And the more love there is between us. It's important to come together in a discussion structure that allows lots of time for listening and talking and that doesn't try to prevent difficult things from coming up, and allows for people to speak honestly from the truth of undivided mind, shedding light on that which keeps us living darkly and narrowly. It's also important that we have a chance to do this together again and again, not to turn away when the discussion gets difficult or insulting or heady or cliquish or hard to understand. What is it that we trust in coming back to this again and again? It is not a particular person, a particular approach, a particular set of beliefs or practices, but rather we trust that if we go together deeply into what comes up, the undivided energy of Life will come shining through us, making us transparent together with light, love, healing, and intelligence. One shining Body of being.
At first we don't know how to
talk or listen in tune with undivided mind.
We trip and fumble over our old ways of talking
and listening. This can be uncomfortable, awkward,
frightening, exposed. At this point many people
say, "This group is not for me. This isn't
what I was looking for. I want a group that's
safe. I want peace and harmony. I want practices
that will lead me to freedom. I want a group
that I have spiritual beliefs in common with.
I want to be with people who are supportive.
We need certain rules to make this group safe
for everyone." Aren't those exactly the
old ways and methods? Why not, gradually, by
persisting with it, find our way with listening
freshly and openly? Eventually it becomes clear
that life is one mind and that is what we are.
Then it is not a matter of trust. It is a matter
of the living truth, seen, felt, lived right
here this moment.
The following is a note sent to a number of spiritual groups in NM in conjunction with a notice about our annual retreat. It is an attempt to convey what the work of this center is and how it is not in conflict with specific kinds of traditions but rather is exploring directly a way of listening - indeed a way of being - that is not grounded in memory, tradition, techniques, practices - but arises directly from life itself. I don't know how successfully this is conveyed below, but hope it helps give a sense of this work. - Jay, 10/17/07
I know your group has its own traditions and approaches. You may also have retreats for your members in your own style. I want to say a word about the intent and style of our retreats because I think it is important to clarify.
In talking together about meditation - teacher to student, student to teacher, student to student, teacher to teacher or just person to person without roles - traditional styles, approaches and techniques have a certain place in meditative work but I feel strongly that there is also a living essence of meditative work, meditative communication, that is not part of tradition, style or technique. It is this living essence of simple, direct undivided listening to each other and oneself - out of which may come a completely fresh response or exchange - that we are exploring here in our monthly meetings and our retreat.
This kind of listening is not easy to do. In talking we fall, again and again, into giving advice, sharing stories, providing encouragement. Not that these things are bad. But they often do not come out of direct listening. This kind of listening is not knowable, not teachable. It is not a technique. Even for very experienced sitters and for people in teaching positions, it is a listening that needs to be entered into without anything to hold onto, hands held high leaping into the abyss, to be a little dramatic. It is complete vulnerability. It is certainly not easy.
I've had the opportunity to participate in meditative dialogue time over many years now at Toni Packer's Springwater Center. It is helpful to have this opportunity frequently. Without it, it is difficult to find the way with this direct listening, which requires a very different kind of engagement than just sitting quietly. One of the purposes of the NM Center for Meditative Inquiry and Retreat is to offer this opportunity regularly. For both new and experienced sitters this brings us directly in touch with our own habits of acting and thinking in a way that neither silent sitting nor traditional advising does.
I am not talking about a difference in style such as emphasizing the absolute over the conditioned or vice versa. In this direct listening the conditional is thoroughly and clearly revealed in vast, open undivided listening. There is a thorough intertwining of so called absolute and conditional. We can easily say this in words but to listen in the midst of the things that people bring up and talk about, the questions people pose, is not an easy thing.
This kind of work is not in any way that I can see in conflict with any traditional teachings or practices, I believe, because it is not presenting an alternate tradition, practice or approach but simply entering directly into inquiring. The concern here is clarifying for oneself what meditative work is through bare, honest looking and questioning, together and alone.
The down side of not offering an approach within a traditional framework is that it has no "sex appeal" as a long time meditating friend of mine once said. We certainly don't have a large membership. The plus side is that we have nothing to lose. People will come or they won't. There are many places people can go for traditional trappings. I feel that the role of NM Center for Meditative Inquiry is to discover and clarify the using of our precious time together in plunging into the truth of what we are, moment to moment, as directly and honestly as possible.
I believe that this kind of work is beneficial for people working in a tradition as well as others. It is beneficial for teachers as well as students. Is there a fear of becoming confused about meditation, about enlightenment, about proper techniques? Direct inquiry can only clarify these things. We have nothing to lose but misconceptions and our handholds on self-enclosure, and if they go, hallelujah. Back to Writings Menu
The following was written by "A." in response to a post on a chat list that recommended an article on Positive Psychology and strategies for achieveing greater happiness. After A's post is Jay's response.
The Buddha urges us not to be an optimist nor a pessimist, but objective, neutral and discerning.
I respect the scientists who are committed to learning objective
facts about human happiness. I caution Buddhists, however, to approach this
subject without any great enthusiasm or hope. If science, logic and reason
simply presented in simple words could make people happy, then the world would
have become a utopia during the life of the Buddha, the perfect scientist
of the human condition.
The people of the world have dust in their eyes. The dust keeps them from a proper view of the world. Scientists, educators and bhodisattvas themselves cannot remove this dust. How many people fully forsake household life? How many practitioners achieve nibbana? Very few, because there are so many distractions in the human heart and head.
I agree with Schopenhaur: The world for him was a "vale
of tears, full of suffering. All happiness is an illusion. Life oscillates
like a pendulum, back and forth between the pain and boredom. Each life history
is a story of suffering, a continuing series of large and small accidents."
This is the first noble truth. It is not just a statement of physical reality, but one of human psychology and philosophy. As rationalists, we must be honest about the limitations of science and worldly knowledge.
Perhaps I am overly pessimistic, but this is my view of the relationship between Buddhism and the science of happiness.
With great respect and lovingkindness,
Jay: No one seems to have responded to your heartfelt comments. If I understand a bit of what you saying, you are questioning the role of "positive psychology." It's true that there are certain psychological practices that might make some people feel better temporarily. Some practices might even cause a deeper shift in attitude.
However, for a person who is directly in touch with pain or loneliness, these "tricks" can seem like an insult, like trying to put a smiley bandage on a serious wound. And trying to "make it better" moves us away from what is actually going on.
You have described a painful existence, drawing on Schopenhaur's words, and said that maybe you are too pessimistic. But it doesn't need to be called pessimistic at all. You are describing realistically and honestly what you see without trying to make it rosy and without trying to escape from it into a false hope, whether spiritual or psychological.
So this is our starting point. The only thing that it requires is closer and more subtle observation, patiently, lovingly, without concern for a result and without a goal to become anything "better." We must each do this intimate observation for ourselves.
I find it critical to notice that what I "remember" about life is not at all an accurate picture. Life can only be observed, experienced, moment to moment as it unfolds. If you ask me what life is like, the first tendency is to check in with memory. But memory, by its nature somehow, records pain much more than it records pleasure. Often, even the act of remembering is painful because of this. So it is critical to see that memory is not helpful in having a picture of the world.
The next critical thing is to discover through observation that there is such a thing as direct experience of each moment and that it has a different quality than observing life through the filter of memory. And yet memory - with its knowledge, intelligence, feelings, emotions, relationships, hopes, fears - cannot be simply ignored or cut off. This seems to be the great paradox of meditative living. It is this paradox that leads us to spend more time being deeply in touch with moment to moment life - understanding that this is our life - and yet wondering and wondering without knowing.
As I hear it, what Schopenhaur says is what memory says. All that can be remembered for many people is pain alternating with boredom. Any trace of happiness that is remembered fades quickly in memory. True, there are other people that remember happiness more readily. Some people are pathelogically addicted to remembering and seeking happiness. But in either case it is only that memory is not the accurate place to experience life. It is distorted, innaccurate and out of touch with what is happening right now. It paints a picture that is painful and then tries to create a picture for either getting out of the pain or coping with it, and then devotes its energy to trying to accomplish the picture that it has dreamed up. But it is all inaccurate from the beginning. An inaccurate plan for dealing with the picture of "my life" that is not what my life actually is.
Looking here, life is much simpler. Just this moment of fingers on keyboard, sound of fan, bright light coming into the room, the smell of food. In this simplicity there is a bodily sense of pleasantness. There is also a clear perspective on memory and its limitations, so even though it is memory that is supplying these words and trying to communicate, memory has learned in this body/mind not to project its inaccurate assumptions onto the simplicity of this moment. And this happens effortlessly.
M: Here is a quote from Trungpa:
“I have some good news and some bad news about reincarnation. The good news is that it happens.
The bad news is that it never
happens to you.”
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, trailblazing Buddhist teacher, never emphasized traditional Buddhist teachings on reincarnation—much like the Buddha himself, who famously said that the Big Questions (is there an almighty, how did the universe begin…) don’t matter.
What matters, they agree, is sitting down and dedicating the merit and practicing some meditation. The rest, too often, is discursive entertainment.
Jay: This has gotten me thinking. Why does Trungpa say this is bad news? Isn't it because there is a fundamental anxiety in us about ceasing to exist. And why would someone say this doesn't matter? It seems to matter a great deal. Underneath much thinking is the desire to continue. I experience this in wanting to take care of my material needs for the future and also in wondering who will remember me when I'm gone. Sometimes I wonder about what will happen to me in the future, though at my age this thinking leads pretty much to a dead end. What future :)? A handful more years?
Who will remember me when I'm gone? To listen to a question like this in myself and let it open up and reveal itself. To listen to and feel the anxiety behind it. To wonder what that question means right now in the context of this present moment. What is it in this moment that I would want someone to remember as "me"?
To say that this question doesn't matter really means to me that I'm free to examine it, to feel it, to live it and to find out for myself the truth of it. Who knows what word the Buddha used but I think a more accurate way may be to say that this is not a question that has a theoretical answer. It is a living question that needs to be entered into, come in touch with. The question is not irrelevant but our relationship to this question is important. My relationship to this question is to accept the reality of the feelings behind it and at the same time want to understand sensitively what is behind the question. This isn't done simply by thinking and making something up. For me entering into this can involve thinking at some point but it opens up into something much larger and more direct than thinking.
It seems quite clear to me that meditative work is not a matter of trying to be more intuitive rather than analytical. That creates a battle between these two aspects of the mind. It sets up a dramatic agenda to become one thing rather than another. It is much simpler to drop all agenda and simply be in touch with what is here, which can include many deep questions and anxieties about ourselves and life. In entering deeply into this moment, with whatever mental or emotional movements may be wanting to be heard, the present moment may unfold so deeply that there is nothing really that needs to be continued into the future.
Someone reported that Toni Packer (my mentor from the Springwater Center) mentioned once, during her extended illness that at one point something had happened and the powerful thought came up "Maybe this is it. The end. My death." and with that thought came a lot of anxiety and agitation. Then, at some point, the thought faded away and with it the anxiety. This can be observed, can't it? The active thinking and the feelings of anxiety that go along with it and then if there is a sticking with it and watching, the fact that the thoughts can't continue indefinitely. At some point, they fade away. We forget to think them. And the state of the body/mind changes when the thoughts are gone.
But certainly it's probably clear to many people that this dropping of thoughts is not a "practice" that can be consciously done. It is not a skill that can be strengthened. The deeper thought/emotion anxieties can't just be ignored by shutting out the thoughts, focusing on pleasant sensations, or focusing on distractions, mantras or exercises. In my experience, if an anxiety or thought/emotion pattern persists, it is because it has not yet been heard fully! It needs patient, extended attention and it needs NOT to be manipulated.
U: I would like to know what J Krishnamurti says about techniques as he did not follow any gurus or techniques. Did he practice meditation techniques before he gained wisdom?
Jay: In our ordinary way of thinking, life is based on techniques. By technique, I think we probably mean a series of actions - which can be remembered, practiced, and perfected - in order to achieve a certain result, either in the external world or in our body or mind.
I can't speak for Krishnamurti but from my understanding of how he speaks and from my own experience with meditative work, simple presence with what is happening at this moment is not the result of techniques and is not made easier by techniques. As long as the mind is concerned with techniques, the mind is not listening to what is here right now. It is concerned with a goal - which is an image held onto by the brain. Holding onto a goal in the brain takes energy. If you get tired of holding onto your goal, the brain will naturally forget it. This is usually relaxing but if the goal feels very important, then there may be anxiety when it is forgotten.
When the mind is not holding onto anything in particular, it can become sensitive. When the mind is sensitive, it opens and perceives without a goal or agenda.
So, if you are very concerned with becoming a good meditator in order to achieve a goal, such as wisdom or freedom, you can ask yourself, when you meditate, "What am I right now that I am so dissatisfied with?" Then just sit and observe what you are. What we are does not reveal itself immediately, so be patient. Thoughts and feelings come and go. The mind falls asleep, or daydreams. The body becomes tense or relaxes. All of these things come and go, sometimes beautiful, sometimes difficult. But you can see that none of them is who I am.
It may be that the particular question "Who am I" does not mean much to you. That's ok. It's not important what question you ask. What is important is to look right here each moment, where we almost never look. But it may be helpful to ask yourself what it is that you do really want. What motivates you to meditate? Then if you can come in touch with what motivates you, question it. Where does this motivation come from? And then, most importantly, do not continue to think about it but just stop and observe, silently. Listen to yourself and to the world quietly.
There is nothing wrong with having goals and working toward them. However, we usually do not listen deeply to our goals or consider where they come from and if they are even valid. This kind of consideration requires very careful, quiet listening. It is ok to think about these things but after a while, there is no more to think about. Then continue to listen.
We have goals that are personal: I want to be a person who people like. I want to be wise. I want to be a teacher of people. I want to be a humble sage. And so on. Looking deeply, there are also goals that are not personal: I want the people in the world to be happier. I want there to be less anger. I want there to be less greed and violence. I am sad that each of us must die. I am sad that so many people suffer.
Each of these goals is like a wave on the ocean. It is the part that we see but underneath it is something deeper. It is this deeper world that we, in our hearts, want to come in touch with. The world wants to heal us, to answer our doubts and to shed let on our concerns. If we sit quietly enough, the world will have a chance to do its work in us. This cannot happen if we are busy applying techniques but it will happen for sure if we are quiet and just listen.
I don't know if I have addressed your concerns. When this listening comes alive in us, it is clear that all of the techniques of traditional religions are limited. They are only temporary things that may have some temporary value but they do not shed light on who we are. Only listening can do this. Krishnamurti followed the teachings of his teachers (Theosophists) very carefully and devotedly. But when his mind/heart opened to the world, he saw that these teachings were nothing but confused ideas that had not been examined carefully by anyone.
If I have not been too clear, please do write back with any questions. If you don't agree with something I said, please let me know and explain your thoughts.
C: I've been meditating on and off for several years. In the last 6-8 months I've more or less been meditating every day. Mostly I meditate simply by focusing on my breath. When thoughts arise, I just notice them and move back to my breath. I am able to reach quite deep states of relaxation with this and quiet my mind.
However I'm now questioning whether I should continue this way and whether I am actually meditating or it's just relaxation. I don't expect miracles but I haven't seen many benefits or changes outside my meditation time. I know many people experience a lot of benefits and even have visions, etc. I have suffered from shyness, low self esteem and depression for a while and none of these have improved. I also continue to feel stressed and often find it difficult to concentrate outside my meditation time.
The other aspect of this is that I have occasionally tried mantra meditation. When doing mantra meditation, I find it extremely difficult to shut off my mind, and it takes me much longer to quiet my mind to any extent than with breath meditation. I'm wondering whether the fact I find mantra much harder is evidence that I'm not really meditating properly with breath.
Based on the above two paragraphs, I'm wondering whether I should now move away from breath meditation and focus on mantra meditation. I do find breath meditation relaxing and enjoyable at the time but I'm wondering whether mantra be more beneficial for me. I'd rather do something that will be beneficial to me than something that is easy and that I enjoy.
So basically I'd be grateful for advice on the following:
- Do you think mantra meditation
would be more beneficial for me, particularly
in bringing benefits in relation to stress/negative
- Is it normal that mantra meditation is more difficult than breath meditation or does this show that I haven't been meditating properly?
Hope this is clear and thanks for your help.
Jay: C, it seems that your main concern is that there are issues in your life - shyness, low self-esteem, depression - that are not changing despite your meditation time. I think this is a good thing to consider.
Now you wonder whether you should be doing something restful or something active about this problem. Naturally, these two impulses are in conflict with each other and it is difficult to know which one is appropriate at any particular moment.
Let's consider what is required to shed light on a difficult issue or problem. First, it is important to understand the issue, or, we might say, to come in touch with the issue directly. To take it more deeply, it is necessary to come in touch with the root of the issue. Without this coming in touch, anything we try to do about the issue is at best very partial and at worst a violation, because the root of the issue is not clear. So the first step is to notice and let up on the various efforts to do something about your situation and to let the focus shift gently to being interested in simply being in touch with what is going right at this moment in a simple way that does not try to change it or interfere with it.
Would you agree that in each moment whatever is going on inside you reveals something about your situation? If the heart is pounding or the stomach is clenched, that is a direct, observable bit of information. If one does not try to interpret such things and does not try to change them by moving around, one begins to notice the natural tendency of the body to set itself right if given the chance. The heart eventually begins to slow. The gut unclenches at some point. This happens without our doing it and without our needing to know how it happens!
Let's say you are sitting quietly now and trying to be in touch without judging or reacting. So you are not concerned with focusing on the breath and you are not concerned with focusing on a mantra. Awareness of the breath may come and go. It is not necessary to be aware of the breath all of the time. It takes care of itself! So you are simply letting whatever comes into awareness appear and disappear as it will. Because you are not interfering with the body in the way that we usually do, it is natural if the body begins to feel a little better on its own. Now, the first thing that you might notice is that the mind is almost constantly trying to judge, evaluate, figure out what to do about the situation, and then implement its decision. In letting go of your intention to do these things, you begin to come in touch with this nearly constant activity of the human mind and with how exhausting and relentless it is. This is the beginning of some wisdom about how we live.
Let's say that because you do not try to interfere with or change the way the brain reacts, things begin to quiet down a bit eventually. Judgments or urges to react come and go but don't bother you. They are heard and are finished. Now you begin to think, "Here I am, listening, not reacting, just as was suggested, but how does this relate to the issues in my life that I would like to change? I'm just sitting here doing nothing and feeling okay, but I don't see how this can help in my life."
At this point it is certainly valid, as far as I can tell, to think about the aspects of your life that trouble you. Consider what you know about them. It might be easiest to choose one specific issue, let's say shyness. Consider what you know about this shyness - what triggers it, how it feels in the body, what your usual reaction is to it, what it is that feels uncomfortable to you about being shy, your assumptions about how it should change, and so on. You may well find that thinking about it may bring up some information about the situation. It may help you be physically in touch with the way your body reacts to the situation. You may also find that thinking wants to solve the problem, to come up with a mental goal to fix it. And it may be clear that such a goal is pretty useless. Thinking does not realize that it can't solve the problem.
If you consider what you know about one issue, you may find that at some point, there is nothing else to consider. You've considered what is known and you are at a dead end or at the boundary between what is known and the rest of life. Do you agree that life - as it expresses itself each moment in us and in everything around us - is much too big and real to be captured by our knowing brain. Consider what is going on as you read these words - the sounds, the feel of the body, the space around you, the movements of people in the distance, the silence of the sky. How can the brain possibly make an image of this? What can you say in words to capture it? Can we say that simple, direct Presence with life in each moment is not part of the world of knowing that the brain constructs in thoughts and images? If we sit quietly, in stillness, with an openness and sensitivity, and a willingness to be in touch with whatever actually arises inside and outside, then we are in touch with vast unknowable life. If you stay with this and listen sensitively, you may discover that this in-touchness carries an amazing intelligence with it. In a silent way that we hardly recognize or notice, new information comes into us and the whole body and mind begin to respond, change, in a live way.
This in-touchness is the root of fresh seeing and the source of any possible intelligent healing of our habitually ways of living. Does this make sense?
You may well say, "Sure, I've done pretty much what you're saying for some years and these problems have not changed." This is a sign that there is something deeper that hasn't yet come to light at the root of these issues. One clue for going deeper is to be carefully in touch with the body throughout the day. The body reflects in a concrete way what is happening inside. You can easily begin to see the habits of how the body holds itself, where the tensions are held. As the body unwinds with attention, it begins to reveal the thoughts assumptions, emotions, that are controlling it. Especially watch the strongest emotions and reactions - the defensiveness when people treat you in certain ways, the anger toward certain things. It is very helpful and healing to remember that absolutely nothing needs to be done about any of the things that are seen this way. They do not need to be changed or controlled. It is not necessary to think about how you are going to get rid of them. In very, very simple seeing, the thing is done in this moment. Anything else is extra and perpetuates the problem.
Personally I have many issues that are still healing and unravelling after 40 years of meditative work. Many things take lots of time. At the same time, there is certainly an immediate urgency to address these issues because they affect us nearly every minute of the day. I would highly suggest that daily meditation cannot get at issues in the same way that an extended time devoted to meditation can. I personally go to three 7-day meditation retreats a year and I find that what happens in these retreats goes far deeper than daily meditation can do. I could talk about why this is but have already written a lot and don't want to overburden your brain or mine. I would just say that it is important to go to a retreat that supports each person in finding their own way and does not lay a lot of traditional interpretations, philosophy and rituals onto the retreat setting. It's not easy to find such a simple retreat but there are a few places that I know of.
I hope this has been helpful. If I have not been too clear about something, please feel free to write back, or to share your observations.
I started meditating a few weeks ago. When I first started, a happiness I never felt before washed over me. It lasted for a few days, but then the happiness left me so I stopped meditating. I started meditating a few days later, and again I was submerged in bliss, but for only a few days, so I stopped meditating. Finally, I began meditating one more time a week later, and as expected, the happiness and spontaneous living came and went. I have not stopped meditating this time. Why does the happiness leave me the longer I meditate? I would think the more I meditate the happier I would get. How can I just maintain that happiness?
I think this is something that nearly everyone wonders about. There are moments of bliss and then it is gone.
It's probably inevitable to feel that meditation should lead to happiness and that there is some kind of linear relationship - the more meditation, the more happiness. Alas, it does not work like that!
I would say there is a correlation of some kind between taking quiet, still time and the possibility of moments of simple joy. The most honest way I can describe the relationship is that moments of joy are a natural part of life. In addition, even when there is a more difficult state going on - pain, loss, sadness, etc. - it is possible and natural for there to be an equanimity with those states. We might not call this joy but I think it is an aspect of joy.
If joy is natural, then why does it seem so rare in our lives and so surprising when it pops up unexpectedly? To me, it seems that there is much unprocessed stuff that builds up in us through our experiences. Some of the unprocessed stuff is very deep, not even consciously recognized because it has become part of what we take for granted as ourselves. This unprocessed stuff blocks up the natural channels of perception. Because most of our experience is centered around defending ourselves and establishing ourselves as something permanent, the unprocessed stuff creates a strong energy of not wanting to be changed. Healing requires change and so there is a deeply engrained resistance to change. Of course, this is usually not conscious. We all claim we want to change and heal and open. But on a deep level there is strong resistance to that.
Because we don't heal, joy is blocked. In sitting quietly without engaging the body or mind in any specific activity, there is a chance that some of the surface-level stuff can begin to clear. In other words, by taking some time in which we abstain from adding more experience to the pile of backed up, unprocessed experience, the system has some moments in which we are awake but not adding more junk. This allows the system to begin healing, at least on a surface level.
Even this small amount of healing time may allow joy to flow momentarily. Deeper healing requires longer meditation time. Meditating daily may help. Taking an occasional full day or weekend in which are in a quiet, natural place and abstain from adding new experience to our burden and allow the body to sit quietly for long periods may go more deeply.
For me personally, the deepest healing only occurs with going to 7 day retreats regularly. For many years I have been going at least 3 times a year. With 7 days, there is the possibility of surface-level backed up stuff to clear away and deeper level stuff to come into the light of day. The process of this happening IS the process of joy, though it may not always feel joyful. It is equanimity, wholeness, and healing. As the backed up stuff clears, the whole world may be revealed in its simple, shining nature. Not only does our personal life become simpler and more joyful but the understanding that this is one, whole world of life energy becomes a directly-experienced reality, not a theoretical belief.
I don't know what part of the country you are in but for retreats I can recommend the Springwater Center in western NY. It is one of the few retreat places that offers a simple, direct retreat setting that does not impose fixed spiritual beliefs or practices. Instead, it allows anything that comes up to examined honestly. Retreats are led by people with many years of honest meditative work. Unlike most retreat places, these retreat leaders, in my experience, have no particular agenda.
I hope this has addressed your
question. Please feel free to write back with
any comments or questions. Best wishes to you.
O: I have five questions.
1. Have you adopted the beliefs of Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, or Taoism (etc) and 100% apply this knowledge to your self and life?
2. If possible, can you describe with words a journey through meditation?
3. Is the crown chakra one to reach or be, and if this is something that’s lost once questioned? How is it to be known?
4. What choices/actions add to negative karma, and if truly realized, can it be “made up for” with more positive karma during that one’s current life time (as human or whatever being they are?
5. If form is what something ultimately is, and we exist in a multi-bound world with single things representing many forms, how do we know how far to see/know which things as?
Jay: Dear O,
You have asked some very complex questions. To me this issue of meditative presence and meditative living is much simpler.
I will try to respond to your questions and let's see if we are communicating at all.
Question 1. You raise the issue of beliefs, knowledge, and using knowledge to better one's life. From my experience, a healing of life does not come from beliefs or knowledge. Usually, beliefs and knowledge are what prevent healing or wholeness from taking place. If you have examined carefully what beliefs and knowledge consist of, how they function, then maybe you can tell me a little more about what you mean about beliefs and knowledge and what leads you to think that wholeness comes from them.
Question 2. I don't know exactly what you have in mind when you ask about a journey. Some people have commented that in moment to moment simple presence, there is no goal, there is no movement from past to future. Of course if we think about it, we can talk about past and future, but if one is very interested in this present moment now, and if it is possible to deeply be in this present moment - fingers typing on the keyboard, the sound of fans, the coolness on the face, cool air in the nose, a state of mind that is interested in what someone has asked - then the past and future are forgotten. They've been let go, put aside, left alone, so that the mind can be present and not journeying off into the past or future.
Knowledge and beliefs are elements of past and future, aren't they? Concern with what I've learned. Focus on shaping the future. When this kind of thinking is in full force, the truth of the present moment is lost, obscured, not seen.
For questions 3-5, I don't know what it is that motivates you to ask these things. I don't doubt that there is something meaningful underneath the questions, but you have posed the questions using terms that have lots and lots of assumptions behind them - assumptions that may not be accurate if examined carefully.
In question 3, I imagine you are concerned with how the energy flows in the body and with certain energy experiences. Personally, I leave this kind of thing to take care of itself. If there is a deep interest in the moment to moment presence of life, as it changes and unfolds, then the energy learns to flow where it needs to and experiences unfold as they need to. There is a continual returning to silence, motionlessness, no particular experience, and yet aliveness and sensitivity.
In question 4, I imagine you are concerned with wanting to not have a painful future and instead to have a pleasant future. You are wondering what you can do to achieve this. I feel there is such a thing as more appropriate responses to life, which does not cause unnecessary pain, and less appropriate responses to life, which do cause unnecessary pain, but it is clear to me that an appropriate response does not come from planning out in advance what I should do in certain circumstances. That kind of planning is full of assumptions about who I am and who other people are, and these assumptions do not match the truth of people. Because they do not match the truth, they cause pain.
How can there be any appropriate
response in my life if I do not observe very
carefully how I really live, what motivates
me, what causes feelings of separation? Most
of the time for most of us we are not in touch
with our life at all. Someone might say that
if a person is thinking about how to make their
life better and to avoid pain, then they are
in touch with their life. But what they are
in touch with is the imagery about the story
of their life, and the story of their life
is full of anxiety and the brain thinks it
is real and tries desperately to find ways,
methods, paths, journeys, philosophies, knowledge,
and beliefs to fix the story. What we are not
in touch with in such moments is the simple
presence of the body, how it feels in the chair,
the feelings of the skin, the air around us,
the wide world beyond the skin, and the silence
and completeness that all of this is an expression
of, and the pull of thinking that wants to
move away from the beautiful fullness of !
what is, into the turmoil of the story of our life.
In question 5,
I think you may be pointing to the confusion
of trying to see the world through the eyes
of interpretation. Do I look closely at details
or do I step back and see the big picture?
Do I see things as they literally appear or
do I see them as representations? This is something
that can be experimented with. Going outside,
looking at a tree, how is it seen? Is there
interpretation? Is there a heavy sense of separation,
of longing to be the tree and yet not being
able to? If you want to understand your relationship
to things, then it can be experimented with.
You can ask, "Is this real intimacy?"
You can even ask, "How does the tree see
me?" Don't be satisfied with a quick,
verbal answer or a theory, or a brief experience
that you can tell other people or try to repeat
(usually trying to repeat such experiences
doesn't work.) If you are concerned about yourself
and your relationship to the world - in this
moment, not in the future - then watch, observe,
d this may lead you into the depths of yourself, which may prove to also be the depths of life.
I don't know if I've addressed your concerns at all. Feel free to write back to ask me to clarify something or to explain to me more what you mean.
This writing is in response to a quote from John Welwood, in his book Human Nature, Buddha Nature. The quote was sent out to a listserv on meditation and the following is my response back to the person who sent out the quote.
What Nonattachment Is Not
Unfortunately, we can easily confuse nonattachment with avoidance of attachment. Avoidance of attachment, however, is not freedom from attachment. It’s another form of clinging—clinging to the denial of your human attachment needs, out of distrust that love is reliable.
- John Welwood, "Human Nature, Buddha Nature"
Looking at it for myself here, the issue of attachment is simple, though not necessarily easy to be with. Something triggers a habit of wanting. The wanting may then drive what this body and mind does. Often there is no real insight or clarity about what is even wanted or the assumptions behind the wanting or the fears behind the wanting. So the wanting runs blindly and often causes pain because it is out of synch with reality. It's based on something that is not true.
Sometimes the arising of a wanting habit - triggered by something unnoticed - is noticeable. It is possible, somehow and some times, that instead of the energy rushing into the acting out of the wanting, the energy instead begins to enter into the wanting habit and sheds light on it. Then it can start to become clear what is behind the wanting. "Ah, I'm afraid that this person doesn't like me any more. I think that if I can see their face and if their face is smiling at me, I will feel secure and loved. How interesting. The effect of a smiling face..."
It's amazing to me how healing this opening up and shedding of light onto habit is. Sometimes people talk as if attachments are bad. This doesn't seem right to me. It's beautiful when an attachment reveals itself. There is tremendous love in a habit of attachment being revealed, speaking what it needs to and what it has always hoped would be heard by someone.
So when a habit pattern is triggered, there is either the blind running of it or there is a shift of energy that reveals the guts of the pattern itself. What determines which way it goes? I can't say. It is not a matter of will power because will power is itself a huge habit pattern with a deep burden of unseen assumptions. The same seems to be true of practicing some tools for "catching" attachment. The will powerer and the practicer are dark and deeply entrenched, deeply believed-in habits. We think that is how we need to live, don't we? Give me something to do! Give me something to practice!
But the possibility of energy entering into and shedding light on a difficult pattern - when a pattern is triggered - seems to happen best when there is very little doer going on, trying to reinforce its tools, with the intent to make itself better, make itself less "attached", less "unenlightened." When the burden of this intending and doing is let off, then where are we? Listening - wondering - not knowing - very vulnerable - very touchable. Out of this unknowing, vulnerable being may come - unexpectedly - a different kind of energy in the face of arising habits. There is no one to do this. It happens on its own - the very expression of life.
Is it possible that our spiritual
and self-improvement expectations, goals, hopes,
efforts are deeply rooted in unseen assumptions
about ourselves? What am I? What do I think
I am? Isn't whatever I am unfolding every moment,
to be seen and felt into, unveiled, if there
is not the constant effort to do something
about myself? Without spiritual goals and aspirations
- without any past or future at all to hold
onto - what am I this moment, this only moment,
this profoundly simple moment?
M: I have a question on mindfulness and how I can introduce mindfulness to a specific situation in my life. In the evening, my girlfriend and I spend time in front of the television set, sometimes eating dinner at the same time, but always with a quiz-show, TV series, documentary or movie on in the background.
Since beginning to practice mindfulness meditation and becoming more mindful throughout the day, I would love to hear any advice you have on how I can continue to practice my mindful awareness during these evenings with my partner.
I find that for some reason, having the television on makes me very irritable. Whenever my partner arrives home, without even having talked to each other for two minutes, she wants the television on and then we both sit gazing at the box in the corner with very little conversation. Where do I turn my awareness practice to now? My breathing perhaps? What we are both aware of at the time? The television? Or maybe the television AND my girlfriend? Or, maybe just my girlfriend? I have no idea!
Any help would be appreciated Jay! Thank you.
Jay: I can completely relate to your situation. I face the same thing, though it’s not just my girlfriend, as there are other people in her household too.
I've tried over recent years to find a way to request less television or restrict the hours or have the other people watch in a different room, other than the living room. There is another perfectly suitable room. But it is clear that for many reasons at least one of the other people really wants to have the TV on in the living room. The other person do to some extent understand how it affects me, but the fact is that all of the forces acting on the other person lead them to want and need to watch the TV in the living.
I've faced a couple specific issues in all of this. One is that instead of just holding onto a growing resentment, I've taken the risk to communicate. Just as I feared, communicating about my need to have less TV has often resulted in bad feelings, as much as I'd like to say that communicating solved everything in a loving way. I think these bad feelings made me look more closely at myself and my expectations of the other people. Eckhart Tolle gave some advice about either dropping the resentment completely or, if that was not possible, then speaking up and facing the consequences of one's attitudes.
I've also had to face the intense physical discomfort that I feel when I walk into a room with the TV going. As you experienced, it makes me irritable and angry. It feels like an invasion of the nervous system and on top of that is added the thought of how other people could purposely torture me with this noise. Of course they don't realize it affects me that way.
What does "facing the discomfort" mean? There are all kinds of impulses that come up when I walk into the room with TV going. The impulse to just walk over and turn it off. To ask the other people to please go away. To get angry that the other people are torturing me. To just leave the house. None of these are usually possibilities but they tug at the body back and forth trying to find some release from the discomfort. After years of this there has been some learning that the discomfort usually diminishes after a while. Also, because I only live in this situation half the week, there has been a learning that when I first come here from my quieter private home, the discomfort is worse and after a while there is more tolerance. This has also made me question why my ability to tolerate other people diminishes when I am by myself and to observe this at my own home.
At a 7 day retreat I had this irritation come up once in a very painful way. The retreat is held in silence but one person who was new there seemed to sometime like to whisper to other people. The sound of hearing a voice, in the middle of this silence, was like a knife cutting into me. For several days I wrestled with this seemingly traumatic intrusion, unable to get rid of it and unable to have any peace from it. At one point I heard the person start to whisper again. I felt like I wanted to put my hands around her neck and strangle her. I was full of anger and I felt my hands tense and begin to squeeze (by my side. Not around her neck!) At the moment that my thumbs touched the rest of my hand, the anger and hot feelings completely disappeared. All the discomfort was gone. I can only say that the nervous system - in not being able to run away from the feelings, not distracting itself - found a new way for the energy to move through the system and the traumatic pattern res olved itself.
It is very worthwhile to note that there was no one inside me standing apart from this experience saying, "Hmm, I think I'll practice with this in a certain way." There was an absence of any division into practicer and that which the practicer is practicing. This absence of division is what allowed something new and completely unexpected to happen.
So in your situation, rather than thinking that there is some way you should "practice" with this difficult situation, why not just listen into what is going on for you at that moment? Is there discomfort? Is it being compounded by frustrated reactions to the discomfort? Is there a resistance to being swept away by the television? Is there a fear of being seen as impatient, angry, needy?
You wondered if you should be attending to this, this, this or this. You can experiment with it. I find that when what is going on here is entered into deeply, it is not divided up into different objects of attention. There is just a wide open field of awareness that very simply and effortlessly includes whatever is going on. This is a different quality from the usual attention to one or a few things at a time – an attention that jumps from this to that and is torn between this and that. Maybe in the midst of the anxiety that the television situation brings up, you may discover this open awareness that does not need to jump from thing to thing.
Maybe this is a start at responding to your question. I may not have been very clear so feel free to write back.
L: I’d like to ask you three questions and will appreciate your answer.
1. What is your favourite book (or maybe some course available online) on meditation?
2. What is your favourite meditation technique? How do you usually meditate? What do you focus on? Can you describe it to me?
3. I suppose there are loads of books on meditation out there, but I cannot find anything on the subject of CONTEMPLATION. To me meditation and contemplation are not the same and I’d like to find out more about contemplation. I'd like to start practicing it. Do you know any good books (or maybe some online courses) on contemplation?
Jay: 1. Books. My teacher is a woman named Toni Packer and she has written several books. They are about how meditative work functions in our life.
2. To me the mind is like a pond or lake. If you jump around alot, you stir up the mud. If you are quiet, then you can start to see what it really is. So in sitting still, I don't try to control the mind. I don't try to make myself quiet. I don't try to make the mind focused. It is just a time for a quiet presence that shows what is really going on. This means I may hear things or feels things more sensitively. But it also means that it becomes possible to hear the mind, the thinking, the wanting, the fear. To hear it all without needing to judge it as good or bad. Just to find out what the mind really is.
