Welcome to Life, Already in Progress

IMG_1986I had my morning tea on the back porch today. I sat, not yet awake, looking at nothing, really. My first conscious thoughts were about feeling tired, which is how I assume waking up feels.  Then the weather, which is how I assume my day will feel.  As I slowly came to, I noticed the length of the grass in the yard, the tired declining fence, the tangled woods beyond, and the ugly electrical wires on a pole leading back to the house. I was subtly judging, even correcting, things.  I was automatically comparing my experience to imaginary circumstances before I had even become conscious. This commentary comprised of almost thoughts, glimpses and suppositions lay barely audible in the background of my experience.

I think we’re all a bit like this. We wake up most days assuming a blanket of unexamined thoughts that stem from dysfunctional character studies in the novellas of mind. Today’s complaints must have come from an author who’s protagonist is a loser, incapable of correct choices, living in the wrong place, at the wrong time. He employs great acumen to prove the inadequacy of his experience.  His intellect is so sharp it cuts at the core of his confidence. His brain is like a hot sauce so caustic it dissolves the food its meant to enhance. He is left waking up into a litany of complaint.

I had another sip of the tea.

And then, I remembered to pay attention to now.  Remembering is the fruit of mindfulness training. We can be grounded in the reality of our situation by simply remembering. I am not my thinking. I am especially not my thinking before I’ve had my tea. I remembered this is what mind does. Its a habit, and only that. Its a way of preparing for the day by complaining about it in advance. But, in remembering the game I play in these precious preconscious moments, came the magic of release. In opening to the moment, I regained control over my life experience.

That’s when I saw the baby deer hidden in the dense overgrowth. It was like being allowed to peer into an intimate and gentle part of my world I had not seen before. I was allowed to see something precious and wonderful right from my own porch. I relaxed further. Within a few moments I began to make out the family above the baby. An ear here. A leg there. Pieces of a puzzle of the amazingness of ordinary life. I realized the forest behind my house was alive.   I remembered that life is happening now.

I had another sip of tea and noticed the tea was quite good. This tea had been good for some time. My life, it seemed, had been happening all along.

Mindfulness training allows us to become available to our world. We are open to noticing the world, and being woken up by it. In order to readily remember that life is happening NOW, we can train in becoming aware of some aspect of the four foundations of mindful experience in the body, the heart, the mind, or life.  The power of meditation lies in remembering.  Hence, meditation training is training the mind to remember to come back and open to our present experience.

An interesting aspect of meditation in action is that as we become aware, we self-adjust. Awareness is the true depiction of events, as opposed to a projected idea of what we want those events to be. It is devoid of judgement. When we become aware of imbalance or misalignment, we simply – automatically – adjust.  We have been trained to react to worldly occurrences automatically. If a car enters the road in front of us, we automatically adjust. We don’t berate ourselves. We simply turn the wheel. We have been trained to be mindful of driving and aware of the road around us, so it is natural. When mind meets life, life becomes workable.

With mindfulness practice, we can also become mindful of somatic and psychological experience. When we become aware of tension in our body, the body will automatically relax into alignment. When we become aware of feeling ill at ease, if we can relax into the anxiety, the tension will simply release. When the mind recognizes deeper layers of our psychology, experience that is often unconscious to us becomes seen and the energy relaxes. When mind meets body, body sits up straight. When mind meets emotions, the energy subsides and the heart relaxes.  But, a particularly magical encounter is when mind recognizes mind.

When we encounter the mind, and see its behavior, we automatically relax away from self-obsession into clear space. Mind meeting mind is mind waking up.  If we can train ourselves to slow down enough to see the steps, we can see the choice points,  and learn to open into nowness. This is learning to wake up. And, we can do it now. We can do it right here. We need not travel cross country into retreat, lose weight, become vegan or complete so many mantras. We need only remember. If we employ a gentle and persistent approach to waking up, we can actually rest in the ground of appreciation.

At least until the next wave of doubt and discouragement ensues. But then, seeing that, we can remember to come back and open. Notice, remember, come back and open.  Eventually, we will pass through layers of doubt like veils of experience and rest for a moment in the non-thinking, wordless, but extraordinarily awake state of our life, already in progress.

The Mechanics of Mindfulness

SUBNET_Final_1Mindfulness is becoming a popular idea. This is mostly a good thing. Mindfulness, as a label, is akin to yoga a decade ago. It has become a buzzword, of sorts, appropriated by many traditions, methods and modalities. I am looking at Mindfulness from the point of view of the Shambhala Tradition, where Mindfulness is a precursor to Awareness. Which is to say, mindfulness is the initial contact we make with an object for the purposes of stabilizing the mind.

Interestingly, mindfulness stems from the same processes as “clinging, grasping, and fixation,” which actually occlude awareness. Mindfulness of a perception leads (ideally) to a greater sense of contextual space (meditative awareness). Grasping an object closes down the space, disabling context and understanding. Although, both of these processes stem from the part of the mind that hold to a perception, mindfulness implies an openness akin to acceptance. Grasping, on the other hand is closing itself off from contact with the object in favor os its judgement of the object. This keeps the mind at a safe distance, continually dissociated from life. Mindfulness opens into awareness. It leads to connection and communication, while grasping leads to disconnection and projection.

The developmental aspect of mindfulness practice is to become aware of the choice points in our behavior, so that we can eschew patterned responses, for a more direct and spontaneous interaction  with  life.

Let’s unpack this process.

Once we’ve perceived an object, successive functions of mind come in to play to help define, describe and utilize that information. The mind trained toward mindfulness will hold long enough to see, but then let go into the immediate experience and gain understanding from its context. The unexamined mind will grip to the event and identifying as itself, almost immediately compare mental perception to databases of past experience, and acquired learning.  All of this informs, but also distorts, the initial perception.  If unchecked, we are actually no longer paying attention to the actual perception, as much as to ideas instigated by the perception.

Should this data retrieval activate an emotional response, any number of sub-functions may occur, including a need to grasp on to – what has now become the idea of – the object.  And, as trauma lies deeply embedded within the fabric of our psychology, if this impulse is unchecked by mindfulness, we could very well trigger negative feelings initiating fight or flight reactions, or any number of fixations that link the present perception to a negative past history. In this way, we have lost the mindful aspect of knowing, and simply grip to stories about the object, or our associated feelings and past history, provoked by the perception.

This base level programing is NOT the basis of our NATURAL mind, but the basis of our CONDITIONED mind which is, nonetheless, deeply embedded in our psychology.  This conditioning is ideally adaptive and responsive to the environment. However, all to often it is maladaptive and reactionary.  In any case, it is reflexive and not aware, so we have no control. While, much of this programing is well intended, many of our basic self-protective mechanisms trigger inappropriate reactions to everyday responses. As fear is the basis of this conditioning, we are rendered slaves to patterning that keeps us avoiding pain at all cost. Many of us have lived lives asleep at the wheel rather than look more closely, and objectively, at our experience. This is why the awareness born of mindful attention to life takes the MANUAL support of daily practice.

