February 21, 2016 § 1 Comment
The mind does not like unpleasant things. As surely as the ear ducks from sharp noise and the body recoil from high heat, so does the mind turn away from mental anguish.
If suffering comes from a momentary cause then the strategy of turning away is useful. If it stems from a direct threat to one’s identity then turning away acts as a barrier that blocks awareness of what will relieve that same suffering.
It is a common experience to run headlong into a blockage while sitting in meditation. Where one sitting may be relaxing and easy, the next may be filled with tension as a blockage arises from which one can neither turn away nor think beyond. So unpleasant is this that it is often easier to take a break from meditation than be caught in a block.
The way through any block is to turn the attention directly upon it with the aim of letting the blocked thoughts and feelings flow freely into awareness. For this to progress it is necessary to let go of one’s position and identity, at least a little.
In the attempt to keep things as they are in the face of on-going change lay the cause of mental anguish. The more we identify with what we hold “dear” the stronger the resistance to allowing loss and how it reflects upon us to enter our mind. This resistance stops the mind from considering new possibilities. Once blocked, we become stuck in the impossibility of trying to stay the same and safe when things have changed. Yet simply accepting the possibility of your position and identity being different initiates a resolution to this conflict.
A blockage may be described as the statement, “I don’t want this! This is not me!” I found myself saying or, rather, feeling this way when the possibility of a change in my life arose. Though I knew I could survive the change I felt great stress, as if my life was about to be torn away. My mind naturally turned away from these unpleasant feelings creating an impasse that I could not see beyond it.
All my turmoil was contained in a rather vague image that I could not dismiss that someone was going to come to my front door. I realized latter that behind this image lay a complex web of fears about my worth, being judged and anger. It was these fears that I was blocking and that block was symbolized by the image of someone coming to my door.
It was only after much mental suffering that I unblocked the image by actually allowing myself to see this person coming to my home. Bit by bit this new image released the emotions the first image blocked. As I accepted my fears their power began to wane and the mental block dissolve.
We all block unpleasant emotions as a means to self-protection. We neither want the suffering these emotions evoke nor want others to see our vulnerable points. These blocks naturally arise in the meditative life as a subtle form of thought following. The thought being, “Don’t look at this!”
People can be caught in these blocks thinking they have achieved silence when, in fact, they have built a wall of blocks around themselves. We must therefore heed the advice to let thought and feeling arise and fall naturally. So when you find yourself blocked, move to let your awareness include what lies behind the block. Accepting unpleasant feelings and allowing them to flow through us is perhaps the true meaning of practicing non-resistance.
February 7, 2016 § 1 Comment
When we think of integrating spiritual practice into our everyday life we usually think of being more compassionate and forgiving. Although these qualities are important they are not all there is to Buddhist practice. Practice also requires that thought, or the mind road, be cut off.
It is easy to misunderstand the meaning behind cutting off thought and believe it to mean that all thought must be stopped. The actual meaning is that we stop following thought, which also means we stop believing that our own version of reality is reality.
Not all thought is detrimental to spiritual life so it must be made clear that those not to be followed are the one’s that act as barriers to self-expression and self-knowledge. They are the ones we fall sway to and mindlessly accept as true representations of reality and the self. In daily life they are seen as dysfunctional thinking that leads to dysfunctional actions. In practice they arise as habitual thoughts, fears, aversions and attachments, or what we may call dream illusion.
In practice we may investigate dream illusion to see how the mind follows it and believes it to be real, with the aim of passing through these barriers to self-recognition. When formal sitting is completed little good will come if the rest of the day is then spent unquestioningly immersed in dream illusion. Effort is therefore made to maintain awareness throughout the day so as not follow thought into dreaminess, cling to it or accept it as real.
As practice becomes more a part of everyday life we may then start to realize that even the self is a construction of mind and a mere fantasy. Seeing this, the self starts to lose its center place in our lives leaving us to be more compassionate and forgiving to others. It also leads us to discover a world beyond thought.
We cannot, of course, conceive of a world beyond thought but at the same time that world is not other than this world, the one we live in right now. Perhaps we may get a taste of this by just observing how our present experience is clouded with thoughts and then imagining what it would be like if these thoughts dropped away. In doing so the words we use to describe the world fall away leaving flowers to be flowers and rain to be rain. Our immediate experience becomes just this.
If we take this process beyond imagination and drop the stories we have constructed about ourselves, we come to know ourselves as unborn awareness alive and complete in the immediate moment. This is your true self and it is your birthright.