Clarifying Meditative Work
~ A Fresh Look ~
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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
said or if something sounds incorrect in your
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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.