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BECOMING MINDFUL OF OUR FULL HUMAN EXPERIENCE

When we receive, we do so in three major ways. The body the Mind and the Emotive or Energetic Felt Sense are primary spheres of intelligence and experience.  Generally, we are programed to live in our heads, and remain unconscious of the deeper spheres. But, “unconscious” is a lazy term. It is actually a blanket for that which we chose to ignore. But, when we are relaxed, we can more of our experience. At some point, we can actually feel into places the mind cannot think itself into. As we contact the iceberg below the surface, we open to a new world of experience. With further meditative stabilization we slow the game down, so to speak, allowing for deeper levels of  investigation. We begin to see the mechanics of our occlusion and, in time, come in contact with distinct choice points.  Once we see the choice points, the decision to wake up becomes our own. In short, awareness is power.

With the application of mindful awareness, less and less territory remains unseen. We have greater access to the totality of our psychological experience. As we gain more and more access to our experience, we gain more and more agency in our life. In order to access the deeper strata of mind, we must forgo telling the mind what is it experiencing, and employ the yang mind gently to place observation on an event, and then open to yin mind to receive the information on its own terms.

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THE FOUR FOUNDATIONS OF MINDFULNESS PRACTICE

The body has its own needs, which are different than the needs of the mind, or the heart. This is true as we progress around the hologram. Each sphere is different. Yet, each has the power to affect the other and to support, or ‘infect’ its information streams. The mind can never accurately asses if the body is compromised, or in need. However, should we address its physical needs, the body is able to relax and support the investigation.

In so doing, we are able to calm and relax the heart.

When heart and body are open, aligned and relaxed, the mind can settle and doing what it does best, simply see the world with clarity.

Then we find deep synchronicity with life. Connecting on any of these levels. We can have a physical connection to life. We can pick up intuitive sense feeling about life. We can see life clearly. In all of these gates we can come in contact with our world. Thus we become mindful of our life.

BODY – The base brain.

SPIRIT – The felt senses are an large category we comprising “Emotions”  “Sprit”  “Life Force” . It refers to the childlike experience of our mammalian mind.

MIND – Cognition and higher brain function.

LIFE – Our interface with conscious reality.

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DEEP SYNCHRONICITY WITH LIFE EXPERIENCE

The more the mind speeds up, the less it sees. Sometimes, when we are triggered, and we think we have to have a response NOW dammit! we are actually closing off access to yin mind, or the knowing mind. The harder we search for a way out of our Chinese finger trap, the more experiences closes in. Eventually, we are so cut off from a reasonable alternative, we can only fall back on the ineffective strategies we’ve employed in the past. When the mind dis-engages from its moorings, we spin into the same old patterns. Awareness practice trains us to remember Mindfulness. Mindfulness brings us back to the present. Awareness allows us to open into Yin mind and receive the information of the body, the and the heart, so the mind can rejoin them with openness.  In this way, we reconnect to the earth, to the present and to the natural flow of our mind, and can deeply synchronize to the rhythm of our life.

In this way, we can connect to life with balance and openness. We can assert ourselves in a direction and then learn to let go, and let life help us. At least, we become an equal partner with life. We can reduce the antagonism of mind, as we increase our awareness of life.

Therefore, we need not focus our practice entirely on negatives. Along with understanding how the unexamined mind allows tension, discomfort and dis-ease within the mind / body system, it is equally valid – and perhaps more effective – to turn our practice to the positive results of being mindfully aware. And more importantly, we can rest in the fruit of the practice, which is the freshness of the experience of life itself devoid of judgement and the infusion of old tapes.

Mindfulness is stabilizing the mind with an object of meditation. We can use the body, the mind, the heart and any aspect of our life as the stabilizing point, as long as we realize the point is to stabilize the mind to release its natural clarity.

The Gentle Precision of Mindful Awareness

buddha_handIn contemplative traditions, Mindfulness refers to paying specific attention to a moment, event or object within the context of meditative awareness. “Meditative awareness” differs with each application, but in the Shambhala Tradition, we see mindfulness as enabling “nowness”, or awareness of the environment around the singular moment. Meditation Master Chogyam Trungpa, referred to “Mindfulness / Awareness as a practice that balanced specific attention to a general sense of knowing. The relationship is reflexive. Being present in the general sense allows us to connect more readily to mindfulness, while being specifically mindful allows the mind to relax into awareness. Awareness places mindfulness in a contemplative context. As opposed to simply “paying attention” in the conventional sense, we are retraining the mind to pay attention, and then open to its environment.  With mindful awareness we employ precise contact in order to gently relax into awareness, allowing intuition, mental clarity and the environment to inform our understanding.

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MINDFULNESS and AWARENESS

Mindfulness is the awake (or, knowing) part of the mind that holds to an object and opens into a deeper awareness. For instance, when we look at something of interest, mindfulness holds it in our short term memory long enough for us to determine what it is. Awareness is the conscious environment (or clarifying space) around mindfulness that allows us to see the event in context. We are mindful of the breath, and we understand that this an important process for settling the mind.   We are mindful of the notes we are playing, and aware of the reaction of those listening.  We are mindful of the correct steps in our dance, while being aware enough not to step on our partner’s toes. Mindfulness is connection to the moment. Awareness is communication to the environment. Mindfulness is looking and awareness is seeing. Mindfulness is acceptance and awareness is understanding.

Mindfulness and awareness are symbiotic. When we are mindful of details we are connected to a greater sense of our life-environment. Awareness, in turn, allows us to know when to apply mindfulness. We are aware that we are not paying attention, so we remember to return to the present, tethering to the earth, by a practical application of mindfulness.

This is because mindfulness is NOT identified with the self and hence able to see, connect and expand into understanding its environment. Grasping, on the other hand, is fused with the self and therefore, likely to not see beyond self-interest and defensiveness. Instead of space being the reference point for clarity, our sense of me-ness becomes a fixed point for reactivity. Ironically, the more we solidify me-ness the more we actually abandon connection with ourselves.  In a panic of losing our moorings, we fixate on that which we reflexively feel will bring happiness. The un-investigated mind will clutch for random straws, and in so doing, lose its compass. Once we dissociate from our innate wisdom and intuition, we abdicate authority over our life. Devoid of conscious volition, we become lost in the momentum of habit and mental patterning allowing the “winds of Karma” to blow us where they will.

Mindfulness is the moment we take back our life. It is the moment we wake up and remember our true nature and return from the dream into awareness of the present.

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MINDFUL AWARENESS PRACTICE

Buddhist texts and tradition speak of a state of enlightenment where the mind simply finds its way to a stabilized openness. They refer to this experience as realizing NATURAL MIND. But, most practitioners of mindfulness travel a spectrum of awareness from being wakeful of the specific details and their meaning, to occlusion of many aspects of our experience, to overly reactive and defiled understanding, to simply reacting in blindness to external stimuli. This seems to speak to the stages of evolution. We drop from the apex of human consciousness, through primal mammalian reaction, to the binary options of our amoebic precursors. When we are threatened, we crawl back to the blindness of the swamp. From those murky depths, awake is a vague remembrance. But, as this is not our true nature, we will always be stirred and reminded. Once we remember, we can choose to take the assertive action of being mindful of whatever moment in which we awake. Mindfulness is the assertive application of waking up, and awareness is the recognition of our natural state. However, this takes re-training the mind away from its defensive tendencies, and this takes time, love and patience. We are literally changing lifetimes of avoidance patterning.  Whether “lifetimes” refers literally to rebirth and reincarnation, or figuratively to programming inherited through evolution, there is a lot of work to do.

An important aspect of mindfulness then, is its practical application.