When I hear the noise in the mind, I realize that that is not what the mind really is. The noise comes and goes. It might get louder. It might get quieter. It might disappear. It might start up again. This all comes and goes. So what is the mind that notices all of that? I don't know. I sit quietly, not knowing, just listening, more and more deeply.
3. I'm not sure what you mean by contemplation, so I can't really answer that. For me, there is listening. Questions and observations come up in listening but it is the listening that is important.
Maybe by contemplation you mean there are some subjects you want to consider, to think about. For example, maybe someone experiences anger and wants to know more about this anger and not just sit quietly. I can understand that. So when I sit down, I may think about anger for a little while. What makes me angry? What triggers it? Do I think anger is helpful for me? If so, how do I think it helps? There may be many questions that come up. At a certain point I have thought of all the questions and there is nothing else I need to think about so I return to sitting quietly. I think the power of these questions then helps me continue to sit. I am sitting without knowing what to do or what to think but I am still interested in knowing about myself, so I stay alert. Then the mind may become deeper and quieter because it is interested in being open, alive, listening. At some point when it isn't expected, some aspect of anger may reveal itself. This can happen when the mind is awake, sensitive, listening and yet still - not actively thinking.
So in this sense, contemplation opens up into meditation and meditation brings up deeper questions and deeper insights.
L: Hello again Jay!
As far as I know there are many Buddhist meditation techniques, but is it possible to say which ones are the most popular/widespread?
I'm asking because I'd like to write something about Buddhist meditation techniques and I'm wondering which ones should I pick and focus on during my writing?
I know that zazen and Vipassana are popular (although they seem to be very similar to each other). Do you know any others that I could/should focus on during my writing?
Jay: When I write about meditation, I am always concerned about being very careful, considering whether what I am saying is from direct observation or from my imagination, wishful thinking, or habitual ways of thinking. I don't want to confuse others with my own confused ideas.
So I am considering carefully what to say about what you refer to as meditation techniques. You mention zazen and Vipassana. Zazen refers to sitting meditation in the Zen tradition. Vipassana is a different tradition. I think what we are talking about is what each tradition advises people to do while they are sitting.
There are various practices in Zen (I started out in Zen and have some personal familiarity with it). These include counting or following the breath (for beginners), working on a koan, or "just sitting" (shikantaza). Vipassana teachers also instruct students to follow the breath and give instructions to just observe what comes up.
Other "teachings" include focusing on various objects, such as a sound, a vision, a certain feeling.
Some of these activities have a helpful place at various times but all of them can very easily become a channel for simply reinforcing our own blind patterns - focusing our minds to avoid being in touch, placing our hopes on an activity that we think will make us better in the future (which can result in spending our whole lives without ever seeing what is really right here), standing back from experience and labeling it, trying to reinforce certain "good" feelings by repeating them over and over again. Our minds are addicted to all of these patterns and the various "practices" can very easily play right into these addictions. In that way practices give the practitioner the illusion of doing something that will lead to improvement in the future, where in reality these repetitions of habit simply lock us into blind behaviors while our life passes by unexperienced. Many devoted practitioners have gone to the grave believing they have devoted their life to something useful and instead they have missed their life. This is sad.
Life is not a technique, is it? The key to living openly and freely lies in questioning this controller that wants to create a path to future liberation and to question the observer. We do this work together, inquiring, questioning, revealing the inner confusions, anxieties, the controlling. We work together in the darkness, not holding to techniques or promises for future spiritual gain. In this work there is no place to stand but there is always the possibility of being in touch with what is happening right now, which includes those habits in us that always take us away from our life of this moment. It is those habits that need to come to light.
Well, you didn't ask my opinion on techniques and traditions but I couldn't address your question without doing so. I think you would find that traditions are based on techniques and that techniques fall into a few specific categories, which play into certain main habits that we all have, which I described above. Perhaps originally, or with the help of a skilled teacher, the techniques were supposed to shed light on these patterns. In practice, for most people they simply reinforce them.
There have been many spiritual leaders who did not work in any tradition and did not recommend techniques. These include Krishnamurti, Vimala Thakar, Toni Packer, Eckhart Tolle, and probably the Buddha. These people talk instead about deep and honest inquiry into the patterns that run us.
Sorry if this wasn't what you wanted. I hope it is helpful in some way. You're welcome to write back with a follow up.
R: Jay, Thanks for reading my question. I'm sure you must receive my kind of question all the time. If that's the case, then I'm sorry.
I just want to know how to meditate. You see, I have read so many different articles about this, and they all say different things, like counting breaths/visualisation/sitting in a lotus position etc. I'm just not sure what to do.
My purpose in meditation is to (hopefully!) clear my mind and my awareness of my thoughts, so I could have greater control over my thoughts.
Thanks for your time
Jay: Thanks for your note. Actually it's always interesting to consider a question again, even if it sounds like something I've heard before. You're different and I'm different than before! So we'll start from scratch.
First of all, after nearly 40 years of being involved in meditative work, I would say not to take what other people, even so-called masters, say too seriously. Actually it's difficult to know how to interpret what someone else is trying to say about these things without having a chance to talk with them in some depth. Often the things we read about meditative work may be out of context or easily misunderstood. It's nice to be able to communicate and inquire with a live person about these issues. Ultimately we need to find out for ourselves what is helpful and what is not. But it is very easy to get off on certain habits and spend years doing something without carefully examining or experimenting with what I'm doing.
I'm glad you talked about your purpose. I think this is important to examine and consider carefully. You would like to have greater control over your thoughts. You don't say why but maybe you find that your thinking easily gets out of control, takes over on its own, leaves you in some confusion, or is perhaps disturbing. It would be interesting to examine carefully what it is exactly that bothers you about your thoughts.
So being concerned about your thoughts, the idea of controlling the mind sounds appealing. It may be important to clarify what you mean by "controlling". If you mean giving the mind and the body (body/mind) what it needs in order to function in a healthy way (which includes rest, quiet time, a break from mental activities) then that seems fine. Maybe in that case "control" is not the most accurate word. We could say that is nurturing or supporting the mind.
If you mean learning mental activities that focus or channel thoughts or mind states, then I would look carefully at what you are doing. That kind of activity, I find, is very tiring and has only limited, temporary effect. It address symptoms but does not get to the root of the difficulty with thinking. Some people have very powerful experiences with focusing the mind. It can have ecstatic effects in the same way that ride a bicycle very fast or running can have, or immersing oneself in a problem or a book or movie or person. This can generate a lot of feel-good chemicals and people can spend years trying to build their ability to do such things and have such experiences. I have the feeling that usually they don't really increase their abilities and in fact the experiences, with repetition, become less rewarding very quickly. But if the person has been led to believe that if they keep at it, they will eventually experience something even more wonderful, they can continue with this for years.
So let's go back to what is the state of mind that bothers you. Before deciding on a remedy, it is probably wise to become much more intimately and carefully familiar with what is going on that you have identified as a problem. In order to do this, it is necessary to take time to sit still - putting aside the physical moving around for a time, because it is clear that there can be subtler listening when the body is relatively still.
It also requires leaving the mind alone! If you try to "do something" - focus your attention, try to achieve certain states, try to "calm" the mind, get upset with what the mind is doing, try to keep from daydreaming, etc. - all of these things simply churn up more activity in the mind and prevent a simple seeing or revelation of what is really going on.
Inevitably, in sitting down, the mind will - on its own - engage in reacting, chattering, fidgeting, daydreaming, and so on - at least at first. There is no need to add any further reacting to what is already happening. Just to see if all of this internal activity - along with the external sensations - can be noticed as it arises. It is also helpful to see if the "noticer" can be noticed. What is the nature of this space in which noticing can happen? Is there anyone behind it, in the middle of it controlling it, or does it just happen? This is an open question.
You might say, "Well, you still didn't tell me what to do when I'm meditating." The value of sitting still is in the possibility of the inner activity of the body/mind becoming noticeable. And the amazing thing is that this happens on its own. If you stop running around and are still, much more is noticed. It doesn't take an effort to notice. Noticing just naturally happens when there is some additional quietness of the body and mind. You may sometimes feel that certain things you do make something more noticeable but if you experiment with it - and don't "do" anything in particular at all - you will find that this noticing still happens.
Many people worry when they realize they have been daydreaming or lost in thought. There is no need to worry that you should have done something to prevent that. My experience is that the brain needs to throw off a lot of excess activity and it does it as daydreams. When we daydream we are disconnected from a lot of reality. That's just how it works. The very interesting thing is that the instant of realizing that one has been daydreaming is already the instant of waking up from it. Nothing further is needed.
So to your question of the mechanics of meditation, certainly it's helpful to sit in a stable position but there is no reason it can't be a comfortable one. If you sit on the floor, try to have both knees touching the ground, rather than having them up in the air, because it's hard to sit stably with the knees up in the air. To get the knees on the ground, you need to sit up higher. I personally sit on a sofa much of retreat.
In a certain sense we can say there is no such thing as meditation. There is only the allowing the body and mind to be still, letting up on our usual attempts to control the state of the body/mind. In some stillness things reveal themselves in a simple awareness that is not personal, that has no agenda, that does come from any efforts on our part. This is not a mysterious thing or an advanced state. It happens all the time. It's just that we don't notice it and as a result we think that intelligence only arises from our self-conscious efforts. And so we set out to become good meditators. It's unnecessary. Wisdom and freshness come when this simple listening is given enough time and space.
You may still feel like I haven't given you any tools and when you sit down to meditate without anything to focus on, you may find yourself very uncomfortable. Isn't that exactly the state that you wanted to use meditation to overcome? Instead of overcoming it, can you live that state intimately and sensitively? Confused, uncomfortable, without anchor, just as it is happening? If you need to find out what it is, there will come the energy to be with the state that is going on.
You may find it helpful to ask "What is the ground, the root, in which all this is happening?" This is similar to the question "What/who is the observer that is noticing all of this?" This question opens up into the body itself.
Is this a good enough start? I don't know if I've addressed your question well or not, so please feel free to write back with clarification, questions or other observations.
I received an email today with the topic Awake in the World. The email was from a Buddhist magazine and it invited people to submit their perspective on what it means to be Awake in the World.
My first reaction was "What does this mean?". Where does this question of what it means to be awake in the world come from? Who would ask this question and in what conditions? On the surface it is easy to relate to. It sounds like a wonderful goal to be more awake amidst the difficulties of life. But on this level, what kind of an answer would I be looking for? Most likely I would want advice. Someone wise should tell me how I can accomplish this goal. Or perhaps I would rummage through my store of experiences and give advice to others. On this level I would want someone to outline some steps, so I can make gradual progress, or I would want someone to show me how to practice the skills of being awake in the world. Or at the very least I would want someone to encourage me that it's possible.
The kind of answer that I would want on this surface level does not seem deeply satisfying to me. Advice, encouragement, practicing skills, seem to only scratch the surface. They may have some immediate benefit but it is not long lasting. So I am asking again what is really beneath this question about how to be awake in the world. What would bring up such a concern in myself or in another person?
One thing that might bring up this concern would be if I reflect on my life and find it to be full of muddle, confusion, mistakes, misunderstandings, uncertainty, having my feelings hurt and hurting the feelings of others, and so on. Reflecting on this means that memory is activated, doesn't it? Stored memory traces of our past experience are activated, woken up, and they reveal their content, which is full of sadness, pain, wanting, and more. Maybe there is some joy in the memory but memory seems to predominantly like to store unfinished business and seems preoccupied with what is difficult and painful.
So something activates this sorrow-self of memory. Is there an immediate reaction to do something about it? To resolve to live better in the future? To plan to be a "better" person, a more awake person? This seems to be part of the memory structure as well – to plan a way to avoid future pain by analyzing what caused pain in the past and by creatively planning a strategy to avoid that "cause" in the future. When the perceived source of pain is the memory structure itself, memory becomes extremely creative in figuring out plans for being "liberated."
If this sorrow-self becomes activated and is felt throughout the whole being, is it not possible for it to simply express itself, with all of the bodily sensations and emotional sensations that are part of it, without the automatic process taking hold of escaping from it into lofty spiritual plans?
Sitting here, deep sorrow just barely under the surface, an experiential understanding of the difficulty of the human condition, the palpable feeling of sadness pressing down on the diaphragm, the hum of the refrigerator, warm air pressing on the eyelids, this itself is the world in its fullness. The world itself is awake in this moment. Sorrow is not separate from it, from the flow of blood, the movement of air, the stillness. To say "awake in the world" seems to divide this single, simple energy of presence into someone that wants to be prepared for difficult events versus the events themselves.
What is the world at this very moment? What is it that wants to be awake? Are these two separate questions? Just listening in open space. Does it matter at all what particular feelings, emotions, sensations, states of mind or body or environmental influences take place? Nothing left to evaluate whether there is awakeness or not. Nothing left to label anything as the world. Is it clear that the world of concern about the past and the future is a dream, a fog? That when this dream too opens to the wide world, there is just this moment, full and complete in itself. What is it this moment?
Question: I assume the purpose of meditation is to gain a more clear perspective on the world and life? I noticed that when I think of people who meditate I normally think of older people. Never children. I am 31 and personally have found that meditation helps me unclutter my thoughts and gain a level of efficency of thought that I haven't had consistantly since I was a child. Do adults have the most to gain from meditation? Perhaps it is like an extra nights sleep everyday to help tolerate this whole aging thing and decline of brain functionality that comes with age?
Jay: Hi. I'm reading your interesting note. I'm trying to get a sense of what your main question may be. You are talking about noticing a difference between the child-like mind and the mind that has come to be your adult mind. Is that accurate?
So maybe let's consider first what this adult mind is that seems more cluttered and less efficient, as you said, than the child-like mind. It's certainly true that daily life as an adult usually requires a lot of high-powered mental activity that leaves the mind tired. Probably for most of us this mental activity is out of our control. In other words the demands on us come from our life situation, including work, and so we can't just turn them off when the brain has had enough. As a result, humanity walks around with exhausted brains.
How does the brain recharge? For some people it may rarely recharge. Sleep offers a chance for recharging but an extremely overworked brain may not even have the ability to recharge through sleep any more. Vacations often are not particularly refreshing. Maybe some people have worked out ways to feel a little fresher after a vacation. Leisure time is often spent in activities that numb the brain - television, reading, etc., though I'm not putting those activities down per se - and often leave the mind even more overburdened.
The alternative is to sit quietly, without overbearing sensory input (music, voices, etc) and without consciously trying to do anything about the state of body and mind. This allows the entire body/mind (one undivided nervous system/organism)to "unwind", to go through its own healing process - unimpeded by our usual efforts to control the activities of the mind and body. This is different from sleep in that, first of all, the body is upright and is receiving simple sensory information and secondly, the mind is awake. There is a kind of healing that happens in this quiet but alert sitting that does not necessarily happen in sleep.
Our poor minds probably have an almost bottomless need for this kind of quiet "unfolding" that heals the overworked nervous system. If enough time is allowed for this kind of sitting, the mind may become fresher than we are used to. It may take on a different quality that only a refreshed and energized nervous system can. Maybe this is what you are referring to with the uncluttered and efficient mind.
Is it inevitable that most of our life is spent in mental and physical exhaustion? We might start questioning this by looking at the external elements of our life - work and personal demands. Maybe there is a way to rearrange things so that there is more healing time. I personally get to three 7 day retreats every year and may try to increase that to more.
In many unseen ways, though, there is something in us that keeps us locked into mental exhaustion. No amount of external change can deal with that. It requires becoming aware of the internal scenery (do you get a sense of what I might mean by this?) with sensitivity, which requires a quiet and sensitive mind.
What keeps us locked into mental exhaustion? This is an important question that each of us needs to find out about for ourselves. In sitting quietly, the activity of the mind becomes noticeable - the kind of things that the mind is continually concerned about, that it does not want to let go of. Do you have a sense of this? Protecting myself in my work, my relationships, my health, my money. Trying to anticipate difficulties that may arise (by continually scanning the memory for dangerous situations) and trying to come up with strategies so that I will be prepared to avoid difficulty. Daydreaming about pleasant things that have happened (which is again the scanning of memory) and contemplating ways to get these pleasant experiences again. In all of this activity the mind is unable to simply hear and feel what is going on right now. And all of this activity keeps the mind working, struggling, burning calories and exhausting brain cells. Anyone can discover some hint of this in sitting still, though the mind may need to recharge a bit before this comes to light.
So the primary "purpose" or perhaps a better word would be "function" or "healing activity" of sitting still and attentive is that a quiet presence begins to take over and this quiet presence reveals the workings, the assumptions, the fears, the exhaustion, the longings of the body/mind, freshly - for the first time. And from this simple seeing of what is really going on but has not been noticed comes an intelligence that begins to transform how we exist.
I have seen people of 80 looking fresh as a daisy and young as a child after 7 day retreat. Much of the aging we experience is the heaviness of a mind that does not understand what it is doing and yet is compelled to struggle day and night.
Meditative work is utterly simple. To be touched by the world and to become visible to oneself, it is only necessary to let up on manipulating, controlling and changing what is going on right now, at this moment.
Maybe this is enough for now. I may not have understood your concerns and/or I may not have expressed my reflections very clearly, so please feel free to write back for clarification.
Question: Yeah I was concerned that even meditation, sleep, and low responsibilities in even an adult life might not keep the brain from wearing down and becoming unfocused and prone towards forgetfulness and missing the big picture as well as the obvious. Would you say meditation can keep the mind as young as a person wants it to be? I just finished reading the book, "OSHO Meditation" and looked that guy up to find that many found his works a little contraversial. I thought most of what he had to say made good sense, but what other common perspectives are there on meditation that are different from his? Is it true that meditation must be in the persuit of experiencing, but not thinking? I can't be focusing on one simple problem in a passive way hoping an answer will rise? People don't "meditate on a problem" do they?
Jay: You seem to be concerned with the aging of the mind. Like all things the various functions of the mind do wear down and eventually cease completely, unless you consider biological decomposition to be another function of the mind.
What is it that you do mean by mind? What aspect of mind are you concerned about wearing down? Memory? Clear thinking? Focus? You can really question and then observe silently if these functions are really what define the mind or if they might be superficial aspects of a mind that is deeper, stiller, simpler.
Another way to look at this is to observe very carefully how the mind functions, what exhausts it and what energizes it, not necessarily for the purpose of controlling because controlling is clearly one of the things that exhausts the mind.
And what about the fear of losing abilities, skills that seem important for living a quality life? What is the root of that fear? Is there any ability we have that is not subject to being diminished or destroyed at any moment? Does this mean we are doomed to constant fear?
I read just a little from Osho just now. He says "Don't do anything - no repetition of mantra, no repetition of the name of god - just watch whatever the mind is doing. Don't disturb it, don't prevent it, don't repress it; don't do anything at all on your part. You just be a watcher, and the miracle of watching is meditation. As you watch, slowly mind becomes empty of thoughts; but you are not falling asleep, you are becoming more alert, more aware."
You ask about other perspectives on meditation but Osho has summed it up simply and completely. What he says is not a perspective. It is listening, presence. It is the absence of perspective, the putting aside of our million perspectives. Interestingly, he talks about teachers who teach all sorts of techniques, strategies and perspectives: "Whatever Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and other people like him are doing is good, but they are calling something meditation which is not. That's where they are leading people astray."
The human mind is full of important,
living questions that vitally need the light
of silent attention to unfold and clarify.
From what you write, you are touched by these
questions. Ultimately, we each need to sit
with these questions ourselves, though it can
be good to talk together using words. You ask
about the relationship of experiencing to thinking
in meditative listening. Check this out yourself.
Is it not true that when the brain is dominated
by thinking, very little of what is going on
is experienced, even though the thinking thinks
it is a whole world unto itself. It can be
easily noticed that in a moment when thinking
goes silent, the world of sounds, sensation,
spaciousness is revealed. It also becomes clear
that there is no one, no controller, that can
stop thoughts from dominating the mind. That
is thought trying to stifle itself. And yet,
there can arise from who knows where an interest
to be with the direct experience of life. And
then thought may quiet down !
on its own.
By meditating on a problem do you mean to sit down and consider what it is that is bothering me? Maybe reviewing it in the mind. Considering different aspects of it? Well, why not? I think this is helpful. But rather than having the mind go off into trying to solve a problem, can this return to listening? Listening for insight, for clarification - not in what is already known or remembered - that is old habit - but in the open space of not knowing. Just listening into this unknowable moment. Forgetting everything that is known and letting what is unknowable open up and reveal itself.
Does this address your concerns at all?
Question: I guess my question was more about the breaking down of the brain since persumable the "mind" is intangible and not very well known. I am concerned for my clarity of thought and focus and confident perspective of the world around me. Also I was asking if something like focusing on a problem as in "meditating on it" is outside the realm of "meditation" since it isn't strickly observing and taking in the world. I don't know if it would pass Osho's definition anyway.
Jay: I understand your concern about clarity of thought, focus and a confident perspective of the world. I have always felt that those were my tools for being successful, for being able to make money, for being able to take care of things (including myself) for being a good friend to people, even for being able to have a good relationship. For a long time I felt that those qualities were the hallmark of meditative work.
I don't feel that way now. Sometimes for me the mind is not clear but it doesn't bother me. The part of the mind that functions clearly in me is often tired and overworked. Rather than trying to drum up the energy to force it into clarity, I am perfectly happy to leave it as it is. In fact in that state it is often easier to listen to others, to cooperate (since my clarity is not driving dictating what it thinks I should do) and I'm more relaxed physically. So far this has not prevented me from surviving financially or in any other way.
Often the memory part of the brain in me is tired. It takes a break and there is a long lag in coming up with the right word or in remembering someone's name. It doesn't bother me because it's clear that the memory brain easily gets tired and it's learning to take a rest when it needs it. When this happens, I feel more directly in touch, happier, more relaxed. I'm not happier because I can't remember but because memory is not dominating the brain, a more nourishing part of the mind is waking up, a more child-like part.
I recently visited with Toni
Packer, the woman who led the many retreats
I attended over the years. She is now in her
80s and has a serious neuropathy that requires
that she be in bed most of the time. Between
the lack of activity and the painkillers for
her neuropathy, her memory is very poor. In
our conversation she would forget from one
minute to the next what we were talking about
and the conversation itself was very "wandering".
I called it a right brain conversation. Not
linear or logical. But the conversation was
very sweet and full of humanness. What most
struck me about her was that from time to time
she would respond directly to hearing something
elsewhere in the house or outside. Her response
was direct and immediate. It became clear that
even with the mind very incapacitated, her
nervous system, her cells, had learned over
the years to stay in touch with direct experience.
This did not require the mediation of a clear,
focused perspective. After observing this,
I lost my concern with what would happen to my clear, intelligent mind. And in any case what happens to my mind is mostly out of my control anyway. But the important thing is this ability for the entire system - body, mind, skin, nerves, cells, hairs - to relearn how to be in touch with what is happening right here, simply and directly. Sensorily and yet in stillness. This is where intelligence and compassion come from.
Meditation is simply the shedding of light on what is arising at this moment. A good question might be "Then what, if anything, is NOT meditation?" It can be observed that usually there is very little intouchness with what is going on. Usually the mind is almost completely absorbed in the world of thought, which has the feeling of being about the world but allows very little intouchness with what is here right now - including its own nature. Thought is blind to itself, to its own nature. But presence can perceive thought and can recognize what thought is and what its limits are. It may seem like a fine line but it can be observed and it is a critical difference.
So if there is a problem, usually the first reaction is to think about what I know about the problem. There is nothing wrong with that. It is intelligent. Intelligent thinking is more like what I described above as presence being able to see thought. I think good thinking has that quality, as opposed to obsessive thinking (why the hell did he do that to me and how can I get back at him, etc etc etc).
So problem solving may start with thinking. What do I know about this? But just like the tip of an iceberg, what I know about something is only the smallest part of the situation. The body and root of a problem lies in the unknown, the unknowable. This is the silence that is entered into in meditation. Sitting, listening, in touch, without knowing, beyond expectation.
The unknowable is unknowable so you don't have to worry if you are "doing it" right to someone's specifications. You don't have to monitor whether you are doing it to your own specifications. Monitoring is a limited activity of knowing. It can drop away too, and with it drops the energy drain of monitoring. This is the beauty of letting go of what is known (not negating it but just acknowledging that it only goes so far) and just listening without knowing. Things reveal themselves as they are, freshly, for the first time, in a child-like way.
M: I recently attended a six day retreat. For four-and-a-half of the six days of the retreat, I was in hell. I was facing a personal dilemma and thought that retreat would be a good place to resolve it. Not! The stories and scenarios of the choices I faced could not be stopped from racing through my head. So basically I was sitting with a movie looping in my brain instead of concentrating my mind and actually meditating. With some loving first aid and a couple of discussions with the two dharma teachers, and some hand holding, I was able to get back to some kind of equanimity--mainly through what I guess you could call an insight: "Oh. Okay. So now I'm living in a hell realm. So this is what that is like. This is how things are for me right now."
Accepting that let me unclench some and I actually enjoyed the rest of the retreat and it turned out I learned much about myself and about what hell realms are like. A productive retreat, in the end, but an experience I NEVER WANT TO GO THROUGH AGAIN!!! (Or anytime soon again, at any rate.)
Jay: I appreciated your report of the retreat, especially the difficult part. One thing I got out of it was that it doesn't seem (to me, anyway) that meditative work is about concentrating the mind. There definitely is a quieting of the mind that can happen and maybe we can call that a kind of concentration in that the mind stays with what is here directly, instead of going off into thinking. But it doesn't seem like that kind of quieting happens by an act of will. To me, what's important is that the activity of the mind is visible, transparent, noticeable. In other words that when thoughts or emotional states do come up, they can be noticed directly, along with the sound of the wind and feel of the air.
The second thing that I got from your narrative is that it reminded me of a time in retreat some years ago when I found myself in a nightmarish state of mind. It was just hell - confusion, distress, anxiety, craziness. When I met with Toni Packer and told her about it, she listened quietly and then said something to the effect that a new part of the mind was opening up. Her comments conveyed a lot of compassion and maybe hope to me, even though I was still in that state.
Going back to sitting, the turmoil continued. There was no room for remembering helpful words of advice and even if I did remember, they didn't change anything. Maybe, like you said, there was at least one layer of panic that was gone, since I trusted that she knew what she was talking about.
The nightmare continued for some unmeasured time. Then there was suddenly an instant in which the mind was just in a different place. A gap, quiet, still. The entire hellish state was gone. I don't remember now exactly how it was but the feeling was as though there was a new space that I had never been in before and even though the mind didn't stay in that place, there was a feeling something like "now I know there is something outside of this inner world of turmoil (which I had somehow felt was all there was) and I don't know what it is but my life depends on finding out."
I'm not sure that the specifics of how this felt to me are significant but the important thing was the coming across this gap in what had seemed like a solid mind-state, which had the assumption that there was no such thing as anything outside it. From that time on nothing could stop me from going to retreat as often as I could.
M: Thanks for your thoughtful post, Jay.
I think your and my experiences of sudden release from obsessive brain-wheel-spinning were likely similar. I called it unclenching. You called it an instant in which the mind was just in a different place. A gap, quiet, still.
Your comment about these things--letting go, concentration, even meditation itself-- as NOT being acts of will may be right on target. Yet dharma talk after talk we hear "watch the tip of your nostrils," or "when your mind wanders, bring it back..." That sure makes these sound like an act of will at many places!
I've just had the enjoyment of reading the first chapter of Ajahn Sumedho's book Don't Take Your Life Personally. He's quite clear that we shouldn't "try" to do anything in meditation except "just allowing things to be the way they are."
He goes on, "Even if you are stressed out at this moment, let it be the way it is. Let whatever mental states you are in--even your compulsive tendencies, your obsessive tendencies--be what they are rather than seeing them as 'there's something wrong with me! There's something I have to get rid of!' Allow even the bad habits, the bad thoughts, tensions, pain, sadness, loneliness or whatever to be at this moment; allow the sense of letting go and let life be what it is."
He refers to Ajahn Chah's admonition to see meditation in terms of a holiday. (!)
So do we try all the "techniques" we've been taught in order to calm our mind when it is overwrought, or do we just let it be that way. Will "trying" to concentrate, or be still, follow the breath, do metta practice, or whatever, work better than just letting things be? I'm asking in terms of how to attain that unclenching or release of disquieted mind states--which feels so good when it happens--occur quicker, before we suffer so acutely for so long.
Jay: I'm glad we're looking at these things. I agree with you on your observation that dharma talks often sound like there is some specific thing that one should do when sitting. Not all teachers talk that way. Some have been really clear that meditation is not concentration or repetition or technique. I'm thinking of Toni Packer, Krishnamurti, Vimala Thakar, Eckhart Tolle. To me in sitting still it is the wholeness of life unfolding. Talking about this as someone concentrating on something for some future purpose feels like trying to put a tiger into a straight jacket!
For myself there is a strong habit of hearing what people say, especially people in a leadership position, as rules that I should apply. It seems to be a deeply ingrained pattern. The brain seems to like to have a set of tools so it will know what to do in future situations. But it's pretty clear that this kind of thinking has pretty limited use. It's great for remembering where a cheap gas station is or what to do if your brakes lock up. But as far as being simply in touch with life it gets in the way.
Maybe this just needs to be observed carefully again and again as "doing" and "wanting to know what to do" take hold. I think it's accurate to say that self-conscious doing - concentrating on something, holding onto certain states of mind or emotion, etc. - implies that there is a reason in the mind for doing that, a goal, something that the mind believes will happen if that doing is done long enough and hard enough. A good question might be "Why the heck do I think I'm doing this?" Sometimes the first answer might be that this is what we're "supposed" to do, that someone "wise" told me to do it.
Does any particular moment require a response? Would you agree that there is an aspect of the brain (maybe we can also call it a part of the story of "myself") that wants to know what is going on and what to do? This means interpreting the raw, virgin flow of life in terms of what is known from the past, stored in the memory. It's a terribly strong habit pattern but is it necessary all the time? Is it possible to be able to distinguish when it's needed and when it's not?
The wonderful thing about extended sitting in retreat is that we can forget completely about the need to "know" and enter into not knowing, come what may. Knowing is such a constricted (concentrated?) space and not knowing is so huge and alive. Maybe it's obvious to say but it seems clear that most of what we we are, of what is going on at any moment, is far beyond what can be known and interpreted by the brain.
The amazing thing is that the thinking, knowing brain is itself part of this flow of raw life and can come to light in a simple way that sheds light and compassion on this particular aspect, which has been in darkness for most of humanity (including us) for so long.
You raised the good question of whether concentrating or letting go is the better way to let this flow of life happen. It can be experimented with. I've had trouble with "letting go" because for me it sometimes becomes another strategy. Sometimes what has been needed is embracing. So who knows?! Every moment seems to call for a fresh response, which may or may not come, but when it does, it comes from who knows where.
I'm sort of chuckling here as I remember sometimes feeling "what if there had never been any meditative traditions in all of human history and I had to find out about all of this for myself. What would I do??" Maybe in some ways that's really our situation. Having no facts, strategies, traditional wisdom, tools, techniques, knowledge that can guide us moment to moment.
Some people might object that "not knowing" is sort a stupidity or depressed resignation to fate but that's not the kind of not knowing that you and I are talking about. It's more like if you were walking in the forest and suddenly realized you were completely disoriented and lost. In other words, not knowing where you were and how to get home. The whole nervous system might come suddenly alive and alert, ears perked, even the skin "listening", wide awake in a still, motionless attentiveness. In this silent awakeness a butterfly might pass in front of your face and even the thought of finding out where you are might flutter away. This is the kind of not knowing we're talking about - aliveness beyond the confines of knowledge.
Hmm. You asked about whether the "coming to" might happen more quickly so that we don't suffer so much for so long. I was thinking about this and then suddenly wondered, where does the suffering come in? Raging thoughts, uncomfortable muscles and guts, churning of emotions. In such a situation is there someone at the center of it tallying up the amount of suffering, adding it to the pile of past suffering, projecting into the future how this suffering can be prevented, for oneself or for others? Or might all these sensations be experienced as they are without a judging? In a given moment of a difficult situation, it seems to be the fact that I don't know how long the pain or difficulty will last and it is quite clear that thinking in those terms creates a huge amount of additional suffering.
And yet. It's a fact that at a certain point even the most difficult states of mind may suddenly open up. How does it happen??? I think we can only say that it is really miraculous. There is no predictable cause and effect for the opening and wakening of the mind in any moment. I think this happens for us much more frequently than we recognize. When I'm gripped by some self-enclosed painful state, there is no awareness of that fact. I'm just pissed or whatever. But then suddenly there is the tiniest of shifts and there is awareness of being pissed and of the dynamics of it inside me. It doesn't mean that it suddenly turns into a beautiful state of calm and equanimity. Something is processing, moving, changing in awareness but it has its own lifespan and the state of the body and mind may be less than calm or beautiful. Is it not true that the state of body and mind is not important? What matters is that the awareness that reveals these states.
My own personal response to how can there be "more" of this is to get to retreat regularly. For me, bringing light to the most difficult patterns that have been painful for me and the people who I'm close to has required the long, deep energy of retreat with other people. As you know, retreat is the opportunity to enter deeply and directly into the stillness of life, which becomes a fountain of healing for all of these difficult, blind patterns. I don't know how there can be fundamental change in a person without lots of long retreat. Meditation without retreat seems almost like practicing the skills for being in a relationship without ever actually entering into one! Maybe that's a little over the edge but it's what came to mind :) Another way to say this may be that when the energy of undivided presence is strong in a person, there is a natural desire to step away from the business of our usual life and to be in a physical space that is quiet and natural, to be in a situation that requires little knowing and to be with other people who are also moved to be here.
Well, I'm glad to have had a chance to consider these things. Any additions or corrections?
M: I think you posed a question that is way more profound than it first appears. I'm referring to: A good question might be "Why the heck do I think I'm doing this?"
You could spend a decade just contemplating who (or what) the "I" is that is thinking about why am "I" doing this. Same I or different I? We're told that "there isn't a separate self" in the big view of the non-conditioned world--but how many of us have glimpsed that. I'd say I have, but...oh...maybe for 10 minutes twice in the four years I've been practicing formally. (And one of those was while sitting during a hike in a stupendous canyon the day before my retreat in hell--fat lotta good it did me!)
This ties into your comment also that, "Every moment seems to call for a fresh response, which may or may not come, but when it does, it comes from who knows where." I love what that opens up for me. Particularly "from who knows where."
One thing I'm not clear on is what I'm taking for your dismissal--or lack of interest in--specifically concentration practice. The Tibetans call it Samatha. Our teachers, too, seem to make a distinction between concentration practice and Vipassana (insight) practice. Both are needed, our teachers admit, but most steer towards insight practice and leave concentration, which leads getting into teaching about the jhanas, hanging. But Samatha does require specific techniques that require acts of will, i.e. sticking with super glue to your meditation object, be it the breath, metta phrases, a kasina, a body part, a candle flame, mandala or whatever. At least to get started, and until you can just subtly lean towards the first four jahnas and fall into one. (From there I'm not clear on what--or who--brings you out of those states. But something must because they're only a taste of the unconditioned. Kind of a sneak preview of what Nibbana might be like. But certainly not permanent.
Jay: When I raised the question "Why the heck do I think I'm doing this" I was specifically thinking about times when it is noticed that there is a self-conscious or willed effort going on, like when someone might notice that they have been concentrating on the breath or trying to apply certain strategies. Don't we do those things because we believe that they will bring about a result? I'm not sure why else we would.
If I think a certain action will bring about a result, isn't that based on how I responded to some experience in the past, which may or may not have been accurately observed in the first place. And the current situation may not be similar to the past one. It seems that there is a huge amount of unexamined assumptions in applying a strategy from the past to a present situation. I'm not talking about practical things, like what should I do if my car suddenly is making a loud noise. In those cases, relying on past information may be helpful and necessary (although often we are off the mark there too).
It may not be important to discover what I think I'm doing if I find myself applying a meditation technique, such as concentrating on something. It may be enough to realize that techniquing implies a lot of assumptions based on past information that is likely not very accurate or applicable. Or, I wonder, maybe concentrating, doing something, is just such a strong habit that it simply invents something to do just to keep busy. Perhaps the critical thing is to test out whether or not at that moment it is alright to drop the doing and just be in touch with what is going on without reacting to it. I think it can be noticed that when the doing drops, there is a sense of now being more in touch with the flow of life, so that if some response is needed (maybe the person needs to go to the bathroom or needs food or water) it is more likely that appropriate response will come up.
Maybe we can say that the "I" part of this is simply the whole body of memory that wants to react to what it imagines to be going on, whereas in fact this "me" reaction actually blocks the sensitivity of the organism to feel into what, if anything, might be needed at the moment. Rather than saying that there isn't a separate self, maybe it's more accurate to say that the sense of a separate, isolated self that controls its environment is a certain blind way that the mind operates,without understand its limitations. When this functioning - the whole body of memory reacting to what it imagines to be happening - is noticed in simple, non-personal awareness, awareness begins to shine light on this. It is awareness, not the memory mind/self, that carries intelligence and compassion.
If the struggling and writhing memory mind trying to accomplish its imagined goals is seen, this is the operation of undivided awareness.
Your comments about my lack of interest in concentration practice are interesting. It's hard to know where you're coming from in your comments but it sounds as if there may be an assumption that a state of total absorption is somehow helpful, a "foretaste" of enlightenment. I have heard this same assumption from many people, including meditation teachers, and I have also heard the assumption questioned. There must be a strong memory in our systems of beautiful moments of absorption in something - looking at a sunset, making love, watching the Three Stooges - and the memory wants to recreate this kind of state somehow.
