Wednesday Meditation

Four Thoughts Course

7 Classes over 10 weeks
June 5, June 12
July 3,10, 24, 31
August 7

Wednesdays 6:30-8:00 pm
$140

Gail Gustafson & Jeff Bickford

To register:  Read the links below, then email Gail Gustafson

This course is for the meditation practitioner who wishes to learn how to fine tune and expand their capacity in practice. This course will cover several emotional and mental barriers that arise in meditation practice and tools for working with them. We will cover topics such as: trying too hard, spiritual bypassing, idleness, spiritual materialism, etc. Classes in this course include a 30 minute silent or guided sitting practice, Qi Gong, instruction given through interactive activities, daily life practices and meditation practices to do between classes.

This is a Tibetan Buddhist inspired meditation course. This is a practice oriented course, rather than a series of inspirational talks on Buddhist philosophy. Buddhist practice has a different aim than Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction or meditation oriented towards achieving certain states of consciousness. This course would not be appropriate for someone seeking or in need of therapy.

Student Responsibilities: Do the daily 30-40 min meditation practice, as well as the daily life and movement practices given each week. Be willing to show up in class with questions. Be prepared to talk about your practice experience during the week. Please also be willing and know how to learn, be clear about your intention, and have established an interest in meditation. Please read these links responsibilities and relationship.

Awareness Through Movement Class

When:  Monday evening or Saturdays
Dates:  2019 classes TBA
Who:  Open – limited to 7 people – Contact Jeff by Friday
Cost:  4 class card $80 (expires in 6 weeks)
Responsibility:  Loose clothing, Bring a firm blanket
Please read:  How to take an ATM class
Teacher:  Jeff Bickford
Location & Register:  Contact Jeff

This is an ongoing class.  Each class will be a unique opportunity to practice awareness into your body and mind.  Participants will be guided through movement in sitting, standing, kneeling or lying postions.  Awareness Through Movement® is the group class form of the Feldenkrais Method®.  Please visit Unfettered Movement to read more about the Feldenkrais Method

Equanimity

In the west, at least in our portion of North America, equanimity has become confused with ‘it’s all good’. This is a misunderstanding. Obviously, it is not all good. Take a look around, or inward. Everyone I know is suffering from one thing or another, if not now, a few hours from now, or tomorrow. And if we take a look at the news from around the world, it’s rough out there. Suffering is reliable. It is not, all good, unless one is very, very, numb.

But wait! Isn’t all experience an expression, a manifestation, a play, of mind nature? Yes! When we reach the actual realization of that, rather than just the conceptual understanding, we will be Buddhas. We will be awake. And we will be more aware than ever before of how for most beings, it is not ‘all good’. Beings suffer.

Think of cows, pigs, and chickens; yes, in terms of their DNA spreading and species survival, they have been very successful, but in terms of individual lives, most of these beings live in misery and don’t make it past their 4th month before they become our or our pets’ food. Think of your neighbor, your friend, think of you; all these beings spend most of their time doing repetitive work that is not often interesting, putting up with a truckload of amazingly petty emotional crap – usually their own, increasingly having more and more physical pain, and continually trying to figure out how to make things better, since clearly if things are not better it is their fault because we all have the power to have whatever we want immediately upon wanting it…….

Given that, for most of us, experience is not all-good, and most of us have not yet fully realized our Buddha Natures, how do we live with all this suffering? How do we find our way?

Equanimity, being with what is, is an incredibly useful gift, and tool. Just what might this ‘equanimity’ be?

Consider this definition, paraphrased from Shinzen Young:

Equanimity is not a cooled out, passive or indifferent attitude. Rather, it is not interfering with the operation of the six senses, including the level of preconscious processing. It does not imply that one would fail to take action with respect to external circumstance, nor does it imply passivity or apathy. Equanimity is radical permission to feel. Equanimity is a dropping of internal friction with respect to the flow of these six senses: hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, the feeling body and the thinking and feeling mind. As a state of radical openness, equanimity is equivalent to love.

Equanimity – being with, experiencing, whatever arises as we live. Deeply experiencing – not shying away, or getting lost in trying to figure out how to fix it or in imagining a ‘better’ reality.

