If there is one thing I could suggest to help people working with a new or existing meditation practice its 'stop trying so hard'.
Ultimately meditation develops the understanding or realisation of what we really are rather than what we imagine ourselves to be. Yet to be what we really are takes no effort at all
Imagine you were pretending to be someone else, you'd have to put a lot of effort into maintaining their accent, characteristics, physicality and so on. To keep that up would be quite exhausting.
Yet that is what we do with out entire existence.
You could say that who we think we are seems to begin with the arising of our mind. Yet way before mind arises there is already something there.
Before thoughts, perceptions, conditioned ideas, before memories (thoughts about thoughts) before anxiety, worry, joy. There is something that we clearly know to exist.
That's not really a correct statement though, because the 'thing' that exists before all of the above, isn't a thing in the sense of all other things that we know. All other things that we are aware of, that we experience, are what we call objective experiences.
They are objective because the qualities that they seem to possess are projected onto them by the observer, by the subject.
Be it a thought, a pair of trainers or the conditioned idea of a holiday, They are only 'loaned' a reality by the knower of them. One person may like the idea of white trainers, another person has no liking for them, a butterfly sees something to land on with no nutritional value, a dog perceives something to chew up. The 'trainers' never existed in an ultimate sense, only in a relative sense to the one that perceived them as trainers. They never knew themselves as trainers. Likewise a tree never knows itself as a tree, nor a bird as a bird. These are all realities projected upon them by us.
Maintaining this relative view of reality requires effort from the individual, our entire day is spent grappling with the naming and labelling of all things, even of 'ourself', as good, bad or irrelevant. This labelling and naming defines our every moment and activity.
After many years of struggling with 'meditation' or 'sitting quietly' or whatever label you want to pin on it, at some point I simply stopped trying.
That didn't mean that I stopped sitting or meditating, but that something significant shifted in my perception that some effort was 'required'.
From a practice of trying to find quiet, from trying to monitor my mind and whatever arose, from seeing meditation as another activity that I did, it shifted quite suddenly.
I considered that maybe I had for all of those years been approaching it from the wrong angle entirely. There was the realisation that it was actually the only thing that I couldn't 'do'.
For sure, developing better focus and concentration was a skill that could be progressed, but the deeper meditation, what I really wanted to explore, was something that I could only let go into. My brief glimpses of it had required zero effort, none whatsoever.
That letting go however, the zero effort idea, was ironically, incredibly challenging.
We are always so busy, feeling that we have to 'do something to maintain our existence' that to simply let go and be was easier said than done - except of course the whole point was that it couldn't be 'done'.
Rather than trying to meditate or find stillness, an activity that was impossible (how can you try to find stillness through effort?!) it was actually a remembering to stop chasing the impulse to do.
That impulse to be doing something is present constantly, every second. It doesn't mean that we should just stop and do nothing all day, life goes on, but doing just for the sake of doing is exhausting. Thinking for the sake of thinking, planning futures and chewing over the past for the sake of it is pointless and takes us further and further from the stillness and quiet we yearn for.
So meditation becomes a process of letting go of all that, and when you think you have let go, you let go even more and apply even less effort. There is absolutely no effort required to be still, to be centred. Stillness and centred is our default setting, everything else comes afterwards, is added over the top of that.
We need to fall back further and further, stop looking for something else......
Fear is an odd thing. Of all emotions it tends to illicit a very irrational response. That reptilian part of the brain kicks in and suddenly we tend to 'forget ourselves' entirely.
There are two things underlying this, both of which we are entirely ignorant of.
The first and most significant is the belief we hold that we are located and limited in this body and mind. Anything that in any way threatens the continuity of this body mind complex is seen as a threat to our very being. As if we might entirely vanish should it end.
Thats our root misunderstanding, our avidya, from which all other misunderstanding arises. There are all sorts of logical reasons and all sorts of meditations in many traditions, such as that of neti neti, that address this and serve to enlighten us from this mistake - i wont go int them now but Ill come back to it in another newsletter.