I heard a Zen teacher question this. He said he had asked a number of other Zen teachers if total absorption in something (and this can mean an external thing like a movie, music, riding a bicycle, or internal things such as samadhi practices) was the same as the state that Zen aimed for. Most teachers said yes. But he questioned this. He pointed out that there is definitely a flow of energy through the body during concentration. But in concentrating on external or internal input, there may be a complete lack of sensitivity to what is going on right here. The mind is simply not paying attention - is not in touch - with anything except a narrow input. How can there be any sensitivity, wisdom, compassion, flexibility in that? In fact, I notice in myself that in moments of concentration I get really agitated and angry if I'm interrupted. In wide open presence there can't be any interruption. Things arise. There is no conflict between what is here and what I want. So the sense of being interrupted or disturbed in my meditation is good red flag.
I wonder how much good it does simply to put this into words. The habit of concentrating - of creating an internal buzz - is so strong that it takes over time and time again regardless of our intentions when we sit down to meditate. But it can also be observed, noticed, experimented with when it is suddenly noticed. No need to say it's good or bad. Certainly no need to assume that it leads to something. What could it lead to that is not here already in this moment!!!
Is it possible to become absorbed
effortlessly in what is simply here this moment?
To let what is here take over the body, the
mind, to touch us completely? It is trying
to all the time.
A: I am a 19 year old girl. I dont know much about yoga or meditation. I read somewhere about all its benefits and was wondering whether you could explain to me what it is and how to start? I just normally feel way too stressed and I have no quietness inside. Any advice would really be appreciated. I have recently recovered from anorexia but now I started binge eating. I just thought that a type of meditation might help me. How does one start? What do I need? And most importantly what do I do? I know these might be stupid questions, but I have no idea. Thanks.
Jay: It's nice to hear from you. From what you wrote it sounds like you are a sensitive person and that you are aware of the internal noise, stress and junk that most of us have going on (though many people are too focused outwardly to notice it.)
There are many kinds of physical, mental and emotional exercises and systems of healing. Some of them might help you a lot but I would have no idea which ones! There are even systems of meditation exercises. But for me meditation is something different. To me the word meditation points to a thorough listening to what is going on right now, moment to moment, both inside myself and outside. This kind of listening can be called silent because in order to really listen, there has to be some stillness of the body and the mind.
What is the point of listening -inside and out - in this silent way? The fact is that there is so much going on inside us all the time that we never hear or experience. We don't know ourselves! No wonder we are always ending up in painful situations. We usually don't even know what we are or what we really need. So sitting still and listening starts to let the body, the mind, the feelings, the emotions all be heard. It's like our whole being wants to speak to us but never gets the chance.
The strange thing about this silent listening is that at the very same time that it is allowing the inside being to be noticed, it also allows us to be touched by the simple environment around us - sounds of the fan, the warmth of the air on the skin, maybe even a sense of the spaciousness all around us.
Another strange thing about this silent listening is that even though what is "heard" in the listening may include sounds, sights, smells, feelings, emotions and memories, after a while listening mostly seems to consist of lots of unknowable space and openness. What we are used to listening to and what we usually feel is most important is the sounds, sights, memories, thoughts. But after meditating for a while (some minutes or some years) it is the vast, unknowable openness that seems to be most important, most supportive and most healing.
So the more silent listening there is, the more intelligently and compassionately we can take care of ourselves and at the same time the more connectedness we feel with the simple world that is all around us, including other living things.
I heard a Tibetan man give a talk about meditation recently. The Tibetan tradition is full of very complex meditation practices but this man was unusually simple. He said that all that is needed is Silence. That's it. Some people asked him more about this and we clarified it a little to say that Silence is Listening. Listening requires silence and silence reveals what is here right now in its depth and fullness, each moment.
This is really the beginning and the end of meditative work. Just to discover this possibility of listening in an open space of not-knowing.
Probably the best way to start with this is to sit in a comfortable position - a chair or couch is ok. Lying down can make you fall asleep. The spine is like an antenna and seems to work best if it is upright and flexible.
Now, when you first sit down to try this, you might (or might not) notice physical restlessness. You might also notice a lot of resistance to just listening. You may also notice the strong buzz and pull of thoughts and emotions. There is no need to think that you should be getting rid of these things. That just makes more noise!! But you can just see if you can find some patience with it all and some interest and curiosity in what is going on. This silent listening is not always pleasant. In fact there is much difficult and challenging stuff that comes up in us at times, though silent listening also has the possibility of revealing a deep oneness with what is happening. This can happen unexpectedly at some moment.
There is much that comes up in starting to listen. It can be really helpful to have other people to talk with who have experience with listening, especially if they can keep it very simple and not become too involved in meditation theory or practices or ideas of what you should do. If you want to let me know what part of the country you are in, I might be able to recommend some people or centers.
As listening deepens, it's possible that the things that bother us the most - our fears, addictions, and so on - start to come to light in a healing way. Actually at first they may come to light in a difficult way but then there somehow comes some insight and some healing - maybe not right away but with persistence in giving this listening a chance. And as these difficult things start to open up, there seems to be more ability to feel the intimate connection with everything inside us and around us.
I hope this address your question a little bit. Feel free to write back if you have more questions or as you try this and questions come up.
K: Hi jay I recently lost my lab partner to a car acident. Since then, I have been feeling fearful that I will die too? What should I do?
Jay: I'm sorry for the loss of your friend. I am wondering as I read your question what it is on a deep level that is going on for you inside. I think the first step is to take the time and quiet space to listen to yourself, to hear carefully what is going on in you - maybe the sense of loss of someone who was part of your daily life, the anxiety that goes along with the memory of someone being killed suddenly and unpredictably, the reality of your own vulnerability, the fact that you will die some day.
Are you able to listen to all of what may come when you sit quietly? Maybe you would say you have already done this. However, clearly there is still a concern for you, so this probably means that more listening is needed. You may find that something may come up and you can notice it but then it goes away and it seems like there is nothing to listen to. I think it is helpful to continue to sit quietly and attentively into this "nothing to listen to." It may even seem like this nothing to listen to is itself sort of a death. Is it possible to not turn away from it into some activity but rather to find out for yourself what it is by being with it directly?
Listening to what is going on right now at this moment includes both the "inside" - thoughts and feelings - and the "outside" sounds around us, the feel of air on the skin, the movement of the body. It is a helpful thing to see if all of this can be in awareness. You may notice how the thoughts and feelings -especially fearful ones - narrow this feeling down so we "forget" that there is simple life all around us. In a way, this narrowing down is a dying to the simple life that is all around us all the time.
Is it possible to notice how the thoughts work, how they seem to demand all the attention? Is it possible to hear what the thoughts are trying to say without needing to react to them or to judge them? I don't know if you've ever spent time with a child who is fearful. The content of their fear - maybe that a cricket will attack them - is arbitrary and to us adults nonsensical - but the fact of fear is real and needs caring listening to.
I don't know if this touches on what's going on for you. Feel free to write back if I haven't been very clear, if you have some other questions or if you want to share your experience with what I'm writing about.
K: We knew each other since high school. I'm 22. The reason our bond was very close was because she would help me with visual concepts in biology. I'm legally blind. For example, the last thing she helped me with was a pig disection. I'm not as blue as I was, but I still think of her constantly and play what if games with myself. I can still remember as if it was yesterday and it happened on Nov. 28, 2010, at 4:45 a.m., which was a Sunday. As a result of my grief I ended up in the psych word of a hospital for 5 days and have been taking medication. I have stopped some of the meds. I've been meditating on the fragility of life in general, but I'm just plugging away. I will try to remember the life that is around me all the time.
Jay: Thanks for sharing this. It's a sad thing.
It almost seems like a contradiction to notice – not to remember but to actually notice - the life that is around us - the sound of birds chirping, the warmth of the sun on the skin - and to be aware of the deep sorrow and memories of someone who is gone at the same time. But these seemingly two different aspects somehow do go together. Maybe you can experiment with this.
I remember when a friend of mine died and I was thinking about her while walking outside on a windy day. Suddenly, somehow, it was like the memory of her was in the wind and swaying trees all around me. It didn't feel like she was gone.
It's not that I held onto to that and kept looking for her in the wind. That particular feeling faded away. But there was some healing in it somehow. I think that being in touch very sensitively and vulnerably with what is right here - the life around us and the feelings and sensations that go with memory of someone - leads to its own healing.
I do understand what you're saying
about the loss being physically or mentally
unbearable at times, like when you had to go
into the hospital. Probably our nervous systems
need a chance to gain new strength. I hope
you will find that strength.
A: I'm not even
sure where I should start.
-It's been very difficult to make any decisions lately let alone think clearly through anything.
-My energy is nonexistent and my anger is running rampant.
-I've lost a good amount of whatever self-esteem I had when I was younger.
-Sleep is coming very difficult to me.
-I have all the stress of a full time college student who has no idea what she wants to do.
-I've always felt an uncontrollable desire to please people and let them walk all over me.
-And to top it off, I lost my religion a few years ago.
In short, I am one hot mess.
I've been told by some of my close friends that I might find a way to organize all of these things through chakra opening or meditation, which I've never had any experience with.
I'd like to get my Meditation 101 through someone who knows what they're talking about and what might pinpoint my situation.
I'd be happy to try anything you think might work.
Jay: I don't have any special meditation strategies for you. I can just say, speaking from my own experience, that it has been extremely helpful for me to, periodically, take time off from all of the craziness. Being able to sit quietly, patiently, with all that is going on inside, in a setting that is simple and natural enough that it doesn't add to the confusion, gives the nervous system a chance to digest what has been going on. It also brings us in touch directly with a simpler, more natural way of being.
I think we can probably agree that our lives are much too complex and fast for much "digesting" to usually happen and that we have long ago lost touch with what living, what being, is in its simplest and deepest sense.
This time off that I'm talking about can be just taking some daily time to sit quietly, letting what is going on inside work itself out. For me it has also been important to get to week-long silent meditation retreats. I like to go at least 2 or 3 times a year. Sitting together with other people provides a lot of energy for being present with what is going on inside and outside. It seems to take at least 3 or 4 days for much of the internal turmoil to work itself out. Then it is possible to really enjoy simple presence.
When this simple energy of being has reestablished itself in me, these other issues - my habits of relationship with people, attitudes toward myself, confusion about what I need to do - somehow seem to work themselves out, sometimes almost effortlessly. At least I can say the self-conscious effort of trying to get it all in order drops away and yet things change inside, in response to the healthy light and fresh air of simple presence.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, I can certainly recommend a week of meditative retreat. The amazing thing about this kind of retreat time is that at the end of it, I can hardly remember the difficulties that I had before retreat. There is a different kind of fully complete being alive that happens, in which rehashing things over and over in memory gives way to just taking in the present moment.
Of course you may ask, "Well, isn't that just a short break from the craziness and won't the craziness just start up all over again?" It doesn't seem to happen like that. I'm not saying that craziness won't come back. But something changes at a deep, even neurological level, especially if you persist with this kind of retreat work and follow it up with some daily quiet time. In quiet, simple presence we begin to see the misassumptions that tend to run our lives. I don't know if that expression makes sense to you or if you relate to it. We could talk more about it.
There are many retreat centers
but many of them add on lots of traditional
interpretations. The place that I know of that
is the simplest and most direct, without adding
in a lot of confusing ideas, is the Springwater
Center, in upstate NY. Their site is www.springwatercenter.org
They have retreats there nearly every month and there are many people who go there who have been doing this simple meditative inquiry into what we are for many years.
Please let me know if I haven't been very clear about something or if you have some more things you'd like to talk about or ask about.
PS. After writing the above, I realized that I left out one important aspect that we could talk about. Is there a "meditative" way to deal with the specific kinds of issues that you mentioned, such as being angry a lot or feeling bad about oneself?
I had mentioned taking a break from all of these issues to give things a chance to digest. This is certainly really important. But the other side of the coin is that it's possible to wonder, right in the middle of one of these issues going on - like realizing that anger is raging or that self-hate is going on - to wonder what is really going on right now. This kind of wondering seems to raise deep questions, and often questions that cannot be answered, at least not right away. I might wonder what is really triggering my anger. Something triggered it but I don't know what. Or maybe I would say, "Well, of course that person insulted me. That's what triggered it." But what's behind that? Who is it that's taking it so personally? Am I even sure they really insulted me or did I just take it this way.?
The questions that come up for you would be your own. I wouldn't know what they would be. But I do know that when I really start watching myself and wondering what is moving me, that this kind of questioning comes up. And these questions require me to watch more and more carefully and openly. They also seem to have a sort of grip that leads into just sitting still and listening, not even knowing why any more. They become silent questions and they lead into the heart of still, wondering, not-knowing.
Giving time to that not-knowing, that still presence, such as in retreat or daily quiet time, in some mysterious way allows these unanswerable questions to do their work and bring things to light. The deeper, more gripping the questions become, the greater the need to take all of this into extended quiet time such as a retreat. It is as necessary as getting a good night's sleep or having a cool drink of water.
Does that make sense?
Addiction and Meditation
S: I'm meditating last 6 months. I'm actually an alcoholic who was hoping that meditation would help me quit my habit, but I find myself drinking as before once the sun sets. Any comments? Why isn't my desire to drink shrinking? I don't meditate drunk. I do this when I'm sober, during the day. My style is eyes closed, concentration on the breath.
When I started meditation, I felt on top of the world for the first two months. Now meditation has lost its charm. I have lost my concentration, the mind easily diverts and I wonder even if I'm "doing it right"
Jay: For a strong addiction like alcoholism, you will surely need patience above all else.
It is easy to make "meditation" into a process, a routine, like all the other routines we have to bring us a positive result. In the simplest and truest sense, sitting quietly is simply the opportunity to come in touch with - to hear, see, feel - what we are at this particular moment. It is simply a chance for what is already here to come to light, because in the usual activity of our body and mind, very little of what is going on more subtly can be seen/heard.
If you focus on concentrating on something like the breath, you may miss what is all around you and inside you. You can watch this carefully. Notice what your motivation is. Are you meditating in order to accomplish some physical or mental state of ease? There is nothing wrong with a state of ease. It may, in fact, come on its own if one is just interested in being awake with what is. Or it may not come. It doesn't matter what state of body or mind is expressing itself. It only matters that it can be seen, felt, heard.
So in sitting down, the breath is noticeable but it is not all there is and it doesn't need to be focused on. If you are interested in what really moves you to drink, you can watch yourself every moment. Come to know the movements of the mind and body very intimately.
Watch what happens when something unpleasant comes up. You may catch the built in, automatic responses to discomfort - wanting to run away, wanting to do something that will make the body more comfortable or something that will make me forget about the body completely. If something unpleasant comes up, it is already a breaking of addiction if you can just stay with it, listen to it, feel it, without immediately deciding you have to get away from it.
You say you felt on top of the world while meditating for a while. Because the state of body/mind was pleasant, you wanted to repeat it. But what is the state now when you sit down with yourself? Have you listened to it carefully? Sitting down in meditation doesn't cause any states of body/mind. It just reveals what is already there. So if you experience distraction, uncertainty, discouragement, then listen to those things carefully and intimately, without even knowing what they really are. That is what you are at this moment - for whatever the reason. To stay with what you are is already a breaking of addiction. And you may discover that things are not at all what you thought they were!
I think we can say that most addictions - maybe all - are based on wanting to feel differently from how I feel now. Of course, all human beings act this way most of the time and for most of us these reactions dominate are lives. We can go to our grave never having seen that we constantly escape who we are this moment. You are fortunate because your alcoholism shows you very directly that when you are unable to be with the challenge of the moment, you destroy yourself by drinking.
I mentioned this possibility of listening carefully to what is right now. This is not an easy thing to happen. All of human training leads us away from it. It is not just an intellectual thing. There is a bottomless possibility of listening more and more sensitively, more broadly, not just in the body but in the whole world. It takes a lot of time devoted to silent listening for this new way of being to be born in us. The roots of addiction are deep. They are not just in our own body. We have to be able to listen into the vast stillness, beyond plain knowing/wanting/interpreting. Then it is possible that some day when the time is right, these roots will reveal themselves and be healed.
If you have the opportunity to go to week long meditation retreat, I very highly recommend it. I think it is the only way for most of us to enter deeply into silent listening so that it wakes up in us. At the same time, the need to listen carefully is here every single moment, isn't it?
Our lives are like a cave of treasures, the entrance to which is filled with garbage, junk, filth, confusion, irresistible temptations and deep boredom. We turn away from what our life presents this moment because we think it's not what we want.
Please feel free to write back if I have not been clear about something or if you have some other questions or observations.
Question: I started meditating sun on my heart 3 months ago and having upper body and head movements. However, sometimes I become confused and have different mind states. I also had experiences of weightlessness. I am slightly scared. What should I do?
Jay: I have heard many people talk about strange feelings in the body from meditating, as well as strange or unusual states of mind. People often say they are scared or want to know what to do about it. Sometimes people are also quite excited about these states at the same time as being scared. Sometimes people are just happy to tell them to someone who will understand and not think they are crazy!
When I hear from people, I'm always interested to find out what your motivation is for meditating. What is it that moves you to sit still? What is it in your life or in yourself that moves you to do something at all? If it is not very clear what moves you, it is a great question to ask when you sit down to meditate. You can raise this question and then just simply sit and observe what it is that move you right now.
For some reason I am thinking of a person who wants to look in the mirror to see who they are. So the person draws a picture of a beautiful, warm sun on the mirror and then looks at it. The next day the person draws a picture of a mountain on the mirror and looks at it. The next day it is a picture of a saint, and so on. How can we see ourselves if we are always putting pictures onto our mirror? To know myself it is better to not add any new pictures. Just sit quietly and allow whatever pictures are happening to come and go, without adding to them. And yet wondering what am I other than these pictures.
There may be states of mind or states of body, unusual feelings or strange emotions. These all come into being and change and disappear, on their own, if we don't try to control them. Can all of this be simply see as it goes on? Usually we don't see this - the actual life that is going on in us - because our attention is all in trying to control what we are. So naturally after a whole day of trying to control ourselves, we feel that somehow something is missing, disconnected, separate. It is not easy to simply be in touch without trying to change things. Fears may come up, or restlessness, or boredom, or the brain may just retreat into fantasies. But if there is interest to know myself, then all of these things can be seen.
B: Based upon your personal experience in meditation, what are the pitfalls of the mediation which yourself did and also have seen others doing/ going through? Also, how to recongnize and get out of it (them)?
Jay: I don't really remember anything I would call a pitfall. Certainly there have been times that were difficult but meditative work really involves, for me, being with the unknowableness of the present moment.
I can say that every moment, if really listened to carefully, is beyond really knowing whether the current state of things is good or bad, helpful or harmful, to be embraced or to be avoided. How could I know these things?
Certainly, there can be an immediate response in the mind to an unpleasant state. I'm sure you've noticed that. Let's consider for a moment a state, maybe during meditation or not, that is fearful. Looking at this carefully, there is some kind of state that happens first before it is even labelled as fearful. Maybe the heart starts beating faster, the palms sweat, there are anxious thoughts in the mind. After the fact, the mind says, "I am afraid." This labelling itself can affect the state. It can make it worse or it can result in a rigidity or in some attempt to get rid of what has been labelled fear. The mind can say, "I know what this means and I know what happens when I get in this state. Or at least I know what might happen."
But we can ask, what is this state really if I don't stick too much to the evaluation that it is fear. What is it if I just listen to what is going on right now without trying to change it? Usually when people do this, they find that what is going on is not what they thought.
So what would constitute a pitfall then? Obviously you don't want to put yourself in physical danger. But mostly we are afraid because of what we are imagining might happen. It doesn't hurt to get up and make sure that the loud noise in the living room is not someone breaking down the door. Once that is ruled out, then just listening freshly to what is going on.
Do you get the observation that labelling something as negative, a pitfall, can keep you from finding out what it really is? I am talking about when something is going on for you right now. I'm not talking about trying to figure out abstractly what is good or bad.
There is nothing wrong with the thought, "I wonder if something negative is going on now." Or "I wonder if I'm making trouble for myself." Maybe these are valid warning signs. The important thing is to listen carefully to what is going on at this moment - not just my thoughts about what I think is going on - to find out directly. Then you can know for yourself if something is helpful or harmful.
B: The pitfall that I referred to was when I ended up meditating on a fixed object - not like Insight meditaion where everything is dynamic as the mind constantly on the move from place to place. As my concentration became stronger and stronger, I also felt the peace and calm that I wanted to stay with me. I would get angry if something distracted my "flow" and always yearn to be in that peaceful state again. Not a good idea, as I now know that nothing is in a permanent state. And, there is a limitation as to how long I could hold my concentration at certain level. By just focusing on being at peace, I felt the meditaion wasn't advancing either. It was rather dry and systematic. And, I remember being at that stage for many years! - until I learned not to let the mind dictate what I need to do.
I understand exactly what you mentioned at the above, that is what I am also currently doing- being in the moment, and at the same time, pay attention to the mind (pay attention to what is coming and going) and the surrounding- without judging. It is kind of like just seeing that the water level is the middle of the glass- instead of seeing (judging) it as half empty or half full. And instead of controlling the mind, I watch it and use it when necessary. I sometimes get the urge of wanting to remain at certain (peaceful) stage. I simply watch the mind and a moment later that urge disappears. And, I know it wasn't really me. It was the mind playing tricks, doing what it does best.
Jay: I remember now that we talked about this before. Well, you have discovered a pitfall for yourself and you have stepped out of it.
Maybe you still wonder a little bit about this focusing because you are asking about it. I agree with you that focusing on an object is not the same as having an open mind.
From my experience, focusing the mind does often bring about a state of energy or peace. But first of all, it is temporary. It is a mistake to think that somehow we "should" be able to train ourselves to have that feeling. That is not what meditative listening is about.
Most people use some form of this focusing in their lives. It is exactly what watching TV or a movie is. Or riding a bicycle fast, or running. Or even sex. That is why we like these activities. There is nothing wrong with them unless people try to use them to shut out painful things in their life.
Sometimes the mind may take on a certain focus naturally. That is not a problem.
So it sounds like you have discovered that focusing is not the same as being open with whatever comes up at this moment. It is very helpful to not be too concerned about what the state of the mind or body is. We can notice it. We can take care of the body and mind. But it isn't necessary to create certain states. It takes too much energy and it blocks what is really happening right now.
To me, at each moment my body/mind has a certain state for this moment. The state of this particular moment is like a child that is trying to say something. It needs to be heard. If the state of this moment is sadness, it needs to be heard, so I have to be careful not to try to change it or make it be something different. I just need to hear what my body/mind is trying to say right now. If it has a chance to express itself, then it will be done with this state. Otherwise the state will come back again, until it is deeply heard.
Usually with children, if they are in a state that we’re uncomfortable with, we want to make them feel better. As adults we have a strong habit of wanting to interfere with a child’s difficult states. We tell them not to worry or to be “nice” instead of angry or we distract them with a game. How do we know that isn’t a disruption to what is going on for them at this moment? I watched once when our three year old granddaughter was standing in the hallway, arms crossed over her chest, a scowl on her face. She stood glaring and I stood there watching, interested, without interfering. Moments later her face and arms relaxed and she walked away to do something. The angry state was completely finished!
What I said about the body/mind expressing itself like a child every moment is sort of a metaphor. It probably isn't true all the time but it has some reality and maybe you will relate to it.
[The following is in response to comments by several people about being disturbed by people coming in to sittings late at a meditation group. There was a discussion about how to work with disturbance.]
A good question might be "what is it that was disturbed?" Looking at this for myself, I would say that there is usually some state of mind/body that is being held onto, maybe a state of quietness or relaxation. And there is a resistance against that state being changed by "external" noises or events. I find myself thinking "why did that person have to do that. How can I keep that from happening in the future." But I notice too that that very thinking also includes the body tensing against the change that's trying to happen.
I wonder if there is a deep assumption that a quiet state of mind is the goal of meditation. For myself, I often feel the need to be able to enter into deep quiet and that is something that I'd say I do really need, just like getting deep sleep. But I wouldn't say that meditative presence, open awareness, has anything to do with a state of mind. Maybe that seems strange to say. I remember that I used to feel very much that this work was somehow about finding the right state of mind, which was a never-ending struggle. Then one day it was very clear that this living world from which we are not separate has nothing to do with states of mind. Simple presence just reveals the states of body/mind just as it reveals the sounds of the fan and the sunlight in the air.
This being distracted, disturbed, interrupted is something that has been very painful for me. Certain actions by people seem to trigger what must be a deep trauma of some kind, something that is very seriously and mortally afraid to be touched. But in some ways it becomes clear that the only way for that to open - when some sound or voice has triggered it - is to start to be familiar with the reactions that move away from it (for me this is "trying to do something about it" either by thinking of how to avoid it or by actually getting up doing something) and to be familiar with what brings more in-touchness with it right now in this immediate moment, not later through some strategy.
Sometimes in this situation I
do feel truly helpless. Sometimes I feel like
something terrible really is going to happen
to me. This is the voice, heart and soul of
the trauma expressing itself fully through
this body/mind!! It so much needs to be heard
and felt, even though it seems like that is
exactly what the nervous system has tried desperately
to prevent happening all these years. How strange.
L: Hi Jay. I'm doing some research on yoga and meditation, as I'm planning on making it a daily thing for me. What I've read about meditation so far only states that it increases self-awareness, but I don't understand how the quieting/clearing of the mind leads to self-awareness.
How does that work? And is it possible to meditate on a concept/philosophy in order to gain insight? Also, how will the answer come to someone who asks a question (such as Who am i or What is my purpose in life?) in the meditation? When asking the question, is it directed at your inner self, or at God?
Thanks, and much appreciation to your time and answers!
Jay: Hi, L.
First we have to agree on what we are going to mean by the word "meditation." There are many different forms of concentration or focusing on feelings, and so on, that are like mental exercises.
For me, sitting in stillness is a letting go of the usual attempts to control the body and the mind and simply entering into what is here, inside and outside. Usually this simple field of hereness is dominated by the activity of the brain - thinking, chatter, emotional turmoil, etc. That activity is going on all the time as we move through the world but it is not so clear that it's going on until we sit down quietly. Then it's painfully obvious!
If the mind is focusing on something - a concept or philosophy as you mention - then what's going on is covered up by that focus. Maybe that is why we love to focus on something so much. It covers up the pain, the dis-ease, the anxiety or the emptiness. It is more difficult to be with what is going on without reacting to it because we are not used to doing that. It takes different existential "muscles."
This quiet sitting is not a technique to accomplish something. It is just whole, simple presence. It's what we are, without knowing or doing.
I don't think it is too hard to see that by being present, much can be revealed that is not revealed when our systems are in a buzz. So, really, it's not that meditative presence increases self-awareness. It is that our constantly overwhelmed and active nervous systems block and confuse self-awareness and create pain and suffering.
If I am walking through a wild woods with a blindfold on and a Ipod plugged into my ears, there is no question that I'm going to get hurt. And I'm also going to be real confused about what is going on.
If you have a certain question that bothers you, people have reported that it can be helpful to remind yourself of the question when you sit down to be still but then let it recede into stillness. It seems to do what it needs to on its own if it is given time and space of quietness. If you are inclined to try to think it through, then you can experiment with how far that takes you and when that comes to a dead end. Even when people wrestle with scientific or math problems, they work on it actively for a while and then often find that the answer comes in a quiet moment.
We might say we are asking these questions into not knowing. You can make up names for the space beyond knowing - God, true self - but it doesn't need a name. It doesn't need to be known. It is just the acknowledgement that most of the universe is beyond the realm of the knowable and to give that space, that presence, a chance to be lived in.
I don't know if this addresses your questions or not, so please feel free to write back with other questions or comments from your experience.
R: When I start meditation, I start concentrating on relaxing my body and focusing on my breath. After a few minutes I seem to be giving away to total relaxation/loss of self. Then a portion of my my mind says "No. Stay awake. Don't give into any relaxation! Meditation is all about staying awake and mindful!"Once I start doing that, I see that my mind has become a monkey, examining one thought after the other without any relaxation. As a result, I get too panicky, examining and trying to get away from every thought in a self conscious state. Ultimately, what happens is that I get confused. I ask myself, "Should I focus on total relaxation or total mindfulness?"
I think I've got the practice all mixed up! I seem to be mixing up relaxation meditation with so called mindfulness meditation, in order to find out the "correct technique."Now, I'd like you to go through what I said carefully and to answer me.What is the correct technique? Which method should I concentrate on? I seem to be mixing up styles. Is it ok?.HELP!
Jay: I understand what you are talking about. These are two different qualities of the mind that you are describing - the relaxing, accepting mind and the analyzing, "alert" mind. These probably correspond to differences between the left hemisphere of the brain and the right hemisphere. This difference is also reflected in the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
It seems that the human body/mind is divided into two halves very naturally. Often these are in conflict with each other. For example, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems cannot be activated at the same time. Either one is activated or the other. I forget exactly what they control but one is something like digestion and relaxation and the other is voluntary activity.
How does the body know which one to activate? If you need to digest but you also need to run away from a tiger, the body must somehow make the decision. If you run away from the tiger, your digestion will be shut down and you'll get a stomach ache. If you relax and digest, you will feel good but you will be eaten by the tiger (which will then have to lie down and digest you!)
So we can see that there is a lot of intensity and feeling of urgency around the turning point between relaxing versus being active. It is a turning point that may be associated with life and death itself. It is natural then that as you begin to relax, something is activated that says "Wait. I should not be relaxing. I should stay alert." and that there is a sense of urgency about it.
Of course, as you maintain alertness, something in the back of the mind is saying, "Why am I doing this? I need to relax but I feel like I shouldn't." Then the active part of the mind tries to shut out that voice and works harder to stay alert.
Alertness cannot go on forever. It eventually has to rest but if it has the feeling that it does not dare rest, then it will push itself into exhaustion. Resting also comes to an end at some point. When there has been enough resting, then there is energy for the mind to become alert.
Does this give us a good picture of these two aspects of the mind?
Now the question you raised is "Which one should I do?" But I can ask you, "Which mind is asking that?" This is a question you can considered carefully as you observe what is going on.
In fact, the body/mind works in the most healthy way when it is responding to what is actually sensed in the present moment, especially the physical senses of seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, tasting, etc. Usually, in most of us, most of the time, the information of these senses is drowned out by the sound of our mental thoughts and images. These are not good information for the body/mind because often the thoughts and images are confused or not really representative of what is going on.
By that I mean that suppose you hear a loud sound outside and your brain immediately presents the image of a tiger. Just like in a dream, the body thinks, for a moment, that there is really a tiger. Then the adrenaline starts to pump and the muscles tense and the digestion turns off. It is the same thing if your boss comes up to you with an unhappy face. Before the boss even says anything, the mind has already created the image that someone is angry with you and the body/mind thinks this is really happening.
There is no way to stop this imagery of the mind, at least without doing damage to the mind's natural sensitivity. However, it is possible to realize that the information that is coming into the senses is much more real and much healthier. When one starts to notice this, the chattering of the brain becomes less important and may slow down on its own.
If I have decided that I should relax or should be alert when I meditate, I have only created one more idea to confuse my poor body/mind. Is it possible to sit down without knowing and to be in simple touch with what is going on? You may find that it doesn't matter whether the body/mind goes into relaxing mode or alert mode. If you don't care which it does and just be present, you may discover some things about these internal modes, which may have personalities of their own.
Some people have pointed out that it is not important at all what is seen (experienced). It is only important that what is going on can come into the light of awareness, that things are seen. We can't say that this takes alertness or that this takes relaxation. It depends on the moment.
People have also pointed out that the state of mind is not important. At one point this would have sounded completely crazy to me. I would have felt that meditation is completely about the state of mind. But then at a certain point I suddenly noticed the world around me. I realized that the state of mind did not need controlling or cultivating. That states of mind just need to be seen if they arise and forgotten if they don't. There may be information in states of mind, just as there is a scent in a flower, but it is not something I have to be concerned about or control.
Whether the body/mind needs relaxation or alertness at a specific moment is determined by vast, mostly unknowable factors. The information of the senses is useful. There is other information, like the pull of the moon, the activity of the sun, the minds of other people and animals and plants, that also influences this. The decision is not made by the conscious mind, even though it may feel like I have decided to be alert or decided to relax. We simply become consciously aware of a decision that has already been made in the nervous system.
This is all an experiment at any moment. You can watch the conflict between two systems of the body/mind. You can be interested in how it plays out. Which one wins. Which loses. Follow it up for hours if you are interested and see what happens. You may find that if the conscious mind does not try to decide which is right, that there is a tremendous freedom and even playfulness in these processes.
I have a friend whose two children, an older girl and a younger boy, always argued with each other in the back seat of the car. One time my friend couldn't stand it any more. He stopped the car and yelled at them, "Why do you two always argue with each other?" They were silent for a moment, then looked at each other and responded, "But we like it!"
I hope this helps a little. Please write back if I have not been very clear about something. I will also be interested to hear how this goes for you.
R: I suppose Buddhist meditation is all about being mindful. Other meditation forms are about entering a trance-like state based on relaxation, right? Which one would you recommend? What is YOUR meditation technique? Thanks.
Jay: This is really the same question that we discussed before, isn't it? Should I be "mindful," alert, active, or should I let myself be relaxed, in a trance?
Personally, I don't have a meditation technique. For me there is the possibility of a simple presence in which the happenings of the mind and body and world all around are simply visible, experiencable as they happen. It doesn't matter whether it is the sound of a bird or the sound of an angry thought coming up in the body and mind. It can all be noticed if the brain is not trying to direct everything or to control itself.
In this presence there may be a relaxed state that is noticed or there may be an alert state that is noticed. It doesn't matter which. Each has its place. The important thing is the noticing.
Perhaps you have an unrealistic expectation of meditation. I think it is very helpful to carefully examine your goals and reasons for doing meditation. Maybe you came to meditation because you wanted to make yourself better. But if you watch carefully, you discover that you don't know what to do. Do you relax or do you be alert? It is impossible to know which one to do. The two are always in conflict. So you look for an expert who can tell you. But even if you look to ancient and wise traditions, you still find this same contradiction. Some say "be and relax" and some say "be actively alert."
When you sit down to meditate, maybe you can ask yourself, "What do I need right now?" Then just listen to your body and mind and to the sensations coming in from the world and to the silence all around you. Let all of that information come into you without interfering with it.
Letting what is going on be revealed is not a trance state nor is it trying to be alert. It is a matter of not interfering with what is actually here. It is both quiet and attentive.
If you still think "But how do I do that?" then just sit and try it. You will notice the mind continually evaluating what is going on and thinking about what should be done. If you can notice that the thinking does not really know, then you can make it an experiment. If you really think you should go with trance relaxation, then go with it and see what happens. If you really think you should stay away from trance and be alert, then try it out and stay with it.
Does this make sense?
Jay: Dear R. I received your request to be removed from the mailing list. I realize that the meditative inquiry session you attended a couple weeks ago was your first with us. I'd be interested in any feedback you had on the session you attended. Did you find it unpleasant?
R: Jay, it was not that it felt unpleasant but more that I felt at a different place. The discussion was more philosophical than I am accustomed to and therefore felt hard for me to connect with. I affirm different strokes for different folks, and you had a sizable group there, so keep up the good work.
Jay: Thanks for the feedback. It is interesting for me. I understand what you are saying. People often experience the inquiry that happens in the group as "abstract", theoretical, philosophical or "in the head". I've noticed this in Springwater, where I go to retreats and in other places. I was concerned at first when people would say this about something I was saying and because of this, I've looked at this carefully.
Usually people feel this way in listening to other people talk together (as opposed to feeling this way about an inquiry they are participating in). When someone listening to a conversation has spoken up and said it sounds theoretical, a number of times I've checked in with the other person who was engaged in the discussion. Pretty much invariably that person reports that the conversation was very direct and right on with what they were inquiring about and not theoretical or philosophical at all.
I often feel, when I'm listening to others talk and I'm not involved in the discussion (I'm talking about this meditative discussion, not ordinary talking) exactly what you described, only maybe more judgmental. I may feel they are off track, that it's not what I would say, that they are just being theoretical, saying things everybody has heard a million times, and quite often, simply that I cannot understand a thing they are saying or relate to it, which makes me feel frustrated and somewhat stupid. One time last year I was in a discussion at Springwater during retreat and I questioned the value of what someone had said, commenting that it just seemed like hollow advice. Someone else who I respect spoke up and said that they had found the person's words quite helpful. I was surprised but accepted this at face value.
Many things such as this come up when discussion does not stick with the conventionally safe ways of talking. I'm not saying one has to "suffer" through this stuff for some purpose, but it is quite clear to me that when conversation stays with what is safe, the opportunity to hear each other and oneself deeply is lost. I like to encourage people to be patient with this open kind of discussion and to see if they can find their way with it, gradually and perhaps awkwardly.
There are several ways I've found to help keep the dialogue meaningful for myself (remembering that it might already be meaningful for others). One is to ask people questions to help clarify what they are talking about. Often the person who brings up a topic has not expressed it particularly clearly. It is not easy to do so and we don't have many opportunities to learn this. People are usually very general and theoretical when they frame a question, so no wonder that it is hard to relate to.
Another way to keep it "real" for me is to raise concerns that are important to me. That is rather vulnerable, of course.
Another approach that I have found is simply to listen even if I can't relate to what people are saying. I try to let the frustation drop and just listen. I sometimes feel "out of it" when I do that because I have no role whatsoever at those moments and I always like to have a role. Just listening, sometimes later on during the discussion or the next day something clicks and I realize what they were talking about in a way that does feel real and not philosophical.
It strikes me just now that a big part of the value of this verbal inquiry together is to uncover exactly these dynamics which very much dominate our relationships and communication with others. So what you experienced - that the conversation sounds theoretical and doesn't touch where you are at - is a good thing to have had a chance to bring up together.