What good is this? This is your life, live it. It may be rough, but at least you’re alive to it, rather than lost in a hazy dream.

How Do We Live With a Joy That is Profound and Subtle?

Can we live free from the dominance of the ever-changing weather of emotions?  Can we live with the quiet joy of life being okay, just as it is?  Perhaps yes, but this passage from Lao Tzu* would suggest it requires a different way of moving through this unfolding process of being:

Tao te Ching 15

The ancient Masters were profound and subtle.
They penetrated the dark.
You would never know them;
all we can describe is their appearance.

They were careful
as someone crossing a stream in winter.
Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.
Courteous as a guest.
Ephemeral as melting ice.
Simple as a block of wood.
Receptive as a valley.
Clear as a glass of water.

Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
til the right action arises by itself?

The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment.
Not seeking, not expecting,
she is present, and can welcome all things.

Each stanza, each of these lines, is a practice instruction.  We can make use of them that way.

The ancient Masters were profound and subtle
If we let go of the names we give to experience and go beyond settling for  just the ‘headings’ we give to experience, the vividness of each moment begins to speak.  What at first seems subtle, difficult even to notice, becomes profound – the light illuminating a loved one’s face, the bird flying overhead just now, the way the person walking appeared from nowhere, the explosive warning of a dog’s bark.  When we begin to notice, we find that every moment is just so, unlike any other.  The ‘ancient Masters’ trained themselves to experience greater and greater subtlety, to experience the vividness of life, they didn’t settle for concepts that explain life away.  We can do this.

try this practice: during the day when you are walking from here to there, let go of thinking thinking and open to your actual experience – the rhythmic crunch of your feet on gravel, the breeze on your cheeks, the heat of your body, sounds near and far that arise and disappear, the sense of the weight of your arms – notice the ever-changing movement of what comes and goes.  Let go of naming the content.  Let go of being lost in stories.

They penetrated the dark
They penetrated deeply beyond pretending to understand.  Leaving behind the tiny match flame of naming, they open in this profound darkness to the richness and vitality of what actually is.  Our minds name things, but we can let the description vanish in a moment.  We can look at the moon, stars, and sky but see no moon, stars, or sky.  We can hear the wind and far off bird calling but hear no thing.  We can walk as a breeze that comes and goes in the empty night.

try this practice:  notice a sensation inside yourself.  Bring attention to it, gently and easily.  Let your attention saturate the experience of the sensation.  Now describe the sensation, metaphorically or descriptively.  Now let the descriptions go and open, drop into, blend with, the sensation as it is.  Let go of hurrying.

They were careful as someone crossing a stream in winter
How often do we engage the moment with care, sensing our way, testing the ground as we move along, not assuming ‘the ice won’t break’?  When we pay attention we know all of life is vulnerable, every moment like a soap bubble in the wind.  Sensing the ground, sensing the wind, listening deeply to the silence.

try this practice:  walk slowly in the dark, stepping from one foot to the other, pausing on one foot, feel what it is to balance.  Stand in an open space in the dark, close your eyes, let your senses spread out like ripples around you, notice what comes up from inside you.

Alert as a warrior in enemy territory
In contested territory sleepiness is the enemy.  In a world of projected patterns, ours and those of others, wakefulness is anathema to the status quo.  We must be alert to the snares and traps that would pull us in to patterned behavior – if not, we are simply pulled under yet again!

One could substitute ‘wakeful’ for ‘alert’.  Neither ‘alert’ or ‘wakeful’ implies being tense.  We can have relaxed attention, relaxed wakefulness.  Alert to what?  It could be a heightened awareness of the darkness, the space, to what is there; like when entering a dark room or an alley, a deep forest, or a dark entryway.

Alert to nuance, the whole of the situation, relaxed wakefulness with what is unfolding.  Too often we are ignoring without even being aware of it, lost in our projected versions of what is transpiring.  We can relax, and be right where we are, alive to it!

try this practice:  be alert to the nuances of space and movement as you move through the ‘forests’ of your workplace, or the ‘jungle’ of a store – alert to what you feel, muscles and bones and skin, to sound, to the shifting shapes and colors, to internal cues.

