Wednesday Meditation

When: most Wednesdays – 6:30-7:45 – December 2018
Cost: $20 donation

Currently we are at full attendance. 

It is inclusive to those interested in meditation and those whom already have a meditation practice. The class is Buddhist in focus, yet can be applied by anyone with clear intention.  Class includes: step-by-step meditation tools & application to daily life, somatic movement, guided meditation and interactive exercises.

If you are interested to join, please contact Gail and she will let you know when a space becomes available.

A Look at Discipline

Everyone I meet follows some kind of Discipline. We practice disciplines such as raising children, following a career path or paying our expenses. Culturally we are meant to believe that the discipline of acquiring objects, peak experiences, and money are most noble. Perhaps you have not thought of these activities as ‘a discipline’? Lets take another look.

Disciplines can be life-long such as maintaining a daily meditation practice or short lived such attending a conference. To follow a discipline is to make a vow. That vow is often unspoken, but if you look closely, you will find out the vows you have internally taken. The vow includes many elements: to show up, to apply limits, to engage optimal conditions, to attend to learning, to be aware globally and specifically to what is harmful or fruitful to the process… A discipline requires us to work deeply with certain habits or behaviors in order to learn a new skill, a new way of living or at the very least to reach a goal. So, if you look closely at a discipline that you have followed, you will find out quite a bit about your relationship to diligence, time, effort, difficulty, truth, rules, technique…

I have found that one of the most important aspects of following a discipline is that interest must come from inside. Others can encourage you, point it out to you, and describe how it may be a fruitful endeavor for you. Others can even take you to that class or inspire you to begin. Nevertheless, after that initial spark, the interest, curiosity, enthusiasm, effort must come from inside. This is not as grand an idea as intention, but rather a small sense that arises. The sense is that this discipline seems very ‘rich’ and you would like to partake of that richness to ‘learn/experience more’. This internal sense is bigger than a hunch, as it has definite non-conceptual sensory-physical energy within it. It is this energetic awakening, to subtlety beyond your mind’s voice, that will provide you with the resilience to follow the discipline, even when faced with the inevitable difficulties of any path. Look at a discipline that you have followed, what is one of the most important aspects in your experience?

I have the fortune to work with high level competitive figure skaters. They train on the ice for easily 5 hours daily, 6 days a week. They train off the ice 2 hours daily, 7 days a week. Three to four times a week, they have sessions with support people such as physical therapists, psychologists, myself, and massage therapists. They move here to work with a coach. They live often without their parents and family. They take college or high school courses. They see choreographers, clothing designers, and boot & blade specialists… Finally they have the competitions, where all that effort culminates in a scored event.

Many of these skaters begin at 8 years of age and are driven in their discipline by familiar patterns of behavior: pleasing any outside person of ‘authority’. This works to a point, until they are faced with inevitable physical, emotional & mental difficulties. A young woman of high school age is currently facing what she sees as overwhelming difficulty. For the past year, she consistently medals in the top three after her short skating program, but while skating her long program she faces overpowering mental, emotional blocks that affect her ability to skate. The result? She finishes in last place. Now, she asks, what should she do? Is her mind correct when it tells her there is something wrong with her? Does she have any worth when the coach is not pleased? How can she still follow this discipline, Now? Who & what can she rely upon to help her modify the methods she has used within her discipline?

This young skater is faced with difficulties in an extremely competitive discipline. However, every day when you follow any discipline you are faced with the similar difficulties. I ask you to connect to the interest inside. How do you reignite the energy to continue when faced with a wall? Do you know how to work with your judgmental, critical mind? Who or what could you rely upon to learn something fruitful for this path, this discipline, right now? No matter what discipline anyone follows, be it parenting, career, or competitive figure skating, we are faced with physical, emotional and mental challenges. This is the nature of disciplines, they require us to look at, understand and perhaps even shift out of the comfortable box we had thought was the limit of whom we were, are and will be. Perhaps following a Discipline is not such a tremendously arduous activity, but a definer of life itself.