We can use the application of mind that holds to an object, to gently REST on an object, repeatedly, in order to stabilize the mind.  Then we can train the aspect of mind that compound information, to  OPEN into stages of awareness.  The training is to assert knowing and then let go of the tendency to grip. This takes precision and gentleness. Bravery and compassion.

Mindfulness alone will bring numerous benefits to wellness, such as stress reduction and attention enhancement. Mindfulness practice demonstrably increases our ability to concentrate, reduces cortisol, and engenders confidence born of paying attention to the practical aspects of life. It also allows us to gain tangible access to the present moment, by learning to become mindful of the body, the breath, or aspects of our present experience.  In the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, we also incorporate mindfulness of the felt senses and the physical reality of our being, which enables a comprehensive understanding of the present.

But, mindfulness alone is a bit dry and uncompromising. Awareness expands into the world, our spirit, and our process of self discovery. Awareness gives mindfulness a container to find meaning, and as it is a bridge to connecting us to our world, offers inspiration in our everyday life. It becomes easier to practice if we are becoming more aware of life, and gaining more access to our experience.

In any case, daily practice is training the mind to “PLACE” itself on the point of contact. This is known as developing precision. We are paying acute attention to the moment. However, this “precision” can be aggressive if not tempered by the gentleness of acceptance. Aggression – even in subtle applications like competition or self-improvement – is counterproductive as it is likely to engender resistance, evasion or defensive reaction. Gentle precision is open and non=invasive, while being accurate and on point.  So, we refer to placing the mind, gently and precisely on the object.

Awareness, which is the successive stage of expanding understanding, is achieved by training the mind to “REST” with the experience long enough to boycott patterned reaction and remain awake to the actual experience. This is best achieved if our precision is applied with gentleness. Gentleness allows the mind to expand naturally into awareness without triggering the defensive reactions of our base programing. This is not easy. Again we are working against mountains of defensive and evasive training.  So, the daily practice is training in resting the mind on openness by gently returning from evasion or defensiveness in the mind, back to practical contact with the breath in the body.

So, the practice is to gently and decisively contact the object of meditation and then rest there in body spirit and mind. Awareness comes from that. It can’t be manufactured. But mindfulness creates the ground for the mind to settle and allow awareness to dawn. The “practice” is applying the precision of mindfulness to the breath and relaxing into a deeper body and heart connection to our understanding. When, as will happen, the moment of conditioned mind causes griping, evasion or aversion, we train to 1) notice, 2) release ourselves gently from the grip,  3) fall back to contact with the breath and 4) deepen our connection to the present.

In this way, we are repeatedly breaking the momentum of the conditioned mental stream. This creates a distance between us and our thinking by de-fusing our identity from 0ur  thoughts. We begin to see the patterns of our thinking more clearly when we boycott being immersed in thoughts. In fact, we will begin to see and advance “echo” of the thinking as it occurs, or is about to occur. Sakyong Mipham refers to this process of mind as the “spy” who is on the lookout for gripping mind. Thus awareness of our process begins to dawn. Very naturally we believe less about who we are, and begin to see HOW we are. In this way, we can learn to work with how we are.

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THE IMPORTANCE OF PRECISION

Ideally, mindfulness “practice” is the act of replacing secondary, or tertiary automatic functions of mind with an inquisitiveness that allows the mind to rest with, or open to, the event of perception. Which is to say, rather than being consumed by our past experience and carried away on a flood of feelings and information not necessarily germane to the moment, we release this grasping tendency and return to the moment of contact. This takes great precision.  We are training the mind to be awake.

In practical reality, these successive functions of the mind happen very quickly.  So, in meditation practice, we catch the drift well past the event. What we are usually letting go of may not be the initial moment of grasping, but the fixation and thought immersion that follows. However, if we are dedicated to the process, we will begin to calm the mind, releasing if from the exhausting preponderance of thought that obscures our connection to the present.  In time, the practice of mindfulness helps slow down the process so that we can begin to FEEL the moments that lead to grasping. Working with that moment, we begin to see that in these subtle sub-moments, that we are actually CHOOSING to grasp. And hence, when we are choosing to check out into distraction or fixation.

When we train the mind to actually rest on the moment of choosing grasping, fixing or distraction we are in charge of a fundamental choice point in our lives. We are also very close to opening to the moment of clear perception, or direct contact with our life. However, because of the amount of training we have given the mind in grasping and fixating, a training sadly supported by society and our lives, we may not stay in synchronization with these choice points very long. So, mindfulness practice implies some heavy lifting. The more we train the mind to rest in the present in our practice, the more the mind will be inclined to remain in a relative sense of “presence” in everyday life. The more we encourage the mind to remain present in life, the easier precision in our practice becomes.

But, precision can seem invasive to the mind. It can make us very claustrophobic. And, as the process of holding the mind to an object is so close energetically to grasping (only nanoseconds away), it is important to learn to FEEL our way into the process with great care.

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THE IMPORTANCE OF GENTLENESS

The practice of meditation allows us to unwind the ever tightening reasonings of the mind. Each time we boycott thinking, we train the mind to release its grasping. The work of a meditator is to simply rest the mind on an object without the extremes of fixation, or distraction. This takes a dedication to precision, that is infused with gentleness. This is so much more effective than an assertive application of mindfulness, which militaristically holds the mind in place and lies dangerously close to the aggression of clinging and fixation.

Should we employ gentleness and receptivity to our mindfulness practice, we find that rather than holding on to an object, we are opening to it.  Eventually, instead of the cloud of conceptuality that surrounds the present, we have trained the mind to allow a space of awareness. When we drift off, we find there is no where to go. We reduce the distance between there and here. We increase the possibilities of here. So, mind  easily – and gently – settles into body, sensations and feelings.  When we are relaxed in body, mind and spirit, we can actually rest the mind in place.

In most traditions, a neutral object is selected specifically to diminish potential psychological investment and its attendant grasping and fixation. Like many, I use the breath as the object of meditation, as it is reliably neutral, boring and mundane.  Ironically, our breath is one of the most intimate, amazing and important functions in our life.  While simple breathing may seem boring to a mind conditioned to keep us off balance by searching for and acquisitioning objects it finds provoking, deep attention to the breath ultimately frees the natural flow of the mind.

In order to find this deep synchronicity, the mind must settle.  The body is a perfect tool for this. The FELT connection to the body connects us to the earth. As we FEEL our way in to a somatic experience of the breathing, we calm the frightened animal mind and are able to rest into our body, and through the breath, into a direct experience of the present.

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YIN AND YANG MIND

Mindful Awareness employs two processes: an active placement and a receptive understanding. While it is important to place the mind with precision, if we employ gentleness, we can also enable the mind to receive the attendant information. The process is that the mind goes to a place and asks the local authorities for an update. Then that information is brought back to headquarters. In the case of conditioned unexamined mental processes, the mind is telling the outpost what it expects to hear, and then filters the information to suit an agenda based on past occurrences.  In this regard, the information is seriously compromised.

With Mindful Awareness, we are training the mind to FEEL into situations and RECEIVE information more clearly. We are employing what in Daoist culture is referred to as “YANG” and “Yin” principles of mind. When we are employing Yang mind, we are actively placing the mind. If we do this aggressively, we are moving with too much force to remain aware. But, with gentle application of Yang assertion, we can position the mind to open into Yin mind. Yin mind allows the unimpeded flow of information into awareness.