I'm personally very interested in what moves different people, what questions or spiritual searching moves you. If it is more comfortable to talk one on one in a setting where we can listen in a direct way to each other, I am always interested in doing that together.
One of the reasons why I try to maintain this group situation is because I have not found settings for verbal inquiry together locally. There are groups that have discussion but the ones I have participated in I have found to not be able to go beyond the "safe" rules of conversation. Of course the "safe" usually feels good to people. If you have a discussion where people agree with each other, you can feel like you have like-minded friends. It may not really be the case but it gives that impression. If there is a discussion in which people are emotionally supportive, one feels heartfelt affection but it never feels particularly real afterwards. When the safety net is dropped and we have to face the reality of how we communicate, it is more difficult and requires more patience but I find the affection and support that come out of that are ultimately more real.
Well, I just wanted to share these thoughts. Thanks for your honest comments.
I will consider what you've said.
S: Hi, Jay. I'm 23 years old and I've been meditating for about 3-4 years now. A common thing that happens 15 minutes into it is vibrations. These are very pleasant and always catch me off guard. They range from light to, at one point, very vigorous. Only one time was it uncorfortable. However, I still don't understand what this is. Tones usually accompany these vibrations and so do the colors red and blue in blob-like shapes in the blackness of my eyelids. Can you help me out with understanding this? I have yet to meet someone who could help. Thank you.
Jay: The body and mind are full of mysterious and unusual sensations, most of which probably simply do not have any "meaning" in the sense that we usually think of it.
I think when we experience something that is outside of our usual experiences, the first thought is whether it means something. Looking more closely at this, the thought is really "Does this mean anything FOR ME", with the emphasis on me. This is the memory speaking, scanning what it knows about keeping the body safe and healthy.
The thoughts might also be along the lines, "Wow, I am developing some cool abilities. If I keep doing the same thing, will it get cooler?" There is also the thought, "Probably no one else has experienced this. This makes me special." When other people say they don't know what it means, that thought can be reinforced. The loneliness of being unique, which can feel very superior to others, but the fact is that that feeling almost immediately wants someone else to share it with, even if it is just one other unique person. As much as we like being unique, we don't really want to be alone.
The fact is that we are continually fascinated by our internal processes to the extent that we don't hear and experience the real world around us. If you feel these sensations have some meaning, then examine them carefully and open mindedly. Sit with them and just listen. Question for yourself what the relationship is of these sensations to direct sensory experience of the world all around.
I wonder what your motivation is in sitting still in meditation. If you would like to talk about that, please feel free to write back. It may have some relationship to what you are experiencing. Also, I'd be interested to hear what it is you are doing during the meditation time.
S: That was definitly a great answer. I go into meditation with wanting to experience, wanting to learn from the experiences, wanting to explore, spiritually grow and to escape the stress in this reality we call life. I just wish I could understand why certain things happen when I meditate. I've had out-of-body experiences during meditation. I really enjoy those.
Jay: It would be interesting to watch carefully what this stress is that you talk about. There are endless cycles of getting stressed and relieving stress. The only way for there to be some change toward more equanimity is to come in touch with what moves us during our daily activities.
Is it possible to watch what dynamics are going on in the situations that cause stress? This watching needs to include not just what it seems like others are doing to stress me but also what I am bringing to the situation. What have I done or what attitude have I conveyed that brought out their reaction? How do I react to what others are doing?
What happens in sitting still is mostly a reflection of how we have lived during the day. Not totally, but mostly. It can give clues as to where tension has been and what has happened in me to add to that tension.
You mentioned wanting to experience but in fact most of the time we do not experience what is going on, especially what is happening internally, in the thoughts and feelings. It is possible that for you the word experience means feeling something in a specific way in your body. Anything that is not that feeling may not have much interest to you. I'm not pointing a finger at you. I only say this because it's true for me as well. It's ok to observe honestly that a lot of experiences are of little interest to me. It's also ok to notice the consequences of that - boredom, desire for intense experience, addiction to the things or people that give me intense experience.
What I've described may not be how things are for you. Hard to know since we don't know each other. But these are some things that can be observed carefully if they are of interest.
You can also look at this frustration, which you express in your comments, of wanting to know what certain experiences mean. What is the nature of this frustration? What is its source? Are there alternatives to it? How does it manifest in your interactions with friends, family? At work? How does it affect other people? How does it affect you? Are there times when the frustration is enjoyable and other times when it is unpleasant?
A certain part of the brain wants to understand "what does this mean for me? How does this fit into my image of myself and the world." That is only one part of the mind. Does it understand its own limitations? If not, if it doesn't really seem like it has limitations, then observe carefully.
I will be interested to keep
in touch as you explore. Please write back
with further questions/comments.
D: I have been studying Buddhism and meditation for approximately 10 years now, although it has only been in the last 18 months that I have made transitioned my work from an academic study to a spiritual practice.
I have based most of my meditation thus far through in Zen practice, but read more broadly as well. With that background, on to my question:
I have felt that I have made great introductory strides in my practice, and am able to find a clear and still mind with less and less effort as time goes on. I have also felt the effect of these experiences beyond the time set aside for practice. However, within the last few weeks, I have actually developed an increasing sense of (what I feel is irrational) anxiety.
My wife and I were blessed with the birth of our first child a few months ago. We loved her from the start, but that love is blossoming even more as time goes on. While my meditation practice has allowed me to move towards seeing the world as it is, and appreciating the beauty and wonder in all the transient details of life, I feel that it has also opened a door in my heart to allow me to be more loving and more compassionate than I ever have been before, particularly towards my wife and child.
The negative consequence is that I now have been almost consumed, at times in debilitating or paralyzing ways, by anxiety over the fragility of my young daughter's life, by a consuming desire to ensure her life is as full and beautiful as possible, and by a general pain in contemplating the young lives that do not experience that same full and beautiful life, whether due to circumstance, illness, or death.
I've stumbled across this conundrum, which has caused quite a bit of confusion for me. How is it that practicing, and what I feel has been the development of some insight, has aroused GREATER feelings of attachment and GREATER feelings of anxiety than were there before? One possibility is that they were there all along but now I can see them for the first time. Perhaps my practice has allowed me to see things more clearly, but before I can truly work on eliminating attachment, the first step for me is to clearly appreciate just how strongly I am attached to some things in this world. On the other hand, I worry that I am driving towards the wrong goals in my meditation practice and creating new confusion.
Do you have any experience with these types of moments, where breakthroughs first appear to be setbacks or challenges?
I would appreciate your thoughts and look forward to your input. Thank you in advance for your time.
I do appreciate what you are saying. We have a three year old granddaughter and I can relate to what you are feeling.
I would agree that meditative presence leads to an increased sensitivity, which includes both pleasure and pain.
You talk about breakthroughs and setbacks. I'm taking a closer look at these. By breakthrough, I think you are talking about being able to have a clear and still mind and to feel a little of this outside of formal sitting as well.
I wonder if a goal has been set up in the mind that a clear state of mind is something to be cultivated. That perhaps the "goal" of meditative work is to have the clear state for longer periods over time and to carry it into daily life. This is a common internal goal. Some traditions reinforce this but ultimately I think it is the nature of a certain aspect of the human mind to believe this.
I'm not saying there is anything wrong when there is quiet and clarity in the mind. It happens, especially if one learns to take some quiet time and not overburden the mind. But what has become increasingly clear to me is that it does not matter what the state of mind is. You may well protest that if the state of mind doesn't matter, what is the point of meditating. Isn't it about a more peaceful state of mind?
I'll try to be clear then about what I mean so that it is not misleading.
If there is a recognition that a state of mind, a bunch of thoughts, images, emotions, is active in the mind, what happens next? We are talking about the fact that first there is awareness that the mind is not quiet and calm. If awareness depended on a calm mind, then how could the awareness come in the first place? It couldn't. The awareness of the state of mind doesn't come from the state of mind. It doesn't depend on it.
What's important is the awareness, the fact that the contents of the mind/body are revealed with some directness. Awareness by itself has its own healing action, its own creativity and its own wisdom. It may bring up questions that help enter more deeply into what is going on. Or it may suggest ways for the body to move to feel more directly what is happening in the emotions. We don't have to consciously be responsible for these things or to even consciously know what they are.
I think we can say that it is relatively easy to be present when the mind is quiet. It is maybe more of a stretch to stay with the turmoil of the mind in activity. Of course with thoughts that we enjoy, there is often little incentive for presence. The focus becomes the content of the thoughts, acting on the thoughts. When something is disturbing, then interest arises.
You hinted at a feeling that if you weren't attached to your daughter, you wouldn't have these negative and worrisome thoughts. Let's distinguish deep and sensitive feeling from 33her or look at her or play with her? That would be deadness of the most callous kind.
If I understand what you are saying, part of what you are experiencing is the incredible fragility of life. Maybe it is more obvious in infants than in older people but when I look carefully, the assumption that my girlfriend or my brother or myself will be alive tomorrow, an hour from now, even in five minutes is only an assumption. Consider the incredible delicacy of the system that sustains life in us, that allows breathing to continue and the heart to keep beating. Consider the wild and vital energies of life itself. Right now the wind is whipping up outside. A tree limb could come careening through the roof. The world is vast, powerful, ever changing, unknowable and for the most part, uncontrollable.
In this light, the simple reality of this moment seems incredibly precious, not to be missed. When the concerns take over of how to protect your daughter, how to pave the way for her, or the fearful images come up of all the things that could happen to her, what happens to this precious moment right here?
If the beauty of this simple moment and the fact of death, disease, suffering, emotional deadness, isolation - if these two things seem unrelated or contradictory, then sit with this puzzle with all your being. How can this be? Carry this question in every moment, because it is only in this present moment that the reality of human nature can be understood.
I think we can stop here with this inquiry. I don't know if I've addressed your concern but do feel free to write back so we can look at this together.
I'd like to consider the topic of "spiritual progress." For most of us, if someone asked how we felt about spiritual progess personally, we'd probably say something like "Well, I can look back and see that things have gotten better" or maybe "I don't really see anything changing but I have faith that sitting or time or awareness or something will help." Or maybe "Some things have changed but I'm still such a mess but I know I should just be patient."
What does the phrase "spiritual progress" bring up? Doesn't this immediately bring up a sense of what I've been in the past? A sense of what I have suffered, maybe. What has gone poorly. What I would dearly like to change. And then an evaluation of whether anything has changed or is likely to change in the future.
This is clearly memory – stored pictures, information, the whole autobiography. Is this clear? If you bring up memories of who you have been, how people see you, that these memories are only accessible because they are stored imagery. The picture of myself. The recorded 3D movie of myself.
As deeply ingrained as this story of myself is, as hard-wired as it seems to be to the emotions, to the sense of identity, we can ask the question of how accurate this picture is. Isn't it true that painful experience tends to imprint itself into memory more strongly than mildly pleasant experiences? Isn't it true that as we walk through our lives now, we usually only see small parts of what is going on at any time and so our memory of an experience – a walk down Central Avenue – is only based on a tiny amount of what was going on. And at that, it's only a very inaccurate representation of what was going on.
Maybe I come away from an experience in which someone was critical of me and I'm feeling sad, depressed that once again I've alienated someone and that once again I've let it make me critical of myself, etc. But quite possibly at the time the person was talking to me, there was also the sound of some birds outside, or some cool wind, or some people walking hand in hand or someone with a sad look on their face. Somehow the mind only takes one part of what was perceptible and engraves that one part into memory. I didn't perceive the other things.
And the memory of the person being critical of me. How much did I really hear accurately? Did I really hear where the person was coming from? If not, did I try to ask? Did I even hear what my concerns, judgments and resentments were?
After the fact, that evening of the next day, if the memory is brought up, how much of what comes up is really an accurate representation of what really went on? To me, a close examination of this shows that most of what is remembered is highly inaccurate, not representative of the whole of what happened in a moment and very inaccurate as far as capturing the part of the situation that memory is trying to capture.
Isn't it true that after a while, our brain has learned to look for the same old things and to therefore find the same old things. And the rest of the world is not seen.
So coming back to spiritual progress, isn't the idea of spiritual progress simply based on the picture of who I have been and the projection of how that picture ought to look in the future (even if the future is multiple life times away)? Isn't it based on an assumption that the picture of who I have been, of what's wrong with me, is accurate, reliable? That I "know" who I have been?
As I sit here in front of the computer, warmth of a heat lamp shining on the skin, body a little crooked in the chair, slight sensations in the arms, what is happening right now? This is a living question. It calls for in-touchness now. The idea of "progress" seems irrelevant. It takes the mind away from direct experience of the world as it is and into theorizing -–which seems like being asleep.
The heater clicking, fan humming somewhere. At the same time the mind is not discarded, shut off, ignored. It is open, silent and still, wondering without knowing in in-touchness. In a moment of wholeness the mind is not busy putting down recordings of who I am and what I will need to do about it. Wholeness is too large and unknowable to record.
The minute thinking dominates, the mind is filled with reviewing what I did, what I've been, what I should do, what will happen. When we talk together, this seems to be much of what comes out and we share our "strategies for spiritual progress." But the questioning can come alive again and again, in the middle of this thinking dominated mind. Is there really any such thing as progress? Let me look right here. What do I mean by it? Is it anything other than a thought reaction to the whole memory story of myself?
Looking, looking, looking. Listening
into the unknowable that is right here, letting
the even the question drop into silence and
yet continuing to listen, to be, beyond knowing.
I'm prompted to write a little about the group verbal inquiry because of some dynamics in our last group meeting, as well as some experiences at the recent retreat at Springwater that I attended.
In the group we are purposely abstaining from some of the usual ways of communicating – giving advice, rattling off experiences, telling our stories and encouraging others to tell their stories, encouraging or acknowledging each other – in order to leave room for the possibility of a deeper listening. By deeper listening, I am thinking of the possibility of hearing myself as I speak, hearing where I'm coming from, what I'm trying to convey, if anything. Deeper listening for me has come to mean listening to the words of other people and letting those words sink in. To do this I usually have to refrain from my habitual quick reaction. Deeper listening also seems to require that I am patient with the fact that I may not understand what someone is saying or that there is a conversation going on between two people that doesn't involve me.
The usual ways of talking mentioned above may give a sense of safety to ordinary conversation. I may feel that I can communicate in a social setting pretty well because I say the things that make other people feel good about me. In a setting where we put aside those "niceties," some people may feel uncomfortable. Of course there are other people who don't feel comfortable in ordinary conversation. I don't know if they will feel even more uncomfortable when we drop the conventions or if they will feel relief that they can just speak honestly or just listen.
In part because of the fact that the usual conventions of conversation have been put aside, there are some dynamics that happen in the groups that I think are helpful to recognize. In fact part of the value of the group inquiry is to have a chance to hear how we listen, react and talk. I'm just talking about these from my own observations, which may not be everyone's experience. I have seen in myself and others a certain kind of irritation come up. For me this irritation often goes along with a feeling that I don't understand what someone else is saying. It may sound superficial to me or it may sound like they are just talking on and on. The irritation sometimes goes along with the feeling that I haven't got the energy to listen to this – that the other person's talking is somehow sapping my energy. Often there is a judgment that also goes along with this that the other person is being heady or is out of touch or is dominating or controlling the group. And there is the feeling that this is not what I want to have happen. I want to have the energy go in a different way.
I used to feel pretty convinced that my judgment of the other person was correct. Recently in a Springwater group I felt that someone was just talking superficially and that the kind of thing they were talking about wasn't helpful. I said this out loud to the group, maybe as a question, with some irritation in my voice, "Why are you saying this? This doesn't sound to me like it's helpful." Another participant in the group spoke up then and said that what the person had said had in fact been very helpful to them. I believed what this person said.
Another time I said something in that group that I thought really addressed what was going on in a discussion between a few of us. Someone else (who I've known for many years) said something to the effect that what I said was just a lot of empty words, that it was too intellectual. I asked the group if everyone felt that way and two people said that on the contrary they thought that what I'd said really did address what we were talking about.
As strong as my feelings (and other people's feelings) were that someone's words were superficial, intellectual, maybe self-centered, it turns out that this is not the whole truth. This is a beginning, for me, of really questioning how I'm hearing other people.
Consider how damaging it is to oneself and others to come out of a meeting really believing that certain people were inconsiderate, irritating, insensitive to others, too intellectual. It would be nice if this kind of dynamic can come out in the meetings with some transparency. By this I mean hearing these reactions going on in oneself and continuing to listen anyway, with patience, to see what really unfolds. It may also be helpful for someone to bring up that they are, perhaps, not comfortable with how the conversation is going. After all, the group is a place for issues that are live right now to come out. What is more live and present than the strong feeling that someone else in the group is being a huge, irritating jerk? Is there a way to bring up this feeling with an interest in seeing our own buttons that are being pushed as well as an interest in and respect for the other person?
After our last meeting in Albuquerque someone was kind enough to call me and give some feedback. The person said that at one point I had sounded irritated, maybe angry, and that my voice sounded like I was straining against something. How rare it is for someone to give such honest feedback, and no wonder! We usually react against this kind of information, thinking "they don't really understand where I was coming from" or "I was justified to act that way," etc., etc. But it can also be possible to just listen to the feedback – without knowing if it is accurate or not – and see for oneself what it points out.
This same person also said that I was advocating "oblivion." She said this in response to something that I said about listening without any self-perspective whatsoever. She apparently interpreted this as oblivion, though I don't know what oblivion means to her. I wouldn't use the word oblivion as it has nothing to do with an annihilation of the senses or of intelligence or love. On the contrary, I was referring to a setting aside of the very thing that blocks the free flow of sensing, feeling, clear thinking and compassion. It was good that she brought up her interpretation. It's possible that she believed thoroughly that I was talking about oblivion. This seems to be how our interpretations of each other work. We have an interpretation and we believe it's precise. It's so helpful to bring up something like this – not just to stuff it into the back room of the mind and go away thinking that people in the group have weird ideas.
I wonder if it's possible for
anyone to just start from scratch in the verbal
inquiry assuming that our reactions to other
people are probably not accurate and often
not even close to what's going on. Then we
need to listen patiently to each other and
ask some questions to see if we can understand
where the other person is coming from. Or just
let the words and sounds come in without needing
to make too much sense of them right now.
Question: I started meditating about four months ago in an attempt to manage law school stress. I've set my practice (imperfectly) to 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes at night. I'll cut to the chase: I see intense, vibrant shapes and patterns when I meditate. My closed-eye visuals range from undulating tapestries and planetary orbs to certain repeat-player animal shapes to light tunnels.
I wasn't surprised by this because ever since I was little I've experienced these types of visuals - particularly bright colored, elaborate tapestries - pretty much whenever I close my eyes. Perhaps it bears mentioning that I remember this occurring way before any college-age drug experimentation took place.
Anyway, I just assumed everyone had this, that it was some sort of blood-in-the-retina situation with a very dry scientific explanation. However, when I casually mentioned one of my recently reoccurring visions (of Saturn - and no, I'm not into astrology) to a friend who also meditates, her reaction alarmed me. She seemed dumbfounded. Upon further investigation, I fast learned that the vast majority of people don't experience anything like this. So my question to you is: what is going on? Is there an explanation? Thanks!!
Jay: I remember having something similar when I was a kid. When I closed my eyes, I would see almost like a movie playing in what was distinctly a small, framed screen. It reminded me of a wrestling ring because you would only see the small lighted, square area in the middle of darkness.
These visions are fascinating in a way, aren't they? Also, discovering that other people don't experience them, there is a sense of being special and unique, which is probably added to by the fact that the experiences are private. They're inside me where other people can't see them, even if they wanted to.
You asked if there is an explanation. Many people ask if these experiences have any meaning. You didn't ask that specifically.
I'm sure there is a neurological explanation. But if you want to find out if there is any value in these experiences, even if it's just entertainment, I think you will need to take some time to stick with it and see what happens. I imagine that these visual images occur most strongly when you can be still and are not putting additional information into the brain, meaning you aren't reading, watching TV, listening to music, talking to people. Meditation usually involves "unplugging" from these loud, external inputs in order to be able to hear what is happening inside more subtly.
If you can give yourself a little more time of doing this, you can watch what happens when the nervous system gets a good, refreshing holiday from constant input. You can find out what happens if the visioning is given enough chance to do what it needs to do.
You might also observe what other kind of sensory awareness there is when the visions are going on. Does the watching of the visions prevent you from feeling the weight of the body on the chair or floor, the small sounds around you, the feel of air on the skin? Or can all of this - which is actually present, just not usually noticed - be experienced as well as the visions?
There is a great deal that becomes noticeable when we take enough time to quietly listen. In fact, there is a whole wide world that may eventually become noticeable. The usual boundaries that we live in can start to fade and open up, become transparent, so that we feel our interconnectedness with everything around us, not abstractly or intellectually, but directly, right here.
Sitting still is probably helpful for destressing from law school studies. Part of destressing is the nervous system sort of throwing off random overload in the form of sensations, visions, dreams, etc. But there is also this possibility of opening more deeply to what we are, beyond what we know and what we control. If you have extra time to devote to this deep listening without knowing, you may find that it is bottomless.
If you have some additional questions
or if I haven't been very clear about something,
please feel free to write back.
Thank you, Jay, for your thoughtful and thorough
response. Thank you also for sharing your own
unique childhood experience with closed-eye
visuals. I will continue to sit. Perhaps my
practice will help me to shatter the illusion
of my separateness and cultivate an experience
of interconnectedness. I imagine that this
would be very comforting, and intensely practical
too. The visuals remain something of a mystery
to me, and that's okay. Mysteries are comforting
Jay: I'm glad to hear back from you. Yes, so much is really a mystery. I have found that things that need to reveal themselves will, eventually, if they are given enough open space and are left alone. But you will find your own way with this if you have the chance to sit regularly.
As for the interconnectedness, the amazing thing that can be discovered if you persist with this is that it's here all the time. Just that our way of perceiving and filtering information usually blocks it out. It's not a result of looking at things a certain way or of holding onto a certain perspective. It's more accurate to say that undividedness is revealed when the patterns of thinking that create a sense of isolation give way. It's like the sun shining through when the clouds part. It's obvious the sun was there all the time. It wasn't created by somebody parting the clouds.
Since most of the time we don't see things that way, it can be very helpful to make a careful and compassionate study of how the sense of isolation and separateness works. How it functions, how it feels, the thoughts behind it, the fears and concerns behind it. Since the sense of separation is nearly always with us, this study can be done all the time. Since this affects not only us individually but nearly every human being nearly all the time, this careful observation is not just for our own personal benefit but for everyone's.
The interesting thing is that this kind of interest in the inner workings of the mind and the kind of transparency - meaning a willingness to observe oneself honestly - is already the working of the undivided mind. The mind that is not trying to defend and hide itself from the light of observation but rather is interested in the observable truth, no matter what that brings. It's like the action of the sun warming the clouds and starting to melt them. The sun is still invisible but it is functioning behind the scenes, in the dark.
As a law student, you may be interested in the concept of justice. Most negotiations between people - including the system of law that regulates our negotiations as individuals and as a society - are based on what I want versus what you want. Even what is considered to be justice is still what society wants versus what an individual wants. It can be a good question to ask if there is any possibility of interaction between people that is not based on the power play of me versus you.
You didn't say where you go to
law school. I kept thinking of Ann Arbor, Michigan,
where I went to undergrad, where I first learned
about meditation and where one of my best friends
went to law school. If you are in the east
part of the country, I can highly recommend
the Springwater Center in western NY as a good
place to go to an extended retreat in a non-traditional,
open setting that allows you to find your own
way. There are many very experienced meditators
that attend retreats there.
Questioner: Thank you Jay. I
am at Fordham Law School in New York. I recently
began researching possible meditation retreats
in my area but had nothing much to go on. Your
endorsement of the Springwater Center is very
welcome indeed. So thank you.
Your thoughts on our adversarial system of law are very interesting. There are movements in the law now that aim to bring a more collaborative spirit to conflict resolution. I am attracted to these movements. I can see now that my decision to apply to law school in my early thirties was primarily fear and ego driven. Ironically, however, it is law school that has brought me closer to becoming who I really am. The combined stress of being steeped in the 'what I want v. what you want' along with some painful events that have occurred in my life recently is what brought me to a practice of meditation and yoga. The world that unfolds before me when i quieten enough - this undivided mind source you speak of - is what is keeping me open and willing right now.
Thank you for your thoughts, and for your kindness.
January 2009. B: I have been meditating for over two decades- gone through the up and down associating w/ meditation in general. Good thing to say though that I am a much better person now, through the changes over the years.
I practice mainly the awareness type meditation. Three years ago, I started noticing the intense awareness of surrounding through my eyes. I could look and see the beauty of things in the daily live. This experience happened before but it didn't last, and I had to put an effort trying to reach it.
Anyway, now I start noticing the awareness moving up to my forehead. The awareness of things around me is much faster than at the eyes, or physical level. Thought? No thought!- just the awareness of what is going on. I know one thing is that the mind can only concentrate at one thing a time. So, either awareness or thought. It doesn't take much effort to be aware of myself, the things I was doing and surrounding. I can sit w/ my eyes closed- meditating or standing up w/ eyes opened, and the awareness is there. Again, no thought- OK thought is there, then it's gone. I can sit for a moment or hours if I want to- w/ no concern of pain/ numbness (although it is there still).
When I face w/ difficulty as everyone else, I look for ways to handle it using whatever is available at the time. I don't look for excuse or ask why it happened that way- just look for an answer. I deal w/ the issues at the personal level- basically decision made reflecting the person I am here and now- not how it should be or could be. I am trying to bring this awareness more to the daily live, yet still exploring even further spiritually. What can I look forward to? How can I strengthen my spiritual self even further. There was a time long ago I was seriously thinking of becoming a monk. But, then I realized that even a monk has to work and face things just like normal people. Hmm.... what should I do next? Any insights will be appreciated.
Thanks very much for your time, I am sure your kindness will be returned in favor one way or another.
Jay: Let's look at this together right now. You ask "What's next? What should I do to strengthen my spiritual self even further?"
What is it that asks this question? Sitting here at the computer, the warm air on the skin, sounds of fans and furnace clicking, the brain can ask what's next, what will happen in the future, what should I do. These questions are part of history, part of the story of me. They are built into memory, remembering what I have done and evaluating where I think I am now and trying to project what should be done next. This is all the activity of memory. When this quiets down, this quiet room with its sounds and feelings is revealed more clearly, along with the silence and spaciousness in which it exists. When the memory is active, there is confusion and anxiety in the mind and body about what to do next. When memory is quiet, there is stillness, there is what is here and there is a doing of something if it is needed now, without anxiety or worry. Memory active - confusion. Memory quiet - natural response as needed.
I am only really alive when memory is not turned on and there is presence. As you say, no thought, just awareness. Why bother with what I think I've done in the past to get to this point? Whatever I remember about what I have done, it is not what I have really done. It is only a very limited recording of certain events. Most of what I did and what really influenced me in the past is not only not remembered but it is not rememberable, not knowable.
Where have I arrived at through all my hard work over the years? How do I push it further? This thought also comes from memory, doesn't it? The memory of having struggled, having suffered, having gotten something in return. The projection in imagination into the future of how I have to keep going in a good direction. But looking right Here, what have I gotten? In reality much has actually been dropped, been given away. What is left has been here all the time.
Looking carefully at this moment of awareness, is there anything at all missing? If there is a sense of something missing, then is it possible to come in touch with that sense, to keep looking, keep awaring each moment until you can discover if there really is something missing right here. If there is something missing, it must be Here. So look Here more deeply, look more carefully, listen and feel more carefully, more subtly. Become very subtly and carefully and accurately aware of the listener, the awarer. What is it? The listener and that which is listened to both fully in awareness at the same time, in the same space, nothing left out.
Let's look at the question again, What did I do in the past to get here, to a place of maybe some openness and equanimity?
Is it not true that nearly all of what we did in the past, most of us, is to think, to imagine what we are, to try to figure out what to do about it, to react to events and people around us in habitual and inappropriate ways and to try to find or build new patterns that might protect us from the suffering that is created from living this way continually?
Occassionally this self absorption of thought stopped for us in the past and there was a moment of beauty and simplicity and completeness. Just briefly and then thought took over again and perhaps made a story about it. What did you do to get to a moment of no thought? The question doesn't apply. The moment of no thought happens when "me" is not operating. "Me" didn't do it. Thought, memory, patterns of behavior can only cover over presence. They don't create presence. Presence is already here. It's all there is.
So you don't need to worry about how to create or maintain awareness. It's not your responsibility because it's not possible to create or maintain. Just watch and listen carefully every moment and notice how the mind wants to know and wants to do something to keep you safe and wants to find answers. See if it is possible for this mind to become completely visible so that it is obvious whenever it wants to do something.
Sitting Here, body moving with the breath, heaviness in tired eyelids, there is no need for being anything in particular. No need for perfection, no need for growth, no need to know what happened before or what should happen next. There is just aliveness. Is anything missing? Listen and listen and listen!
Please write back if something here has not been very clear or doesn't seem right to you or if you want to explore some of this further.
B: "Just watch and listen carefully every moment and notice how the mind wants to know and wants to do something to keep you safe and wants to find answers. See if it is possible for this mind to become completely visible so that it is obvious whenever it wants to do something."
Everything mentioned previously sounds very familiar. On watching the mind wanting to do something- I thought I am supposed to guard the mind from wandering/ keep the lid on it as mind goes from one place to another. An apple turns into a football, so on and so forth.
How will I know how the mind will reveal itself? Is there something obvious I need to pay attention to? There were times when I "felt" I had to do certain thing, of course w/ out thinking of doing it before. Is this what you are talking about?
Jay: The mind reveals itself all the time. For example, if you smell something burning, the mind presents the fact that there is danger and it searches through memory until it recognizes that the smell matches the memory for eggs burning and the brain may present an image of getting up and going quickly to the kitchen or there may be no image but the muscles are activated along with some adrenaline and one gets up and goes to the kitchen.
The problem is that our field of attention is usually very small. We may only be listening to our thoughts and inner words. Because the field of attention is too small, the activity of the mind is not seen clearly.
The key is to stay in a wide open field of attention (unless your situation requires you to focus on something like driving or having a conversation). How do you find a wide open field of attention? Listen with the whole body and mind. Let the attention include the body, the inner feeling of the body. Listen through the body into the space around the body. You will find that there is no real borderline between what we think of as the body and the whole world. Listen with all of this and forget about the mind.
Then if a thought comes up, the thought will hold still and its deepest contents are revealed in a moment. If the field of attention is wide, there is room for thoughts to reveal themselves clearly, not squeezed or pressured as when the field of attention is narrow.
There is no need to guard the mind. Guarding is a narrow field. Experiment with this wide field and you will find that thoughts are not a problem when they come up in wide open awareness because there is an amazing intelligence in this wide space of awareness and that intelligence takes care of things.
If you find thoughts acting in a disturbing way, see if it is possible for more space to open up for them. Feel how the thoughts move in the body, what they press on, where they create tension. See if it is possible for these areas to open more to create more space. If the whole body seems open but thoughts are still disturbing, see if it is possible to open up beyond the body into the world itself.
When everything is wide open, the whole world, body and mind are transparent. Anything that comes up is revealed clearly in its own instant without tension or conflict.
It doesn't matter whether you see thoughts in the mind or don't see any thoughts. The only important thing is the wide openness of awareness - unlimited space in which things can appear as they need or if nothing appears just this space of being. It doesn't matter what is seen. Only the fact of seeing, of wide open presence is important. It is just the universe being itself, complete in this moment. That is all. That is everything.
I'm glad you asked for some clarification. That's helpful for both of us. Please let me know if you have some other questions that come up now, or if something comes up as you explore this.
B: October 2009. First, I need to thank you for the advice you gave me early this year.
I have been meditating mainly on being aware of things around me: the feeling/sensation/thought/sight. Sometimes, I sit w/ my eyes opened and just look- knowing that I was just looking and not really get in too deep as far as what I was looking. Sometimes, I would "look" at things, still not getting in too deep and too involve w/ the thoughts from seeing. Sometimes, just walking and aware that I was simply "walking". Just being aware of what I was doing at the moment, yes it was interesting to notice that while really focus on one thing, I was also aware of many things around me : thought, senses, noises- like seeing at the corner of my eyes while reading (not too deep). As I was aware of what was going on around me, I noticed the peace inside me which I didn't really have to look/search for. The peace is always there.
Although, I have this experience before for past couple of years. I was not sure if I was on the right track. I had been meditating mostly on the concentration type, and everything else but "awareness". At time, I noticed that I was too focus and everything else didn't really meet my expectation as my brain/ concentration were racing full force. Sometimes, I felt angry as I wanted to be in peaceful moment, and I either had to do something else, except sitting/meditating in peace. Or someone/ something had to disrupt me. Yes, I was at peace- ususally, and my concentration was good, but I felt I was not progress as I should. Even while sitting, I felt I had to rush eventhough there was not where to go. I always I had to rush to reach certain stage, certain level.
To certain point, I was also not happy and at peace w/ myself. I could understand the story why someone would ignore his career/ family and everything else to just sit next to the river talking to him being at peace w/ himself. (This perhaps is a pit fall as mentioned in the advance study of medition- a book I found at the Thai temple in MD). Sometimes, I noticed the awareness, when I really looked at something - almost like looking at picture, but moving picture. There was a sense of peace inside, and the aware of surrounding. Yet, I wasn't sure if I was on the right track. And, I started searching for more. It was also difficult to talk and ask questions since many teachers may be stuck "searching" for peace themselves.
Anyway, having experienced the awareness before, along w/ the meditation of this type, I understood right away what you told me to do. Now, it has been several months since I committed to it, I feel at peace- but not because I had to look for it. The awareness simply guides me there. As mentioned before, I notice many things around me simultaneously- yet still aware of what I was focusing on. I don't feel I need to be anywhere, trying to reach certain level. Just being aware of this very moment- if there is something needs to be done, I will sense it and it's time to go do it. By being aware of the moment, I feel at peace inside, even if people/ things are distracting- I am aware of this too.
I don't exact have a career-
just doing odd jobs here and there after leaving
my NASA work ten years ago. Now, I feel I am
on the right path spiritually. I am still not
sure what the destiny has in me - but everytime
I am aware of the moment I feel everything
will be fine and no one can take it from me.
Not exactly, extraordinary things, as some
friends of mine expecting to see me "float",
like a typical "Guru"- if there is
such a thing. In dreams, yes, I was flying
w/ my hands pushing myself above the ground.
But, in reality, people would be flocking to
me expecting that I solve their problems, or
healing someone. Not saying that I don't want
to really make a different, yes, I really want
to be able to heal and take pains away- I just
don't know how! Unfortunately, I have to consult
Ms. Destiny as well. Everyday, I do what I
can, to make different regardless of how small-
at the same time trying to make an honest living.
Sometimes, I feel the uncertainty, but I let
awareness by my guide which then turn the unfortunate
into opportunity. The difficult time which
most of us are facing currently, is not so
bad afterall. To me, survival now takes a back
seat, doing what I am to do is most important.
Again, the awareness lets me know what I need
Thanks again. And, you are welcome to add your insight to this, along w/ advise that you may have. I am sure this is just begining but to a different direction.
Jay: It's nice that you have discovered the peacefulness that comes when the mind is not trying so hard to get away from this moment. And the intelligence to - somehow - know what to do when it is necessary to do something. All of it coming without having to try.
The mind works best when it is simply a receiver. And it can't simply receive if it is trying to focus or trying to react to something. Even when there is some kind of action, if it comes from just listening, the action does not make the mind noisy. The mind can stay quiet, receptive, even in doing, even in thinking when necessary.
You mentioned some little thoughts about "what to do next" or about being helpful. In some ways you can see that these are just thoughts. I don't have to know what I will do next. But the thought comes up. It's a thought about "myself". There is imagery behind it of what I am, what I was, what I will be. In sitting quietly, presently, these thoughts may not come up at all. What a relief. Then the thought comes back. What will happen to me in the future? Will I just sit and do nothing? Shouldn't I have a goal, like helping other people? Or even a goal of just going around in presence doing the appropriate thing, and how people will see me and be impressed or maybe inspired. All of this is the brain making imagery about itself because that is what it is trained to do. It doesn't want to stop.
It is also possible that there are things in the mind - past memories, patterns, habits, reactions, assumptions - things that do need to come into the light. They can come into the light whenever there is a moment with no focus, no need to know, forgetting about everything because what is right here is so present. I personally find that a seven day retreat is the best way for me to give these deeper patterns a chance to come out more clearly and fully. This is seven days of living in a very simple, direct way, along with other people.
I would recommend this very much. I personally go two or three times a year, maybe more. It is very helpful. There is a kind of unknowable "going deeper" that happens on its own.
Many retreat places impose certain kinds of tradition or practices or requirements that sometimes seem to interfere with just the opportunity for simple presence. I can recommend the Springwater Center in NY as a place that provides a very simple, direct retreat and yet has people there who have done this work for many years.
We are also holding a seven day retreat here in New Mexico the first week of December.
If you have not been to something like this, I think you will find that it is just what you have wanted - the chance to be in deep presence, with others, in Nature, for a good long time.
I will look forward to hearing how things are going for you.
D: I have so many questions I am not sure which one to ask or how to condense it into one question.
Something is bothering me and depressing me now that I have come to realise that in essence the only way to obtain enlightenment is to become aware of the present moment, the "Now".
One has to leave the analytical mind and the ego and become aware of the "I" that is behind your thoughts. This "I" being the formless "Self". This I thought one could do in formal meditation but now am told that this is not the case.
I used to read books by Dr Paul Brunton and other books on Spirituality. I used to be a member of the Rosicrucian Order. I was always searching for the Truth because I wanted to find something that would make me feel secure with Life.