I wish for you to explore this word Discipline. Look closely at the disciplines you follow. Find out about your internal interest, right now. Find out what you rely upon for support, education, assistance, encouragement when faced with difficulties. Find out what is harmful or helpful in the process of following your discipline. Apply what you know from Buddhism’s three disciplines: the practice of ethics, meditation and wisdom. Find out about Discipline in your life, so that you can continue, adjust, start afresh or with the great kindness teach another how to discover what is life itself.

Copyright© 2016 Gail Gustafson, Mahakala Radio

Why start meditation classes?

First
The fish needs to say,
“Something ain’t right about this
Camel ride –
And I’m Feeling so damn
Thirsty.”

Most of us come to meditation classes or retreats for exactly what Hafiz points to in this poem.  We get an inkling that something just isn’t right about our lives.  We cannot exactly say what it is that isn’t right.  All the externals may look great, yet the fish on the camel feels that it is not in its natural environment, and it is thirsty.  There is a yearning to connect to something deeper or higher or different.  “Is there something beyond being thirsty on this camel?” This thirst, this niggling feeling, becomes the initiator to start seeking.  What we seek is not yet known.  This is how the path begins & continues; following a feeling and seeking something that will start to quench that thirst.

In my own life, I came to practice through this kind of seeking.  In 1986, I was a dancer -training and auditioning in that competitive world.  I had studied with the “greats” of my time: Martha Graham, Trisha Brown, Laura Dean, etc.   I landed a coveted position with a prestigious dance company.  I was filled with the sense that I had “made it”.  In the third week of rehearsals it dawned on me, I was at the top of the world & yet I was “feeling so damn thirsty”. Something wasn’t right.  All the glamor was not touching what I was seeking.

I did something crazy.  I resigned.  I had no idea what I was going to do, but I knew I could not continue on the camel ride.  I spent many gloomy weeks doing my usual ritual of movement classes.  Technique was no longer fulfilling, other dancers avoided me & my internal critics had a heyday.   Then it dawned on me:  though I did not yet know what I was seeking,  I did have the use of a large old room at a local church in exchange for caring for their alter.  For three hours daily, for one year, I locked myself in the empty room, with the intention to move, listen & engage what I was seeking.

For a year I listened.  Sometimes I was inspired by movement, often I laid on the floor wide awake.  At times my mind drove me crazy and periodically there was complete peace.  After a year, I said goodbye to this practice & sought a teacher who would be able to engage what I now knew & guide me in ways to follow what I yet did not know.  It a took a few years to find such a teacher.  When I found one, my heart spun; like a compass that has finally found north, like a dog, who finally understands that a person’s language means something & the possibility of a whole new world awakens.  And so it has continued for me.  I practice, I reach impasses, I listen, I contemplate the seeking heart and a new teacher appears. This is why many practice meditation, to learn to engage what we seek.  Meditation practice is not about ignoring some part of your life.  It starts like the fish on the camel; recognizing something isn’t quite right.  Then it proceeds to asking your questions, engaging your seeking heart and learning tools to bring this heart into your life.

First, The fish needs to say, “Something ain’t right about this Camel ride – And I’m Feeling so damn Thirsty.” – Hafiz

Copyright© 2015, all rights reserved Gail Gustafson, Mahakala Radio offers meditation classes in Colorado Springs, online and meditation retreats

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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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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What is Living Awake?

For certain, I can say what it is not.  It is not what we expect or hope or imagine or fantasize.  We do not get to be simply riding a happy cloud untouched by the world.  It is not survival of one’s self.  It is not justice or truth.  It is none of those things.  It is outside of our mind’s ability to plan, strategize and neatly put things into lists.  What is living awake?

Our friend is what I would call an experienced practitioner, dedicated to study and daily practice, trusting in no thing, and actively choosing to awaken in life.  He is a very gentle person, a farmer. Years ago he was a vegetarian, and when he decided to eat meat, he decided that in order to do that, he needed to make every effort to make sure the animal that provided him with food was well cared for in its life.  So, he specializes in caring for animals at various small farms.