Yang mind tells us what to do, where to go. Yin mind tells us how we feel, and releases an intuitive sense into our awareness. The combination allows a greater understanding of our experience.

Conventionally, we are always telling ourselves what to do, where to go, what to think. We are placed at the front of our brains pushing ourselves into the next compartment. If we don’t wake up to this process, we will disengage from the present, and live a life one step behind our intentions, constantly trying to catch up. With Mindful Awareness we are trying to find deep synchronicity with the present. In this way, Yin mind – which aligns with awareness – opens us to the environment and reminds us to reconnect to the earth of our mindful experience. Once we reconnect, we can open into our felt experience.


Passages

Holding On To Letting Go

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After a long night, my dying cat left that morning.  What made the proceedings more than a personal tragedy, as well as an acute teaching, was the strength with which this little guy held on to life, and then very naturally held on firmly to letting go of that life.

In contrast, I doubted, cried, wrote, and tried to fix any anything I could. I kept trying to make it better, to make it perfect, to have a Buddhist approach, a cat’s approach, the right angle on the madness of dissolution. But, in the end, he did what he needed to do. Death is a natural thing. Its not show biz. It doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact its a mess. It always ends strangely with lots of unresolved angles tangled in the web of our need to understand. Unsettled by waves of guilt and grief, welling deep in the body from an ancient past, my mind continually tried to find refuge in reason and meaning. But, there is no reason to dying. And, perhaps, there is no meaning to life. Meanings are are concepts and concepts, in the best case, can lead us to water. They can’t make us drink. Drinking is an action and an experience.  There is no need to analyze it. The natural things of life simply are as they are. To add significance to the actual is to proclaim our importance as beings above nature. As though through our limited experience (and, yes, compared to the complete experience of the universe, even the sage among us are limited) we can somehow reduce and define reality into our conceptual frames. To add meaning to experience is like adding whipped cream to a perfectly cooked roast. It helps define it as food, perhaps, but it only masks its flavor, misses the point and creates distance from the experience.

Ideas are not experience. They are our way of controlling the experiences of life. The more frightened we are, the more we try and label, compartmentalize, understand. When we are frightened, we might take refuge in drugs, alcohol, sex or mindless activities. But, conceptualizing is masking the experience of painful situations just as much as a tub of ice cream. Except, that with ice cream, we know that we’re not helping anything. We know we’re hiding out in the momentary oblivion of sensory immersion and serotonin overload. We also know that reality is there waiting, when the crash occurs.

Concepts are a cagy refuge. They sometimes offer the illusion that we are helping to clarify things, that we are working things out or – in the case of conversations – downloading the pain to someone else. But, we are only running from the direct experience of pain, boredom or confusion, leaving the experience unresolved and unknown. Concepts, ideas and conversation may bring us to the precipice.  But, at some point, to be ion the experience, is to we simply step in to it.  There is just that.

In the case of death, the good news is, its force is greater than our thinking, resistance, clinging or trying to make a perfect exit. A process that has been happening for a long time, simply proceeds apace. The elements begin to dissolve. The body relaxes into the earth and the mind defuses its in physical, emotional and conceptual mooring.

After this night of turmoil, Huxley finally asserted his right to die his way, in the time he needed.  At one point, he reached out for Jen, and in a heartbreaking moment of yearning, extended his paw, looked to her with that focused love and admiration, that was his way, and then relaxed and let go. The doctor came soon after to close the deal with two injections that rendered his already body, completely still. Then there was space.  Silence, stillness and space.  I sat watching the prayer flags on my porch flutter gently in the wind. There seemed to be a gentle clarity that was not diminished by the sense of loss. There was no need to work anything out, nor try and effect the situation. There just was the empty itself, itself. Only that.

And the gentle movement of the prayer flags in the wind.

We live in liminal times. Our life, in transition between one moment and the next. “Now” is not a noun. Its a verb. A continuum of experience, some known, some unknown and much it frustratingly out of reach. By the time we know it, its gone. To hold to experience until we know it, keeps us from being awake to the next experience.  We don’t learn from our mistakes. We learn from our wisdom, and perhaps the only mistake we make, and have ever made, is to not be present.

There are so many moments that would have greatly enriched our lives had we been present for them. It is fruitless, and essentially materialistic, to look back on those moments of supposed juncture and wonder if we had only turned left instead of right. Had we chosen Aeri over Annette, the University over a trade position, the Dharma over the theater. But, this is only a circular masturbatory ritual. We flog ourselves again and again in vicious masochistic loops in order to keep ourselves company after our loss.

If regret is accurate at all, perhaps it would be more fruitful to look back on the places that we simply missed being with what was. The times we abandoned ourselves in a flight of panic. While we have no way of knowing if chocolate would have been better in the long run than vanilla, we can rest assured that we have missed entire junctures of our life. Rather than try and imagine how a change would have made everything perfect, we could look back and see how perfect it would have been to have actually been there. Of course, even that requires us to not be present now. So, the most fruitful way to work with the of presence of mind, is to train the mind to be present. And the best way to do that, is now. Now is the perfect time to be present. 

Meditation is training the mind choose to let go of fixation and preoccupation, and rest  in the present. However, meditation is not about holding ourselves there, but returning to the present, as though we were navigating a ship. Brining it back to the middle path, tacking it gently against the karmic streams that lead us into the weeds of fixation. holding on to the practice of letting go. Each time we let goof an idea, a concept, a reason we release ourselves into the stream of what is. Each time we let go, we naturally fall back into experiencing our life.

We live in liminal times. The ground is changing below us. Reference points that have held the world entrenched are loosening.  We are changing faster than ever.  Saying good bye is saying hello. I miss my little buddy. But, more than that I miss that I may have been more present in our experience together, and have appreciated him more. This is a common feeling in my life. I wish I had been there for more of it. And, so if there is a resolution here, it is to let go of the pain, the past, the references of doubt and confusion, so that I can participate more completely in what’s here. Life is a gift. And we can open the present and receive that gift. Or, we can continue to explain what that experience would be should we actually have it.

Some teachers, traditions, and guides point to a wordless state of knowing. A place where wisdom just is. A place of knowing rather than thinking about knowing. I have a friend who is a midwife in the Richmond area. Her philosophy is that birth is a natural occurrence. It doesn’t need the intellect. It doesn’t need instruction. It is a process that has been going for as long as humans have been here. The best we can do to support the process is protect the space, so that the event can happen naturally. The same is true of death. It is a natural process. And, as a hospice worker, Buddhist Chaplain and a meditation instructor with deathbed experience, I know this. Interestingly, I could not hold that seat when triggered by a being close to me.  Then I saw only the injustice of it and the heartbreaking sadness of Huxley reaching out and one by one missing connections to hold on to life. And so I tried to help. But there is no holding on to life. There is only holding on to letting go and coming back to letting go over and over.