Courteous as a guest
Consider what would be different if you acted with courtesy, as if you were a guest in someone else’s home.  Can you be courteous towards other beings, to trees and grasses and ground, to the air, to space, to a process? Courtesy takes us out of the confines of self importance.  Courtesy means assuming others are at least as central to what-is as we believe our selves to be.

try this practice:  go through a small part of a day being courteous to all you meet, even to the moment.  Notice the differences in your experience.

Ephemeral as melting ice
Consider:  we are transitional experience, never beginning, never arriving, never solid, in motion even when still.  We are not things, we are loci of ever-changing experience.  Perhaps this is different than how you usually imagine you ought to be.

try this practice:  this may seem subtle to you, but try it – for a few moments, notice the ever-changing quality of your experience of being.  Notice how each moment is different, you are different, everything keeps changing.

Simple as a block of wood
I have several blocks of clear (clear means it has straight grain and no knots) Douglas fir that I have kept for a long time because they are so simple, and so wonderful! They are dense, solid, and beautifully colored by the years.  They are simply blocks of wood – they are so clearly what they are; they have no pretense to being something else.

Imagine that you are simply awareness. Just for a few moments, forego following the complexity and drama that is our usual fare. Experiences come and go, awareness remains, clear and simple.

try this practice:  for a few moments imagine that you are simply awareness – experience what comes and goes as if it is projected holograms on the perfectly clear three dimensional ‘screen’ of awareness.

Receptive as a valley
I have spent time in a moist river valley in Washington State that is filled with azaleas and rhododendrons that begin to bloom in the Spring, a river that runs deep and wide, logging trucks that come crashing down the road, forests and clear cuts, birds nesting, and people living their lives.  Last Spring mud slides wiped out huge areas – azaleas, river beds, trucks, and whole towns – the valley receives it all.

The open space of a valley is not concerned with what comes and goes.  It receives everything, filling and emptying, neither clinging nor pushing away what comes.

try this practice:  from time to time through your day simply experience what comes and goes, without labeling it good or bad or meaningless.  Experience it; don’t cling to it.

Clear as a glass of water
It is not that The Master is clear, it is that there is no master.  When we look there is no one there, simply a presence, an awareness, a response when the situation calls for it.

try this practice:  for a moment, let your sense of ‘I’ simply be another aspect of the moment.  Be right where you are, with experience coming and going on it’s own – even the experience of ‘I’.

Patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear
Patient enough to be right where we are.  Returning again and again to the stillness of open clarity.  Even as the muddiness of stories and reactions run by, patiently returning to stillness and open clarity.  Gradually the mud settles.  If we jump in and try to speed it up, make it happen it whirls and swirls and away we go again.

try this practice:  on your next inhale, suspend it about half way and open right there;  then continue breathing, open and still.  Allow stories and reactions to come and go.

Remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself
I trained in dance and performance for several years in New York City.  Improvisation was an important part of that training as it taught one to listen to the moment and respond.  One of the most important pieces of advice I was given was:  ‘don’t move until you must move’.  This cut through the fretting, the struggle and extraneous movement created by ‘over thinking’.  Action became simple – move when you must.

Right action arises from our knowing, which is informed by all that we have done and from our perception of the needs of the situation we find ourselves in.  The way forward reveals itself, though we often don’t choose it – all too often our beliefs and fears get in the way of our knowing.  Recall the major movements in your life – for many of us they simply happened, they unfolded naturally.

try this practice:  several times a day, try not acting, not moving, until compelled to.

Doesn’t seek fulfillment / Doesn’t try to be seen
The moment we are in, this one right now, is what is.  We ‘fulfill it’ by simply being in it.  When we seek fulfillment we are acting from needs that originate in the past – needs from the past cannot be met in the present.  This can be hard to fully ‘get’.  No matter what we accomplish, no matter the wonderful experiences we stack up, there will still be something lacking.

Consider:  perhaps there is no one to be fulfilled, no one to seek fulfillment, only patterns and imprints that by their very nature are unfulfilled and cannot ever be fulfilled.  Fulfillment – contentment – can arise, but not out of our seeking to make it so.