Last week, he was fixing an irrigation line on one of the fields.  Suddenly he heard the pigs screaming for their lives.  He jumped into his truck and drove to where the pigs were grazing.  He saw two large pit bull mix dogs attacking the sows.  Without a second of hesitation, he jumped from his truck, grabbed a shovel, leaped over the fence and began hitting the dogs with the shovel.  Our friend swung with all his strength down upon the backs & heads of the dogs.  Neither did the dogs leave off the pig, nor did they notice they were being struck.  Our friend continued to whack the dogs, as his heart broke in the terrible situation.  The noise of pig screams, dogs snarling & our friend yelling alerted the other farmer from the house.  Finally as the other farmer entered the pen, the dogs broke off and separated at a run from the area.  Our friend turned to the sows to calm them down, reassure them, assess their injuries and their chances of survival.  Once the pigs were settled down, wounds tended, the veterinarian called, our friend called the local humane society and went to look for the dogs.  One of the dogs was nearby.  He gently called to it, kindly encouraged it to come near him.  It approached, wagging its tail, with a silly grin on its muzzle.  He petted the dog, soothed its nerves, cuddled it close and let it sit in his truck next to him.  The dog, with the blood of the sow on its muzzle, relaxed as they waited for the humane society to arrive.

Our friend did not place his own concern for survival in front of saving the sow.  He did not experience hate for the dogs that were attacking the sow.  He did not blindly apply a rule such as refrain from killing.  Instead, he responded to the situation, without being clouded by beliefs and ideals.  Free from fear, he was able to be there completely.

What is living Awake?
This must be close.

©Copyright 2011 Gail H GustafsonMahakala Radio, Colorado Springs, CO, all rights reserved
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Color

 

There seems to be a general idea that western buddhist practitioners should be expressionless, should be above emotions, should be colorless.  It seems to me a limiting view, one that chokes this vital experience we call life and stuffs it in a tidy decorative box.  Perhaps this idea is what created Pandora’s Box, where emotions are stuffed away, suppressed, repressed, hidden from view and masked behind a crocodile smile.   We all know where that leads.

Once I was on retreat & the teacher called attention to what she saw as my inappropriate clothing.  I was sitting in front with colored toesocks.  I experienced embarrassment in front of the group.  I spent the rest of the day sitting in uncomfortable and painful emotional experiences.  It sent me deep into questioning: “was I drawing attention to myself by wearing colored socks as the teacher implied?”, “what should buddhists wear?” and “what was the intention for retreat?”  I went right into the embarrassment, shame, confusion… the whole mess.  I did not try to get rid of it, but instead let it be there, ripping away.  At some point, the whole mess fell apart & I saw things as they were with a sense of clarity & unbound joy.  The result was that I continued to wear my colored clothing, free from conventional concerns.

You see, “living fully awake” implies being alive in the changing dynamics that are energy itself, neither discarding nor grasping at what is and what arises.

“Unpolluted by meditation with intellectual effort
Undisturbed by the winds of everyday affairs,

Not manipulating, letting what is be itself,
May I become skilled in the practice of mind and maintain it.”

Ranjung Dorje the 3rd Karmapa gives us some hints: learn to meditate without intellectual subversion, learn to experience the gales and breezes of life, learn to release rigid control on how “things should be” and let what is be as it is.  Learning to do these requires practice, guidance, courage and consistency.  He speaks nothing of shutting down life, discarding colored socks or preventing emotions from being felt.

May I become skilled in the practice of living in the winds & letting what is be itself.

Copyright© Gail Gustafson, Mahakala Radio, 2012

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Look In

As we practice, we slowly learn to turn our focus
from “them” and toward the heart of the matter, which lies in our view, our beliefs, our own beloved thoughts.  We leave our house of blame and excuse, and enter into a new relationship with that which runs our life.  That is the first step on the path.  We give up “them” & go where our heart knows to look.

We are faced with having to learn how to relate to this crazy wild monkey which is holding the reigns of an unruly dirty elephant.  Are you willing to train?  Do you have any tools?  What kind of training would be most effective?  Where do you start?

I have looked at the elephant in this image of the Stages of Shamatha for years.  What is the elephant?  How does it manifest in life?  The elephant is dark, it is hidden from view & slowly gets clean along the path.  It takes time.  An elephant cannot be rushed with force if you want a friendly relationship with it.  Some years ago I had the fortune to work with an elephant.  What surprised me, was the elephant’s incredible sensitivity to touch.  The very lightest weight of just one finger on its skin resulted in movement throughout its whole body.  I had to modulate my use of light direct pressure in order for the elephant to respond with light touches of his trunk on my shoulder.  In this way, the elephant and I slowly developed a kind heartfelt trust in our mutual intention; to open to the mystery of experience.