I previously thought that the practise of formal meditation would help the meditator to achieve a certain degree of peace and security and that Life would flow more pleasantly. But now after having read "The Power of Now" by Echart Tolle I realised that formal meditation fails to arrive at the Self because in doing meditation, you are still aware of "yourself" and the "object" which is doing meditation as pointed out by Sri Ramana Maharshi.
When I first read the book "The Power of Now" I noticed Eckhart Tolle did not indicate any formal meditation technique to practise on. Now I am discovering this more and more. Not only Sri Ramana Maharshi, but also Jiddu Krishnamurti and Toni Parker all seem to advocate on training oneself to be aware of the present moment, to sense the "I" behind all your thoughts and action.
Okay fine. But this is going to be really hard for me. I have to admit that I was always lazy in doing my meditations but at least I had in the back of my mind the thought that if I did eventually do my meditation on a more constant daily basis I would get somewhere. Now, I find that I am being told this is no longer the case and I have been robbed of my psychological security blanket, if that makes any sense.
I was led to believe that in doing formal meditation it was to learn to still the mind, to cease the "chatter" of the mind so that one can open up to the "Higher Self" and tune in to its Holy promptings and feel protected, secure and at peace. Thereby as one becomes more adept in meditation one feels less troubled and knocked about by the vicissitudes of Life.
Now I discover I have to try to be just aware of the Present and the Self that is behind my everyday thoughts and actions. But just by being aware of this, is it really going to make all that much of a difference to me as a novice? Is that all there is to it as an exercise? Is this going to be enough to make an impact on me?
What I mean to say is, it is going to be hard for me to remember every time to observe my "Higher Self" the next time I am in an argument or going through some unpleasant emotion. Or if I suddenly have a bad accident - end up being paralyzed for example - then all I have to do is just accept the situation. Will I have enough mental and spiritual strength to accept it? Will I get the peace? Am I strong enough for it?
I was led to believe once that formal meditation would help, that it gave you the peace and mind strength. Now I'm told that it is useless.
Is there no form of meditation that I can now follow that would help me to be aware of the "I" and the Present Moment?
Just to be aware of the "I" behind my thoughts and that's it? It is so vague this exercise or too simple that I feel that I would forget to use it throughout the day.
I'm sorry, I am not sure if I am making myself understood. I don't even know why this is bothering me. Sometimes I wish I was the ignorant man on the street with all his illusions. At least he "thinks" that he will be happy one day. Whereas I am at a stage now where unfortunately I know the Truth in that I know Life is always going to have suffering and that depresses me.
Now I am robbed of the efficacy of formal meditation, because formal meditation is only temporary so I am led to understand.
So now what? What exactly do I do now to feel secure in Life? I know that one must accept the Present, but that is going to be extremely difficult to do when Life hits you hard. Easy to say but hard to do in practise.
Jay: I do understand what you're talking about. I can definitely relate to it.
I don't know if we'll be able to touch on all of what you've brought up here. Let's start with your comment "Something is bothering me and depressing me now that I have come to realise that in essence the only way to obtain enlightenment is to become aware of the present moment, the 'Now'."
I don't exactly how you are experiencing this but I get the impression that there is perhaps a struggle set up in your mind between the idea of "enlightenment" and the idea of "becoming aware of Now." Do you think it's true that for you the idea of enlightenment has become a highly charged desire? And that the idea of becoming aware of the Now seems like a huge, almost impossibly focused effort that stands in the way of getting what you would like - enlightenment?
As I write this, the dynamic I just described seems almost obvious. How could these two ideas not be in conflict?
Let's look behind the scenes a little bit at what the idea of enlightenment really represents for you. Actually, you will have to do this yourself, since I can't read your mind. I remember a point, after a number of years of "working hard" in retreats, years of sort of banging my head against the wall of "practice" because I was told that's what I was supposed to do, it suddenly struck me that I had no idea why I was doing this. I began to wonder at what my original motivation for doing meditative work was in the first place. I began looking back into my earlier life to see what had concerned me even before I ever heard of meditation - the things that I observed as a child and as a teenager that bothered me and upset me, my questions about my life and about how I saw others living.
What does enlightenment mean to you, anyway? Clearly you have images of what it is because those images motivate you strongly. Can you examine freshly what you believe you have been trying to do all these years of meditation? Can you question whether what has motivated you is valid or not? Examine it from scratch? The questions may come up taking different forms from how I'm putting them but do you get the sense of really looking at what has been moving you all these years?
Now let's consider what it means to you to "become aware of the present moment, the Now." Again, the mind certainly has imagery about this. You said that one "has to leave the analytical mind and the ego and become aware of the 'I' that is behind your thoughts." Why do you say this?? There are a tremendous number of assumptions behind that statement. Please understand that I'm not trying to put you down for making the statement. On the contrary, I am wondering if that belief is part of what's making you depressed. What an impossible task, to leave the analytical mind and to leave the ego.
Maybe I'm being a little too Zenny with that last statement but, really, honestly, what do you mean by "analytical mind"? Have you observed such a thing for yourself? I would say that if you have, you will have seen that it is not a problem. It is not something to get rid of or put aside. The same with "ego". Everyone talks about this, especially in spiritual circles, but what do you really mean by it? Have you observed it carefully, patiently, lovingly, relentlessly, accurately, inquisitively? If it actually exists, it should be observable in this way.
You have described your understanding of what Krishnamurti and Toni Packer have advocated. I wonder if the image you have of what this work would be like, in theory, is part of what is causing anxiety. When you say "Is there no form of meditation that I can now follow that would help me to be aware of the "I" and the Present Moment? " are you not crying out for something to hold onto mentally? Something to do, something to repeat, something to focus on, something to get better at? Have you tested it out to see if you really need something like that? Are you imaging that there is a purpose in being relatively aware of what is going on this moment?
I think your idea of being aware of the "I" every moment is too complicated. Did someone really say you have to do this? I have worked with Toni Packer for 30 years. I've never heard her say you have to do this. And even if someone said something like that, why do you think they know any better than you do, if you yourself have examined something very carefully and thoroughly? What do you even mean by the "I"? I'm not asking you for a theoretical description or explanation. I'm wondering if you have examined this carefully for yourself to see if there is any such thing that you have to worry about. Examined it to your own thorough satisfaction.
You said "Just to be aware of the "I" behind my thoughts and that's it? It is so vague this exercise or too simple ..." Let's look at Awareness, Presence, Now, in a different, simpler way, forgetting about trying to find some "I" behind the thoughts. Sitting down, staying relatively still, comfortable, not struggling against the body, what is really here this moment? Listening, interested. Not listening "for" anything but just open to what is here. On first sitting down, the noise of the mind can be heard. And frequently consciousness is lost and there is daydreaming. And then rewaking from daydream, realizing that dreaming had been going on. All of this happens on its own - the falling asleep, the waking up.
Sitting here, this moment, the glare of the computer screen, the sound of fans, the feel of the chair, the words appearing on the screen as the mind expresses something through the medium of thought and language. Tiredness, interest. The dark night sky.
All of this is visible in a simple direct way that is not caused by anything I do. It is just visible when the mind is not creating too much noise. Trying to be aware of an I is the making of noise. Listening, perceiving, quietly is noise quieting down.
Most of what we do is the making of noise. Have you noticed this? In our lives, our relationships, our spirituality. The setting up of goals, practices, skills to secure our safety and avoid future pain. I'm not saying some of this may not be appropriate. It's just that we have lost the subtlety to distinguish what is the making of noise and what is noiseless listening. And because of that, we fill our lives with exhausting noise and we die without ever having experienced even a moment of what we really are - out of fear of what might become of us and the restlessness that comes from this fear. Isn't this true?
If there is any wise advice at all, it might be to, once in a while, forget the whole world of human troubles, of human wisdom and spiritual goals - and see if it is at all possible to be alive for a moment at a time, even just once before I die.
You mention wanting security. What is absolutely certain is that this brain with all of its exhausting plotting for its own safety and serenity, will end. I remember when my father died a year and a half ago, at age 91, part of the feelings that swept through me was the sense of how all of the things that we had all worried about for him - his ongoing health struggles, his concerns about his independence, financial worries, at the end even the ability to breath - all of this was gone! And it was clear what a burden it had been. Not that some of it might not have been necessary at the time. On his last night I looked at his face and noticed that it had a beautiful look to it, almost a youthfulness among the wrinkles. It may be that he had already dropped his concerns about all of these things and was able to be simply present for his last hours, with a joy and equanimity that most of us rarely experience.
Presence is not something to be practiced. It's not a technique for accomplishing any mental skills. It is just a moment of how life really is. We all do have these moments, fleetingly, but our priorities are usually somewhere else. Too simple?
If you are really interested in Presence, do you have the opportunity to go to week long retreat someplace where the emphasis is simple presence? The Springwater Center, where Toni Packer is, is one of the few places I know of where this happens. I can recommend it wholeheartedly.
I may not have been too clear about a lot of what I've written, so please feel free to write back and ask for clarification or correct how I've interpreted your question.
D: First of all let me just say thank you for taking your time and energy just to read my "egotistical ranting" and to go out of your way to help me. I appreciate your service.
First of all I have for many years been interested in the meaning of Life when I was a teenager at university and I was always seeking for the Truth. From that I have read books on mysticism, spirituality and I even joined the Rosicrucian Order of which now I am no longer a member.
As a result of all this searching I have discovered that meditation was definitely one of the the ways forward and the added practice of overall body exercise; such as just "feeling" the energy in your feet, legs, abdomen all the way up to the top of one's head.
Trouble with mysticism and spirituality is that it is a subject that is so "airy-fairy" it is difficult to know who indeed knows the Truth and the "practical way" to meet Life's challenges. There are a lot of spiritual teachers who profess to know the "Way" and a lot of them are false and on a ego trip and it is difficult at times to know who are genuine. There are a lot of false prophets out there.
I believe there is only one timeless spiritual TRUTH that is the essence of all religions. It is not derived from external sources, but from the one true Source within.
You wrote: "Maybe I'm being a little too Zenny with that last statement but, really, honestly, what do you mean by "analytical mind"? Have you observed such a thing for yourself?...What an impossible task, to leave the analytical mind and to leave the ego."
I was surprised you asked that. What did you think meditation was for if not to still the mind, the analytical mind? What I was trying to convey here is that it is our analytical mind, our mind, the noise-making activity, which prevents us from experiencing the Being,the Now, the Unmanifested, the supreme Oneness of Being, in other words, God.
The purpose of meditation is to create a gap into the incessant stream of thought - a cessation of thinking. This is achieved by focusing on the breath or looking, in a state of intent alertness, at a flower, so that finally thoughts cease, there is no mental commentary, just the presence of Being. It is here that one experiences the consciousness of God, of Being.
This is what meditation is all about. The cessation of thinking, the cessation of using the analytical mind. It is only by surrendering the analytical mind, stilling the mind, stilling the thoughts, that one enters the "gap" of the Unconscious Being.
Thought is part of the realm of the manifested. Continuous mind activity keeps you imprisoned in the world of form and prevents you from becoming conscious of the formless and timeless God-essence in yourself and in all things and all creatures.
You are cut of from Being as long as your mind takes up all your attention. Your mind is your ego thoughts. Your ego creates attachments to things and people. The mind absorbs all your consciousness and transforms it into mind stuff. You cannot stop thinking.
The Unmanifested is present in this world as silence. Hence this is why it has been said that nothing in this world is so like God as silence. All you have to do is pay attention to it - the silence. Every sound is born out of silence, dies back into silence and is surrounded by silence.
During a conversation, become conscious of the gaps between words, the silent intervals between sentences. As you do that the dimension of stillness grows within you. You cannot pay attention to silence if you are not still within, if you have not cease the "chatter" in your mind, ceased the analytical mind from thinking, you cannot enter the Unmanifested.
The present moment holds the key to liberation and you cannot find the present moment as long as you are your mind. Thinking and consciousness are not synonymous. Thinking is a small aspect of consciousness. Thought cannot exist without consciousness, but consciousness does not need thought.
Being is the eternal, ever-present One Life beyond the myriad forms of life that is subject to birth and death. Being is not only beyond but is also inherent within every form of life as its innermost invisible and indestructible essence. Meaning that it is accessible to you now as your own deepest self, your true nature.
But one cannot seek it by grasping for it mentally with your mind. Don't try to understand it. When you are present, when you are fully present and intensly in the Now, Being can be felt, but it cannot ever be understood mentally. To regain awareness of Being and to remain in that state of "feeling-realization" is enlightenment.
Hence I disagree with you when you say that Presence is not something to be praticed. It takes pratice to train the mind from focusing on the outer events of Time and turn it inwards and and focus it on the Now, the moment of timelessness. It takes pratice to train the mind to end its ceasless "chatter", to still the mind. As in the case of the monkey tied to the stake.
When I mentioned the "I" I meant it to be the Being, the Unmanifested, the Silence, the God within all living things and without. But all of us has the egoic self, the little "I", the little "Self" that is attached to the world of thought and things and therefore trapped in the world of Time.
But there are moments in Life when man may have a glimpse of this bigger "I" and it lasts only for a few seconds. He captures this moment when he momentarily gazes upon a scene of tranquil beauty as in a sunset or looking out on the vastness of the ocean, and it is in a moment of a few seconds his mind stops thinking - the "chatter" of his mind has stopped. At this precise moment he is conscious of the stillnes, he is in the "gap" of no-thought. Here he experiences the stillness and peace, and senses the love and beauty of the Unmanfested Self. After a few seconds the mind resumes to think and creates the noise and the fleeting moment is forgotten. The trick here is to prolong that moment.
You wrote: "...but, really, honestly, what do you mean by "analytical mind"? Have you observed such a thing for yourself? I would say that if you have, you will have seen that it is not a problem. It is not something to get rid of or put aside. The same with "ego". Everyone talks about this, especially in spiritual circles, but what do you really mean by it?"
That is what meditation is all about. Stilling the mind. You need to put aside the analytical mind to still it in order to transcend into that which is beyond thought. By stilling the mind, by the cessation of all thoughts, you become conscious without actually thinking, your thoughts cease to think. You are conscious of the Present moment as infinity, there is no time. As long as you are in a state of intense presence, you are free of thought. There is no ego. The moment your conscious attention sinks below a certain level, thought rushes in. The mental noise returns; the stillness is lost. You are back in time. Back to your thoughts and your ego.
You wrote, "Presence is not something to be practiced. It's not a technique for accomplishing any mental skills. It is just a moment of how life really is. We all do have these moments, fleetingly, but our priorities are usually somewhere else."
I don't understand what you mean by presence is not to be practised. If that is the case, why offer me to go to a week long retreat where the emphasis is simple presence? Is that not to pratcise it?
Why do people go on meditation courses? Why do people read books on spirituality and go to retreats and so on? They do this because they want to change for something better. To do this they need to change a habit of their egoic thinking to a new way of thinking. And this does take practice, to change a habit. If there was no practice involved we would all continue with the same old mind patterns that keep us trapped in Time and Suffering.
To achieve Presence you have to practise a new pattern of awareness which is to observe the silence behind thoughts and speech. You have to learn to free yourself from your mind, the "chatter box", and connect yourself with the stillness within, that is free from Time and your egoic thoughts. You take the first step by listening to the voice in your head as often as you can. By this you are "watching the thinker", listen to the voice in your head, be there as the witnessing presence. When you listen to that voice, listen to it impartially. Do not judge. do not judge or condemn what you hear, for doing so would mean that the same voice has come in again through the back door. You'll soon realize: there is the voice, and here I am listening to it, watching it. This "I am" realization, this sense of your own presence, is not a thought, It arises from beyond the mind.
By doing this when you listen to a thought, you are aware not only of the thought but also of yourself as the witness of the thought. A new dimension of consciousness has come in. As you listen to the thought, you feel a conscious presence - your deeper self - behind or underneath the thought. The thought loses its power over you and it quickly subsides, because you are no longer energizing the mind through identification with it.
When a thought subsides, you experience a discontinuity in the mental stream - gap of no-mind. Gradually this gap becomes longer. When these gaps occur, you feel a certain stillness and peace inside you. This is the beginning of the natural state of felt oneness with Being, which is usually obscured by the mind.
With practice, the sense of stillnes and peace will deepen and there will be a subtle emanation of joy arising from deep within. Hence there is practice involved here.
Once again Jay thanks for taking time out to read all of this. This is all beginning to remind me of my university days again - concentrating too much on philosophical discussions and not getting the work done.
All the best,
Jay: It's good to hear back from you. I wish we could meet in person to look at these issues. That is a much better way to hear each other. A phone call would be an option. Not quite as direct as in person but better than this writing back and forth.
I appreciate what you are saying and the words that you use sound accurate. You have been able to explain very eloquently the whole process that you see as spiritual work, including how to begin it and what its fulfillment is. But you are still disturbed and unsatisfied, according to what you say.
If I understand you, you do experience what you are calling the setting aside of the analytical mind but you are not satisfied with it. You want more of it. You want it to last longer. You want to get to a point where it will last indefinitely. And since you have done what you think you were supposed to be doing to make this happen for a number of years and you are still not satisfied, you want something else you can do. And because that is not forthcoming - you're not sure you can find anyone who really "knows" any better than you do - you are maybe a bit distraught wondering if you will ever get what you are longing for.
At the same time you are willing to defend vigorously your view of what spiritual work is, no?
I questioned your view with certain statements that to me have accuracy. Life itself is also questioning your view because despite your years of effort, you haven't achieved the progress you hoped for. Maybe your view needs to be examined and questioned more carefully. It is founded on lots of assumptions.
If I do understand what you are describing, you have experienced a stillness that is not the same as the usual racket of the thinking brain. I don't think it is yet clear to you what the nature of this stillness is and what it's relationship is to thinking. If it were clear, you wouldn't be troubled as you are. It would be good to examine this further very carefully - not by thinking about it but by having more opportunity to be in silence. This is the purpose of retreat.
I really can't pretend to know your state of mind, but since we are talking with each other about these intimate things, I would say that what you describe reminds me of what in Zen is warned against as "dead void sitting", a deep desire to stay in a certain kind of emptiness. I believe the Zen masters talked about it so much because it must have been a very common place for monks to end up and to get strongly stuck in.
This false emptiness is not One Mind. It is an emptiness that stands in contrast to a different state ("thinking"?). It is an emptiness that requires effort to maintain. In moments of that emptiness there may be no dissatisfaction but afterwards there is deep dissatisfaction with not being in that state and the mind projects a future possibility of being in that state all the time and calls it enlightenment. It is a state that depends on doing certain things - focusing on things or holding certain postures to maintain it. It is a neutral state that watches the world go by without being in it. I don't know if this describes your own experience but it does match a lot of what you say.
You may say "but I know the peace and stillness is real" and I do agree with you. It is vastly different from how we mostly live. But it is not an end resting place and it is not yet the awakening of being. It is still the doer but just momentarily in abeyance - resting. In fact there may be tremendous defensiveness in this state - don't interrupt my quietness, don't question it. It's my lifeline, my only security. It's what makes me different - nobler, silenter - than normal people.
I would say there is no need to waste lifetimes trying to prove that if one can just practice holding this empty space enough, it will become permanent. You can try to prove it but from my experience it is thoroughly clear that it can never become permanent and it is not desirable for it to be permanent, no more than sleep should be permanent or sex should be permanent. This state has its place and time and then gives way to other states. To try to make this permanent could make one, I believe, deeply sick.
I wonder if you are able to hear your own deep concerns. You've expressed them clearly. A desire for more peace, more security, more respite from the ravages of the body/mind, along with a plan and hope for accomplishing this through effort, a joy when one is in a certain state and an dissatisfaction when one is not, along with a frustration and anxiety that it's not happening even as years go by, or perhaps at times a reassurance that there is some progress. Isn't it clear that all of this clouds how one see the world around one, the people around one? Isn't it also clear that the whole burden of this effort will die along with one's physical death? It can also die even when one is still alive, maybe for just an instant, and then the whole wide world is suddenly radiantly visible in 360 degrees.
Again, I don't know what things are like for you but what you have described brings up a part of myself that I would want to make suggestions to. I would tell that part of myself to give up trying to make something happen. It's exhausting and such effort is based on false assumptions. And in giving up what I've thought my spiritual life depended on all these years if I find myself distraught because I have no idea of what to do anymore, to not avoid that. To not try to fix it. On the doorstep of death how can we have any idea of what to do? It doesn't apply and it's not necessary. On the doorstep of death none of our plans for security, happiness, safety, apply. They all end. Why hang on to them now?
You asked why people go to retreat and you answered the question saying that it is in order to change something for the better? Is this the only way to live, to try to change things for the better? Isn't there a simpler presence?
I better stop here. Do feel free
D: Recently I took a trip to the appalachian trail with some friends of mine for a quiet hike in the woods. Nearing the end of our trip we were staying at a shelter when my friends decided they wanted to go explore our surrounding area, leaving me alone at the shelter.
Shortly after they left, it began to rain and a middle aged women of asian descent came into the shelter to get out of the rain. I began speaking with her and very soon we began discussing about spiritual evolution and transcending physical limits. It wasn't long until I had nothing left to say and she was still going on and on.
This next part I do not remember very well because I must have been put into some kind of trance. Again I can't entirely remember what she said but it was something like this. "Then, you will meet someone in a room that you did not expect to meet and they will ask you things your not used to being asked and it will scare you." She then began to ask me very personal questions over and over again without time for me to respond, like "They will ask you about the places you have been. They will ask you about the people you have met and the things you have done. They will ask you about how you live your life and what that means to you....etc etc etc"
The whole experience was very sublime and I have not been able to pinpoint what exactly happened to me there that day. Please shed some light on this for me because I am still in the dark over the whole matter, and it really changed me.
Jay: I don't know, of course, what exactly "happened". However, here is the picture that comes to me from what you described:
You were alone in a place far away from your usual life, surrounded by the beauty and power of nature. Where was your life, your usual self, the whole story of Derek? It wasn't there. Instead just the pouring of rain, the smells of the living earth, the wind in the dark and ancient trees and behind and through it all, stillness, a silence that existed long before humanity and is here when humanity is long gone.
And then a human being you had never seen before appears out of nowhere and talks to you directly and intimately, as if she could reach right into you.
Maybe we can say that what happened was that you had a brief glimpse of what life really is when our minds are not wrapped up, covered, hidden, enclosed in their usual story of myself, including the collective human story - our culture and society - of what we think is important to do, to change, to be, to learn, to accomplish, to secure - all of which hides the indescribable, intimate beauty and compassion of life itself.
In a moment like this we somehow realize what we've been missing all these years. And you might be wondering "How do I plug back into this unknowable, unpinpointable something that was so different from my usual self?"
It's good to keep this as absolutely simple as possible. At the time it wasn't a matter of theories or practices or efforts or explanations or paths or trying to develop some abilities. It was a simple moment. It was simple because all of your trying and doing and ideas about yourself and the world had receded into the background and what was alive and real at that moment was what you were.
We can refer to this as simple presence. How does one come to enter into this more? I can only share my experience with you. There is something very direct and simple about taking time regularly to stop moving around and sit down in a way that supports the body comfortably and can be held for a while. Along with this sitting still is not trying to engage in any particular mental activity. I can say this in another way as sitting down with the interest to be in touch with what is really going on inside and outside - feeling what is going on, the breeze, the feel of the body, the sound of a fan, along with maybe a sense of impatience or thoughts about what I need to do. All of this can just be revealed without needing to do anything about it.
If you persist with taking regular time for this, I'll think you'll find, as I have, that it becomes a bit easier and that it also you begin to see things about yourself, your habits, that you never noticed before.
What about the deep feeling you experienced in the woods? What if it doesn't come back, you might ask? What if I'm sitting here observing all these things but I still feel stuck in myself? Am I doing something wrong?
I think anyone who does this quiet inquiry, this meditative inquiry, of sitting still and noticing what is really here - probably everyone who does this begins to notice how stuck we are so much of the time. It may even seem like all of the time. After 35 years of this listening, I would say that we are stuck because we have never noticed carefully and patiently what this stuckness is. All that is needed is to see our stuckness moment by moment. The seeing that sees this is the same seeing that sees/feels the rain pouring down in torrents in the dark forest. At certain moments the whole mind of stuckness just opens up, becomes transparent, and the pouring rain and blowing trees are revealed simply as what we are. Then the stuckness takes over again.
With years of staying with this moment to moment presence, the stuckness becomes less sticky and is much more likely to give up - to open up - on its own. It's good to notice very carefully that we can't make it happen. The "me" that wants to make it happen is the stuckness itself. When the world opens wide for us, that "me" has given up the ghost, for that moment.
It is also good to notice that the seeing, the presence, that let's the forest and rain be revealed, is the same presence that is here right now when stuckness is noticed - or reaction, or fear.
In addition to daily quiet time, I have found it really indispensable to attend long, seven day meditative retreats at a center that takes a very simple approach. In the past I have gone to as many as 5 or 6 a year. I still go to usually three a year. Setting aside a week to sit quietly with others in this way gives the world a real chance to shine through us and for us to come back in touch with this mysterious and yet simple world of direct aliveness.
Many meditation centers don't keep it this simple and may add on lots of interpretation, techniques, paths, theories, requirements. But for someone who has breathed for even a moment the simplicity of being, it is clear that these things are not necessary and just get in the way. The only place I know of that holds retreats in this very simple way is the Springwater Center, in Springwater, NY. There may be others but I haven't found them. They have retreats all year long and there are many people that go there that have been doing this work for many years.
I also hold a small seven day retreat at my place in New Mexico in December.
I hope this addresses what has
happened for you. Please do feel free to write
back if I have not understood what you are
saying or if you have questions about what
Question: Hi, Jay.
Just want ask you a few things.One, I'm not sure but maybe it's one of my chakras. I have been getting this burst of energy that feels like excitement to me. It comes from above my belly button. It's the very same feeling you get when you're going away and your excited. It just comes out of nowhere and I wanted to know why, the reason for it. Spirit maybe or something.
There was a time when during the day, I went to lie down on my bed. Just lying there relaxing, showing no signs of falling asleep. After not even 10 minutes lying there, down at my feet, the end of the bed - not the whole bed - vibrated with a strange feeling like a shock and my eyes sprang open. I thought that was very strange for that to happen, especially since it was mostly only down at where my feet were. It happend again but this time it was like mini earthquake. My clock, built into the wall dressing table, and the window shook and I woke up to this. There was no mention of an earthquake on the news and no one else in the house was aware of it. What do you make of this crazyness?
Jay: Hi. People often ask about these kinds of unusual experiences and I'm wondering what is it about them that catches one's attention. Maybe it is because they are different from what we are used to. Isn't it true that most of the time we live in a set of sensations that we are familiar with, a rather dependable set of sensations, a sort of state of body - like a state of mind - that makes up our ordinary life. Maybe we can say it is a default state of body that can just run on automatic. It doesn't require much conscious attention because it is a strong habit.
This state of body probably takes over just after we wake up in the morning and runs automatically all day. It determines not only our physical state but also our emotions and quality of our thoughts, because in fact all of these are tied together.
Once in a while this state stops while we are awake and we experience something that is fresh, new, alive. We experience something in a state of freedom and openness. Then afterwards when the automatic body takes over, we wonder how to get back to that. But it is the automatic state of body/mind that holds on to being old, habitual, routine, narrow and safe. And it just keeps holding on, even as it dreams about how to get to something more free. In fact the dreaming is part of the holding on - holding on to self-enclosed, habitual thinking.
To begin to observe what is going on all day long, how this habitual body mind works, the fact that it is trying to hold on, this observing is already something fresh. Watching, feeling, listening to how the whole body/mind thinks it needs to function - like an experiment with something fascinating but slightly disturbing or like a visit to a new, strange, unknown place. This is the operation of newness, freshness, each moment.
The more this is observed with awareness, the more the body/mind may come to quiet down in its attempt to control everything and the light of newness may shine more often. Or it may shine all the time, every moment. Why not? When it is clear how dead and exhausting the habitual body/mind pattern is, why not let it be seen and exposed every moment in fresh seeing?
It does not need to be gotten rid of. The action of the body/mind is not itself a problem. It's just like a child who has never been loved and acts in crazy ways. The child is not the problem. It's the lack of love that it has gotten that is the problem. So there can be a seeing and feeling of the body/mind exactly as it is each moment without wanting it to be different. Inevitably as it is seen, there will be change that happens on its own, maybe not immediately or every instant. But because the problem is that it has never been really seen in the light, when it is seen in the light, the problem changes and becomes less of a problem.
When there is openness and interest in the body/mind, this same openness also reveals the whole wide world at the same time. This world is rarely seen by us because the body/mind mostly shuts it out. So when something new is seen or felt or heard or intuited, it is unusual for us.
It is not important what is seen. What is important is only the open space of seeing, itself. What is seen or felt or heard comes and goes. The open space of seeing does not come and go. It is always here and it is everywhere. It doesn't seem this way when the energy is completely caught in the body/mind pattern. Then it seems like space is gone. But the moment this space opens up, it is clear that it is always here and that it is everywhere.
There is absolutely no need to know what new feelings or experiences mean or what to do with them. If they need to do something, it will happen on its own. Needing to know is the body/mind wanting to hold on.
I'm not saying there isn't a need to know in our daily life. Of course we need to know many things. But at fresh wonderful moments when it is not necessary to know, can the energy just stay with the freshness of what is, in its fullness at this moment, no past, no future, no human world, just this simple moment of cool air and typing fingers? In this moment the whole universe is complete without beginning or end.
I don't know if I've addressed your question, so please let me know if you have more questions or if I missed something you were saying.
QUESTION: Hello I was wondering about Biofeedback machines. Biofeedback is kind of the same thing as meditation, right? And the point of meditation is the silence your mind. So, can a biofeedback machine be used to gain control over your mind like meditation does?
JAY: Your question raises some interesting issues. Let's first consider your comment that the point of meditation is to silence the mind.
Silencing the mind could mean various things. Watching television or reading can silence the mind in that they provide input which requires the mind to stop doing its own thing. There can be a certain sense of ease when doing these things because the mind is not causing the usual kind of trouble.
For example, if someone is preoccupied with concerns about losing their job, as the thoughts about this go around and around, there is stress and anxiety that is produced in the body. These physical reactions are tied into the anxiety of the thoughts about not having enough money, about being a failure, etc.
If one then watches a cops and robbers show on TV, the mind is filled with those thoughts instead and it can no longer create the thoughts about losing the job. In other words, we forget about the job situation while watching an exciting show and as a result, the painful reactions that the body was experiencing stop momentarily. There may even be pleasant feelings in the body as the bad guy is finally caught, the lovers are reunited, the children are happy again, etc.
If your goal is to escape from physical and mental discomfort, then a good movie probably works better then biofeedback.
The problem is that the moment the distraction - whether it be movies, relationship with someone, work, mental exercises - ends, the original difficult situation returns in the mind and then we suffer through it until we can get to the next distraction.
You haven't said why you are interested in silence of the mind. Maybe you can consider this and write back with more specific detail. If by silence you mean just the quieting down of inner noise so that there can be a listening, an in-touchness with the world around you and inside you, then this is a simple thing. It is not a matter of training the mind into some kind of silence habit. It is just a matter of listening, regardless of what is heard. That means that if you sit down to be quiet and what is heard is internal noise, so be it. You can also notice that that is not the only thing that is heard, even though it may seem so loud as to dominate the listening. There is also the feel of the body, the movement of the breath, the hum of the fan, the feel of air on the skin. It doesn't matter if there is chatter in the mind. The important thing is just the interest in listening right now - to be in touch with the world of this moment, which is the only world there is.
What is behind the interest in
gaining control over the mind that you mentioned?
What if it proved impossible to gain control
over the mind? What do you even mean by mind?
I would not say the point of meditation is to silence the mind. The point is to be awake in this moment, which is radically different from trying to train oneself for a future achievement. All of the unnecessary suffering and difficulties that we cause for ourselves have their root in THIS moment. This is the only time that they can occur. But we don't see this moment. We are almost always thinking about the past or the future or even thinking about what we think the present is. All of this thinking blocks any real perception of the present moment, so that we never see what we are really doing right now or even what right now is, the fullness of it, the beauty of it, the intelligence of it, the unseparatedness of it.
The amazing thing is that when we begin to learn how to be in this present moment, there is light that is shed on that which wants to keep the thinking going. We begin to see and understand the thought patterns that have driven us most of our life. By letting go of the thinking, thinking is actually seen and understood more clearly and compassionately. The problem of thinking begins to be solved effortlessly. The mind becomes more quiet naturally because it has been thoroughly observed what non-quiet is. As a result we can also see and understand other people compassionately for the first time, because that which we react too so strongly in others is the same kind of thinking that we are not able to see in ourselves.
When thinking can be seen, heard, felt, touched vulnerably - no need to get rid of it or do something about it - there is nothing in the world that can be a problem. That's not to say that there aren't things that need to be responded to creatively, with energy. Simply that there is nothing in the mind that needs to be controlled. The only tool needed to live healthily, intelligently, compassionately, is the tool of being in touch with this moment, which includes the vast world and includes the sounds and images of thoughts chattering in the mind - or sometimes, silence.
I don't know if I've addressed your question or if I've expressed things clearly. Please feel free to write back.
QUESTION: I kinda see what your saying but all I asked was could the biofeedback by used to gain control over the subconcious. The reason why I asked was trying to find a link between Yoga and the biofeedback
Jay: Thanks for the clarification. I'm not sure, still, what you're looking for exactly. Why are you trying to find a link between Yoga and biofeedback? Is it a theoretical study or interest? Or are you trying to find out what will work for you personally?
There are a lot of assumptions behind wanting to "gain control of the subconscious." It would be most fruitful for us to identify and examine those assumptions together to see if they are valid at all. Usually, on closer inspection, they prove not to be valid but unless they are examined, one can spend large amounts of time and energy acting on mistaken assumptions.
Biofeedback conditions the brain, just as getting rewards for an action does. I don't doubt that it can do that effectively. If you know how you want to condition yourself and you are absolutely confident that it will be helpful instead of adding to the problem, then biofeedback might help you ingrain some new conditioning.
Meditative presence is the opposite of conditioning. It exposes conditioning for what it is and sheds light on the assumptions behind how conditioning continues to condition itself blindly and erroneously.
You may not agree with what I'm saying, so we can discuss it together to come to the truth. Maybe it will help me if you say a little more about your purpose in linking yoga and biofeedback. Thanks.
QUESTION: Mmm. It is more along the lines of interest. But I was reading that biofeedback was inspired by yogis and how they were able to control parts of there body. That's why i thought there was connection between biofeedback and yoga.
Jay: Ok. I think it is pretty clear that it is possible to use natural feedback to gain conscious control over certain bodily functions and that the yogis have been real good at it, even gaining control over things that we ordinarily don't think respond to conscious control.
It seems like the process involves tuning in more carefully to subtle internal sensations, so you start to associate moving your tongue in a certain way with your ears starting to move, for example.
A biofeedback machine makes the feedback "louder". It doesn't take as much subtlety. Maybe this is good. Maybe there are advantages in tuning in more subtly. I don't know.
There are kinds of meditation practice that do the same thing and a biofeedback machine may facilitate it.
You had originally talked about stillness of mind. This is not something that can be conditioned. It is possible to condition certain states of suspended thinking but this is not the same as being awake and transparent to the inner movements and to the outer world.
It may seem that training the mind to be in this suspended thinking state is useful and it may have a very limited use but because we typically mistake mental suspension with meditative insight, I wanted to address the difference. Suspended thinking may provide a brief respite from our exhaustion but it is only wakeful presence moment to moment that can shed light on the causes of and end to that exhaustion and suffering. In wakeful presence the thinking mind is not asleep. It is listening!
Are we getting closer to understanding each other?
Question: I have recently begun mindfulness meditation, and it feels as if it has unleased many mental ghosts in my psyche. I am feeling a nagging anxiety most of the time, and then encounter very intense moments of extreme fear during the day. Fear I'll obsess about a noise; fear I'll obsess about not hearing every word that was spoken; fear that I'll not be in control of my mind. I feel like I'm up against a wall and I do not know how to surrender to it. Please help!
Jay: Hi, L. You may need to find out for yourself how to meet what is coming up. That's not much help, is it!
You mentioned the idea of "surrendering" to it, but that may not be what's called for. "Surrendering" isn't necessarily the all purpose response, though certainly fighting against feelings isn't helpful. Sometimes, though, what is coming up is itself, by nature, a kind of internal fighting. If that's what's going on, it feels more like "I'm not doing the fighting. It's happening on its own. So I can't stop fighting because I'm not doing it. So there is no surrendering."
So how to meet what is going on??? What does your intuition say? How do these feelings and reactions that are coming up want to be met? Or do they want to be left alone, left invisible? Do the fears speak to you? Is there something they are trying to say?
These are just possible responses. They may not apply to your situation. They are things that came up for me in considering what you have said. The important thing is the interest to be in touch and to let these difficult things open up and reveal themselves, if possible. Out of interest may come insights for you on how to do this.
Interest includes patience and compassion, as well as curiosity and vulnerability. If you think there is a real danger that you might offend someone, you might need to do something - excuse yourself for a moment, or something else - to momentarily put aside the fear.
How do you find a space - in the middle of roiling anxieties and anxieties about anxieties - to be patiently interested? I don't know how it happens. Experiment for yourself and see if it is possible, even if for just a second. You may find that in that brief moment, the "problem" is no longer a problem, that it is simply something that is going on that can be seen, felt, heard, sensed, along with the feel of air on the skin and the sense of the breath moving and heart beating. In that moment the reaction is put into a new, fresh perspective, possibly for the first time.