Fear then is a reaction to anything that we feel either threatens this being or even threatens the certainty we have about our environment. After all the less certain we are about our environment the less certain we can be about the survival of this body, That threat may be as insignificant as an unwanted comment (threatening our acceptance by a group or society); or it might be a perceived threat to our livelihood, earning potential or similar - again, we miss what is happening here - we mis-perceive it as threatening our very existence - or at least threatening the certainty of our environment.
Secondly, all fear has a felt component, that is to say, we feel fear in the body. It feels unpleasant. How that unpleasant feeling presents itself will be different for each person, but there is one common feature - we don't like that feeling and we want to get rid of it.
The irony here is that we don't even see the reaction as being a result of the feeling, simply because we completely overlook it.
These felt sensations are so very familiar to us, right in front of our face in every moment - not just with fearful situations - that we totally miss the reason for our reaction. We mistakenly believe that we are reacting to the original 'thing', the comment, the anxiety about our health, the email and so on. If we are practitioners, be it of yoga or any other sort of self development, this is a fundamental slip up. We have been graced with an opportunity to see with clarity, to erase misunderstanding and we have missed that opportunity entirely. There is no need to beat yourself up about that, in fact you probably can't because you will be entirely unaware of it.
This reaction stage is largely irrational. We are in fight or flight mode. All niceties go out of the window, we simply want the physical feeling (that we don't actually consciously register) to go away. We will at this point do anything, act in almost any manner, appropriate or not, in order to regain a pleasant felt sensation. So is established the next stages of misunderstanding - craving and aversion - raga and dvesha.
If we were aware of what was happening, if we were aware of the unpleasant sensation, we would have a moment to break the chain and act with wisdom, from a grounded place of logic. Of course the more often we miss the opportunity, the more we strengthen the chain of reactivity to sensation.
So how do we practice better noticing, better awareness?
Observation of the breath and the body are the key. We can do this in a formal or non formal setting. Formal would be time allocated to breath observation or body sensation observation, in other words - a meditation centred on awareness of breath and body. Nothing to do, simply observing. Letting awareness rest on observation, without processing, without adding anything or taking anything away from the experience. Simple, open awareness of body and breath. Becoming familiar with how it fluctuates when a noise or a thought or a feeling arises.
Once we have established some little understanding of this, we are then able to extend it into a non formal setting - i.e simply living our lives with presence. We will mess up, we will forget and we will not notice...but every now and then we will notice, we will see that we are feeling in the body and breath and we will see that we are about to react to that. It is at these moments that we have an opportunity to stop the chain of reactivity before it reaches its reactive conclusion. We can take a step back, draw breath and act with wisdom rather than reacting with ignorance.
We do have a choice. Whether you take it or not is up to you. One thing is sure though, don't pretend that you are practising yoga simply by doing asana and practising odd breathing patterns - thats just moving the body and breathing weirdly, its not yoga.
Yoga is to know the self, to understand the self, the breathing, the moving, they are just tools, if you don't understand what a tools purpose is it becomes entirely useless. Trying to open a screw top on a glass bottle with a hammer is going to be frustrating and probably result in some broken glass. Likewise, go through the motions of yoga as much as you like, but without correcting your fundamental misunderstandings you are pretty much just killing time.
Staying Positive in Challenging Times...I had to chuckle earlier - i had been writing an email and I signed iff with hope you have a great xmas break and that next year brings more joy...surely it cant be worse than this one!?
What made me chuckle was suddenly remembering I had written almost exactly the same words to the same person this time last year. It also seemed to be extended in every xmas card we received last year. I guess that the initial shock of a very changed world in 2020 has abated in 2021 and been replaced by an acceptance that humankind isn't about to vanish forever in a plague like apocalypse...yet! Cue sigh of relief ..... although maybe not from every other species on the planet! :)
What the panic and disorientation of 2020 has been replaced by though is something that makes me feel more uneasy - that is a tangible division in society.
It only takes a small amount of contemplation to see that all of this division is based in both fear and ignorance - regardless of what side of the equation you sit.
Fear drives most of our choices - it is irrational because it carries too much emotion and therefore opinions that arise from it are almost always saturated by hostility and anger towards those that disagree.
For example, regardless of whether you are into vaccines, masks, passports or not, both sides are oblivious to the fact that they have so much in common - they are equally united by their fear.