Just as there is no one to be fulfilled there is no one to be seen.  Only patterns of need saying ‘please see me’.  No one can see those patterns, they don’t even truly exist.

try this practice:  for a few moments a day, let go of seeking anything or trying to be a certain way.  Perhaps even try being no one, simply a presence.

Not seeking, not expecting, she is present and can welcome all things
If we let go of wishing, we can welcome what is.  The moment becomes vital and alive, just as it is.

The underlying assumption of seeking is that right now is not as it should or could be.  Right now is all there is.  It is always all there is.  If we practice being in the ‘right now’, not expecting a better or different ‘right now’, then the moment becomes vital and can unfold with that vitality.  A different  moment unfolds when it is filled with wanting, a sense of not-having, an expectation that things should be different than they are.

try this practice:  for a few moments a day, let go of seeking anything or wishing for things to be a certain way, and welcome, actually welcome, the moment as it is.  Stand at the doorway of awareness and welcome whatever comes.

 

We make an agreement to move through life differently than we have been.  We agree, and then we practice this new way.  Slowly, without even knowing it, we find that we are filled with a quiet joy, content to drop into the world as it is.  We find this world is a world of wonders in it’s very ordinariness.

 

*Most of this translation is from Stephen Mitchell’s “Tao Te Ching”, some is from Red Pine’s “Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching” – both books are wonderful and can be purchased most places books are sold!

©Copyright Jeff Bickford, August 2014  all rights reserved.  www.mahakalaradio.org

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Sangha

‘Sangha’ is most often used to describe the gathering of  people with whom we practice; most often it is the people we meet weekly, say, at classes.  Sometimes ‘sangha’ expands to include the people we meet on retreat, or even all buddhist practitioners and beyond to anyone dedicating themselves to following a path that will lead them to living awake.

We can think of sangha as a ‘community’ that will support our efforts to live wakefully.

Let’s look further.

Traditionally, the sangha is those who have commited their lives to following a path of awakening, more explicitly, those who have taken ordination.  Monastics have provided the main avenue by which teachings have been passed down through generations.  In that sense, the monastic sangha is the very foundation of the dharma.

We can also look at the sangha as the original bodhisattvas.  The boshisattvas represent compassionate presence in the world; they are not so much individuals as an ongoing response to the pain and suffering of life.  Bodhisattvas are not present in the world for themselves, but to help others become free from suffering.  The bodhisattva sangha represents the ideal of dedicating your life to compassionately responding to what arises in your experience.

So we have sangha as monastics, as the original boddhisattvas, and as the group of people with whom we practice who provide support as we embark upon a different way of experiencing the world.

Let’s go a little deeper.  If we actually look in to our experience of sangha, we realize that in the moment of experiencing, what we see as sangha members is awareness arising as experience that we then name ‘sangha’ in order to refer to the experience.  It’s easier to say ‘sangha’ then ‘several shapes and colors that seem to produce the experience of sound that tends to correspond with thoughts and emotions that arise seemingly inwardly’.

So, sangha is experience; experience that supports our practice of living wakefully.  What if all experience could be our sangha, in the sense that it helped us in our movement towards waking up?   – our partner coming into the kitchen for tea in the morning, the wind outside, the cup we pour the tea into, the people we meet as we go out into the world, including the one tailgating you, the emotions that rise up, the deep seated fear that raises it’s head at seeming random times.

We hang out with these experiences, all the time. What if we began to see them as our sangha, giving us support in our efforts to live wakefully?

We bring together ‘sangha as those that support us in our efforts to live wakefully’, and ‘sangha as all experience’, and step deeper to ‘sangha as unrestricted experience’.  All experience, not just what makes it through our filters.

We do spend a fair amount of time with All Experience.  What if what arises becomes something seen as a support?  What if we let go of restricting experience, filtering it?  What happens then?

When we can be in all of our experience, without restricting it, without the confusion of grabbing on to what we like and pushing what we don’t like away and ignoring everything else, what we do will be more apt to meet the situation. Now sangha becomes the awakened actions that arise from opening to all of our experience.  We move a little bit towards the  bodhisattvas, becoming an ongoing response to the suffering we meet in our world.