So, holding on to letting go, implies that there are things to open to, and places to let go.  It is always appropriate to let go. In fact, the practice is to let go, continually. But, this is not a negation of anything. It is opening to what is actually there. There is an insistent consistency to our life stream, which connects life to death and death to life. And then there are all the things we think about that, which are frequently helpful, sometimes harmful, but always temporary. Problems arise when these thoughts, dogmas and ideas are held on to so tightly, they try corral our life stream. In this way, we hold on to the beliefs and let go of our connection to the actual experience of living. We hold on to concepts and let go of of knowing. Solidifying our concepts against the flow of experience creates an ontological dissonance that manifests as tension and resistance in our lives. This is very sad, as it replaces personal experience with what other people have told us, and creates a sense of unease in our life. This is not to demonize concepts. In fact, we can gain great value from this process of mind, by letting go of them, and allowing them to re-arise. In this way, the concepts that arise spontaneously may be a more accurate depiction of what is happening. Concepts that have been held on to for years defy the basic principle of nature: that everything changes. Ironically, it seems that the longer we’ve had an idea, the more real it must be. But, if everything changes, it would seem an idea we’ve had for a long time has LESS validity than an insight we glean from being present in the moment.

Concepts may be helpful signposts, but signposts are not the destination. So we acknowledge them, perhaps even weight them against learned experience, but, at some point, move back into the flow of actual experience.

Meditation is a remedial effort to realign the mind to a truer nature in actual experience.  We recognize thoughts, and acknowledging them as such, release our grip on them, and return to the stream of the present. In time, we train the mind to follow, or hold to, its deeper and more natural orientation. In this way, we navigate our stream to its most true direction. If we can do that, perhaps we can be present for the moments of connection, however brief and however rare that make our life truthful. I believe it is these moments that make us awake. These connections slowly puncture the myths in which we’ve become ensconced. And in this intersecting flow of change, perhaps we can find the stillness in our hearts and strength in our resolve to be here for those who are reaching out to us.

Touching Now

AWAKENING NATURAL MIND

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In the Shambhala tradition, moments of perception are considered sacred, as they contact us to life as it is. The more we train the mind to rest in its immediate moment to moment experience, the clearer life becomes. The more contact we have to this unfiltered contact to reality, the more stabile the mind becomes. This reassures the more impacted aspects of mind and reduces their need to hijack the moment, and obscure reasoning. The repeated coming back to the breath, frees us from the need to over conceptualize experience, and creates a tactile connection to the earth that enables the mind to settle. As the mind settles, its innate clarity dawns. We rest in our experience and contacting the present more deeply and clearly gain a richer and more rewarding connection to our life.

Mindfulness is the primary tool in creating that connection to present experience.

Meditation assumes a certain quietude of mind.  If we are triggered emotionally and unmindful of the feelings inside, we can have a physical reaction to our perceptions.  We actually grasp the object – or more accurately, grasp the IDEA of the object – and either thrust it away, cling to it, or struggle against it.  No longer constrained to our psychology,  grasping is actually a PHYSICAL phenomenon. We lock ourselves in place and become desynchronized from the flow of the moment.  This unease instigates a further grasping that becomes fixation and compulsion. We begin to lose any objectivity, or control over the event. The tension is no longer just psycho-physical at this point, but unleashed into the environment, creating friction in our life. 

In order to avoid that pain, we often eschew the object and drift away in distraction. Thus, we play the game of fix and drift. We fix to things too tightly and as the tension in our body, mind and life reaches a critical pressure, we repel from them into distraction.  Influenced by this strategy, our life supports these vicious mental cul de sacs.

However, if we instigate an inquisitiveness to the process, the mind can open to it and even rest in any aspect of the process. We call this waking up, because it is as though we were awakened from the somnambulistic patterns of inattentiveness.  In mindfulness meditation we endeavor to rest the mind on an object suitable to quieting and opening the mind. We rest the mind on the object and beginning to glean information, we rest further, until we achieve a temporary union with the object. So, while we may begin by holding the object, we are not physically grasping. We are, in fact, releasing.  In meditation we gradually let go into the experience until we become one with the object.

Meditation with the breath simultaneously bores the clinging mind into letting go as it simultaneously awakens the natural mind simply resting in its present experience. But, as our conditioned mind is prone to grasping and distraction, awakening runs counter to our conditioning. Each time we forget, become startled or otherwise interrupt the practice there is a subtle panic that urges us back into thinking, and desynchronization. To many, meditation practice is the arduous retraining of the mind to pay attention without distraction or its needy twin, fixation. Its like going to school. This is why many of us have resistance to the practice and yearn to skip out for a cigarette, imagine our lunch tray, or fantasize about of the cute person at the next desk.

But, when we relax the process entirely and simply learn to gently rest the mind on the object.  But, to rest AND wake up which is to say rest and open. We rest the mind in order to open the mind and see. At this stage, we stop looking and begin to see, we hear rather than listen and feel more than touch. We are training the mind toward a passive RECEPTIVENESS. We are not invading space, occupying space or containing space, but rather allowing ourselves to open into space.

In this way, we are learning to contact possibility devoid of preconceptions. Rather than map out the possible, and follow maps we’ve repeatedly followed into the same cul de sacs in the past, we can simply rest, open and see. Or, you might say, contact, open and receive. And, then instead of clinging to the information, we can train the mind learn to release into the experience.

Contact. Open. Receive. Release.

Once we open, we can receive information. This is  YIN mind. The mind of receptivity. We gain access to the (sometimes) unconscious information that streams back up form the point of contact, to be interpreted by the mind. A purer contact comes when we allow the process to become felt. We open to the information, as it is, before the mind interpretation. In truth, the mind’s interpretations are pretty immediate. But by conjoining that with the actual felt experience, we have a truer access to the information, than our projections, judgements, or concepts provide.

 

CONTACT

The act of contacting an object is assertive. It is an expression of YANG mind. And in most cases, we leave it there and allow the assertive mind to impute its authority overt he situation. After our initial contact, we then tell the mind how to feel, or catalogue our experience against other past experiences. If not checked this type of mindfulness will create a conceptual overlay of the experience. At some point the mind, disembodied from experience, picks up speed and we begin to grasp and cling to the supposed experience in order to find a semblance of ground. Most meditation occurs this way. If we are well trained we feel the grasping and learn to release the thought, and return to the breath. This is better than no meditation, as a wordless connection to reality will eventually occur. However, the experience of direct contact happens when the concepts have exhausted themselves and we – for lack of alternative – relax into the non-conceptual experience of mind. This is akin to exhausting the left brain, so its dominance can recede, and allow the right brain to open.

The ideal state for meditative inquiry into our experience is a balance of left and right brain. In terms of Gentle Mindfulness, we can employ YANG mind to contact the object, and then train it to let go into the felt experience of YIN mind to receive information.  So, a most effective method of employing mindfulness would be in incorporate that YIN mind, or receptivity into the process creating an integrated approach.  So, we are talking about Mindfulness not as a thing, but a process that we can unpack.  Understanding the mechanics of mindfulness, we can train the mind to relax further into the experience and – before we begin intellectual imputation of our ideas – begin to open to WHATEVER information comes back up to the mind.

 

OPEN

Therefore contact is precise and definite in order to know what is its we’re looking at. But the mind remains open enough to receive accurate information. Thus, rather than holding to the information which skews our understanding, we are holding the MIND steady and opening, so we can receive the information accurately. IF ARE AFFECTING ANYTHING, WE ARE AFFECTING OURSELVES in order the hold to the object, without affecting the information flow.

It is like the “Prime Directive” in Star Wars.  We are contacting the exo-planet wiht all means of awareness, but have the directive to gain information without affecting the experiment.