Many see vaccination as a way to abate the fear that they might lose their life or the own lives of those they love to the virus. For them it is the pathway to freedom from fear of death, illness and manipulation of fate by an invisible foe. Others will see vaccines and covid passports as a threat to their own health and liberty. Once again this is an opinion derived equally from fear of death, illness and manipulation of their fate, only this time by other forces than a virus.
Each side will argue passionately, referencing their argument with facts, first hand experience and hearsay. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having an opinion, I have lots of opinions on lots of things, but it is the anger I see that is the most concerning element of all this. People that I thought I knew well, suddenly behaving in ways that I never imagined they would towards others, trying to impose their views of right and wrong.
At times like this, when each side is so righteous it pays us well to return to the second element that i mentioned at the start- that being ignorance or avidya - the root cause of our suffering according to Buddhism and yoga.
There is so much ignorance tied up in confrontational opinion
To be human is to suffer, it is our nature to die, it is our nature to grow old; it is our nature to grow sick. It is unavoidable. You might push it away, but it is an inevitable conclusion to this game we play.
We don't know when our time will come and therefore there is little point trying to predict it or foolishly imagine that we can prolong it.
So we have to remind ourselves that to embark upon this path is to trust to it, is to have bhakti or devotion for it - there is no need to worry about the story unfolding, the great 'Lila' or game of life. As the Taoists would say, just enjoy the mystery; as the Advaaitins would say - you get on the train and trust it to take you to your destination, so put down your luggage and let the train carry its weight, don't keep it balanced on your head!
Let us stop worrying about what we think is right. Maybe it is our destiny to be wiped out at this moment? The true altruist, the only true altruist it could be said, would probably say that this was the best solution for the myriad of other species on the planet right now!
Or maybe it isn't our time? Either way we don't know and it isn't important anyway. What is important is to remember that we don't know, that we are ignorant to most of this and that we act blindly from fear for so much of the time. That is normal, that is to be human.
So we see it , we work to dispel it because we don't want to perpetuate that negativity in the world and we endeavour to be as positive and accepting to all people as we can, regardless of their opinions, because we see the underlying fear and ignorance that links all humans so strongly. In other words, we wake up from our daydream.
Recently I advocated that everyone checked out the positive news websites online, just google 'positive news'. It is so good for your mental health and for nurturing positive empathetic states of mind. Take time out to sit with your feelings and emotions every day, even if just a few minutes. See them clearly, see the origin of your thoughts and actions and you will not act out blindly so often. An remind yourself that we are all suffering, to be human is to suffer, there are causes of suffering and there is an end to suffering - but that end for you or anyone else will never be found by extending hostility, fear and anger :)
We hope you all enjoy a more fantastic 2022! Haha
So last week we talked about fear, working with fear and all sorts of misunderstandings that we have around that emotion.
I had some great feedback afterwards by email and its always useful for me to know whether the way that I am working with a topic makes sense or not. This is particularly useful if you are a teacher of anything - it is called teaching by wise means or Upaya in Buddhism.
You may not have realised but legend has it the Buddha was reluctant to pass on his message to the world after enlightenment, he simply thought that sharing it would be too difficult as it was such a personal journey and everyone learns in very different ways. In fact how it is possible to learn about something as abstract and intangible to the thinking mind as waking up from this very dream of reality?
The photo above sums this up really nicely, even the most devoted to the 'spiritual' path have a foot in both worlds. If not there would be no imagined spiritual path to even entertain us! What a hilarious situation to be in :)
The problem of a 'spiritual path to waking up' is that the thinking mind and attachment to an imagined self are the very predicament we find ourselves in. How can these faculties therefore ever solve the problem of themselves?
So we have to look slyly, out of the corner of our eye so to speak, the teachings aren't an A to B set of instructions - as much as we'd love them to be and most people assume they are - but a hint at the direction we should cast our gaze.
If we head off in the rough direction, the chances are that we wont turn back. We may forget where we are going every now and then as we get sucked back into the world of 'ten thousand things' as the Taoists call it, but if the devotion to the path is strong enough and without desire (theres another tricky thing - desireless devotion) then we will persevere. This desireless devotion to the ever present 'one' or true self, is akin to our idea of Bhakti yoga - devotion to God - except this God isn't personified in any way as we might usually find.