Copyright© February 2012  Jeff Bickford, Colorado Springs, CO
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Emptiness and Compassion

Emptiness has had a strong run of late as the ‘real deal’ of buddhist practice.  I’ve certainly spent a good deal of time clearing obstacles and doing practices to move towards recognizing and opening to emptiness.  I’ve found a shimmering vitality, freedom, often warmth and joy, vast spaciousness, and a bright, vivid clarity in the experiences that have unfolded.

Then, some time ago, I began to wonder, ‘where is the depth here?’  Resting in open clarity I’d find myself saying ‘I can’t get down!!’  I don’t feel depth in emptiness, light, or clarity.  There is no dimension, only what might be described as ‘space’.  Space without dimension is quite wonderful, and a bit odd.

In emptiness there is also no weight.  There is no weight because there is nothing there!  This is wonderful, and not the whole picture.  In my experience there is weight, and it is important in many ways.  Perhaps we shouldn’t regard the weight of experience as something that should, or indeed could, be transcended.

Depth implies dropping, there is a ‘down’.  Deep. One starts ‘here’ and drops right into ‘here’, down.  What gives access?  Beauty that reaches sublimity does, whether the movement of a poem or of leaves against a Fall sky.  So does pain or suffering, no matter the source of it.  When I rest with suffering as it arises there is, of a sudden, depth in my experience.  When I drop into that, another aspect of being is revealed.

Depth is dark.  When we bring light to depth it is no longer deep, dimension is gone.  Perhaps depth also has weight, that might be another aspect of the matter.  We grab a large stone and drop to the bottom of the pond, into dark water.  The space of depth is different from the spaciousness of light.  We can open to and into depth.  It is a little scary, maybe awesome.

Compassion puts us in touch with suffering.  It is not just an ability to be with suffering, to be with the difficulty, pain and discomfort of what arises in life – this can smack of heroism, of heroic tragedy.  Compassion creates, leads us to, a window.  Through the window we get in touch with something ‘so deep we cannot fathom it’.

So we have these two,,, aspects of experiencing and ways into experience.  Emptiness, the vivid, vital clarity of the emptiness of experience, of what is; and compassion, dropping into the depths opened by the suffering of experience that is pervasive and can be recognized or ignored.

Simply accessing the empty quality of experience and hanging out in the energy and light and freedom I come in touch with at some point seems incomplete.  Dropping into depth and ignoring or forgetting the empty aspect of experience leads into a darkness lacking in vitality; it is not depth but wallowing.

These two ways can, and do, function together.   Accessing the experience of the emptiness-of-being generates energy and can help to drop into the depth of experience without collapsing into reactions to it.

There is depth and emptiness.  Utterly resonant, mysterious, open, deep.  From here, we can do what situations ask for.  Which may be to simply be.

Copyright© Jeff Bickford, Mahakala Radio, Colorado Springs, CO

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Memories

Last night I woke up from a bad dream around 3am.

My mind began to run with the usual 3am stuff, recriminations for poor choices, fears, anxieties.  I got up and went to my cushion and sat for a while.

I did a practice I’ve returned to again and again, a practice designed to bring up emotional reactions that distort perception and prevent one being present in what is going on right now.  As I sat, very frightening and vivid memories came up.  I experienced them as feelings, sensations, and fragments of visual and auditory stories.  Huh!  I thought I’d ‘worked through’, ‘dismantled’, ‘gotten beyond’ these long ago!

But here they were again.

I sat with them, experiencing them, including my awareness of the room, my body breathing, and the knowing that they were ,,,, here comes the ‘E’ word ,,,,, empty.  As in, there was literally nothing to be found when I searched for them.  They are vivid experiences, yes, but constantly changing, not concrete, and not something I needed to believe, act upon or do anything about other than experience them.

So I sat there and did just that:  included the vivid experiences the memories brought along with all the other aspects of the present moment.

After a time, those vivid, intense, disturbing ‘memory clusters’ changed, perhaps transformed, and I sat with a feeling of deep joy mixed with warmth.  And gratitude.