You may also notice the many ways that the mind wants to get out of these difficult states of fear the moment that there is awareness that the state is going on. We distract ourselves through entertainment, gossip, praying for help, shutting down into helplessness, closing down our perceptions through self-blame, and so on and so on. Have you noticed what ways you usually try to escape the fear feelings? Or maybe they are so strong that there is no possibility of escape. But don't assume that there is no escape reaction happening. You can experiment to see what is going on, what you think about, and if you are doing something that takes you out of touch with the fear instead of in touch with it.
Another really good exploration is to realize that what we label a situation, eg., "I'm having a fear reaction" is, on close inspection, not really the reality of it. It may have some provisional accuracy at first but if you don't buy too much into the idea that "this is a fear reaction" but instead stick with what's going on over time, you will get a much more realistic sense of what is going, albeit a much less defined, meaning "limited" sense. So can you for the moment drop the word and concept fear and find out what it is that really is going on. It's sort of like someone telling you that a pond is "cold". The word is so completely inadequate to describe what happens when you dive into it.
Maybe this is enough for now.
Feel free to write back if something I said
was not too clear or with further explorations
of coming in touch with what is going on.
What is the purpose of coming together in quietness and then talking – verbally inquiring together? This is not easy to discover right away. There are perhaps three major types of negative reaction to the talking. First, the questions or comments that other people make may seem superficial or at least uninteresting. (In case you are worried that I might be bored with what you say, what people bring up is rarely if ever uninteresting to me, after years of doing this.) Secondly, someone may simply not understand what another person has said. The words may have sounded lofty or esoteric, or like "teachings" that one knows are supposed to be true, but the listener feels they really didn't understand what was said and the words may have even made them feel stupid or inferior. Third, some people feel that the meditative work – the serious aspect of it – is simply not verbal, that putting things into words is just talking about something that really can't and shouldn't be put into words.
Let's start with the third case. It's true that it may not be easy to come into touch with one's serious concerns verbally. There may be a feeling, however, that the whole point of meditative work is to enter into a non-verbal space which stands in opposition to thinking. This is not at all true or accurate in my observation. Yes, there is a deep silence that goes with simple presence but it is a silence that can clearly reveal the working of the thinking mind. It allows thinking to be seen – and felt – for what it is.
The arising of a thought does not need to destroy or cloud presence. On the contrary, the only way there can be an intelligent and compassionate moving through daily life is if the contents of thinking can be detected in presence. This happens in what we might call a transparency of the thinking – and verbalizing – mind. This is a mind that is still and yet awake.
In verbal inquire together one can feel the pull of the mind to want to stay asleep. There may be a felt resistance. "Why is he/she bothering me with that topic." There may be a superficial reaction, like giving advice or sharing what I did in that situation. This is the situation in which a person may feel that the discussion itself is superficial or uninteresting or trite, but this is because the listener's mind has not woken up to really hear what is being brought up by someone else.
One of the great benefits of verbal inquiry is that it does offer the opportunity for a sleepy, heavy mind to wake up. One way to do this is to ask the person who has brought up something (the "speaker") to say a little more about it so that you can try to get into it. Or we can ask the speaker, "Do you mean such and such …" to see if our interpretation is accurate. Or we can take a moment to see if there is something about what they are saying that we can relate to and have an interest in. Another good way is to simply listen carefully to what the speaker says and how others respond, in order to give the mind a chance to open to it a bit more. Sometimes the depth of someone's question doesn't hit me until the next day, or later! In fact I used to – quite a long time ago – have a vague impression that the things people brought up were things that I was not bothered by, that they were that person's problem and I felt bad that they hadn't resolved it. However, invariably, later that day or the next, I would suddenly notice that the exact same problem or pattern was in me. Is there a defense mechanism operating that says, "I don't have that problem"?
I often wonder why, given all of the deep concerns, anxieties, fears, hopes, that dominate each of our lives and the life of humanity as a whole, when it is time for people to bring up concerns in the group inquiry, that it often takes a while for someone to have anything to say and many people don't find anything to say for the whole session. Maybe there are too many possible things. Maybe the mind is too asleep to put a concern into words. At least when someone does bring something up, it makes it easier for everyone else to begin to listen inside – through the medium of words – to find where the concerns are in themselves.
Once the flame of wakefulness does take hold, it is amazing how it does begin to shed light – not in terms of solving a problem, but rather in a mysterious and yet simple, natural way. It brings things into the light of day in a new, fresh way. If a person can begin slowly to find their way with waking up through verbal dialogue, that light can't help but start to seek out the dark places, touched by words that come from the transparency of awakeness.
We've covered the third and first difficulties with participating in verbal inquiry. The second difficulty is when someone, with perhaps an authoritative sound in their voice, says something that sounds like it is "spiritual" or "the right attitude", etc., but which one doesn't understand. What if someone says, for example, "There is no separation." Some people in hearing this kind of thing may feel stupid or inadequate because they don't understand or see it that way. Or they may feel the speaker is being pretentious. Or they may put the speaker on a pedestal and then think that they would like to be on that pedestal some day, or at least be a friend of the person on the pedestal, maybe be their favorite.
Don't all of these reactions come from hearing something that the mind does not relate to, that is not in one's realm of remembered experience? Is it possible at all just to hear a statement and stay with being non-plussed by it, to not go with the immediate reaction? To not need to understand, to not need to be one who understands wisdom. To not need to learn to think the right way or think the right thoughts or learn the right attitude. Just to be dumb-founded in the moment by a statement that is utterly un-understandable. This is freedom from needing to be or to become something.
When someone makes such a "spiritual" statement, we really don't know where they are coming from. Maybe it is true for them at this moment. Or maybe they are confused or are speaking from theory and not from personal perception in the moment. It doesn't really matter where they are. What is helpful is to let the words sink in without reaction and see if they bring up something here, in me. Maybe they bring up confusion. Maybe they bring up a question. Maybe they tug at a memory. Maybe they begin to wake up something long dormant.
This is the power of words when they come from deep silence, which is deep listening. In this there is the power to wake the mind up. In the mind waking up there is the power to begin to shed light on the darkness, fear, anxiety, that permeates every cell of the body/mind most of the time, though usually unseen and unfelt. When light begins to be shed on the darkness of the mind, there is in-touchness with the wide universe, which is itself awakeness.
So when we come together to sit
and listen and talk, we can see if we can learn
to do this together. If something isn't clear,
we can learn to break it down and make it more
concrete. If something seems superficial, we
can begin to wonder where our depth is. If
we find ourselves in a silence that doesn't
want to be disturbed by words, we can just
listen silently, encompassing the whole world
in our silent listening – hearing the
whole human drama with compassion and love.
T: I am new to meditation and find it very helpful. Can you recommend a meditation that I can do in the morning and night that can help me with my food addiction so that I have more control over my actions during the day. Thanks
Jay: When you say "meditation", I assume you are talking about sitting down quietly for a while. The physical quietness helps the mind also quiet down and when the mind is quieter, there is more awareness. By awareness, I mean that things that are going on inside the body/mind and outside are seen and felt more clearly and directly. By "inside the body/mind" I mean physical sensations and the movement of emotions and thoughts.
Usually in our daily life these sensations, emotions and thoughts are not seen or felt or heard. They just run wild, unnoticed. Does that make sense? There are definitely thoughts and emotions going on all day but they are not seen. The seeing of them is a different quality. It is an intelligence, a spaciousness, a patience. So in sitting quietly this intelligence and patience is available and thoughts and emotions can be seen. In our usually daily activities this space of intelligent seeing is usually not there. It is like thinking and emotions have curled themselves up into a ball and don't want to be seen. Then they just cause trouble in their own blindness to themselves.
Addictive habits are one aspect of this blind, compulsive way of thinking and emoting. They just come up again and again, each time reinforcing themselves, in blindness. By that I mean they are not seen by this spacious intelligent quality. So the first step in the possibility of change in an addictive habit is to quiet down and see it.
What does this mean to see a habit? The first step maybe is to shift to an attitude of interest in what is going on. On the surface you can notice what triggers the habit - certain thoughts, certain emotions, certain memories, certain senses of emptiness. You may have noticed some of this already but it always goes deeper and deeper. You may notice that sometimes if the interest is very strong and the spaciousness of watching and feeling and smelling and tasting in the mind, not in the mouth, is very strong, you may forget to actually follow up on the compulsion because you are wide open to exploring what it consists of.
Sometimes the blind compulsion just takes over the body and eats. In that moment there is no seeing, just reacting, just acting out the old pattern. A moment later seeing is back and then thought comes in and blames. But the blame is not necessary. If you can really feel and see how it is when compulsion takes over blindly, there will be compassion for how this happens in human beings. Compassion and sadness and increased energy of interest for being with the feelings that go along with the addictive reaction when it comes up.
When there is the energy of interest and seeing and feeling, then at that moment it is not an addiction. We can say an addiction is an addictive reaction that takes control of the body and acts itself out. When an addictive reaction comes into consciousness and is seen, then the seeing prevents it from taking over the body. The seeing has taken over the body instead. This is healing.
It doesn't mean that the addictive reaction will not take over the body in the future. We don't know whether it will or will not and there is tremendous freedom in not needing to know about the future. What is clear is that in this moment, it is seeing that is operating in the body, and with it intelligence and light and in that light the very neurons of the addictive pattern change somewhat and open up to be touched by the light of seeing. Internally you can feel this as insight, as an understanding of what the addictive reaction thinks it's doing and how it is only hurting itself and how what it really wants is the openness and freedom of seeing, which it has right now.
The more the body is able to be a conduit for open seeing, the easier it becomes.
You may find that the more you become intimate with the dynamics of this relationship to eating, the sooner in the addictive cycle there will be a waking up to it. Now there may not be awareness of it until your face is in the cake (I'm not making fun of this! It's just a fact.) As you observe more, you may start to notice when something is happening in the mouth or the stomach that leads to the activation of the addictive reaction. Or you may notice a certain subtle emotion or feeling about yourself that you have noticed is associated with it. The more familiarity, the sooner you recognize the activation of the addictive reaction. And the sooner it is recognized, the sooner the energy of seeing strengthens and the less chance of the reaction taking the body and the more opportunity for further healing of the reaction and further insight.
It is possible that out of insight
the mind may come up with certain strategies
- such as keeping the most addictive foods
out of reach, etc., etc. There is tremendous
intelligence and creativity in seeing so you
may discover any number of strategies that
are helpful and these all come from this seeing
that allows the addictive reaction to be seen
and felt but does not allow it to take over
the body. (When it does take over the body,
you can discover that seeing stops at that
moment.) This kind of strategy is helpful and
natural. However, any strategy can become a
new reaction - reacting to the addictive reaction.
So be on the alert. Stick with seeing, seeing
and more seeing. If a response comes up, fine.
Then continue with seeing.
I thought it might be useful if I can say something about the Clarifying Meditative Work sessions and how they relate to Eckhart Tolle's work.
So far I've read the Power of Now and have started New Earth. Tolle talks about the energy of Now, of Presence (which we can give a capital P) as a radically different energy from how we usually live. As he discusses issues, he is trying to shed light on them from the standpoint of this Presence and at the same time pointing to what this energy of unseparated openness is.
As one reads his books, some of the comments just seem to click, like something obvious that wasn't seen until someone points it out. Other of his writings, though, may sound contradictory or incomprehensible or a violation of common sense. Maybe when people read these things, they just assume they are not smart enough or deep enough or with it enough to understand. Or it may sound like he is talking about mind states that seem like they'd be great but that seem completely unattainable by any normal person.
The purpose of the Clarifying Meditative Work sessions is to come together in Presence and shed light on the workings of the ego mind for ourselves – to uncover those patterns that are held very dear, that do not want to be seen or disturbed or touched and yet on inspection prove to be confining, not helpful. The very act of talking and listening honestly with a simple, undefensive interest in the truth, is already the action of Presence in this moment. And the becoming visible of the defensive habits of ego thinking is already a healing in this moment. So it's not beyond any of us for this Presence energy to replace ego energy in a given moment.
Tolle does talk somewhere about this process of inquiring together - inquiring being another word for Presence revealing the workings of ego mind - and points out that if everyone in the group is more or less operating in the energy of superficial thought and habitual ways of relating to each other, then inquiry doesn't really happen. Probably everyone has been in well meaning groups in which the discussion usually is some combination of sharing experiences, giving advice, encouraging others, letting others know we empathize with them, venting, asking for help, therapizing, expounding on theoretical truths, describing techniques to accomplish certain things, etc., etc. While groups that do this can be exciting for a few times, people seem to get quickly tired of them because the energy of reinforcing one's habits in this way does not last long and because, if one is interested in real inquiry, these discussions inevitably begin to feel shallow and ego dominated. I'm not saying these things are bad but rather that they are not the same as real inquiry, the beauty of which is that it is radically fresh and radically healing.
When the absolute freshness of Presence is burning in someone in group inquiry, then real inquiry can happen and it can catch hold in others, whether it is just for a brief moment or it is sustained. This flame of Presence in even one person can help cut through the misconceptions and assumptions that bubble out of us in discussion, rather than just reinforce them, which is what we usually do with each other because we don't see them as misconceptions or assumptions.
This is what makes Tolle's writings so striking. They have this power of Nowness. We can do this together as well.
A word about authority. In considering this carefully I can say that authority comes from simple, clear seeing, which does not have an owner or a seer. It happens when there is no seer taking credit for what is seen. Authority isn't vested in any person. If there is clear, agendaless seeing happening in someone, what they say will cut through to the truth. If the next moment that same person is caught in reaction, what they say will reinforce confusion and suffering. Likewise even a person who is usually dominated by the most deluded, self-defensive and dark personality, will speak beautiful, healing truth if there is an instant in which the dark mind turns inside out and is revealed in Presence. It's a wonderful thing to come together without needing to evaluate the state of other people's minds and personalities - whether they seem base or noble - and allow each moment the possibility of the blooming of Presence in a human being. This is the spirit in which we come together.
Don't know if I have made sense
so please feel free to write or call.
M: Hi, I have been meditating for a couple of years now. The technique I learned is to focus on my lower belly and attempt to concentrate on the gentle sensations of my breath as I inhale, retain the breath, exhale and hold again in a ratio of 1:1:1:1 (or something like it). When my concentration moves from my breath I gently focus again on the area just below my naval. This is all I do during meditation. I was told not to worry about doing it 'right' and that sitting with eyes closed was benneficial in itself, even without any intentional 'meditation'.
I used to think I was making some sort of progress. I used to feel all kinds of sensations during meditation and when I finally emerged I would feel deeply relaxed and almost as though I had smoked cannibis. I'm not sure if this was a good sign but it felt glorious and was a good incentive to continue.
These days I feel a bit like I have lost contact with what I had then. I seem to loose concentation and get caught up in thoughts more than I used to and that 'stoned' feeling has almost gone. I'm not sure whether I should interpret this as progress (having realised a restless mind that was there all along) or as a step back (having lost the concentration I had previously).Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
Jay: Hi. I would question the overall value of concentration. While of course concentration is helpful in many of our daily activities and in certain kinds of excercising of the body and mind, focusing attention on a particular sensation (or mental image, as is done in some kinds of meditation) seems to me to result in excluding other kinds of sensation and awareness, including sensitivity to the states of mind.
What is of value to me is a meditative awareness that allows whatever exists at this moment - inside and outside - to simply be revealed. It is a simple presence that is not goal oriented, not associated with any particular part of the body or nervous system. It is a presence that doesn't know what to do but directly reveals what is.
I wonder what progress means to you. In a very direct way this simple presence is - moment to moment - all that there is. It is the beginning and the end of meditative work, the beginning and the end of the whole universe. If it is possible for the concepts of time and progress to let go in this moment, this ultimate completeness of each moment is seen directly. In a way the simple seeing of the restless mind, along with the feel of cool air on the skin, the movement of the body as the breath rises and falls, the sound of the fan, this simple revelation of the restless mind is enough - nothing to do about it, nothing to fix or progress toward.
Looking at things in another way, we can say that there are deep concerns about ourselves personally, about humanity in general, about the world, that do not go away just because we have sat quietly for a while. These things motivate us to look more deeply, more carefully, more sensitively. To devote more time to quiet listening and to carry our listening through in our daily life. To observe how we relate to others, what drives our own actions. To become first of all transparent to ourselves, meaning seeing our internal workings more and more honestly and sensitively. To open more to questions and uncertainty and to yearn less for answers and progress.
So where do you stand now? It is unknowable, isn't it? It doesn't need knowing, does it? Is it possible to just be with the movement of one moment to the next, giving your deepest concerns a chance to come into the light of day, along with the hum of the fan, the buzz of the fly on the windowsill?
I hope this addresses your question. It's quite possible that I haven't exactly understand what you were writing about or haven't been very clear in what I've said, so please feel free to write back and tell me more or ask me to be more clear about certain things. I will also be interested to hear what comes up as you sit with everything in a fresh way.
M: Hi thanks very much for the speedy reply. I have heard other people say similar thing to you - that concentration is not the best form of meditation - but find it difficult to choose between all the different methods out there. I would be interested to know more of your style of meditation. Clearly you do not concentrate on one thing but do you not still concentrate, even if it is more widely?
Jay: Hi. You raise a good question. First of all, why not experiment with it yourself? You can see if it is possible to sit without any concentration at all. What would that be? Then you can resume what you are calling concentration and see what changes. And if you find yourself concentrating, you can see if it is possible for it to drop in order to find out what changes then. Whatever it is that you are calling concentration can be clarified then by listening to it and by seeing how it is if it drops away.
For myself sitting (or moving) quietly, openly, is not a style of meditation. It is not a style. It's simple presence that reveals what is going on inside and outside without trying to judge or change what is revealed. This presence reveals judgement and the urge to change things. Do you see why I say this is not a style? Styles, methods, techniques are mental attitudes and strategies for accomplishing something. I'm talking about finding a space of presence that is not part of that complex of knowing, judging, wanting, manipulating but that reveals the complex itself clearly, along with the sound of typing, the movement of air on the skin, the brightness of sun shining on snow. There are not different varieties of this presence to have to choose from. There is just one simple presence, which can be discovered and lived when something more complicated loosens its grip. Presence - allowing what is here to be revealed - is much simpler than styles and strategies.
As for concentration, I can say that there is a kind of gathering of energy that happens in being with what is here. Maybe this could be called a concentration - sort of in the sense of a distillation - but because the word concentration is so easily associated with mental focusing techniques, it might be better to call this gathering of energy something like "interest". Interest implies a "perking up", an alertness, which requires energy. So if you are very interested in this issue of concentration, you can experiment with whether there can be an interest, an awakeness that gathers with as little focusing as possible, as little physical straining as possible. If you detect focus and physical straining, you can experiment with it to see if it is necessary and to see if there is something behind it that doesn't want to give itself up.
I don't know the answer. It's possible that there is a tautness of body that goes along with a simple presence. It is only for each of us to experiment with this and examine it carefully. If a mental focus or physical concentration can drop away and there is still presence, then it becomes clear that presence does not depend on that.
Does this help clarify what we
are talking about a little?
Question: During a guided meditation I was imagining a meadow and out of the blue a person approached me. This person was my wife. She had long hair (her hair is currently short) she wore a white gown and had a extreme sense of peace about her. She told me that she loved me and no matter how hard I tried to get her out and focus on the instructor she was there until the end. At the end she hugged and kissed me, told me she loved me and as she walked away she said that we would be together soon. It was like a dream but so real. More importantly my wife and I have been separated for a couple months now. She says she doesn't know how she feels about me. What does it mean?
Jay: Well, it's a good question. Does it mean anything? This dreamlike information is different from our usual rational information, right? It seems to tap into something different and there is a sense that maybe this is important because of that.
We can say that the vision information comes from the unconscious but when you consider it consciously now it is part of your consciousness. What is intriguing about this kind of information is that it seems to come from the unknown, the unknowable, from the vastness of the world itself, the great majority of which is not something we can know. It seems to be subtler and yet somehow more real in a way than all of the "knowing" that we try to use to deal with our problems. It seems to come directly from the horse's mouth, as it were.
So what to do with this consciously? We don't know. We don't know what it means. Is it possible, in wondering what to do in a situation, what to do in terms of your separated wife, to listen deeply into the not knowing, to sit quietly, wordlessly, letting go of too much conscious attempt to figure things out. Letting go of trying to interpret past images and coming back to what is right here. It may be that in doing this, a new possibility will present itself to the conscious mind, a possibility coming out of this direct in-touchness with this subtle and yet real world.
The contents of the vision may have some accuracy, some emotional reality, or may be completely the wishful thinking of the brain. It's impossible to know in the abstract. But we can also sit quietly and let the mind, the body, the nervous system sort itself out silently, which it can do if it is not interfered with too much by thoughts that want to make assumptions and control things. Out of this may come an action of some kind - calling her to talk, exploring and questioning your own feelings and needs, etc. Whatever presents itself out of listening without knowing.
This kind of listening is best
when there is no direction of it, no guided
meditation, no imaging. Imaging may come up
on its own, as a natural process. You may have
a good visual imagination and that may be a
way your brain communicates. You can look for
the place when the imaging is done with itself
and rather than keeping it running, let it
be done and come back to the silent, black space of listening.
In a recent talk Eric [Kolvig, to the Alb. Vipassana group] gave a lovely exposition on the expression of meaning in people's lives. He talked about the beauty, passion and vitality of being motivated by a strong interest. He quoted from a concentration camp survivor who wrote that those in the camp who had a sense of purpose and direction survived much better than those who lost all sense of meaning. The author even described how he was motivated by the thought of seeing his family again, even though he didn't necessarily believe that he would. It was just the importance of having a goal or dream to hold onto.
As beautiful as this energy of motivated purpose is, it became clear to me in listening to Eric's talk that there is also a very dark side to this. As he spoke about the beauty of the pilgrims walking to Chimayo for Easter, I wondered if these were the same people who preach hatred against gay people, who advocate for an end to freedom of religion on the grounds that this should be a Christian country, who turn a blind eye to the misdoings of their religious leaders. This could all be true for any religious group, including probably Buddhists, that there is beauty and meaning in the forms and hand in hand with that is a subtle or not subtle conflict with people who have different forms.
It struck me that "meaning" as Eric described it, is usually, for most of us, a system of symbols, thoughts, images. It is a belief system. Is it at all possible to have strong identification with a belief system without it coming into conflict with other belief systems? We can each examine this very honestly with our own beliefs and meaning systems. They may seem benign on the surface but I have noticed that there can be a lot of resistance that comes up for me in relation to spiritual work when I hear other people talk about it. And resistance is rather clearly a defensiveness.
It also strikes me that the imagery, thoughts, symbols and emotional responses are so arbitrary. If I am deeply moved by the sight of a group of Jewish elders swaying in their prayers, it is an arbitrary association based on arbitrary events having happened in the past in conjunction with arbitrary feelings. Why put too much importance on these arbitrary symbols? If the sight of a golden, silent Buddha statue inspires me, what is really going on? Maybe I have gone from an uninspired state - bored, drifting, uninspired, unmotivated - to a state that gives me more energy because of seeing the statue. But I wonder if it is not more helpful to examine carefully what I'm calling an uninspired state, to see what it really is if I look carefully. To notice that there is a subtle or stronger impatience with it and desire to find something that will "motivate" me, so that perhaps I have never really entered into what is going on then at all.
Is it not a strong human pattern in times when we can't find inspiration or meaning systems to keep us going that we immediately start looking for something to revitalize us? What about the possibility of simply sticking with the meaning of this moment, whether it is inspired or uninspired, energetic or listless, without any judgment of it? That is tremendously simpler. In this moment in which imagery and symbols can be seen as arbitrary, as mental flashes, conflict does not happen. One image may arouse energy in my system and depress energy in yours. There is space here for both of those things to be true without conflict. The interest is in the reality of this moment - the sounds, the space, the unfathomable workings of the nervous system, the transparency of the mind in which intelligence and love can take place. The energy does not go into attaching to images because sticky imagery muddies this simple presence. This is "meaningfulness" itself. This is passion itself.
It seems that there is a great fear in most of us of losing hope, losing motivation, of not having a lofty and noble goal. It feels like life is meaningless without these things and there is maybe a fear of sinking into immobility or depression or mediocrity. Because of the fear, we don't test it out. We don't really explore what happens and we conspire with each other to reinforce our images and beliefs and goals as though our lives depended on them. In fact it may be the opposite. Our real life may depend on seeing these imagery goals for what they are and letting go with both hands. The images must be first seen as images. What do I believe about Buddhism, about the Buddha, about practice and scriptures? Where is the attachment to these noble images? Where is the fear of an empty life without them? Where is the reinforcing of these images among ourselves? Can this be discovered? And what then if I let go of the concern about falling into a life without meaning and find out what each moment is at it presents itself?
If I've said things that aren't
very clear, are too abstract or not simply
stated or seem wrong, let's look at this together
I received a forward of a message you sent about the research you are doing on how people deal with suffering. I have been doing meditative work for over 35 years now, originally at a Zen Center in Rochester, NY, and then in a non-traditional, direct way with Toni Packer at the Springwater (NY) Center for Meditative Inquiry and Retreat. I've attended many 7 day retreats, probably an average of two a year for all of these years. I also facillitate a small group here in Albuquerque that holds monthly sittings and discussion and an annual retreat (http://www.cuttsreviews.com/jcutts/meditation/).
I thought about filling out your questionaire but, from a meditative standpoint, I really don't have any tools or strategies for "dealing with suffering". In fact this absence of strategies for dealing with things seems to be the essence of meditative work. I wanted to take the opportunity you are offering for exploring what I mean by this in words. Maybe it will be of interest to you, though I doubt it will be helpful for your research project.
As you probably have read, the issue of suffering is fundamental to Buddhism. When asked what he was talking about, the Buddha said something, I believe, about discovering the root cause of suffering and the end of suffering. He also said that life is pain. I find it helpful to refer to two different things, using the word pain to mean actual physical pain and the word suffering to refer to the agony that we human beings go through as we struggle with the difficulties of life, including the fear of losing people or things, the push to gain pleasures and security, the anxiety over old age and death, the agony of being torn between wanting to get certain things and needing to avoid other things, the fear of people perceived as enemies and the endless need to defend against them, and the exhaustion of all of this struggle.
So what happens when one is "suffering"? I personally just lost my father last month so this might be a good example. While I loved my father very much, I can't say that there has been much suffering going on. The many moments when I cry usually feel like very simple expressions of sadness. There is very little sense of someone in the middle of what is going on, being the victim of it. My dad had some brief episodes of suffering while he was in the hospital. He became paranoid and felt that the doctors were trying to prove that he was crazy and that they were trying to take his home away from and that he was going to defend himself by suing them. (This paranoia was probably due to brain chemistry problems. He was not that way normally.) I would say he was suffering because there was a lot of anxiety and agitation around these thoughts, even to the point of struggling to escape. At the center of the thoughts was "me", "my home", "my sanity", defending "myself" and with the sense of "me" a strong sense of "others", "not me", "my enemy". The thoughts blindly going over and over what's happening to me and how to defend myself seems to be the core, the root, of suffering.
Another example that everyone can probably relate to is the thought pattern "Why did (so and so) do that to me? How could they be so cruel, insensitive, etc? How can I get back at them or change them?" These thoughts going around and around endlessly result in suffering, bringing up the hurt, imagined or real, again and again until one is exhausted and then the thought "They made me go through this suffering." And then the thought "How can I stop myself from thinking all of this."
When all of this is going on, is it possible to let it be seen for what it is, to leave a little space around it of simple awareness? If this can happen, it can be noticed that the thinking is automatic, programmed reaction. This is how thinking has learned to think and it is non-functional, pain producing. To see this requires discovering a presence that is not identified with anything, that is spacious enough to reveal thinking for what it is. If there is a strong enough energy of presence and if one has observed oneself carefully, this kind of painful thinking can be noticed the instant it is about to take over and it may then drop, not come into play. Instead the energy of presence remains.
In simple presence the mind functions in a radically different way. It does not fall into blind, automatic repetitive and painful actions because it sees them for what they are. Instead it allows a fresh perception and an intelligence and compassion to operate and there may be a new response that is appropriate to the situation. I once watched someone park in front of our house in a way that half blocked the driveway and I immediately began thinking how hard this was going to make things for us and how stupid that person must be and how we could get even with her, etc., and then suddenly the mind of reaction broke open completely and I suddenly saw the hospital across the street and the hurried walk of the woman leaving the car and and understanding came that the woman may have a friend in the hospital that she was worried about and naturally didn't notice how she had parked. There was no sense of "me the victim" any more in this observation, just compassion.
It is clear to me that in this experience there was no strategy applied, no Buddhist principle practiced, no ideal of how to "cope". There was a moment of self-oriented, paranoid thinking, and then there was not. Instead there was fresh, intelligent, compassionate seeing without anyone in the center of it. In the self-centered thinking, there was "me". My needs, my irritation, my territory. If the thought had come up "how do I get out of this suffering", it would just be more "me" thinking. What dropped away was this self-oriented "me". What remained was clear and caring seeing. The dropping happened by itself. No one can do it. It is the dying of "doing" and the opening of simple presence.
If it begins to dawn that there is suffering going on, it may be possible to inquire directly into the heart of it to see if there really is this strong sense of "me" as the thing that is a victim - or if perhaps on closer inspection there is something else really going on. Maybe we can call this a "strategy" for working with suffering. To be with it, to listen to it, without any goal or self-interest but just to find out what it really is. To discover how suffering is propogated by bringing up the hurt, the insult, the harsh words, the memory of the pain, in thoughts, again and again. To discover that all of it revolves around a sense of "me" being hurt, and that this sense of me is produced by the thoughts. By watching carefully to see what this "me" really is and perhaps discovering for oneself that there is nothing tangible there. This is the action of presence - ownerless presence that doesn't need defending.
If suffering is going on, the idea of dealing with it, eradicating it, coping with it, freeing oneself from it, these are all most likely more thinking, causing a conflict between the turmoil that is going on and the effort to separate from it and manipulate it somehow. If one is honest about it, it can be detected that this just adds more suffering in the form of additional turmoil or of using one set of thoughts to suppress another set of thoughts, which is blind and exhausting. And yet this is how most of us live most of the time. Entire religions and ethical systems are based on - or at least interpreted by practitioners as - offering strategies to deal with suffering without ever examining carefully what suffering really is and without exposing the sense of "me" that is at the heart of painful thinking. When this is exposed thoroughly,the cycle of suffering-producing thoughts simply doesn't arise. It is seen at a glance for what it is and dropped. It is replaced with love and care and intelligence. Examining suffering, discovering what is really going on without even identifying it as suffering, sitting still in the midst of the hurricane of it and listening vulnerably, with nothing to defend. This is already the expression of open presence. It is both the first step in finding the end of suffering and it is itself the final step, the alternative to suffering. This may sound paradoxical!
Thanks for the opportunity to explore this for myself and with you. Good luck in your project.
R: I find it hard to study, concentrate and motivate myself. How can I use meditation to gain more focus, to concentrate better and study?
Jay: Hi, R. Could you say some more about, first of all whether you have some experience with meditation, and secondly, could you please write a paragraph explaining more about your difficulty studying, what other kind of concentration you are talking about, for example what kind of situations and also what you mean about motivating yourself - in what situations, what context. Do you mean you don't have goals for your life? Do you mean you can't get out of bed or hold down a job?
Also can you say more about what is behind the inability to concentrate and to motivate yourself? Is there depression? Trauma? Scatteredness?
I don't mean to turn the question back on you but it would be hard to say anything meaningful without understanding more about where you are coming from. Meditation, from my perspective, is not a mental focusing tool but rather is the inquiring into oneself, shedding light internally. So I wonder if you can do that a bit - look into what you mean and what this inability to focus is about - so that we can have a meeting of the minds and look at how meditative work may help.
R: [I] hardly [have experience with meditation] but i have tried pranayam 10-15 times. I am not really a bad learner and recently I have improved for no reason. I just can't get myself to study. Its so boring and apart from that it's useless. All the stuff is useless. How does it help us realize God in any way at all. I just like to wander. It makes me happy. I don't wish to connect myself to things or people. That's a drag. As a result, I don't sit in one place or concentrate or do anything for long.
Jay: I have a little better sense now of what you're talking about, though it is hard to know for sure. I will try to respond to what you may be saying and if I'm off, you can correct me and we can keep trying.
There are many different ways to go with what you are saying. If you are really moved by wanting to know what this simple, undirected way of life is that does not get stuck in things or people and is simple happiness itself, then you could postpone the studying and other responsibilities that you have and devote yourself to discovering what this simple presence really is. Right now you have a taste of it, it seems, but there may be many questions in the mind and much confusion about how this relates to the human world that you need to live in.
It is possible to resolve these concerns and to begin to find one's way and this happens best through being able to do lots of extended sitting, preferably with others and with people who have been doing this for a long time. You do not need to learn any meditation practice or skills. Just learn to sit quietly and be in touch with what is here, inside and out, in this happy way you talk about. This being present will deepen and deepen in you and around you.
I can recommend the Springwater Center in western NY because it is a place that is free of particular traditions or approaches and can allow you to find your natural way. The woman who is the spiritual leader there also has many years experience doing this meditative work and can help out.
If you can do this sincerely for maybe 5 years or so, just working formal jobs enough to pay for your basic expenses, you will most likely find that much will clarify about this simple presence and you will be able to enjoy people and things without being stuck to them. You will also probably find that you can concentrate when you need and want to and can let go of concentration when it's time is done. You will be able to live a natural life, seeing simplicity and happiness in all things.
I think I'll stop here with this. If what I've said does not do anything for you at all, please write back and say a little more.
T: For quite some time I have been practicing third eye meditation at night to get myself to sleep after I wake up around 2 or 3 in the morning. Thati is the only reason I use it. Well, I have been doing this for so many years and have experienced the light the dark the colors the sounds etc. The strangest thing lately is the actually body of someone, usually a man, that presents himself usually hugging me from behind. It has happened many times how and now I actually speak and ask for a name. I get a response as well. This only happens when I am in bed and it is not a dream because I am totally aware of what is happening.
WHAT is this? I have been reading about this sort of meditation and angels and was told to go ahead and ask questions of these spirits. They actually answer, but in a very muffled tone. Can you give me any insight? In order for this to occur I must do the thirrd eye meditation and then I go into a trance with sounds, colors etc. I have just decided I need to share this because my friends think I have lost my mind. I am not uncomfortable with this happening because I can make it go away at any time. I am just enchanted.
Jay: I understand what you are talking about and have had similar things happen.
When this happens to me, I'm not so much concerned with whether there is some real entity "out there" and learning its story, because when I've followed that up, I usually find that it was my own imagination filling it all in anyway. Sometimes I've followed the story that comes out when I do that and I have always found if I stick with it, that it becomes contradictory and just keeps sort of unfolding in illogical ways and just becomes really entwined with who I am at that moment. So I don't believe any more that it is some particular spirit or person communicating some "real world" information to me.
But I do find that whatever imagery is unfolding is communicating something about my own feelings and patterns and nervous system, so I just let it unfold and listen to it and try to let go of manipulating it too much. I just take it as new information coming from that presence which is beyond my "personal" information. When it is done, I return to just unknowing listening, kind of reach out into the space around me into the area in which my thoughts and sensations don't really reach. It seems like this is where wisdom, insight and compassion really come from, whether there is some particular experience like you described that is touching me or no particular experience, just being in touch directly with this open presence that is all around.
When I do that right now, I can also say that that open presence moves right through what I had called the "inside" in the paragraph above. So now there is not an inside or outside, just open, sensitive presence everywhere. And I notice that when I start thinking about making an interesting experience of it, that open space starts to close up again.
You asked "what is this" and right now I can say I don't want to make a knowable thing out of it, because when I start thinking about that, it closes down. So I just stay with everything that is here, open and listening and not knowing.
Usually we are wrapped up in
what we think of as our lives and we don't
experience this. Then when the mind is somehow
open, like at night half asleep, something
may touch our cocoon, like the feeling you
described. Maybe the most open way to respond
is just to listen with a still mind and see
if there really is a boundary between "out
there" and "in here" or if it
is possible to let go of being isolated and
defended and see if it is possible to open
up lovingly and unknowingly and unconditionally
to the whole world.
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Some reflections on what moves us toward meditative presence and what moves us away from it. First of all, by meditative presence I mean coming to be, quietly, without what happens to be going on inside and outside at this moment. This can mean sitting down quietly for meditative time or just coming to a stop in the middle of the hurricane in order to really listen to what's going on. It can also take place in meditative discussion, listening quietly to oneself and to others, with the possibility of verbalizing questions, confusions or observations that come up.
What moves us toward this? I was going to look at that first but on reflection it seems that the stopping and listening is a natural response, isn't it? So maybe the more interesting question is what is it the continually moves us away from whole listening presence. I don't think it's much of a mystery to most people who have done even a little sitting that there is a momentum acting in the nervous system that does move away from listening. It wants to move physically, to control mentally, to quickly discharge the discomfort that arises when we face the difficult issues of our lives. Whether at a certain moment there will be a still listening - which can take place even if the body is moving and the mind is examining thoughts - or there will be a sweeping along with the momentum just depends on the relative strengths of these two different impulses.
Immediately on writing this, the mind pushes up the thought that a "good meditator" will try to work toward being present all the time. In other words the mind creates that as an ideal. Well, good luck. It doesn't take too much observation to find that such a mental goal doesn't really have much impact. It is a big relief not to think about presence or lack of presence in terms of which is good and which is bad. It frees us up to simply observe carefully what is going on without knowing.
So what is this momentum that moves us away from listening? Can it first of all be discovered that it does exist and maybe then how it works? Fearfulness of being in pain or discomfort. Fearfulness of falling into boredom or emptiness. Fearfulness of mental confusion. Among other things.