So there is a real trick in how we explore this, because dedicated practices are obviously a paradox in letting go of self, mind and objects that seem to cause us suffering.
To address this paradox, as far as is possible, there are certain non-practices found in many traditions, notably the non-dual paths of Advaita Vedanta, Dzogchen Buddhism, Taoism and Kashmiri Shaiivism. Although they may sometimes begin with an investigation of objects such as the body , their intention is to cut through the illusion of these objects and see the clarity of pure presence that the objects appear within and arise from.
At other times they 'look to' (again a paradox) the only 'non object' that we are aware of...awareness or consciousness itself, the sense that very clearly 'I am'. If we can rest in this state as often as we remember to, we will lose interest in the world of ten thousand things.
If you are interested in this 'Who Am I?' approach then I suggest you read a little around Sri Ramana Maharshi (below) and Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. Both of whom were very unassuming characters who never attempted to be teachers but for the need of those that wanted to learn. However they shared very clear, direct messages, the latter being the owner of a tobacco shop where he would dispense these :) Michael James is a wonderful English translator of Ramanas teaching and you can find many talks with him on youtube although they aren't for the faint hearted. you will probably hear me on them at times asking very pressing questions too!
I'll be exploring some of these 'non-practices' in a 2 hour long live worksop with my good friends a Movement for Modern Life on Sunday 23rd May @10am the booking link is here if you'd like to join us https://movementformodernlife....
Know thy enemy they say, and fear certainly feels like our enemy.....except fear isn't our enemy, that is simply how we have framed it for our entire life. But we certainly do need to know fear intimately if we are to find any freedom from it as the demon we imagine.
We have learned to fear fear itself. Yet like our relationship to almost every objective experience, those where we frame our 'self' in relation to 'another' , the object is always mistaken to be the cause of our experience.
We have talked in our sessions about this often. For example chocolate may be imagined to be a source of pleasure but eat enough chocolate and you will feel sick - it becomes the source of your suffering instead. A shiny new car may be the imagined source of joy but tied up in that purchase is a huge amount of anxiety around it being scratched, damaged or stolen.
Likewise the perceived source of our fears have no inherent 'fearness' about them. You might be terrified of heights but end up becoming addicted to the joy of skydiving out of planes of base-jumping from tall buildings. - life is an odd thing.
It is not the external objective experience and it never has been, whether that be a spider, a fear of leaving the house, a fear of looking foolish or fear of missing out.
But the feeling of fear is tangible, very real and is what we actually react to.
Our past history, life experiences, culture, family and so on have caused us to perceive certain things as a threat. Whether that threat be a direct threat to our physical life or an indirect one to our imagined sense of self.
Lets take a look at a few examples:
Firstly we have to explore this very reaction, not by reading endless books on it - that might expand our knowledge but not our understanding.
What is your experience of fear? What does fear feel like?
A tightening or a clenching of the body somehow? Shortness of breath, a pounding head?
We all have a somatic sensation to the things we are averse to. However our great mistake is to attribute the fear to the external object when in fact we are simply averse to the unpleasant sensation in the body itself.
So before anything else we must become familiar, intimately familiar with those sensations, for only when we do this can we start to break the illusion of what we are reacting to. We see the truth of things rather than the illusion.
So that will clear up some misunderstandings and with enough observation and presence of mind we may start to break this chain of reactivity; eventually we might even un-condition our conditioned responses. However this takes a great presence of mind, effort and alertness.
There is a bigger question though and maybe it guides a different approach. Why does this fearful response arise at all?
The short answer is that it arises because we mistakenly imagine ourselves to be separate from the world. The notion that there is 'us' and there is 'other' separate to us - at least to our thinking mind.
This brings us to a second and one might say more fundamental way to deal with our fear; that is to abolish the misunderstanding of a separate self. To move away from our obsession with thinking, because it is thinking that imagines a separate self and instead to see that we are always and only ever, pure awareness or consciousness. That is our true self, not this ever changing, transient physical body and mind.