Sakyong Mipham refers to “resting the mind on an object”. It is not invading the object, or appropriating the object, but simply contacting the object definitely, but gently. Touching the object in the present. Touching now, you might say. And then instead of clamping on it, opening to it and training the mind to rest there in nonaggressive contact.

 

RECEIVE

This aspect of the mechanics of the mindful process is akin to allowing information from an outpost to come back to command intact, with minimal compromise or corruption of its integrity. The more aggression employed, the more resistance we create, and the less true our reading of the situation. In this case the object of inquiry does indeed affect the outcome of the experiment. In fact, I believe the purity of an observation is directly proportional to the amount of force applied. The greater the force, the more compromised the assessment. So, relaxing into precision is the means to gaining the best possible reading.

This has profound ramifications in our everyday life. The more open we are, the easier it is for someone to open to us. The more we can keep a steady, open and relaxed entry to a conversation, the more the other is willing to tell you it version of the truth.

However, should we become triggered by the information and, driven by inner impulses, try to find an answer, a solution, or a reaction, we clamp down on the process, and compromise the flow of information. As we search for meaning, we will proportionately begin to understand less about the experience. The more we try and interpret or react to the information, the less we will actually understand it.  In our political world, violent means of interrogation are only meant to intimidate. They act as retribution. But they are crude and limited effectiveness do not gain real information. Real information comes from deep listening.  There has been much said about the steps of training to the mind to listen to others. But, those steps can be employed in listening to ourselves.

 

RELEASE

The process of opening doesn’t end on contact. Nor does it end with receiving the information. Opening up is a way of life. It takes ongoing effort. The effort then is self-assertive. That is, rather than trying to change life, which keeps us from understanding life, at all, the effort is employed to training ourselves to rest in the moment. However, moments lead to moments. Life in the present is moving. Now is a river, more than a destination. So, release is the word I like, as though we were allowing ourselves to renter the stream of experience.

Releasing thoughts is a nice way to energetically explain a non-aggressive approach to working with CLINGING to thoughts. This implies that thoughts are NOT the problem, but that clinging to them keeps us from seeing the larger context with which the thoughts arise. In time, if we allow thinking without clinging to thoughts we can begin to understand the process. In other words, we eschew the what in order to understand the why.

Releasing beliefs is a way of opening our life to experience

 

TOUCHING NOW

T’ai Chi.

 

Last Night with Monkey Man

2014-11-06 18.24.35Huxley is under the bed, dying. After weeks of thinking one more thing will turn things around, this rugged, angry, difficult and – in the right place and time – extraordinarily loving being is calling it quits. We don’t know what this is, or why its happening.  Diagnoses, like signposts, provided temporary direction. Culled from chapters in a textbook, links off the internet and the stories of mean-well friends, they have been the soup of our days. But, nothing finally to know. And because of this, we kept trying different meds, foods, applications. Finally, I employed a rinsed out dropper full of kitty formula that he hated as a final indignity. No, he said, growling.  I thought the growling was dying. I sat up ready to say good bye. But, then he rose and limped to the other side of the room from me, and lay down. No, he said, panting. I’ll go on my own now. Thank you.

He’s under the bed now, dying. People called him devil cat. Bruiser was the bully of the litter.  Bigger and more forceful than the others, he was the first picked by the new couple, my girlfriend and her ex, nearly ten years ago.  Due to circumstances, he was pulled from the womb too soon. Once back in the apartment, he was introduced to the resident cat – and presumed surrogate mom – Jules.  No mother at all, Julesy proceeded to beat, growl and intimidate him daily. Huxley walked carefully around her but, still a bruiser, he cowed to no one else. He’d take food off your plate, sleep on your side of the bed, or bite your leg if you passed without saying hello. And, he wouldn’t bite and run. He’d bite and stare you down. Swat at your leg, or herd you into a corner by his food bowl standing there as if to say ‘treats or die.’ This was a real Baltimore cat, like from The Wire season one.  And, like any cat-banger, he’d roam the hood, dodging cars, running from dogs and beating rivals. He’d yowl at the door, and come in torn and triumphant, lying exhausted at his water bowl.

Huxley loved the young couple with possessive fierceness. He’d crawl onto their chests and stare into their eyes purring. The young husband began calling him his monkey.  And, as he grew into a handsome and athletic orange tabby lion, he became their “monkey man.”

After the divorce, Huxley stayed with the house and the wife. I started coming around not long later, and it took time for him to warm to me.  He’d jump up in bed with us, stare me down, then walk onto Jennifer’s stomach and settle in, paws on her breasts. He’d look into her eyes with a fearless love and admiration.  He was her baby and her knight. If I was lying beside them, he’d throw me a look of possessive superiority, bleat at me, and turn back to his girl, his love, his lady. His purr in these cases was so mighty you could hear it across the room.  And, if I turned to them, he’d turn back with that cat seat grin and bleat a warning to back off.

Far from being put off by this, it made me love him all the more. We were much alike.

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Huxley is dying under the bed, as I write. I’m giving him space to do what he needs. To take his exit his way, on his terms. But, he’ll be sent off tomorrow by an angel of death who makes house calls. I hate this idea. I hate that he’s there helpless and scared, angry one last time, and that because people don’t want to see him suffer, he’ll have to leave on their terms, not his. People are, after all, the boss.  They’ve done so well with that.  Children of God, under whose scrutiny their stewardship has let creation fall into disuse and disgrace. The Huxley’s are expendable. They are a feel good commodity for a world built on convenience. If it were up to the doctors, he’d be dead already. But, no. He fights and I fight for his right to fight until all fight is gone.

Huxley is lying in the dark, close to the end, I guess. Alex, the ex, has come to pay respects. Huxley didn’t move from the shadows beneath the bed, but they touched hands, paw to finger, as Alex cried. I hear him from the other room. I’m typing to give them space together, and he’s crying with the girl he used to love, and the monkey man who created so much havoc in their lives. They had dreams then, but now there is only this. Tomorrow he’ll be ashes and they’ll each get an urn.

Huxley is dying under the bed and my heart is torn in more places than I understand. Buddhists will say that all life ends and begins and ends and begins. But, he’s such a cool guy. My hero. My buddy. In the endless wheel of suffering, some connections feel unique.

Huxley comes bounding out from the bed and into the office. I look up startled form my computer. For a second it seems its all a dream. He’s fine? Bounding with an energy I hadn’t seen in days. And then he falls again. Rises, stumbles and falls again. I go to him and he growls. Then I realize, he’s come looking for Alex who had just left. Although, he never moved from the bed, save his extended paw, while Alex was there, it was like him to rouse the energy and bound out after. It was his style upon re-meeting to act nonchalant at first, but then then warm up with excitement. Only, he missed him.  Alex was gone, leaving the house tearful and broken only moments before. Huxley lay defeated, his head in his paws, inconsolable, the life being pulled from him into the earth.

There’s no way he can understand this. There’s no way for me to explain it, as I don’t understand it myself. The only explanation is that we failed him, and that I, in particular, have turned on him. We get him to drink some water, and offer him some soupy food. He rejects that and stumbles back under the bed. Jules comes and gladly finishes the food. She doesn’t have the tortuous searing gilt I carry. She’s like, ‘oh, well, gotta eat.’