In our group discussions I see these same dynamics coming up. The discomforts that we feel in communication with others - the difficulty of listening to someone ramble on too much, of not relating to what someone is saying and then feeling stupid, of feeling awkward with the personalities present or with the physical surroundings, of feeling not understood, of feeling offended by someone's remarks, of feeling ignored, of feeling foolish in what one is trying to say. Meditative discussion cannot guarantee an environment that is free from these usual dynamics of communication that make it so hard for us to communicate well with each other in daily life. It can only offer the opportunity to listen to the discomforts that come up, to realize that these issues are with us in most of our relationships, to wonder what is really going on and to feel more directly into it.
In starting to notice how the nervous system responds to discomfort brought up by the real or imagined actions of other people or ourselves, is there not a natural interest to look more closely, to see if a better, more fluid way of living and interacting with others may not present itself? Instead of moving away from all of it, to see if it is possible to move into the discomfort and stay with it enough to intelligently find out what is really going on.
There have been many times when I've felt that someone attending our group discussion did not have a "pleasant" experience, for the reasons mentioned above. Of course we all hope to belong to groups in which we are understood, cared for, in which there are no real conflicts and we all agree with each other. Some groups do manage to create this impression but the cost is that they avoid conflict and reinforce each other's blindnesses. It is not the purpose of our group to do this but rather to have an opportunity to be in touch with these human dynamics if the interest is stronger than the momentum to move away.
L: I am just getting into mediation seriously for the first time in my life after having started and stopped numerous times. First, I am having trouble with sitting and aliging my posture. I have old sports injuries in my shoulders that make it difficult to sit upright. Is it okay to lay down and if not what is another way?? ALso, I have had panic attacks for about three years now. I am on medication for it and they are generally controlled. However, I have recently noticed that as I enter deeper levels on mediation I get panicky and find myself wanting to snap back into it, for lack of a better term. What do you think causes this? Thanks for any advice!
Jay: As far as your posture, you can certainly experiment. The only problem with lying down may be that you may get sleepier than you would otherwise. I sit a lot on a couch or in an easy chair, where there is some support for my back. You can also support your hands so that your arms don't pull down on your shoulders too much. I sometimes use a cushion or even a rolled up sock under my hands.
I'm not sure if you what you are saying with "wanting to snap back into it". Do you mean that there is a tendency to want to fall back into panicking?
You ask what I think causes this. Let's see if it's possible to look more closely at what "this" is, what is this phenomenon that we are calling panic. I think in asking what causes this we usually are saying, "Here is something troublesome. Is there a way for it to change?" Of course , the doctors or psychologists may have some useful insights. But the most direct way to find out if something can change is to see, hear and feel it openly, vulnerably. First, finding out what it really is. In fact, this openness to a habit pattern itself induces change. Does this make sense to you or not?
If the panic comes up, you are the only one who can decide whether the body needs to be protected from it by stopping meditation or taking more medication or something else that is known to short circuit the panic. There are certainly times when avoiding the panic may be the best thing for the poor nervous system. There may be other times, though, when it is possible to let this "panic" reaction come into the light of silent, caring observation.
You can wonder what triggers it. Is it an image, a memory , an auditory memory, a whole body feeling? Is it something that happens too fast to catch. Reactive patterns seem to be old circuits that can be triggered by something - some sensory input that then triggers some memory - and suddenly the entire pattern is active with however it affects the body, the nerves, the thoughts and emotions, etc. Some patterns, when they are activated, can be very draining and painful and very resistant to any "strategies" for getting them over faster. And then every time the pattern "runs", there is added to it the memory of the pain and discomfort and confusion, so that there comes to be an aversion added on top of the original traumatic pattern.
This is a description but it can be noticed very directly for oneself.
The amazing thing is that interest in really opening to this process, of not resisting but rather of really finding out what it is, of giving the whole thing room to reveal itself, this interest - what can we say? - it touches the pattern with affection. This is healing and revealing.
Who is panicked about what? Most reactive patterns believe that they are protecting something vital - from harm, from pain, from death. Even if there is no sense of what the panic thinks the danger is, I can look carefully, when panic comes up, to see if there is any danger right now that can be seen, heard, felt, smelled, sensed. And it is also possible then to ask if there is any danger perceived right now by thinking. Of course I can drum up any endless number of things that are dangerous but to ask, is this really a danger right now as I sit here? Is this enough of a danger that I need to panic about it right now? Maybe I will need to worry about it later, but can it be put aside for right now while I'm sitting, listening?
These are just some things that
come to mind about panic. They may or may not
apply to your situation. But why not experiment,
always being able to come to rest in just listening,
feeling, seeing what all is broiling in the
body/mind and at the same time - and perhaps
this is the important part - to notice that
there can be a spaciousness around the reaction,
that reaction is not all there is. The listening,
feeling, noticing comes out of a spaciousness,
a vulnerable willingness to be with what is.
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L: I'd like to start practicing Zen meditation. I know what posture should I take to do this, but I'd like to ask you what should I focus on when already doing this. What's most important when you're trying to meditate: breathing, being relaxed etc. What's most important, how to do it in the right way. Could you give me any directions?
Also: Some martial artist described his experience in this way:
“It was the last exercise, and I thought if I hadn't gotten it in fourteen days what difference could this one exercise make? So, I was just enjoying myself. For some reason, I decided to go up out the top of my head a distance that felt like several feet above me. It felt like I would go up there and meet my diad partner, Neil, like we joined up there. And then, quite to my surprise, I had an experience of what the Zen people call the Void. That of Absolute Existence. There was no distance, no time, no space . . . nothing.
I guess my appearance changed dramatically at the time, since, after we were done with the exercise, Neil started jumping up and down and pointing, exclaiming how different my face looked, saying, "You should look in a mirror!" I hadn't looked in a mirror for fourteen days. When I got home, I walked up to a full-length mirror and looked at myself and it was a deep shock to my body. It was a shock because I saw a body that I had known before, and it wasn't me! Not that my appearance had changed. The familiarity is what shocked me. In some sense, I had forgotten that I had a body. It's like the body reflected my history, my character, my ideas, my personality, all the things I had thought I was. All the things I had been being. Without thinking about it, I guess I really expected my reflection not to show up.”
What did he experience? What does it mean that his body reflected his history and character? Thank You
Jay: It's an interesting observation that the body reflects our history, our character, our personality. These are the things that the mind holds onto continually, aren't they? It's what I think I am - my past, my story of myself, my qualities, such as being an outgoing, likeable person or being a depressed person or being an important person or being a person who transcends things, the tools and strategies that I've learned in order to survive, to not fall into painful situations, to get what I need.
Is this not what the mind involves itself in day and night, almost constantly?
And how can this help but be
reflected in the body? If I am sad, the shoulders
droop, the eyelids droop, the eyes become watery,
the stomach takes on a certain condition, the
heart slows down, etc. It's all wired together,
the thoughts and the various physical parts
of the body. Sometimes when I look at an old
person it seems like their problems with their
body are reflections of their habits of thinking
and living. The body is no longer creative,
experimental, seeking healthiness, but just
goes along in its usual habit, even though
that habit over the years reveals itself to
be a lameness or slouching or stiffness.
This brings up questions: Is this history and personality that we live in constantly all that there is or is there something else? What is it like if that is let go of? And what is this history, this personality really? Have I ever looked closely to see what it really comes from, how it really affects the body and the mind? Is the mind something other than just these continual thinkings about my story? Or is there a mindfulness that is not habitual, not history, not based on defending something, a presence of mind that is fresh and responsive and alive with what is right here and real?
When you sit, you can raise these questions if they are real for you at the time and then, not trying to answer them with what you know or imagine, let the question go and just let what is really going on be seen, felt, heard, moment by moment. In this very simple presence the nature of our way of thinking is revealed for what it really is. Good is revealed as good and unhelpful is revealed as unhelpful. Maybe something about how we live is seen for what it is for the first time in our lives.
This listening and seeing without knowing, without a purpose other than letting life reveal itself, is already the opening into a new way of being. In this, the body does take on a different configuration. It may not be visible to others or dramatic, but there is an ease that is felt when defending my story has given way to being with what is really here, with interest. To being here.
This inquiry into what one is when the story, the personality, time pressure, fear are not dominating the mind is a bottomless question. There is no dark habit that cannot come into the light and melt away if this goalless presence is given enough chance to operate.
You can take a comfortable posture. Don't be too concerned that there is a correct posture. It's helpful to be somewhat upright, so you don't get too sleepy, but it is fine to sit in a chair or on a couch. It is for you to experiment with. You ask what to focus on, but why focus? Why not by open to the sounds, the light, as well as noticing what is happening internally? Why not discover what is really going on, even if it questions your ideas about yourself?
Maybe it is helpful to try to include the awareness of the body along with whatever else is coming into awareness. When we're lost in thought, we imagine we're accomplishing marvelous things but the fact is that the awareness of the body is usually gone or limited during that thinking. Since you are interested in what the body is when it is free of history and personality, when it is flexible and healthy, it may help to include the body as an instrument of presence. You will sometimes realize that you have been lost in thought. In that momemt of realizing, it will be clear that the body had been lost and now is back. See if you can let presence come from the body itself, grounded in the belly. But don't make a big thing of it. Just see if you can find what is natural.
These are just some suggestions. It is for you to discover for yourself, but there are so many "techniques" that one can get caught up in instead of just being with what is here. What can be simpler than just being here?
There are some places you can
go to meditate with others where the emphasis
is on this simple presence. There are also
7 day retreats, which allow you to go deeper
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Y: What should I do if I'm worried about not feeling any consiousness after death?
Jay: Can you tell me a little more about what your concern is? Maybe you can explain your worry to me in a paragraph so I understand more.
I can understand the feeling of anxiety about death, not because of just the body dying but because it is the end of "me". And it may feel like consciousness is the essence of "me". Please tell me if you mean something like this or something different.
Of course consciousness will end at death. And the story of myself will end. These are facts. Are you saying that you are not able to accept these facts?
Y: I'm worried about not feeling any part of my body. Like you don't exsist any more and you're just gone eternally.
J: Let's look at this together. First, I think we can agree that when you are dead, this will not be an issue. You are not concerned with the anxiety you may feel when you are dead because then there will be no feeling of body and no sense of existence. So your concern really is a current concern right now. Your anxiety is that you will in the future lose something that you have now that you don't want to lose.
Do you see that when this anxiety comes up, it is all happening in imagination, in mental pictures. The mind is creating a picture of what it thinks "I" am now and a mental picture of what it would be like to be nothing, no body, no existence. But none of these pictures are the real thing. They are not even close. Do you see why I say that?
Since you are alive, it is not possible to explore what death of the body is in reality. However, it is possible to explore what the absence of all of this mental picturing and anxiety are. It is possible to sit quietly and wonder what this "existence" is other than all of the pictures, ideas, fears and concerns I have about it.
You may discover that there is an almost constant stream of mental imagery going on, so that all I can honestly say is that there really has been no perception of this existence at all, other than the mental buzz. But at moments, there may be a momentary break in this. A moment in which there is just what is here - the bright sunshine, the cool spring breeze, the sound of keys on the keyboard, the heaviness of the body. And in this moment it is clear that no mental picture of this comes even close to capturing it. It is uncapturable - one moment moving right into the next.
It is true that the thinking mind is anxious over many things, or rather over the idea of many things. That seems to be its job - to be anxious. But to look right here and ask "what is this existence right now", to be here with life as it unfolds while this body/mind is still alive. This is a different approach to the question. You are worried about not existing in the future but in fact we don’t experience our lives now. We miss most of our life because we are lost in thoughts about everything, planning for it to go on forever and fearing that it won't.
There are people who have been told they had a terminal illness and then dropped their "lives", ie., their ordinary way of thinking, living for the future - jobs, relationships, interests, fears. They dropped concern for the future and suddenly discovered that they were now alive in a new and fresh way - a way that had nothing to do with time. Just this moment and this moment.
At the moment of death, the ideas about Y will die. But if you look carefully during your life, you may discover that the real Y is not something that can die. I don't mean anything about the personality or the characteristics of the mind or body. The real Y is something else that is right here every moment. If you can discover what this is, life and death will not be a burden.
Please write back with questions
or comments or let me know if I have not been
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O: Hi Jay. I hope you’re doing fine. I continue to meditate regularly, although the last two weeks have been very painful, so much that I am now only meditating about 5 minutes in the morning and the evening. What has been coming up is fear, but mostly grief.
Jay: Hi, “O”. I have been considering recently these powerful reaction circuits such as fear and grief, so let's take a look at these. First, what do we mean by grief. I don't know exactly how you are using the word but it usually means a sadness, a sorrow, which often has behind it the loss of something or someone or the inability to get or do something that seems important. It may be something specific that is lost or unattainable or it may be more general, even a feeling of hopelessness of being able to do anything about one's life.
If the nervous system is completely in the grip of this reaction that we are calling grief, then there is very little if any awareness of what is going on. Instead there is just a depression of the energies or the ongoing thinking in circles over and over of how hopeless I am or how unfair things are.
If there is a little bit of awareness around this process, a little bit of letting go of the self pity or self loathing, then there starts to be a little more noticing of the thinking in circles, of the self-destructive quality of the thoughts. And yet it still goes on or it quiets down but then comes back. There may seem to be a battle between the habit of wanting to wallow in pity or sorrow and the interest in being with what is going on without falling into it. It often seems like the energy of falling into the reaction is so strong and the energy of staying with what's happening is so feeble or tentative.
What to do? First of all, not to assume that the energy of presence will be feeble the next moment just because it seems feeble this moment. When there is a serious need to be present with what is going on, the energy for that may suddenly be here on its own. It finds its own way through us.
When we've seen the same reaction patterns so many times, have seen how destructive they are, how unhelpful, how they close in on themselves and make themselves stronger through repetition and reinforcement, is there not a strong interest in finding out if it is possible to be open to this entire reaction pattern without - for a moment at a time - falling into it?
Part of this being open to the reaction is wondering what this really is if I don't call it grief, don't even call it a reaction. What is really happening that is observable if I don't move away from the storm and don't fall into the storm. The falling into the reaction really is a moving away from presence, isn't it? "I'm too tired to stick with this. It's too hard." and then soon the old thoughts are going around and around again, digging themselves in deeper.
This interplay back and forth between falling into reaction and the energy arising to really be with an old pattern in a new way is how we live most of the time. But if there is a very strong interest, the energy may come to just sit with this thing no matter what, with no regard for time, for results. Just presence that allows the whole panorama to reveal itself.
This deep interest that we are talking about may take the form of questions - what is this hurricane if I don't call it anything - what is it that I've never seen about this before, even in all the years it has been a plague - what is it that kicks this reaction back in again just when it is slowing down - what is it that I think I'm trying to protect or defend or maintain? For each of us the questions may be different moment to moment. They are a conscious expression of this interest and change as the reality of what is going on unfolds. The questions bring with them additional energy of interest. Once they are raised, the questions can then drift into the background and let the interest in sticking with what is going on continue, observing with one's whole being.
A good question may be "What is this thing of a pattern revealing itself? For all of my trying to work with these things, I've never in my life seen a pattern revealed thoroughly. All I've seen is wrestling back and forth, falling into the old gloom, getting a bit of perspective for a moment, falling back into it with more or less intensity. I've dreamt of being cured of the reaction, of being rid of it, but that's done little good. If there is such a thing as being able to be with a reaction in a new, fresh way, thoroughly without falling into it, it must be possible for me to find out about it."
This being with something is not an act of tolerating it, riding it out, toughing it out. Nor is it an act of trying to balance the reaction with “good”. It is an interest, an openness, a sensing with subtlety and in total stillness while the comings and goings of the mind and body and nervous system reveal themselves. You may discover that this alert presence, this stillness, is not tainted or diminished by any of what is going on. This presence reveals not only what is happening inside us but also what is happening in the world all around. Presence itself is the opposite of the self-enclosure that is at the core of reactive habits. Presence reveals self-enclosure. In presence with what is here, it is clear that the image of a person who I miss is only an image and that bringing it up again and again only moves away from the simplicity and fullness of what is here. That's all. That is seeing it through and through as an image, a fragmented mental picture that is not an accurate representation of the person themself.
Maybe this is enough for now.
Please write back and ask about things that
I may not have been very clear about.
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I think we can all agree that when there is some quietness, when we disengage for a time from the usual physical and mental doing and just listen, more of what is actually here at this moment, inside and out, is revealed. Can we also say that this quiet space that opens up also seems, in some invisible way, to help the complications that we may have brought with us from the day’s events to somehow sort themselves out a bit? This seems to go on in the background, without the need for conscious “figuring it all out”.
I’d like to explore here the role of actively questioning, in addition to this silent, invisible “processing” that seems to happen. Many of our activities, maybe most of them, are grounded in patterns. The personality itself is a complex of these patterns. How I relate to other people, whether I’m shy, aggressive, friendly. How I organize or avoid organizing events of my life. What circumstances or activities make me feel safe. What circumstances or activities are threatening. What I expect a partner to be like. How I expect them to look at me, to talk to me. What kind of “future” I envision. These are examples of clusters of patterns that reflect and constitute what we consider to be “me”.
For most of us these patterns are sources of occassional pleasure and regular conflict, confusion, separation and pain. Maybe I feel safe with people I know but my partner always takes me to places with people who I feel unsafe with. I want to be with my partner but I don’t want to feel unsafe. So two patterns are painfully in conflict. Maybe I take this out on my partner because I have a strong expectation that they should be concerned with my well being and a new conflict is born. And then I get the feeling my partner is sick of my complaining and that I’ll lose her, and there is yet another conflict between not wanting to lose her and wanting to proctect myself. And on and on.
These patterns are for most of us largely unexamined. Or perhaps they’ve been examined through therapy or talking with others or self reflection but still seem to cause problems. If a pattern is still causing problems, there is more to it that has not yet been seen, even if one feels they have exhausted observing it, thinking about it, etc. How can there be more transparency brought into a pattern so that something is seen that wasn’t seen before?
First of all, most of our patterns we usually defend vigorously. If someone says, “Why are you always so compulsive about (fill in the blank)?” There is often an immediate defense reaction. We feel the other person is too lax and would be better off if they were more like us, that they are just reacting to our having it together. Or we believe they just have an ax to grind, are trying to get even with us or are angry with us. We may think that if they did more meditation, they would understand why I do what I do. But why not look right here to see if there is compulsiveness and to find out by being in direct touch what this really is?
Defensiveness itself, while sometimes obvious to us, can be subtle and difficult to detect. Defensiveness can best be seen from a presence that has no agenda, nothing to defend.
Let’s come back to the pattern of not feeling comfortable around people I don’t know. Can I start to observe what is happening in that situation, while it is happening? Suppose there is a strong feeling that in talking with a new person, I have to keep conversation going, that if I am silent for a moment, something very awkward may happen. In the middle of talking with some one that way, there may be a very powerful resistance to even trying being quiet for a moment. Habit may propel the talking onward.
Well, this is a discovery, isn’t it? The strength of the habit may not have been so clear before. From this insight, there might spring forth a new question, for example a wondering whether it would be possible to stop in the talking for even a second to see what happens. Maybe in the next social situation this still doesn’t happen, but there has been a change from all of the energy going into running the pattern to some of the energy being in the interest to uncover what is happening.
How does this critical change happen? Is it from starting to question what is really behind these strongly defended patterns that we can start to detect are running in our lives? Not taking them at face value – “oh, everybody get’s jealous” or “I’m just not a people person” – but rather seeing for oneself what “jealousy” really is in this body/mind. These questions come up spontaneously out of non-personal field of awareness. “If I don’t just say it’s jealousy and make a fixed thing out of it, what is really going on? I’ve never really watched it.”
Can a pattern be watched not from the stand point of what I already know or what I already want but without knowing? This space of awareness that sheds light on patterns is not grounded in what is known. It is much larger. Just sitting with a presence that allows all of the inner turmoil to be revealed in as much depth as possible.
In my observation, patterns are grounded in the defense of something, the preservation of something. Often the sense is that it is my very survival that is at stake, or at least my equanimity, my state of not being in pain and wanting to avoid pain, or my state of experiencing pleasure and not wanting it to be interrupted.
Can there being a quiet presence that has nothing to lose?
Our usual way of thinking wants a quick answer. If I can figure out what’s wrong, then I’ll use that information to control things in a better way. Can this also be let go of? Not looking for information to use to make better patterns, to control things more effectively, to learn how to get along. Just finding this space of presence that does not need to know, does not need to control, is not concerned with the future.
In this presence the whole question,
the whole pattern, the whole history of the
problem, may be forgotten. It fades into the
background, with just simple awareness here.
The questioning doesn’t have to be brought
back into consciousness, but the fact that
there has been questioning of the patterns
at some point seems to help with this silent,
behind the scenes “processing”
that we talked about. Each person can discover
this for themselves.
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Question: I know we must overcome the senses, but what is the best way to do so? Further, should i attempt to extinguish physical aspects such as pain along with the mental thoughts such as anger? Do not humans need pain as a warning? Thank you for your time and insight : ).
Jay: You are certainly right that pain has a purpose, so let's take a fresh look together (I am considering this now myself) at the role of the senses.
First, I wonder what you mean by "overcome" the senses. Maybe you mean overcome attachment to sensations, in other words things like being driven to repeat sexual sensations or other pleasant sensations. Or maybe you are referring to not wanting unpleasant sensations. You may have the impression that spiritual work involves avoiding the senses.
Even if some people in the past may seem to have talked in these terms (and we often don't know how people were defining their terms in the past), we need to look at this issue very carefully, each of us for ourselves. So, suppose I see a beautiful sunset. Where is the problem in this sensory experience? Not only is the sunset seen but the air is felt, maybe the sound of water at the beach is heard, and the body and nervous system respond to this peaceful setting and there is a feeling of relaxation, release of tensions, and pleasantness. It strikes me that usually we are not sensing - we are caught up in thought and very little of this is experienced at all. It is a wonderful thing to be able to sense simply and clearly in a situation.
You can pose this as a question for yourself to explore - is it possible at all to sense simply without it becoming a problem? Then observe both in sitting and moving through life. If you start to do this, it may strike you that it is impossible - that there is a constant stream of thinking that is manipulating each sensory input. But don't give up. Keep looking carefully to see if simple sensing is possible without sensing being a problem.
You talk about extinguishing "mental thoughts such as anger." Let's look more closely at what you might mean. I'm not sure what you mean by extinguish. People use expressions like this in different ways. If anger arises in the mind/body as you are sitting or interacting with people, what is the extinguishing? Is it repressing it, shoving it down someplace, covering it over with positive thoughts, concentrating on something so the anger is put in the background? All of these things can be done, though they are a lot of work and don't necessarily shed light on the anger.
Simple awareness of the angry thought patterning running is also possible, much like simple sensing of a sunset. In simple awareness the nature of the process is revealed, maybe partially, without the clutch being engaged to act out the anger. There is no conflict between the anger pattern and the observation. There is no attempt to manipulate what is happening in the mind but rather there is an allowing it to be revealed. In this, the nature of the anger patterning may be revealed in part or in whole, which is a healing. Often people report that when this happens the anger seems to change, transform, melt away. It doesn't really matter whether it goes away or continues. The important thing is that what is happening - an old pattern running - can be revealed in a space of still, sensitive, intelligence.
Can anger be gotten rid of forever? I don't know. That requires theorizing about anger. So instead of theorizing, can the focus shift to observing sensitively, without moving away into either reacting against it or extinguishing it? That way there can be a learning about anger.
I don't know if I've understood accurately what you are asking about. Please feel free to right back and let me know if your question was a little different from what I've talked about or if you'd like to go into this more. It's possible that I haven't been clear enough, so you can ask for some additional clarification. I'll look forward to hearing back. Back to Writings Menu
Probably for everyone the minute you consider the possibility of going to retreat, the mind is filled with all of the reasons why it’s impossible. “I have too much work to do. I have too many things going on around the house. I don’t know what to do with the kids, the animals, the plants, the house. I can’t get away from work. My partner is counting on me. I can’t afford to lose the pay and to spend money on the retreat.”
You may have these same things come up even when you are considering a vacation or pleasure trip. Or in fact when you are considering anything that takes you outside of your regular routine. Isn’t there always some anxiety in letting go a bit of the routine? Of course with a vacation there is the image of some beautiful or relaxing or exciting alternative that makes the decision easier. This is really just an image – the actual experience of the vacation may be very different from the imagination of it - but the decision is being made in imagery or at least in agreement with the imaging process, with the imagination, so imagination has to concur that the final decision suits it.
In considering retreat, what image is there to counteract the thought of letting go of routine? Maybe none at all. After all, retreat is a situation in which our usual patterns don’t apply. Retreat doesn't lend itself to the strong image of a different but rewarding change of pace that makes it seem worth the discomfort of ripping away from routine. So considering the pull of the very powerful anxiety over leaving our routine, it is a miracle that anyone would arrange to go to retreat at all.
How, then, does anyone get to retreat? First of all, people who have done some meditation, even occasionally, have probably experienced that they feel better afterwards. So there may be the image that a lot of meditation would feel a lot better – a good recharging for an overworked nervous system. This probably does bring a lot of people to retreat. And there is no doubt that people feel refreshed after a retreat. But for others, this still may not be a strong enough motive to overcome the discomfort of stepping out of routine. After all, I can instead sleep in a couple days, get to the spa and go do some dancing and will probably feel pretty decent by the end of the weekend.
I suspect that most people come to retreat because there is something in their life, in themselves, that needs to change. It may not be clear at all what it is but it may be strongly felt nonetheless. It may have to do with troublesome reaction habits. It may have to do with a sense of the prison-like quality of our seemingly safe and comforting routine. It may have to do with a deep sense of isolation. It may have to do with the undeniable fact of loss in our lives. It may have to do with a deep sense of disturbance over the human condition. It may have to do with knowing at some level that there is a deeper possibility of connection, of beauty and of direct experience of life, a possibility that has been lost with age, with experience.
Extended retreat time does allow the possibility of entering more fully into these concerns and the possibility of an ultimate resolution of them, from which comes a greater ability to live freely, openly, caringly, in one’s daily life. Retreat is perhaps the only way for most of us to do so. The more one experiences this, the more the mind says, “Yes, give me four, five, seven, days away from the routine to enter into presence with others!”
If we want to put it in a linear way, we can say that being in touch with these deeper concerns of life provides the motivation to want to enter into silent presence, which allows the possibility of the resolution and healing of these concerns and the possibility of being able to live more fully and openly. But isn’t it true that one of the functions of routine is to dull these concerns, keep us from feeling them too much, keep the feelings at a manageable level, have ready answers for the concerns when they do come up so that they aren’t felt deeply – oh, don’t worry. If I do enough meditation, this will change - maybe hide the concerns altogether?
Maybe a first step is to watch carefully the interplay between routine and our deeper concerns. There’s nothing wrong with routine per se. Retreat has a routine to it – certain sittings at certain times, certain meals at certain times – and it provides a nice, simple framework that one can forget about and depend on so that the day to day details don’t take up too much energy. It is the way routine can be used to deaden our lives that we can watch. Isn’t coming more frequently in touch with our deeper concerns – as uncomfortable as that may be at times – not already a step away from hiding and a step into being? Someone might say, “Well, but my job, my family, really do require me to be here. I really can’t get away. I really can’t afford to use sick days or lose pay.” It may be true at a certain level. But if one gets sick and has to stay in bed for a week, there is no choice but to violate the routine, and yet most of the time this does not result in the predicted disaster. In fact I often find that I was not really missed that much during the week! My life went along perfectly well without me.
Does this sound like a battle between what I want to do and what I think I should do? Or maybe between what I easily fall into and what I want to do but can’t get myself to? No reason to take a battle stance, though. We can watch this dynamic very carefully and honestly. Out of this watching, listening, feeling, comes a new sense of what is important and what is not. And out of this new sense will come different actions.
Retreat itself is an opportunity to watch all of this more closely, to enter into our lives as they are right now – the concerns as well as the habits that keep us from our lives. From this deepening comes more deepening. And the joy of being in touch. Back to Writings Menu
I came across one of your posts doing a google search for 'formless meditation' and was interested to read some of the replies you've given to others.
The reason I was looking for such things in the first place is that I was looking to relax in my meditation practice, to cease grasping on tightly for 'the method' that was going to solve my problems. I've been meditating on and off for several years, attending retreats and so on, and over that time experimented with different methods and traditions, mostly within Buddhism. However, what I always gravitate back to is this simple presence you speak of, that I first read a description of in the book called 'A Still Forest Pool' by Ajahn Chah. I couldn't believe meditation could be so simple, so have since spent a lot of time experimenting with more formal practices. I notice particularly in times of stress a craving to follow a more systematic plan to alleviate the suffering which sends me on the search for the perfect method/cure-all once more.
It strikes me that it takes some faith to trust in the adequacy of the present moment without structure or expectations. What I first understood with meditation though is as true now as it ever was : there's no substitute for being with what's happening right now, whatever it is, beyond the particulars of tradition or technique. It's also a great relief to let go of needing things to be just so, or get the technique 'right'. Thanks for the reminder. I regularly seem to need it :)
Jay: Hi, “N”. It's interesting and nice to read about your observations.
I've been considering this issue of "practice" or meditative technique. You mention that you "always gravitate back" to simple presence. Looking at this carefully, you can check out whether a more accurate way to describe this is that at times the mind is engaged in methodology and at times this drops away and there is a simpler presence, with perhaps a great deal more revealed in this simple presence than when "methodology" was active.
In other words, there is no one choosing between these two situations - the desire for methodology manifesting in the mind and the silence that is revealed when that is not happening. Either the mind is engaged in applying techniques or it is quiet. Either case happens on its own in response to unfathomable conditions.
I'd like to explore a little more about this methodology and technique mind. In observing what happens for myself in this body/mind, I can say that there is a continual flux of states of mind and body, a continual stream of "processes" going on and changing, moment to moment. At some moments there are states of “crisis”, we might say, in which things are recognized as seeming not quite right, for example a sense that one is leaning over to one side or a feeling that one is sinking into a depression.
At such moments there is often a response that the body/mind comes up with, maybe certain muscles on one side of the body tensing to straighten up, or breathing in a certain way to dispel the feeling of depression, or self-talking going on to rearrange imagery (maybe telling oneself about a happy event so that the mental imagery has a more uplifting affect.)
These internal responses often are just based on memory and don't do any lasting good but it also happens sometimes that something fresh occurs that is helpful at that moment, sort of a healing response that is really spontaneous and fresh at that moment. In either case we can call these "techniques" or "methods" because they have the impression of doing something specific that helps things.
Looking more carefully we can clarify that by the time the mind sorts out what the technique was, it has already been spontaneously conceived and applied. Making a technique out of it happens after that fact. Most people also find, especially in retreat, that the technique that worked so magically at one moment is completely useless in another moment and it requires entering back into not knowing for another appropriate response to the fresh thing that is going on now to have a chance to arise.
Is it possible that this strong tendency to want a method, a practice for arriving at meditative stillness, comes out of a misunderstanding of this "techniquing" process that the body /mind almost always seems to be engaged in - a process which when it happens spontaneously, as opposed to reactively imposing a technique that worked in the past, does have a positive role in allowing an equanimity in the nervous system?
We can observe that spontaneous "techniquing", ie., a spontaneous, creative response of the nervous system to its own state, happens best when the mind is quietest, not holding on to preset techniques, and yet awake and responsive to the environment.
You say you sometimes can't believe that meditation can be so simple and so find yourself trying out different formal practices. I wonder, if you look at this carefully, what is really going on. Where is this thought that it can't be this simple coming from? What is the mind that is asking this? I am not saying that the thought is either good or bad. There may be some inkling of a perception presenting itself. But rather than taking it a face value and starting to implement a strategy for making better progress, is it possible to continue listening silently, very carefully?
I don't know what you will discover in doing this. I do know that the moment a known technique is applied, the simple listening is diminished or disappears. There may be a boost of energy but this is not the same as silent listening.
It is necessary to let go a bit of the concern for this ongoing flux of the body/mind. Yes, a healthy nervous system and body is helpful, if possible. Sometimes it's not possible. But doesn't this come about best when the "known" techniques are let go of and something new is allowed to happen? Can the mind that needs to know be seen as part of the flux of mind states?
For most of us there is a very strong sense that even in meditative work there is a goal of a better state of body/mind. We can maybe say that meditative strategies or practices involve trying to maintain certain states, becoming stronger at holding onto them, states which supposedly will lead to something better. Looking right now I can say that holding onto certain states is artificial. The body/mind is in constant flux, which is natural. However, this changing train of states is not all there is. It is taking place in a simple space, a wide, still universe. Can the interest change from concern with the states of the body and mind to an interest in the space in which this all takes place?
You mentioned faith in the adequacy of the present moment. This shift of interest that I'm talking about is a shift to faith in this present moment instead of faith in what is already known. This is an entering into not knowing.
Does this lead somewhere? Is there something besides what I see when I do sit quietly? Isn't there more to what I am then just this? No need to say yes or no, or to say these are just intellectual questions, but rather, if these questions do seem real, to listen to them, along with the movement of the breath, the sound of the fan, the smell of fall air, listen as openly as possible, moment by moment.
It is our own deep concerns and questions that want to be resolved, that want to know what resolution is, that aren't satisfied with someone else's explanations. And given enough space of listening, life itself may at some point touch a concern and heal it, clarify it, so that instead of seeing a concern in front of our eyes, we see life itself and that this is what we are.
At the moment that a deep concern for me was clarified, one of the first responses was the realization that this meditative work is not about internal states of mind or body. It is not about mental meditation. It is about the world itself, from which the body/mind is not separated at all, whether dark and brooding, stormy and blustering, or bright and sunny.
Please let me know if I haven't
been very clear about some of the things I've
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T: I've been trying off and on for years to get a meditation practice started, and I don't think it's ever lasted for more than a week. My reason for learning meditation is not just for stress management; it's to rebuild a connection to the Source. Call it what you will - the soul, the universe, the Divine, the Creator, God, the Higher Self, the Formless - that's what I want to get in touch with and live my life through.
But I think part of the problem is that I'm unsure of what meditation will really lead to and whether or not it's worth all the trouble of trying to still this wild monkey mind. What kinds of changes have you noticed in yourself over the years that you've been meditating? Do you feel more inner stillness, more Presence, more peace of mind? I've worked with a lot of the Eckhart Tolle material in order to be more present from moment to moment, but I think I need more and I'm hoping that meditation can help lead me to the deeper, more joyful and peaceful experience of life that I'm looking for.
Jay: Yes, I do feel more Presence (with a capital P) and an absence of many of the deep seated concerns of early years. I find that meditative time, especially extended time such as in a weeklong retreat, allows a great healing of the confusions and anxieties, the sense of separation, that beset the nervous system, the body/mind. In fact, extended meditation reveals the root of such anxieties so that they no longer accumulate so much in our daily living.
I can understand how in daily meditation it may not feel like much more than a temporary respite from the usual craziness. You might start wondering then if you are doing it wrong. But I think you might find more access to the Presence that you know is here if you can attend a longer retreat.
If someone takes up a specific practice that involves concentrating on things, repeating things, trying to hold certain states of mind, this is not the same as simple Presence and may not allow the simple revealing of the concerns in open space. Meditative presence is simple - it is just allowing anything that is here to be revealed, without knowing what to do with it, the knower itself being revealed as it comes up.
I said it is simple but it is also true that it is not so easy to stay with this. Over and over again reaction comes up and takes hold and sweeps the body/mind with it. But then it stops at some point and the simple presence is visible, palpable again.
In daily sitting just to be with this very simply without expecting great changes. A moment of simple presence IS a great change, isn't it? It is radically different from the usual reactive frenzy of the body/mind. So just letting the presence be when it is here, letting it take root deeply into whatever we are, without knowing. It is very ordinary and yet not usual at all. It is radically ordinary! Ordinary not in the sense of routine but in the sense of simple, here, down to earth, alive in a simple but living way.
I hope this addresses some of your concerns. I may not have expressed things very well so please let me know if you'd like to clarify some of this together.
T: Thanks so much for your response. It's very encouraging; that's exactly what I'm hoping for.
When I meditate, I have to start out with some kind of object (breath, mantra, prayer beads, image) to get my mind focused until I go deeper, then I tend to drop it so I can create "space" in order to receive whatever comes up. Unfortunately most of the time it's nonsense thought, and before I know it I've attached to it and spent 10 minutes riding it like a wave. When I finally figure out that I've gone off on a tangent and manage to bring myself back, I'm frazzled. I guess what I'm saying is that it's quite hard for me to maintain the "witness" state of mind and be an observer of the thoughts instead of a participant.
A moment of simple presence IS a great change, indeed, but it's so rare for me that I get concerned! It seems to only take a nanosecond before the thoughts, labels, comparisons, etc. start pouring in from my mind and filling the space. It's almost as if there's no room for the witness.
Jay: I understand what you are saying about getting lost in the thoughts so quickly. This is an accurate observation.
Watch this process carefully. At certain moments there is just presence. Somehow there is a transition to being lost in thinking. I don't think this transition is observable. It is just a falling asleep, into dreaming. However, the waking up from it is clear. In the instant of waking up it is completely clear that there has been daydreaming and that no matter how pleasant it might have been (though often it isn't pleasant at all), it was an out-of-touchness.
All of this is instantaneously and intuitive clear - thought is recognized as an arbitrary image and the energy doesn't continue to go into it.
Do you observe that all this waking up happens on its own? No one did anything to bring it about. How could the dreamer possible dream about waking up? It's just more dreaming, right? And yet somehow the waking up occurs.