Again this is a topic that we have explored in detail, so if you have missed that then please go back and watch some of our past group sessions on the website free resources page.
So from this new paradigm, when fear arises, we might first see clearly the experience of fear, but then we are awake to the fact that it is simply an arising experience within our pure awareness. There is absolutely no need to reconfigure it, move away from it or resist it. In fact we actually 'lean into it' fully, being fully present with it as an arising within the field of awareness or consciousness. We see that it in no way affects, colours, stains or alters awareness - how could it - and that in fact it is of no more significance than a passing sound, sight or any other thought. There is no distinguishing property of fear that makes it any more important than these other experiences.
Its #danuary a month of allowing and noticing spontaneity, naturalness.
But what is it to be spontaneous? Is it even truly possible, if we think of doing something does that not remove the spontaneity from it? Of course, we imagine that there has to be some pre-meditation upon every action, even if it is only for a brief moment beforehand. Yet so much of our life revolves around spontaneous decisions, gut feelings, going with the flow.
We might not recognise those moments as true spontaneity but thats what they are. Moments that arise from outside of the thinking mind.
Yesterday in the middle of another project I went to the man cave to fetch some different sized screws; whilst searching for the box I needed, I uncovered a metal drum that I had been making before we moved house and that I hadn't finished. Before 'I' knew what was happening I had the drum on the workbench and was fully engrossed in tuning the notes – something that I hadn't finished.
There was no thought of guilt, that I should be completing the task that I was already on. Why should there be? Why should the joyful spontaneous unfolding of our day be wrapped in guilt and regrets of should be and could be. Isn't 'I am being. There is doing' more than enough?
I went surfing a couple of days ago, except that 'i didn't tactually go surfing because I decided not to go in once i got there. On the drive back up the hill from the beach I was blown away by the scene in the photo below, we stopped in the middle of the road for ten minutes and looked, took countless photos on the camera and phone. A spontaneous moment of unimagined joy.
That might not even be something that we particularly 'want' to do, there are moments of spontaneity to be found in our paid work or employment. Every moment of every day has an opportunity to be spontaneous if we step out of over thinking and projecting our actions into an imaginary future.
n Taoism Ziran is the manifestation of spontaneity, but it is interesting that it is not only translated as spontaneity but also as 'naturalness', 'so of itself' 'so of its own'. My interpretation of this is that it much more of an allowing to happen as opposed to our usual way of forcing to happen or making happen. Simply to let life unfold in its naturalness, to be intrigued and fascinated by the unfolding, by the play or 'lila' of the universe. To wake up and wonder what the day holds, even in the worst of tasks, most testing of jobs, to wonder what glimmers of light might appear, what wonders might unfold. Allowing the mystery of our existence to be a source of constant joy.
I'm certainly not 'there' yet, but when I remember this it always lifts me up and reminds me that even though I'm wet through in the pouring rain (my worst situation!) its also kind of magical and Im very conscious of how alive I am and what a gift life is. I remind myself - don't waste it by dwelling on the humdrum and the negativity So #danuary is a call to ziran, to spontaneity. Id love to see the opportunities to notice that naturalness you find in every day, however small and simple they might be.
I was in the car yesterday and I caught an item half way through. They were discussing various topics with an author who also seemed to be something of a philosopher. As I missed the start I'm not actually sure who he was but I was intrigued when the question arose 'Why do bad things happen to good people?' and he set forth with an in depth analysis of the psychological reasons of how we establish this as individuals and how we can alter that statement so that better things will arise for us (or at least thats how I interpreted it – I may be totally out of alignment with what he meant!
This has always been one of my favourite topics as it establishes in one sentence the very mistaken way in which we view our entire existence and our grasp of reality.
Most simply put there are two glaring mistakes in this statement - the first is that we assume we know what constitutes a 'good person' and the second is that we believe we know what 'bad things' are.
There are essentially no 'bad things', there are just things and there are no 'good people' there are just people. Things and people arising and 'happening', as is the inevitable movement of the universe, the constant shift of energy from one form to another. Simple physics. Things, energy can't be created or destroyed, only transferred from one form to another.