The memories were still there.  But I experienced them differently.

It doesn’t seem our memories go away.  We may forget them, but they are there, ready to be triggered by something that resonates with the feeling of them.  They don’t go away, but we can change our relationship with them.  We don’t have to take them as ‘real’, as something we must react or respond to.  They are just an aspect of the world we inhabit, the world created by the events of our lives, parts of what we call ‘me’.  Just like fingers or toes or the parents we had or places we’ve lived or times we’ve lived through.

We don’t have to react to these memories or do anything about them, but it is best not to ignore them when they do arise.  Experience them, without tumbling in to them or believing in them.  Don’t try to change them or make them ‘better’.  Let them be, along with the presence of your body breathing, the place you are in, the awareness that gives rise to them, and the vastness of no-where they come and go from.

Let them be mysterious.

Copyright© Jeff Bickford, Mahakala Radio 2010

Is Scolding Mind a Friend?

Seems like a ‘well duh!!’ question, right?

But for many of us, Scolding Mind is our best buddy, our most constant companion. We never leave home, or stay home, without it. We go through life continually reminded of how defective we really are, nearly constantly trying to remedy this, or at least hide it from others. Scolding Mind is always right there, ready and able to let us know who we are and what we ought to be doing.

Who would you be if you weren’t the Defective One always trying to either hide your defective aspects and/or fix them? What would your mind and body do without this constant effort?

What would it be like to accept who and what you are, right now, and accept that you aspire to a different way of being? Accept both. Experience both. After all, that is what is actually going on…. Yes? No? Maybe?

There is a teaching that advises us to stop hanging out with those who were once our friends, who now keep pulling us back into behaviors and views that don’t support our present intentions and continually hinder our practice.

Scolding Mind was perhaps once a friend. Maybe kept us out of the line of fire in family warfare, or hounded us into following through on school work. But then this one time friend invaded all of our interactions, all of our time, became a constant companion making constant comments. And a sense-of-self was formed that we believed, and still believe, to be truely what and who we are.

Consider meeting yourself just as you are, right now – with all the feelings of being defective, ‘wrong’, loathsome, stupid, ugly, a failure, with the ongoing efforts to hide this from the world, to put on a good mask, with the ongoing effort to fix or heal yourself once and for all, and with the hopes and intentions that bring you to practice.

Just be right there, ‘in the whole mess’ as my teacher told me many times. Breathing, feeling the ground, aware of the space around you, aware of sounds coming and going, of the world outside and inside constantly going by.

This is your life. Don’t wait for some future heaven, be in your life now.

Copyright© 2009 Jeff Bickford, Mahakala Radio, All Rights Reserved

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Responsibilities

This is for practitioners to read before attending our meditation classes and our Meditation & Movement retreats.

2019 Responsibilities for Practitioners and Teachers at Mahakala Radio

The responsibilities we ask of ALL our participants are:
1.  Do the meditation practices that are given in the class
2.  Stay within the time-frame of the class
3.  Apply the meditation practice in your life to the best of your ability
4.  Be clear about your intention in participating and return to that daily
5.  Do not misuse your meditation practice, other practitioners or the teacher/student relationship for your emotional needs
6.  Be curious, ask questions, be willing to practice and open to the effects & results
7.  Come to class ready to speak about your sitting & daily life meditation practice during the previous week

Responsible contact with other participants
In some meditation courses, we request in-person participants to contact an online participant at least 1x during the course.   Guidelines will be provided & a sign-up sheet will be distributed for this purpose.  We do not monitor these interactions.  This is a way to meet another practitioner & apply what you are learning.  We expect all participants to show up with respect, kindness and mindfulness.  A list will be sent to you to set up a time with another participant.  We expect you to not misuse the email list or the discussion.

For classes offered online – Responsibilities of our distance participants
1.  Email us at least one time a week, at least three days before the next scheduled meditation class date.  We want to know about your practice, questions/concerns or anything you would like discussed in the next class.
2.  If you have a personal practice concern that needs immediate attention, let us know & we may request to talk in-person.
3.  We offer distant participants one private meditation consultation during the course.  This is to support you as a practitioner & there is no extra fee.  This appointment can be with Jeff or Gail, your choice.