This is very helpful to look at carefully because there is a strong tendency when this waking up happens for a whole pattern of thought to come up saying I should be more wakeful, I shouldn't have let myself fall into dreaming, I should do something to avoid falling into dreaming in the future, what is wrong with me for not being more awake. By seeing carefully that the waking happens by itself, this shows that it is not necessary to think about how to make it happen.
When there is presence, there may just be a very gentle and yet deep intention to be here with this, to be wide open to what is here. Not necessary to struggle using the body or mind but just a deepening intention. Not trying to prevent thought from taking over. You can experiment with this and will probably find it is impossible to prevent it. I remember driving once while very tired and exerting an effort not to fall asleep, telling myself to stay awake and drumming up different images to keep me awake but suddenly I realized that it had turned into a dream! Dreaming about trying to stay awake.
This very delicate intention somehow can call forth a new energy for being present that is not a struggle against anything. It is a shift in interest to what is really here for its own sake! Forget about the dreaming. It happens on its own and ends on its own. Shifting the real interest to here.
This can at times seem almost impossible, the pull of the thinking mass being so dominant. But I remember a time during retreat when I felt disturbed by lots of thoughts pulling here and there and an inability to be awake - just sort of aware of wallowing in a nightmare almost. At that time a story about the Buddha came into the mind in which, in a trying moment, he had reached a hand out and touched the earth.
This all came up spontaneously and naturally and my hand reached out and settled onto the arm of the chair where I was sitting and there was a deeply confirming sense that yes there is reality here, very grounding. The disturbing thought storm did not necessarily go away or stop but there was a shift to a deeper sense of presence within the storm. And a sense of not needing to battle it.
Does this give you the sense of the possibility of simple presence at moments? Looking very carefully, in a moment of presence the thought of how can I get more of this has no relevance. Nor does the thought that I get so little of this. You can examine this for yourself. There is just the intention of being deeply and vulnerably touched by what is here, manifesting right now as just this, just this. In this simple moment there is no need for time, for measurement, for evaluation, for my story.
This can blossom forth - out of nowhere and no one - even when seemingly lost in a storm of thought.
It's all your own to explore and discover and clarify for yourself.
T: Thanks for your email; I hope I got it right!
Maybe the trouble is I'm having such a hard time being with what's here because I'm thinking it should be something else. I have this idea in my head that meditation is supposed to be 20 minutes of mostly silence with the occasional thought floating through, and for me it's the exact opposite. Interesting that what you say is true...the "coming around" happens all by itself. But sometimes it takes so long! Does that ease up over time? Or does it just depend on the day, as witnessed by your retreat experience? I would also think that if you have a lot of "stuff" that needs to come to the surface, it may also do that during meditation if there's no other time for it to come up.
I guess I get frustrated because I'm trying so hard (too hard?) to create more space for Presence and I end up swirling in more thought. Maybe I'm expecting too much and should be happy with baby steps. After all, for more than 40 years my mind has been going non-stop, so it's not going to sit on the sidelines very easily. I try to take little moments throughout the day where I just don't think, and it usually lasts for about 5 seconds before the thoughts sneak in a take over (usually beginning with the thought that"I should be thinking about something"!). Should, should, should. I guess it's going to take some practice at simply letting things be how they are.
Jay: Yes, I agree with what you say that there is stuff that needs to come up and out. It's almost like the need to dream during sleep. It's a physiological necessity. In an hour or two of sitting that may be all that is happening in the mind. Of course in extended sitting this changes. There is a chance for this mental processing to finish and then, because in retreat there is very little need for mental work or emotional interaction, there is much less that needs to clear out and the mind takes on a different quality. What a relief!
I'm really wondering about this frustration you're expressing. It's not hard to understand. But I wonder if it maybe comes from never having a chance to get past the clearing process that we talked about above. Knowing that it is possible but just not having enough time and space to get beyond just unloading. Now the thought comes up "But what's the point of getting a break for a week since I have to come back and live in this hectic world anyway? In fact, it might just feel worse or even unbearable to have to come back to this busy life if I really do get a chance to get beyond it. Maybe it's just better to try to get used to it."
But that train of thought doesn't really apply, any more than saying Why go to sleep? I'll just have to go through the agony of waking up tomorrow. And I can say from personal experience that there are great changes in how daily life is lived that grow out of periodically having a chance to go more deeply into silence.
It may well be possible to work with this issue in daily life as well. Is it possible to let go a little of all of the expressions of "my life" moment to moment? I mean to let go of the sense of importance of my economic future, my social and emotional security, my state of mind, my continued existence. To see how this sense of importance keeps us so busy and keeps us from noticing what else there is right here in a moment - the cool feel of air on the skin, the sound of the fan, the clear sunlight outside the window, the little clickety click happening at the end of my fingers on the keyboard. All of this can be noticed regardless of the state of mind. It is possible. You can test this out in your sitting as well. Even though the mind may seem more active and crazy as you are sitting, it may actually be easier to notice what else is happening - just the movement of the breath and diaphragm, the feel of body on the chair or ground, the boundaryless space in 360 degrees. The state of mind need not interfere with this at all.
It's nice to have a chance to
explore these things together. I hope you are
T: Having never done an extended sitting, I can't say whether or not it would all have a chance to "get itself out". But it seems that my problem is in more than letting stuff surface; it's also a lack of focus and an inability to resist getting caught up in the "drivel". As we both know, the mind is quite capable of filling every nanosecond of space with useless thought! At least my mind is, anyway. I'm also used to reading books and attending classes that suggest 20-30 minutes of meditation each day is ideal, so when my mind wanders for 45 minutes I'm inclined to think there's something wrong.
Working with this in daily life as you suggested is one of the reasons why I find Eckhart Tolle's work so intriguing; he suggests the same thing in just the way you described. It's a matter of making space for "Being" to come through, rather than drowning it out with inane thoughts all the time. I've tried to do this but have trouble staying focused on the moment without my mind taking over (believe it or not, I'm not ADHD, though it sounds it!). I think one of the problems is that I'm still controlled by cultural conditioning. I've noticed that one of the thoughts that pops up repeatedly is"What are you doing this for? This isn't accomplishing anything. You're not saving the world by listening to birdsong or feeling the soap and water on your hands as you wash the dishes. This isn't productive! Planning your future or worrying about the world is so much more important than noticing a butterfly or touching a tabletop." I'm becoming more and more aware of how trapped I've been by societal "education", which is good (the awareness, not the"education"!), but it's frustrating to know you're in prison and not know how to get out.
Perhaps the trouble is that I'm still identifying myself as the "thinker"rather than the "observer". One book described meditation or centering prayer as sitting on the bank of the river and watching the debris float by on the water. Losing the moment means you've jumped into the river and starting floating, clinging onto the debris. I guess if I've never thought of myself as anything other than the "thinker", that might explain why I always get pulled back to it. Identifying myself as the observer still feels alien to me right now. I'm hoping this gets better with practice.
Do you find that some sort of physical preparation also helps calm the mind during meditation? Sometimes I do better after a half-hour of yoga, but I don't always have that kind of time.
Well, I'm not sure I've made any sense here, but I'll send it off anyway.It is my greatest desire in life to be reconnected with this deeper source,and I'm not giving up, no matter how long it takes.
you're doing well too...take care.
Jay: What you say does make sense. You mentioned the difference between identifying as the thinker versus identifying as the observer. Where is the difference? Is there a sharp line between the thinking that is happening and the space of observing? Or is it all - including thinking - happening in one space? This may take some carefully looking to discern, while it is actually going on.
I understand what you say about getting caught up in the thoughts, in which the whole field of awareness narrows down into just the roiling daydream. We talked before about how this is often just the discharge of imagery in the brain, which needs to happen, but doesn't have enough opportunity to happen. It can't happen while I'm trying to switch lanes in rush hour or while I'm trying to help a client solve math problems or while I'm trying to listen to a supervisor's directions. So it backs up until there is a moment when the mind doesn't have to focus on something and then the discharge rushes out. I think we are both together on this observation.
But it also happens that a pattern of thought consistently runs because it believes itself to have survival value. The thought pattern is neurologically connected to the vigilant centers of survival. The pattern holds a sense of importance and urgency, something in the nervous system keeps arousing it into consciousness, like a nagging thought at the back of the mind that hasn't been dealt with, until finally the conscious thought forms "Did I turn off the iron?" and with the coming into consciousness of this thought, the conscious mind can deal with it, if possible. And if it doesn't seem possible, then panic can occur - something critical is happening and I have no way to deal with it. Interestingly, in panic the same thoughts may go around and around over and over with increasing urgency until one is exhausted.
Let's follow this situation a little further. What could happen differently? One could say that if the person relaxed and stopped thinking so much, a different solution might come up. It's possible. Or there may be no solution. But there is another possibility. Doesn't the whole panic revolve around the need for the house not to burn down, the survival of one's home, possessions, etc? This is the root of the fear - the image of loosing what is imaged as vital. There is a difference between the house itself, the business papers, the computer, the family portraits - and the imagery of these things in the mind. It is in the imagery that there is fear of loss. In panic or problem solving we often don't see the imagery that is fueling it. In fact the brain probably needs to keep it out of consciousness for the panic or problem solving to work. So there may be a strongly felt resistance to even questioning what is driving this. But if the imagery can come to the surface - the picture of all of my most valuable possessions and my place of refuge destroyed, with all of the emotions that go along with it - if this all comes out fully into the light and is recognized as imagery, then there is a realization that actually I don't know how I would really respond to the fact, as opposed to the image.
One of our dogs was recently killed by a car. My landlord, who lives on the property, called me to say they had found Piggy dead and that they were in the process of digging a grave for him and for me to come up to join them if I wanted. At first I couldn't stand the idea. I imagined seeing Piggy's dead body and imagined myself imaging how friendly and loving his face had always been and the contrast made me want to cry and I didn't want to stand around and cry in front of everyone. But then I decided to go and when I looked, there was a dead body but it did not contain any of the energy that had been Piggy. The Piggyness was gone. It was just a stiff body. It was not how I had imagined it because the body was not an imagination but a real thing that could be observerd.
It was also possible to observe that the brain would start to present the image of Piggy's happy face and that along with that image there was deep sorrow. Because this was observed, the brain refrained from it. It was seen as not helpful and as a dream that obscured what was right here - a rigidifying body without personality. Of course I was sad. But the image-induced sorrow was not added on top of that.
How would I feel or react if my house was burned down, if I was standing in front of it looking at the remains? I don't know. But it could well be radically different from how the imagery imagines it. Can I just live with the not knowing, not anticipating, not believing the imagery?
Now you mentioned the thought coming up, as you are trying to be satisfied with just feeling the dishes and just watching the butterfly, that this isn't accomplishing anything important. It's not addressing the problems of the world. And that this kind of thinking is a prison for you. So let's examine this prison very carefully. First of all, it strikes me that this "prison" is probably not acting all of the time. Are you always in prison? Can you examine this not by answering from memory but by observing moment to moment?
What about when this prison of thoughts is acting. What are the problems of the world, personally and for all of humanity? There may be certain issues that touch you more than others. Memory is filled with personal and universal sorrow, a sorrow that has probably been accumulated over hundreds of thousands of years of humanity and has been passed to each of us, woven into the fabric of memory. If this sorrow comes up right now, I might have the response that I should get up and do at least a little something about this - maybe call a friend who is depressed or maybe volunteer for an organization that does good things. But in sitting still there is a different possibility of asking about this sorrow that is felt, of sticking with being completely in touch with it and with the whole universe right here, to know what this sorrow is, how it arises, how it disappears experientially, with no separation from it. We are constantly moving away from it. Isn't the thing that has always been avoided - personally and by human beings since the beginning - the not moving away, the entering completely into?
Thought says such and such activity is more important than feeling a dish in soapy water. Thought says a dish, a warm sensation has no connection with remembered issues and concerns. But if I look at the reality, the real thing immersed in warm slippery liquid, which is felt directly along with the sound of the fan and of the whistling wind rising outside, the gray sky building up to a thunderous discharge, the tired eyes facing the computer screen, with their strained tear ducts, the movement of the diaphragm with it's cycle of effort and sighing release, and along with this a faint consciousness of the sorrows of humanity, and the clickety clackity of silly little keys under the dancing fingers.
How is it is as you sit quietly or watch a butterfly or put a dish away? Is anything separate? This is an ongoing question.
Krishnamurti said "The observer is the observed". As you look moment to moment, is the observer revealed in the dish, in the soapy water? Is the sorrow, hope, fear, frustration revealed in the butterfly? If these questions have reality for you, then simple presence IS entering into, coming directly in touch with not just the dish, but also the human problem, the problems of the human world, in a way that allows you to plum them directly, undividedly. Bring the worries, concerns, fears, despairs, hopes to each moment. Let them be revealed throughout every little corner of existence right here with the clickety clack or the slippery dish - all one universe revealed more and more deeply right here.
If you are deeply torn between action and simple presence, do not let go of this dilemma. Listen to it and bring it to each observable moment. Is the actor, the motivation, the goal, reflected in the action? Is the observer revealed in the observed? Is the world itself revealed? There is no bottom to this question. Can you enter into it with nothing held back?
At the beginning of this I referred to your comment about identifying with the thinker versus identifying with the observer. I wonder if what you are thinking about is taking action, doing something. The thinker, the doer, the observer. Can you bring it all to each moment and see if it is reflected in what is right here, observable, doable, sensable. Krishnamurti said something like "The world problem is my problem". The world problem is right here, every moment, every place, but sometimes it becomes very quiet so that a birdsong can be heard or a storm can sweep through and blow away the dust.
I hope you can find your way to explore this for yourself.
T: You make a good point about what the fear is revolving around - the imagined survival value of what is at stake when a thought pattern goes berserk. I find myself thinking I'm going to fall apart if this or that happens...the common feeling that if a particular event happens to us, we'll barely be able to handle it. I think if we rely on mind alone, instead of allowing in the presence underneath, that's an understandable fear. The mind can only handle so much. The spirit, on the other hand, is another matter. But I feel as if I've been so out of touch with that spirit that I don't even know where it is anymore. That's part of the reason for wanting to meditate - to get back in touch with that part of myself. And let me offer my condolences on the loss of your dear Piggy. I'm glad you were able to stay so present in the moment and that it didn't buckle you at the knees. It's an important thing to not project into disaster because one really never knows how one will react until in that situation. Being a worry-wart, that's been a tough lesson for me to learn, but it's one I keep working on.
Regarding the "need" to take action, I've noticed it's not something that's coming from a deeper place. It's not the same feeling that occurs when, for example, a natural disaster happens and every fiber in your being wants to do something to help, just for the reason of helping. This is something driven by fear...the fear of being "useless", the need to "earn" the space I take up on the planet, the need to prove my worth as a human being. I see so many people trapped in this need because it's how most of us are brought up. It's only been in the last few years that I've recognized this in myself; I was as lost in it as everyone else before. Our society somehow accepts the notion of cloistered nuns and monks (who supposedly spend their days praying) since they're "religious", but the rest of us regular folks are supposed to be busy and productive and do and plan and think and do some more - it's all about doing in this society. It's all about externals. The idea that someone could help the world by bringing more simple presence to it is beyond mainstream thought, and still unacceptable. It's this chain that I'm trying to break. For now I'm just noticing the thought as it comes up, not fighting it, letting it be as it is, then letting it go. I'm beginning to notice a small difference - I can watch the butterfly for 2seconds instead of 1! - but it may take a while. I feel in my bones that this is an important issue for me. Service and action can be wonderful things when warranted, but they need to spring from the right well, and guilt/duty/obligation/fear is not it.
I've also been picking moments out of the day where I stop what I'm doing and simply ask, "If I'm not these thoughts, who am I?" and I sit quietly and wait. Sometimes the feeling that comes up is quite striking. I still have trouble sitting in meditation for long periods of time so I'm trying to use any moment I can to bring that presence through.
Well, that's enough for now...I hope your retreat went well.
Jay: It's nice to hear from you. Thanksgiving was a nice break and we just finished the retreat on Monday. I'm already ready for a 7 day one in January at Springwater!
You talk about the fear of falling apart if something happens. Let's take an example of a lover leaving one. You say the fear says that I won't be able to handle it. I'm wondering why the thoughts are running this over and over. Maybe to find a way to prevent it. Maybe to prepare myself a little so that if it does happen, I won't be taken completely by surprise. Maybe there is a memory of past shocks of this kind that seemed all the more traumatic because they crashed in on me without expectation. Of course, in thought there is no end to this. There is no security that it won't happen, no assurance that I've prevented it and no end of the need to remind myself to be prepared for it. One antidote to this is to shift the emphasis to observation, to real information - talking with the partner, asking if there are problems, if something they did meant they were unhappy, etc. But there is always a big margin of uncertainty and at that point the brain thinks it needs to take over and review these things endlessly.
I wonder if it is possible for us to learn to leave uncertainty as it is. At a certain point to simply not know what will happen and leave it there. Maybe that seems impossible. But it is a fact that no matter how much we anticipate and plan in thought, the actual reality of events that happen and of how we react to them is often significantly different from what we anticipated. It is also a fact that what we are remembering and manipulating in thought is inaccurate, partial, tainted by associations.
You comment that if we rely only on thinking, there is a good chance that we might not be able to handle what happens. What does it mean to not be able to handle something? Where is this thought coming from? Is it a bracing against the memory of past overwhelming hurt? Often at the time of intense pain it is impossible to do anything but be totally with it. If you were hurting now, would you brace against it or abstain from bracing? When I consider times when the thought came up for me "I can't take any more", the fact is that I usually did end up taking more. The thought "I can't take any more" is an expression of what, I wonder. The mind trying to get a grasp on something that is beyond thinking? Often we cry out that we don't know how we can possible go on, how we can possible stand any more. But we do go on and stand more, sometimes even opening up to something in a new and helpful way.
Sometimes the thought that I can't take any more is a prelude to moving away from an experience. I can't take any more. I'm going to go get drunk. I can't take any more. I'm going to call my lawyer. I can't take any more. I'm going to eat a whole chocolate cake. Of course along with this is may be a sense of giving up.
You talk about wanting to be in touch with the "spirit" that is able to more easily move with difficulty. To trust that presence so that it is not necessary to think things through over and over. Maybe to trust that there is something other than thinking. Let me ask you this. You have talked about constantly thinking during your meditation. How do you know you were thinking? Is it not something other than thought that reveals that thinking has been taking place? Certainly there are many moments when we are completely lost in thinking, but then there is an instant waking up and realizing that one was lost in thought. At that instant we are not lost in thought. Of course then it may begin up again. Other times there is thinking chatter going on in the background, or even foreground, but there is also the breath, the feel of the body, the sound of the fan, feel of the cool air on the skin. This is all something other than thought. So every moment is an opportunity to be in touch with all of this that is not thought, regardless of whether there is chatter going on. It is also possible, and necessary, to be in touch, to be sensitive to, thoughts as well. If certain thoughts go around and around, listening carefully to what is behind them, to what keeps them going, to how they affect the body. This helps uncover the thought patterns that keep us from being more present.
I understand what you are saying about noticing that the need to take action is not coming from a deeper place. What is this world we are trying to help or contribute to? Usually it is an idea of the world. Most of the time we don't actually see the world we are living in right now. Maybe there is a connection between the desperate need to help the world in many of us and the fact that most of our lives we have not even seen this world we live in and are not separate from. We have not seen ourselves. We have not seen the world. These are not different things.
So we can start by becoming interested in this moment. Maybe when you look at a butterfly, it is not so important whether you see the butterfly or see the thoughts that may be clouding perception. The important thing is the seeing, not the state of the mind or the state of the body. These things take care of themselves in seeing. If you are frustrated with not being able to enter into this being more deeply, then see if it is possible to enter thoroughly into each moment of presence that does present itself. In this there is no time, no future, no progress. All of these are forgotten in this moment alone.
I like what you say about stopping and asking '"if i'm not these thoughts, what am I?" Am I the feelings? The physical sensations? The cool air? The clicking furnace? Is it possible to simply not know but listen openly? Is there not also a spaciousness around and through all of these sensations, sounds, feelings?
Thanks for keeping in touch and for your condolences about Piggy. I hope you have warm and happy holidays! Back to Writings Menu
What motivates us to sit in meditation? How does this question strike you? Having written it here at the computer and now considering it, it opens a space of listening. In this space the mind that is full of motivations is noticeable, the nervous system thoroughly interwoven with memory of countless experiences, painful experiences and the desire to protect against experience like that, pleasant experiences and the hope to experience them again and the anxiety that I might not.
There is also the memory of loss, of close connections that are not here any more. And the understanding that others close to me may any time leave or die. There is the understanding that this body will die, that it is never very far away from the possibility of its death, and the feeling that along with its death the unique story of Jay ends. There is in the mind sorrow interwoven with past losses. Listening right now it is clear that this story of Jay also carries a deep sorrow for its own loss.
What motivates you to sit quietly and listen, I wonder. Have you considered this? Perhaps there is something specific, a question that has bothered you, a concern that is unanswerable by thinking. Perhaps it is a dark mass of concern, nothing specific. The conglomeration of the sorrow and pain that is a part of human existence and which lodges itself into the mass of memory. Perhaps it is the sorrow of the story of me, wondering if it is possible for there to be a moment that is not dominated by this sorrow.
Sitting quietly, is it possible to listen not only to the hum of the fan, the feel of the cool air on the skin, not only the passing thoughts flashing through the mind, not only the chatter but also to listen deeply, carefully and quietly to this whole mind, this whole history. To listen deeply into the questions, the confusion.
Motivation means that which moves something. What is it that moves this mind? What stirs it? What does the mind move toward? To find out, I have to listen motionlessly, do I not?
A quick answer pops up in the mind that we move toward wholeness. Looking closely, however, what is seen is that wholeness is motionless. It is the open, still, silent space in which motion happens or doesn’t happen. Wholeness is already here. The moving mind cannot move toward wholeness but the moving mind can be revealed here in silent listening - along with the sound of the fan, the smell of smoke in the air.
Is there something in us that wants to be heard, to be seen, to be able to move freely? Is there something that is not thoroughly satisfied? Listening silently, beyond satisfaction and dissatisfaction, not knowing but allowing space for anything to emerge, or for nothing to need to emerge at all.
It is clear, isn’t it, that this mind of memory is saturated with motivations, longings, urgings, the need to heal in many ways. Can this very mind itself turn into listening silently, motionlessly, beyond purpose and motivation? It is so helpful to discover directly for oneself that in this space, what needs to be revealed may be revealed. What needs to heal may heal. Not necessarily immediately. There are concerns that may need many hours, weeks, years of silent listening to come into the light. But isn’t it true that once a concern, a fear, an anxiety has really been noticed, there is a deep interest to no longer hide from it, to not say I’m satisfied to work on this gradually little by little, to not say I’m satisfied that somebody has said this will go clear up eventually, to not say there might be some enlightenment that will clear up all my problems. The interest is to open into listening right here – listening and listening and listening.
The sound of the fan, a burnt
smell, the movement of the body adjusting itself,
cool air, warm eyelids. Like the smoky smell
in the air, the sorrow of the mind of memory
is sensed and let go of. It’s not what
it has appeared to be. What is it? What is
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I considered his point. The strategies, techniques, approaches, etc., that he talked about were very valid and I appreciated what he was saying. The first thing that came to mind was that it can be helpful to hear such things and it can also be helpful to have an opportunity to talk about one’s such experiences out loud. But ultimately such “advice sharing” has only limited value, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s necessary to share experiences once or twice with a new group, in case one does have a valuable insight. And maybe it is helpful to hear what advice or positive strategies someone else has to offer once or twice.
Anyone who does meditative work for a long time probably notices that in deep listening “strategies” spring up like mushrooms in response to what is happening at this moment. There is a great creativity that allows the body/mind to come up with a response to the needs of the moment and this responsiveness often gives rise to a conscious thought, such as “let it go” or in a different moment “stick with it”. If someone is stuck in a habitual reaction and the body/mind suddenly finds a new way with it, accompanied by the thought “let it go” and with a great freeing up of energy, a sense of relief after a prolonged difficulty, then afterwards the mind remembers this thought “let it go,” along with the physical feelings of letting go that went with it. “Letting it go” may become a strategy that the mind refers to over and over again, giving it as advice to others and telling them how much it helped me.
The problem is that in the next moment after the “let it go” experience, the situation may be very different and in fact if there is a deep energy of presence the mind will completely let go of the “let it go” in order to respond to what is happening now. This moment may give rise to the complete opposite – “stick with it!”.
So the critical thing is not the content of these past “strategies” but rather the presence right now to be in touch with the movements of the body/mind and with the silence and stillness of the world. If needed, the body/mind may engage in a brand new, fresh and appropriate “strategy” and then return to strategy-less-ness.
The value of meditative discussion
is in listening to a sincere concern that someone
brings up and letting oneself enter into as
my own. This means, doesn’t it, not having
strategies for the concern, leaving them aside
so the concern can be felt, sensed, listened
into, experienced. A person may sit listening
deeply and never say a word during a discussion
and yet this deep listening may bring the light
of awareness to some aspects of the concerns
being talked about. It is ultimately not important
whether someone shares or verbalizes any insights.
It is for each person to listen inside for
themselves to what comes up as others talk
about human concerns.
This kind of listening can be difficult. There may not be the energy for it. We are used to wrestling with our own patterns – we have strategies for that – but to listen to other human patterns takes new energy. And yet even if one cannot get “into” the discussion at first, the fact of being there, of listening, may give rise to that energy, either during the discussion or later on, during the break, the next day, the next week.
We all love to get out of our routines and go to some beautiful place where we don’t have the usual habits running us, getting exposed to the wide world instead of our small space. But in fact getting off to a vacation can, if you think back about it honestly, be a lot of hassle, with lots of resistance to leaving the comforts behind and dealing with new stuff. It seems the same with listening to others, with listening to the human condition as others express it. In retreat it is much easier but even then it can be challenging. And yet at moments there is a tremendous, effortless energy present, without any resistance, that sheds light clearly and compassionately on the human condition as well as on the vast, silent, beautiful space in which human and all existence blossoms and fades and blossoms and fades.
Does this point to the value
of coming together to talk and listen, challenging
though it may be? This is why we put our energy
together – to make it easier for each
other to do this very necessary work. This
is an act of love.
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A topic that has been on my mind is the relationship between what we can call gradual change or cultivation on the one hand and the possibility of radical or fundamental change, on the other. What do I mean by this? Let's say someone notices a pattern in themselves of feeling harsh judgment toward others and then noticing that this makes one's own life miserable because other people respond to feeling judged by being unfriendly or hostile. The person may practice meditation because it helps them be less reactive. And, if this works, then the person may feel that the habit has changed a little, is a little less troublesome, and hopes that maybe in the future it will go away completely. Why - if this is happening for me - do I hope it will go away in the future? Is it not because it is still a problem to some extent, still troubling, still causing pain and division?
The "cultivation" of a less reactive frame of mind has had a positive effect, there is no doubt. But what is the effect of this image of the process continuing on into the future until the problem is cured? It is possible that such thinking puts off or anesthetizes the fact that there is still pain and anxiety being created by the habit. Thinking of the future is one way that the brain can short circuit present discomfort. This is the danger of putting too much belief in gradual cultivation.
Let's look more closely at what the change or cultivation really was. I walk into a room at work and someone makes a comment of a nature that habitually triggers the judgmental reaction. There is awareness here of the physical sensations that go along with the reaction - stomach starting to tighten, jaw clenching, etc - and awareness of the mind eager to start its internal "judging" dialogue. But in this case it is transparent what is going on and that it is not in any way helpful or necessary. Maybe this spaciousness of observation happened more easily because of some previous meditation time. Or maybe it just happened because this pattern and the pain that it causes have been seen - not avoided - again and again. So at this moment the reaction does not take hold and perhaps there is a different response of some kind, maybe an understanding of where the other person is coming from or a dealing with a misunderstanding ("I'm sorry. I didn't realize you were with that client when I knocked.")
At the moment that the impending reaction is seen for what it is - unneeded and inappropriate - it is wholly and thoroughly dropped. If instead there is an internal wrestling between "oh, i'd love to tell this guy off" and "I'm going to try to be compassionate", there is not this same clarity. The reaction has already taken hold to some extent and yet there is also an attempt by the nervous system to not just go completely with it. This is what happens most of the time for us. In this muddy state the thought may come up "At least I'm doing a little better with this. If I just keep up the meditation, try to channel my thoughts into more compassionate patterns, I will eventually not have to deal with this confusion. Maybe I'll get enlightened and be free of this junk."
These are the thoughts that come up in confusion. This is how thinking thinks about what it remembers enduring. And thinking can think up elaborate plans for getting better, for lifetimes of effort toward an easier state, or for training itself into infinite patience and hope for something better. And yet if another person walks into the room, starts to talk and the wide open space of listening opens up, all of this thinking disappears and can be seen as irrelevant, like the crazy thoughts in a feverish dream. Thinking, with all of its ideas of the past and future, plans for what will happen to me, ends and is replaced by listening. In listening it is instantly clear that the person has a criticism of something I've done, that the judgment reaction tries to come up for an instant, that it isn't helpful and instead the realization that yes indeed I did a poor job on something, and that when I did the poor job there was an element of wanting to get back at that person.
This clear seeing does not come from thinking. It is not an aspect of thinking or a function of thinking that is trained. Thinking has a role when clear seeing is operating - I have to remember who this person is and what they are talking about and may have to respond verbally - but this is a clear thinking that can only happen when there is this open space of seeing.
So we are really talking about the possibility of a way of being - of seeing, of hearing, of responding - that is radically, fundamentally different from the way of life that thought sees. We are not talking about an improvement of the life we know but of a clear way of seeing life. Seeing life without knowing it in the usual way, without the filters of how thinking processes our experience.
When thinking dominates, the body and mind are filled with memories of the good and bad that have happened in the past, with plans for succeeding or failing in the future, or with a sort of suspended animation of hope that I shouldn't worry about things or should trust that things will work out. In thinking we review our progress and plan for continued progress. But when thinking is replaced with looking - silent, still, open, nothing to defend - all of this complex story, with all the complex fears, hopes and plans that go without - is simply gone. Not here. Not dominating the body/bind. Instead there is the simple reality of what is, the sound of the fan, the feel of the body on the chair, the truth of the moment, with whatever comfort or discomfort it may hold, with whatever response it may require or just revealing itself in stillness. There is an ease of body/mind when it is not burdened by the complexity of what has been, could be and should be.
It is important to say that this timeless moment being described is also not something that we can try to cultivate. This is the subtle fine line of clarifying meditative work. This is why we meet together again and again and again to continue to look carefully and clarify the confusion that is the heritage of the human mind. When openness happens, it happens on its own. That is, it doesn't happen because of what the mind is doing. When it dawns, it sheds light on the state of mind, and the state of mind dies, for that moment, and gives way to awareness.
Most of us spend most of our time in the confusion of thought. But there is already a radical difference when there is some awareness of this, as it is happening. In this state to question what is going on, to hear the content of what thought is trying to say and to see if there is validity to it - is that person really out to get me? Let me question whether it is as absolutely true as fearful thinking would have us believe. Begriming to see the clearly the details of the thinking and feeling patterns. Fundamentally questioning the nature of my world view. And amid all this, to wonder, question, inquire, listen to see if there really is a moment in which the entirety of human confusion and suffering is thoroughly washed away in a simple experiencing of life as it is in this one, timeless moment.
I just returned from a 7 day retreat at the Springwater Center in upstate NY. Toni Packer was at the retreat as a participant, ie. she did not give talks or meet individually with people but did participate in the daily afternoon discussion group. One of the issues that come up was that of effort. One participant had given a talk in which he looked back and realized that all of the effort that he had made over the years was unnecessary. He was observing that we put so much energy, and indeed exhaust ourselves, both in retreat and daily life, into trying to accomplish goals that have never really been carefully examined. Huge amounts of effort are exerted to defend ourselves, to establish our security, to beat out competitors, to make ourselves into what we think we should be. It is also true that there are moments in which this self defending drops away and it is clear that nothing needs to be done. Everything is taken care of in the unfathomable movement of life itself.
However, Toni pointed out that,
while such moments - which after years of sitting
may be available during much of one's day -
have a quality of effortlessness, meditative
work requires a great deal of energy. I don't
remember exactly how she put it but what sticks
in my mind is that when a certain habit pattern
has been triggered, for example someone has
said something to me in a certain tone of voice
and a habitual reaction of being angry at them,
etc. has been touched, it takes a certain energy
to stay here listening to and feeling that
reaction. It is "easier" to simply
fall into the reaction, letting the thoughts
go around and around about how that person
didn't hear me and doesn't care about me and
how there's nothing I can do about it but they
won't have the satisfaction of my liking them,
if nothing else, and so on and so on. Sometimes
this energy to listen is just not available.
It isn't a matter necessarily of will power
so much as learning gradually that it does
take some energy to stick with seeing.
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I also want to say something about the retreat experience from my own experience in this recent retreat. Please keep in mind that this is only one perspective on retreat. I would probably say completely different things after other retreats and other people would say even different things. The sense that I came away from this retreat with was that there is a sort of core state of being for me, a kind of baseline or resting position of the body/mind and that this core state has many inadequacies, blind spots. In daily life I have learned to complement the inadequacies through various activities, certain kinds of friends, and learned patterns of thinking and doing that are built on top of the core state. To give an example, in the core state for me one side of the body may be tensed and the other lacking in energy. When I move in this state, the movement is not very fluid. In daily life I have learned certain kinds of dancing that allow the body to move more fluidly and I have learned some techniques in walking to adjust for the imbalance. But when I'm very tired or overwhelmed, there is a return to the core state and what I've learned doesn't help. For another person their core state might involve a feeling of depression or self-dislike. They may do some activities that help them feel more positive but, again, when they are tired, they revert to the core state.
All of the compensating takes a great deal of energy because it is always fighting the core state, like trying to get a stubborn mule to move.
In retreat, the first two or three days usually involve a kind of resting and restoring of vital energy. After that the body/mind is refreshed, maybe for the first time in a long time. On days four and five many habit patterns may come to light. Earlier on, the body/mind was too tired for these patterns to wake up. By the fifth and into the sixth and seventh day the upper level patterns of the personality have become silent and one finds oneself in the bedrock of the core state. This can feel like it is impossible to move forward or backward or even to step outside of oneself to see what's going on.
None of these states of body/mind I've mentioned above detract from awareness. Awareness is in fact the energy that reveals them. Awareness is not dependent on a state of the body or mind. As the available energy of awareness builds during the retreat - through the stillness of oneself and the other participants - it becomes increasingly possible for the blockages and blind spots of the core state to be seen, to be touched by the aliveness that very palpably buzzes through the nervous system with this rarified atmosphere of awareness, and for there to be change in the core state, for what was once a frozen condition to begin to thaw and flow, to learn to respond to the world freshly rather than to retreat to a petrified fortress.
This kind of change is a fundamental change. After retreat this change begins to integrate itself into the personality and our learned ways of relating to the world and each other.
Again, this is not necessarily everyone's retreat experience every time. There are many other important and fundamental aspects of retreat. But what I've described seems to have a validity to it that might be helpful to read about.
V: I was interested in meditation and have been doing it successfully over the past 2 months. I just do meditation for 10 min. I consciously listen to my breathing in the meditation. Is there any advanced or next level of meditation? Is there a website available to know more about meditations?
Jay: Hello, V. The essence of meditation is simple, honest listening to what is. This means what is happening inside as well as being in touch with the feel of the air on the skin, the sound of the fan, the weight of the body.
It is true that there are some exercises that may be called meditation that have the goal of developing certain mental abilities. This is ok for its own purposes but this is not the same as simple, honest listening.
It is not easy for us to listen simply and honestly. If you sit quietly and notice what the mind is doing, you will start to see how difficult it is for the mind to really listen. You will also start to notice how there is much more interest in controlling our life and our environment than in simply listening to it first. This is all deeply programmed into the brain and nervous system.
If you are lost in daydreaming, you won't notice anything at all during that time but when the daydream stops, it will be clear that there was daydreaming and that now, for this one instant, there is listening. There is always the possibility at any moment that listening will happen if there is an interest to see oneself honestly.
It may be helpful to reflect on your life. What is your life? Does it not mostly consist of reacting to things quickly and blindly? Of trying to control things that have not really been carefully seen and considered? Of fears and worries about our future, about how other people see us? If you see these things happening in your daily life, if you see how much they dominate our life and how exhausting they are and of how much more pain and difficulty they cause, you can start to notice more clearly in your sitting how this arises in the mind, how the mind works. It is this simple noticing - just by itself - that is different, more spacious, more intelligent - than the patterns that dominate our life. This simple, honest noticing is the alternative. It is not blind reaction but is rather quiet interest. It does not divide the world up into me and what I hate and what I want but is wholeness itself. Meditation is the unfolding of the simple, whole energy of listening.
If you try this and feel that there is still something else missing, you can try setting aside more time for this quiet sitting. It can be helpful to sit for 20 or 30 minutes at a time to give the mind a chance to quiet and open. You can also do two or more rounds like that with a little stretching in between. You can occassionally set aside an afternoon or evening to devote to this quiet sitting so that the listening can go deeper. Finally, it is a wonderful thing to go to an extended meditation retreat for a few days or a week. In this long sitting the mind has a chance to heal deeply from the difficulties of the world and to open sensitively to the world of simple presence, which is a radically different presence than what we usually live in.
It can be helpful to sit together with other people, if there is a group that has an open spirit and respects each person's need to find their own way. It is also helpful to have a chance to talk with others who have devoted a lot of time to this meditative presence over the years.
If I have not been too clear
about something, or if you have some further
questions, please let me know.