Yet because we put everything into the context of a world that is somehow aligned around us, every thing seems to have a polarity – good, bad or neutral. That polarity is based very simply upon whether we perceive the thing happening to be in line with what we think is our direction in life, or at least what we imagine that direction should be. For most of us, certainly in the West, that direction is imagined to be 'a pain free, healthy, comfortable. long life – ideally free from death and the thought of it if possible'.
Therefore everything arising around us gets this label of good or bad. We chase the things we imagine are good and we run from the things that we imagine are bad. We are equally indifferent about the neutral, but even in that, the ignorance is essentially the same because it is still all placed in context to us.
Likewise every person has no inherent good or bad, however much we might argue so. If that was the case, ever person would be hated or loved equally. But what about say, Hitler and the Dalai Lama – surely everyone agrees that Hitler was bad and the Dalai Lama is good?
Well there are plenty of politicians and even a great number of Buddhists who very much dislike the Dalai Lama, if you don't believe me then dig into it on the web. Hitler was no doubt responsible for terrible atrocities, but you could also say that he was loved by many, however deluded we imagine that to be. You could also say that from that awful period of war came 75 years of so far of relative peace in Europe – a continent of so many cultures, languages and religions. Of course it also led to greater confrontation in places such as the Middle East after they were carved up. Nothing is ever cut and dry simple.
So another 365 days have passed since this time in 2019. In those 365 days the sun has risen every morning and set each evening, totally unaffected by the trivial concerns of man.
Many will consider it to have been the most awful year ever, there seem to be many also who enjoyed the lockdown periods, the moment to finally disengage with the rush and stress that is the hamster wheel of modern living.
Lives have been sadly lost due not only to the virus but to other knock on effects, but many lives are always lost, that is the natural way of life. We would all be doomed as a species if no-one ever died. A few hundred years ago I would be in old age right now – in fact with my asthma it is doubtful that I would have even lived this long. And no doubt many lives have also been saved as a result of less traffic accidents, less pollution, other infectious diseases that haven't been transmitted due to physical distancing measures. There have certainly been way more babies conceived and born this year than I can ever remember from the friends I know! Nothing is cut and dry, black and white.
The only thing that has really changed is our view of 'reality'. That is where most people have really suffered. No-one knows what each day will bring, as a species we resist change because our survival is based on an environment that we understand the rules of. But when those rules are constantly shifted and the boundaries of the environment are altered, we suffer stress.
Yet in our world, those rules are simply conditioning. Rules, governments, they only have the power that we accord them. If enough people disagree with something then laws, rules, governments change. They were never solid we just imagined that they were. A deception of our own making.
The world, the energy changing shifting form one form to another, that hasn't altered at all. That is inevitably consistent and always will be. However much we resist it and cause ourselves suffering as a side effect of that resistance.
So thats an awful big ramble, was there any point to it? I'm not sure it matters. How you take it will again be polarised depending on how you perceive it to relate to you and your imagined path through life. It isn't for me to convince you that any of it is 'right or wrong', in all honesty I don't care less.
Maybe if we observe how things affect us and how we polarise good and bad things, good and bad people, that will be a start. Perhaps we will suffer a little less if we resist and chase and little less. Perhaps if we simply allow things to unfold, with a fascination and curiosity rather than a classification, perhaps then life takes on this attitude of the great game talked about in almost every religion if you dig deep enough.
Hoping that you all have a fascinating and unforgettable Christmas, whatever incarnation that might take.
Photo by Jongsun Lee on Unsplash
To be human is to suffer said the Buddha. It sounds a bit depressing but it wasn't meant to be so, there is far more content in that statement than I could ever talk about in a short blog, or fully understand, but let's get down to the basic idea of it anyway and see what you take away for yourself.
I was lying awake in bed last night, I woke up around 1am because, being a middle aged man I needed the loo. Often I can get back to sleep quite quickly, but at the moment we seem to have a lot of things going on in our life and of course once back under the duvet I accidentally allowed my attention to slip to one of these and that was the last I saw of sleep for at least another hour or two.
That might sound strange coming from someone that likes to share meditation teachings and all of that sort of thing but at the end of the day it is also what makes me human. I haven't passed beyond suffering, I believe that I am still human and in fact there is no suffering other than that which I create for myself as this human.