Huxley’s back in his shadowed redoubt. I’m back at the computer. Jens praying with lighted candles. We’re trying to create a world easy for him to leave. He’s still too tired and broken to stay, but with too much fight and anger to let go. I know how this goes. He’ll suffer all night because I’m holding out for rights he probably doesn’t want. Then an angel of death who makes house calls will come to take him in her van. Then there’ll be two urns with ashes. And a lot of space without him.

But tonight, I feel like I’ve let him down. That I didn’t provide in a way I might have. That after replacing his dad, I never became the dad he needed.  I’ll never be a dad. But, he was one of my charges. He loved stronger, with more courage and more faith, than any person I’ve ever known. This is why humans love animals, and why we, perhaps, romanticize their power. Animals love with an intensity – and integrity – humans can only aspire to. These friends, many of whom live in neglect and suffering, are here to teach us, above all, how to be ourselves.

Huxley and I bonded when I moved in and began fixing the place and mowing the lawn. He hated the sound and commotion, but loved the effort. And, I think the boyness of caring for physical things. Once, when the lawn was done, I sat on the porch surveying the straight edges, and he came to sit beside, sniffing the wind like a great lion sphinx. He’d look over at me. Like most orange tabby’s I’ve known, he was smart and communicative. He got me that afternoon, and I got him. We sat like two bros for a bit. After that, he became my pal. He had this incredible fierceness, but also dependence.  I felt like I owed it t0 him, to protect him, so that angry life could settle into something contented and safe.

But, you can’t save what you can’t hold. And, I was always heading someplace else. One foot out of the bed. Like my dad. Someplace else, and never here. Where was I going that I could ever find a moment that perfect? That cat, this great lion, that all our friends were frightened of, but who would sit on my chest – yes, finally – and when called would look right at me with enormous eyes of hope and faith. Yes, of course I’ll protect you little man. I’ll keep you whole and safe and sane.

Only, I didn’t.

We couldn’t keep the house. So, we moved into a smaller, darker place with no access for him outside. It fit the needs practically, but I fretted that he’d hate it. So, I held up accepting the place because I wanted us to find a place with a yard for him. But yards cost money, and money takes commitment and commitment takes faith in yourself. You can’t commit to what you don’t believe you deserve. But I wanted a yard for him, and so I held up the process then like I’m holding up the execution now. Because I carry the guilt. Because I am the white knight. Because I am stubborn and think I know best but I am nonetheless tarnished by lack of faith, lack of funds, lack of belief in the quest. I live to serve, but I’ve let the windmill win every time.

Huxley actually growled at me and went back under the bed. Maybe to die. Or maybe to lie in dark anger at how impotent his passion has been rendered by a virus, a poison, a disease we can’t even name. All we know is I can’t save him. I know it. And he knows it.

He knows it. His daddy moved out. And, I was unable to keep his home. Only months after moving from the hood he ruled, Huxley lies dying in a place he never wanted to be. And, I will carry this. Carry this. And carry this.

Tomorrow the doctor will come. And Monkey will be taken from the bed and wrestling, growling and hating, die without the peace I had hoped for him. And I will carry this.

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CODA; MORNING

He’s alive in the hall. But, not moving. After along night of suffering, and stillness he was exhausted and all but dead. Jen goes to him, but he groans. So, she sits waking up to his pain on the floor beside him.  The doctor will call soon, come and finish what I now know, should have been already done. He need not have endured this, but for my own stubbornness.  So, we wait, as we have been waiting, in this jaundiced purgatory for the end.

Huxley lay in the hallway with Jen beside him. He wasn’t moving. Then, at one point, he woke, turned and reached out to her, extending a paw looked up at her, paw extended with that look of devotion, faith and love he had always given her. He was her knight, protector and child. It was so inspiring to see that. Absolute devotion. How could this direct contact to the heart come so profoundly, suddenly and with no explanation because of this troubled and wonderful being? But, this is what animals are here to show, isn’t it? How to love without complication. How to anger, lust and worry as we need to, without apology. In short, they teach us how to be ourselves.

The doctor came. She was a young Orthodox Jew, with headscarf, blankets and a bag.  She knelt beside him, as he lay now motionless. After giving instructions, and receiving payment, she administered anesthesia. After a few minutes she administered the second, and final, needle.

We lost our cat Huxley this morning. He was brave, faithful and a holy terror.  There is no only silence and a very large space. Good bye Monkey Man. Alex sends his love. I wrote you this piece and Jen wrote you a song.


YES, and . . .

WAKING UP TO POSSIBILITY.

Meditation Master Chsunriseogyam Trungpa would frequently begin talks by saying “Good Morning,” regardless of the time of day, or night. It was not about time. It was about the idea of a fresh start, or clean slate. It was about saying YES to our morning in any state of mind.  In the Buddhist Lineage of Shambhala, “the rising sun of the great east” is a central metaphor for waking up.  Its not necessarily directionally east, but the idea of contacting the sun in all the freshness of its new ascent.  

We can do this at any juncture of our lives, in the gaps and breaks and places that open to empty space. For in the empty spaces we find platforms for a new beginning. Empty space sets the sacred stage of creative impulse.

The midday sun is grand, and the setting sun sad and beautiful, but the waking sun has yet to determine itself. Open to possibility, it is the fresh start on a spontaneous journey into our day. When we practice allegiance to waking, we are employing Warrior Principle. The pledge of the warrior is to open to life, seeing each moment as another opportunity to rise to its challenges and rewards. The warrior has the bravery to sit up, wake up and choose to open up to life in each moment.  

Conversely, we can choose to abdicate our seat of warriorship, closing our hearts to the pain that accompanies growth. In so doing, we fall into somnambulent patterns of indolence, slinking  from our bed each morning already ensconced in stories of defeat.

Think about it.

What you think determines your day. And, each day determines your life. At the least, thinking ourselves into tragic patterns and toxic psychologies is clouding the possibilities.  We’re protecting ourselves from our life by using stories we don’t even like. Its similar to when we can’t sleep and click mindlessly on bait at the bottom of the computer screen.  We actually have no interest in any of this, yet there is a compulsion to not sleep, not work, not live, and not choose to rest in ourselves as we surf this strange hypnogogic wave of a half-life. We drift over Brad and Angie, find out who’s gaining weight, who looked better then, who’s mad at whom now, eight steps to looking younger, why dermatologists hate her and one weird trick that is driving doctor’s crazy. All the while we’re adding more junk to our mind and more clouds to the inherently clear skies of our base operating system.

But like the first dawn, our base system IS inherently pure. There is a space in the mind free of doubt, confusion and turmoil. We can access that space in every moment. But, in order to do so, we can train the mind to rest in the present with meditation practice. That open space is accessed through the application of mindfulness. GENTLE mindfulness.

THE GENTLE PRECISION OF MINDFULNESS

Mindfulness has many applications. Generally, speaking it is the part of the mind that holds to an object. For instance, when we look at something of interest, mindfulness holds it in our short term memory long enough to know what is.  If we hold the mind a bit longer we’ll begin to know what it means.  If we instigate an inquisitiveness to the process, the mind can open to it and even rest there in order to synchronize with the object. In mindfulness meditation we endeavor to rest the mind on an object suitable to quieting and opening the mind. We rest the mind on the object, and beginning to glean information, we rest further, until we achieve a temporary union with the object. So, while we may begin by holding the object, in meditation we gradually let go into the experience until we become one with the object.