Jeff Bickford and Gail Gustafson have the following responsibilities:
1.  To respond in a timely manner & address what is presented by each individual
2.  To teach what we know through experience
3.  To train practitioners through interactive methods in tools and methods on their path
4.  To point out emotional, physical and mental blocks/patterns & to provide means to address them
5.  To not misuse the teacher/student or the teacher/teacher relationship
6.  To introduce the possibility of living from a different view & finding your way

*A teacher cannot:  do the work for you, save another person, answer your deepest questions

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The Teacher – Student Relationship

We need teachers to guide us in spiritual work, it is far too easy to lose our way or for our practice to get derailed and go nowhere.  Having someone to point out when we are falling into confusion is useful, perhaps essential.

In spiritual practice, a teacher appears in order for learning to take place.  The teacher’s role is to create the conditions for a student to learn what they need to know in order to move towards meeting the intentions that have brought them to practice.  The student’s role is to fully engage what arises in the interaction and bring that into their practice.

A student – teacher relationship is defined by the intention of the relationship – to help the student recognize and move towards their intention in practice. All interactions are defined by this intention, everything else is secondary.  The interaction is not to meet the teacher’s needs, or the needs of the student for companionship, recognition, or acceptance.

A teacher can appear in many guises:  as a spiritual friend who is there to deeply listen and sometimes give feedback to what they hear and observe, as a consultant who gives feedback on a student’s engagement and interaction with a practice process, as a ‘practice teacher’ who gives a series of practices designed to meet the student’s practice intentions.  It can also take the form of an ‘inspiration teacher’ – a teacher who inspires the student on their path but doesn’t interact with the student directly.

The relationship is best realized if it takes the appropriate form to meet the student and their needs.

The student and the teacher are equals, but in this interaction there is a role difference – the student comes to the teacher because there is something they wish to learn and they hope it can learn it from the teacher.  So there is a respect there.  The teacher recognizes that the student has a great deal of life experience and respects what they bring to the interaction.

Both parties in this relationship have responsibilities. If the teacher or student does not abide by them, then the relationship is over.

The student has four primary responsibilities:
1.  Be clear about your intention.  
Recall it daily.
2.  Practice what is taught, as it is given.  
Work on the method as the teacher intended, without changing it.  If you have questions, ask.   Notice the effects of your practice.  Be proactive.
3.  Take the practice into your life and work with it.  Notice the effects.  It is in your life that practice bears fruit.
4.  Be an open vessel
. If we try to add water to a full pitcher, the water will overflow.  You need to have space available in order to learn.

The teacher has four primary responsibilities:
1.  To not misuse the relationship for their own needs,
2.  To teach what they know from their own experience,
3.  To train the student thoroughly in the techniques & tools that are appropriate,
4.  To point out the physical, emotional, and mental patterns that block the student & provide methods for addressing them.

The teacher expects that the student will listen to what is suggested and whole heartedly open to it enough to try it out.  The teacher in turn will respond to the student’s experience when they try out what has been offered, open to their questions, and let the interaction evolve to continue meeting the student’s intentions.

The relationship requires that both student and teacher be as open and clear regarding their experience as each is able to be.

A student needs to be awake and attentive as they check whether this teacher truly meets them.  At the same time this requires a certain amount of commitment, a willingness to fully engage what the teacher suggests in order to find out if it speaks to their intentions in practice.  At no point should a student give up their own discernment, at no point should a student not raise questions when things don’t make sense.

A student may work with several teachers over a period of time, fully engaging the relationship with each one, but after ten years or so they may begin to be able to deeply trust that the student-teacher relationship with a particular teacher is speaking to their intentions in practice and commit to working with that teacher.  This is when practice begins to deepen and mature.

But even then, the student needs to continually check what a teacher suggests or points to against their own experience.  And keep in mind that teachers are human and may become caught up in reactions that can confuse the interaction.  The student never gives up their power or their responsibility to be mindful and as awake as they are able to be.

Jeff Bickford and Gail Gustafson
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