Let me try to explain it another way. There is a situation in my daily life that needs to be resolved right now. Don't worry its nothing that exciting but it does niggle me most days at the moment and causes me some anxiety. The thing in itself is largely out of my control and in and of itself it carries no suffering, it is just a situation that has arisen. A situation isn't suffering, it doesn't contain suffering, any more than a car alarm is suffering – its just a car alarm. If I don't like car alarms I'd suffer to hear one, however if I had been deaf for my whole life and then I suddenly heard a car alar, it would be the most amazing sound ever! You get my point? The car alarm has no inherent suffering attached to it, nor does anything, however much we might believe they do - that is just our greatest misunderstanding, what in yoga we would call Avidya.
So where on Earth does this suffering arise from if it doesn't come from things outside of me? Its not like I would actually create suffering for myself is it? That would be an insane thing to do.....?
When my attention first went to the situation that I am currently feeling anxious about there was a moment of decision right there. I had a chance to choose to give it my attention or not. The problem with a lot of this is that we simply forget. In fact I really think that meditation should be renamed 'Remembering practise' because that is actually all we have to do. We constantly have to remember that we have a choice and that choice is where the attention or awareness rests
So why do we choose to put that awareness on our disturbing thoughts for so much of our time? Simply because the awareness finds them so fascinating. They are an unsolvable problem to chew over, watching the breath is nowhere near as fascinating, at least not at the start of our journey.
You might say that herein lies some of the truth of what the Buddha was exploring - to be human is to suffer. The question that we might sensibly ask here then is what does it mean to 'be human' – what does that entail? Because by extrapolation from the Buddhas observation, we might conclude that to not be human is to not suffer?
My awareness could be said to be what I truly am; we have explored this in past blogs – explored why we aren't our body and we aren't our thoughts because both of these are constantly shifting and changing. The only thing that is unchanging is my awareness (not be confused with my senses – I can be aware of my senses – but the awareness knows the senses, it isn't the senses themselves.)
The 'humanness' that my mind (thoughts) imagines myself to be isn't the awareness; the humanness I imagine myself to be is the body, the thoughts, emotions & so on – the faculties of being a humans you might say. It is only these bodies, thoughts and emotions that appear to have any problems at all. The awareness has no problems and never has had, how can it? It is simply aware.
Sooooo, if we confuse ourselves to be human then of course we confuse ourselves to have all of these problems associated with that humanness and therefore we imagine that we suffer.
Logically then 'to be human is to suffer'. If 'I' could permanently remember that 'I' was not this human form, no suffering would exist. Sure things would happen (from your human point of view you might classify some of them as bad or negative) but essentially they are just things happening, not good or bad. Empty of any inherent suffering, but actually full of infinite potential.
That is pretty far out and you might need to read that back half a dozen times to make any sense of it at all. But of course that is entirely natural. After all if all that you had heard for your entire life was very loud white noise, you would assume that the only sound that existed was very loud white noise. Likewise with these ideas, it is very hard to think yourself out of thinking after all 'How do you solve a problem like Maria?' Well Maria certainly can't fix that problem, she is the problem.
Eventually when I'm lying in bed on nights like last night, I do remember that I am my awareness, and when I remember that first step, then I remember that awareness is free and I can then let it rest on the breath, the body and indeed even on the thoughts in moderation. I can be aware of the thoughts, I just have to remember not to confuse myself with being the thoughts.
It can need to be a forceful process at first, after all as I said, the thoughts are so fascinating, so full of detail, so changing and shifting. But if I direct that awareness forcefully onto the breath for example, after a while I can relax it and allow it to dissolve over everything, the next thing I realise it is morning.
Not to worry though, because I'm still very much identified with this human form, however much I logically understand it to be an illusion, I know that I'll get to practice the same thing over and over again tonight as well!
If you enjoy working on all of this or are right at the start of your meditation journey you will probably enjoy our Beyond Mind Online Course, which we have reduced by 30% for the Christmas period at a time when many of us are suffering greatly from an over active mind or know someone that is! Now only £25 for 3 hours of video lessons and 3 hours of recorded audio meditations :)