Interestingly, this is the same process as grasping or clinging that seem to have negative effects on overall understanding. You see, if we grasp the object, we only see what it means to ‘me’.  Meditation   assumes a certain quietude of mind.  If we are triggered emotionally and unaware of the feelings inside, we can have a physical reaction to the object of our inquiry.  We actually grasp the object – or more accurately, grasp the IDEA of the object – and either thrust it away, cling to it, or struggle against it. In any case, we become desynchronized from the flow of the moment and less inclined to see the object accurately, or understand the moment.  When we grasp and cling, we throw the mind off its natural flow and this creates an inner tension. When we grasp further, we actually fixate and lose any objectivity. The tension is no longer just psychological at this point, but unleashed into the environment, creates friction in our life. Fixation does no service to either you or the object of inquiry. In order to correct that, we often eschew the object. We leave the investigation because it has created a compulsion and fixation and drift away in distraction.

Thus, we play the game of fix and drift. We fix to things too tightly and as the tension in our body, mind and life reaches a critical pressure we repel from them into distraction.  In this way, we work too hard to not work hard enough.  Influenced by this strategy, our life supports these vicious mental cul de sacs.

The practice of meditation allows us to relax the process and unwind the ever tightening reasonings of the mind. The work of a meditator is to simply hold the mind on an object without the extremes of fixation, or distraction. But, should we employ gentleness and receptivity to the process, we are opening to the object, rather than holding to it.  We drift off, but there is no where to go. So the mind comes back, again and again until it settles into its body, sense and feelings.  When we are relaxed in body, mind and spirit, we can actually rest the mind in place. This is so much more effective than an assertive application of mindfulness, which militaristically holds the mind in place and lies dangerously close to the aggression of clinging and fixation.

In most traditions, a neutral object is selected specifically to diminish potential psychological investment and its attendant grasping and fixation. Like many, I use the breath as the object of meditation, as it is reliably neutral, boring and mundane.  Ironically, our breath is one of the most intimate, amazing and important functions in our life.  While simple breathing may seem boring to a mind conditioned to keep us off balance by searching for and acquisitioning objects it finds provoking, deep attention to the breath ultimately frees the natural flow of the mind.

In order to find this deep synchronicity, the mind must settle.  The body is a perfect tool for this. The FELT connection to the body connects us to the earth. As we FEEL our way in to a somatic experience of the breathing, we calm the frightened animal mind and are able to rest into our body, and through the breath, into a direct experience of the present.

AWAKENING NATURAL MIND

Meditation with the breath simultaneously bores the clinging mind into letting go as it simultaneously awakens the natural mind simply resting in its present experience. But, as our conditioned mind is prone to grasping and distraction, awakening runs counter to our conditioning. Each time we forget, become startled or otherwise interrupt the practice there is a subtle panic that urges us back into thinking, and desynchronization. To many, meditation practice is the arduous retraining of the mind to pay attention without distraction or its needy twin, fixation. Its like going to school. This is why many of us have resistance to the practice and yearn to skip out for a cigarette, imagine our lunch tray, or fantasize about of the cute person at the next desk.

But, when we relax the process entirely and simply learn to gently rest the mind on the object.  But, to rest AND wake up which is to say rest and open. We rest the mind in order to open the mind and see. At this stage, we stop looking and begin to see, we hear rather than listen and feel more than touch. We are training the mind toward a passive RECEPTIVENESS. We are not invading space, occupying space or containing space, but rather allowing ourselves to open into space.

In this way, we are learning to contact possibility devoid of preconceptions. Rather than map out the possible, and follow maps we’ve repeatedly followed into the same cul de sacs in the past, we can simply rest, open and see. Or, you might say, rest, open and receive. And, then instead of clinging to the information, we can train the mind learn to release into the experience.

Rest. Open. Receive. Release.

 

THE EMPTY SPACE OF CREATION

So, if we turn our mind to its inherent purity and, looking too hard, try and grasp at it, we lose the point entirely. Instead, we might open gently to the space in our mind and simply see without expectation, words, judgements or concerns. We are training the mind away from its addiction to form and beginning to become comfortable in open space.

This takes some effort, as the traverse through open space is a bit unsettling to the more defensive parts of our mind. The defensive nature will clamp the process closed halt the process.  Therefore it is important not to trigger ourselves as we enter into the sacred space of nowness. Thus we move gently without expectation, out of our mind and into our experience. Its like a game of operation. remember that one?

The idea is to move slowly – receptively – without triggering our reptilian defenses. Paying attention. So, rather than investigation, we are more inquisitive and open. There is some inherent risk here, however, as we are opening to possibility and not prejudicing that experience with what is familiar or safe.

In order for the mind to fashion a new pattern, or just create a new synaptic connection, it has to move through the open space of the mind. In this open space of creativity, there are no reference points. Nothing that leads back to YOU or ME. There is no you or me. It seems, well, empty. Openness IS emptiness. It is experience devoid of reference point, framework, or content – at least until that content happens. It takes a great deal of the aforementioned stability to enter this space undisturbed. But, if we can do this, we open into a pure space of potential, where we can spontaneously respond to our world without conditioned programing.  Rather than scripting our experience, we are co-creating.

 

YES AND… AWAKE!

Among other things, I am trained as an improvisational actor. One of my current aspirations is to work with actors and creative artists who yearn to experience the taffy pull of pristine awakening into the creative moment.  I am particularly interested in the confluence of improvisation and meditation, where the conjoining experience is the spontaneous expression of the present. This is the essence of creativity. Like the birth of the universe. Pure creative improvisation. First there is nothing and from that, everything possible occurs.

In improv, if you fail to pay attention the scene breaks down. Conversely, if you try and script the experience the scene can become lifeless. So there is an implicit connection to heaven and earth. We have enough structure to stabilize our experience, and enough possibility to allow it to go anywhere. The key lies in the oft quoted maxim “YES, AND….”  We clear the space of the detritus of past experience. Then we release the narrowed vision of expectation and open into the moment, as it is. We wipe the sacrificial ground clean, sacrifice intention and then open into the natural flow of the moment. We learn to partner with whatever circumstances are naturally taking place.  If someone says, “Good morning, Doctor”, as you enter the stage, the scene will fail as soon as you say “I’m not the doctor.” However, if you say “Yes! Good morning, nurse” then you’ve fully accepted the offering AND created a step towards the next sequence.  An audience feels this is natural and flows according to some “plan”. But that plan is no plan, but simply employing the idea that if we open to our moment without trying to control it, we can step through the curtains and come into deep synchronicity with the present.

In his Dharma Art lectures, Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche  called the empty space which precedes a creative impulse, square one. It was a space of purity devoid of preconception, akin to the Peter Brook’s evocation of the “Empty Space” on the black box stage.   Both are akin to the original space of theater as a primordial human sacrificial art. Sacrificing the ego, and its ambitions, in order to gently rest in the present and be of service to the moment. The idea is that when we clear out all preconceptions, we create a space of potential and possibility that allows an open and spontaneous interplay with reality.

Yes, and …

In this way, each moment can be an opportunity to tune into the receptive nature of the mind, and open in to our experience, authentically. We can simply BE and just ALLOW reality to partner with us, to co-create our experience.

Morning is a metaphor we use in meditation training to conjure the purity of our essential natural mind. But we can wake up to a new morning at any point in our day. And we can wake up to a new day, at any point in our lives. In fact, we can do so in EVERY point in our lives.