The elephant reminds me of this practice question: What is my most beloved thought?  This cannot be discovered through pushing, forcing or any other such nonsense. This is the hidden thought about “me” which is cherished, adorned, protected at all costs.  It is the basis for most actions & consequences, yet it is often not in our awareness, it is in the dark.  It is like a magnet, attracting things that support it and dispelling things that challenge it.  It has become so covered up, that we no longer recognize or even see it.  It is buried yet very acutely active.

When we enthusiastically persevere, practice exposes the elephant, our buried beloved thought.  We thought we only had a monkey to train & now we see we also have an elephant.  Whereas the monkey has been primarily wild, the elephant is primarily sensitive and afraid.  The monkey requires patient attention & the elephant requires light warmth & kindness.  Working with the most beloved thought cannot be rushed if we want to develop a friendly relationship.  It takes time.  This is why the practice of awakening is not for everyone.  It has no quick fixes, no passive modalities, nobody can do it for you or to you.  Yet, for some, even though the monkey is wild & we see it is leading a sensitive dirty elephant, we are not dismayed.   We do not shout out “why me?’, but instead soften into experience and say “this is it”.   When we look in, we trust what arises to be exactly the path of the moment.   In this way, we learn by being in the richness of life.

Copyright© Gail Gustafson, Mahakala Radio, 2011

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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

On Fish and Camels

First

The fish needs to say,

“Something ain’t right about this

Camel ride –

And I’m Feeling so damn

Thirsty.”

Most of us come to practice meditation for exactly what Hafiz points to in this poem.  We get an inkling that something just isn’t right about our lives.  We cannot exactly say what it is that isn’t right.  All the externals may look great, yet the fish on the camel feels that it is not in its natural environment, and it is thirsty.  There is a yearning to connect to something deeper or higher or different.  “Is there something beyond being thirsty on this camel?” This thirst, this niggling feeling, becomes the initiator to start seeking.  What we seek is not yet known.  This is how the path begins & continues; following a feeling and seeking something that will start to quench that thirst.

In my own life, I came to practice through this kind of seeking.  In 1986, I was a dancer -training and auditioning in that competitive world.  I had studied with the “greats” of my time: Martha Graham, Trisha Brown, Laura Dean, etc.   I landed a coveted position with a prestigious dance company.  I was filled with the sense that I had “made it”.  In the third week of rehearsals it dawned on me, I was at the top of the world & yet I was “feeling so damn thirsty”. Something wasn’t right.  All the glamour was not touching what I was seeking.

I did something crazy.  I resigned.  I had no idea what I was going to do, but I knew I could not continue on the camel ride.  I spent many gloomy weeks doing my usual ritual of movement classes.  Technique was no longer fulfilling, other dancers avoided me & my internal critics had a heyday.   Then it dawned on me:  though I did not yet know what I was seeking,  I did have the use of a large old room at a local church in exchange for caring for their alter.  For three hours daily, for one year, I locked myself in the empty room, with the intention to move, listen & engage what I was seeking.

For a year I listened.  Sometimes I was inspired by movement, often I laid on the floor wide awake.  At times my mind drove me crazy and periodically there was complete peace.  After a year, I said goodbye to this practice & sought a teacher who would be able to engage what I now knew & guide me in ways to follow what I yet did not know.  It a took a few years to find such a teacher.  When I found one, my heart spun; like a compass that has finally found north, like a dog, who finally understands that a person’s language means something & the possibility of a whole new world awakens.  And so it has continued for me.  I practice, I reach impasses, I listen, I contemplate the seeking heart and a new teacher appears. This is why many practice meditation, to learn to engage what we seek.  Meditation practice is not about ignoring some part of your life.  It starts like the fish on the camel; recognizing something isn’t quite right.  Then it proceeds to asking your questions, engaging your seeking heart and learning tools to bring this heart into your life.

First, The fish needs to say, “Something ain’t right about this Camel ride – And I’m Feeling so damn Thirsty.” – Hafiz

Copyright©Gail Gustafson, Mahakala Radio, Colorado Springs, April 2011

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