Everfresh in the Changing

Month: October 2015

Mind Training

You’ll notice that in this project, that I will – on the basis of a particular experience and theory of language – use words that are commonly thought of as ‘metaphysical.’ Some modern Buddhist writers have a knee-jerk reaction, when they see this word. The European philosopher Martin Heidegger gave the word a bad rap, and some Western teachers think he’s right. They reject words like ‘transcendent,’ out of hand.

I have no doubt that any word can be helpful when used by one person, and misleading when used by another. The difference will be in how the user grounds the use of the word: whether in mindful experience; mindful experience with theory; only in theory; or in unexamined opinion. Experience is primary, but can be aided by theory.

At this time last year, in my hospital bed, being present for my experiences in my usual way, I naturally saw deeply into the dynamics and qualities of my mind-states. A friend said that I was being ‘metaphysical’ when I shared what I saw, but I was just choosing my words to fit my experiences.

Being under the threat of death, and being cared for by the hospital staff, I naturally entered into varying degrees of spacious stillness. Some of this was the natural outcome of years of practice, but some of it was specifically invited by the practice of particular exercises. This isn’t my main point, today, but because someone asked me to share how I conducted my mind in that time, I’ll mention one such practice.

I sometimes combine Voice Dialogue, Focusing, and readily-available tantric methods. For example, in normal times, if I seem to be dull, or dissociated, I can either engage with the state, to see what benefit I can absorb from it – what gems can be extracted from the ore; or else, I can simply invite a non-distracted state and simply rest in it. Different approaches, for different times.

In hospital, with much going on – the coming and going of nurses, the voices in the hall, the lights always on, the pain of my body – the ‘resting in spacious awareness’ approach was often more helpful. So, I could bring my attention to my breath, and invoke a state of good-will and alertness. One things I did in hospital was to say to myself:

“Let me speak to the one who is in a pure land, with radiant beings all around.” Then I answered myself: “I am the one who is in a pure land, with radiant beings all around.” (This was Voice Dialogue.)

Then, I brought my attention into my body, and allowed and named the changes brought about by those words, here and now – including pain and all. (Mindfulness and Focusing.) Sometimes, some of these changes, I might have expanded some, if needed. (Tarthang Tulku.) And, there it is – I’m back in signless territory, a mind like space. This is real.

And, in naked awareness, I have an appreciation of this body and its trauma. As well, I spontaneously have a warm appreciation of these multi-dimensional humans working here. Most lovely of all, I sense the texture of their beingness: such beauty, no matter what the state of mind they are identified with – whether they are harried or bossy, or patient and loving – I could see their radiance. This radiance of my own mind, I know the others about me have that, too.

What is it about us that makes this possible? I’ve taken charge of my own mind, and invited an unusual (non-conventional) openness to experience; the kind of openness taught by masters for centuries. It’s the mind’s natural capacity for utter openness that makes it possible. We only have to turn that direction. The ‘pure land’ is nothing but one’s natural state, unobscured by the ego’s limited view. The ego either indulges in, or suppresses, experiences; but, here, experiences are simply timelessly inconceivable – just so.

The limited view is rarely helpful, and the circumstances weren’t conducive to doing inner work of the more emotional-psychological variety (though it naturally happened, in some measure, because with spaciousness, insights into reality and mind naturally come). So, mostly, when in hospital, I chose short-cuts to openness.

Well… I meant to talk about the word ‘meataphysical,’ but instead shared a practice for use in hard times. I hope you can see something useful in it. Try it out in easy times, to practise.

Taking Care of Mind

Seeing danger where there is none; not seeing danger where it is –
by grasping at mistaken views, beings move toward a bad end.

–    Dhammapada, verse 317. Translated by Christopher J. Ash.

If we are to know peace, no matter when – in life, and in dying – and if we are to gift the torn world with our peace, it’s fundamental to take care of the mind. ‘Mind’ is such an inadequate word, but in that last sentence I want it to mean the deepest, most all-encompassing, spacious, pregnant-with-all, luminous, responsive, warm and incomparable knowingness that you can possibly imagine.

There are several Pali words for ‘mind,’ but the one which I most favour is ‘citta.’ It’s interesting that when I look up the Pāli-English dictionary, there, I find:

“The meaning of citta is best understood when explaining it by expressions familiar to us, as: with all my heart; heart and soul; I have no heart to do it; blessed are the pure in heart; singleness of heart; all of which emphasize the emotional & conative [intention; will] side or “thought” more than its mental & rational side (for which see manas & viññāa). It may therefore be rendered by intention, impulse, design; mood, disposition, state of mind, reaction to impressions.”

So, do you get the feel for the kind of mind we need to care for? It’s something core to a human, and to being the particular human that you are. (There have been periods in European history when soul did the job in that slot in the sentence, but it’s a tainted word, now.)

Some of our mind’s patterns render the mind incapable of balanced perspective, though – at least temporarily. The following is an extreme example, but he’s been on my mind.

I met a man once, who said that there was nothing to stop him from doing anything he liked. That’s what he believed. It was painful to see how a preferred part of his personality had no sense of perspective on how karma works. This person thought he was king, dealing in heavy drugs. However, he was in grave danger; because he was not master of his own heart. I don’t mean in danger from the law. Sure, that’s there; but it’s trivial compared to losing perspective on one’s own citta. The way karma works is totally of the mind. It’s not something ‘out there,’ which only turns up to reward or punish you. I feared for him, because his well-being was at the mercy of a grandiose sub-personality.

As just a hint of the complexity of this topic, just consider that when you are experiencing something, your intelligent organism (body-mind) is versioning the situation, unconsciously. Science has demonstrated this. You can even be seeing something consciously one way, but your organism is experiencing it another. So, let’s just say, in broad brushstrokes, that this versioning of the situation is going on, consciously and unconsciously. And, the present versioning is crossing with the relevant previous versions of situations (all of which, by now, is indistinguishable from your organism).

This produces an odd situation. A totally new, fresh, unique experience is occurring, of a kind which has never happened, ever, in the universe. Yet why? Because it’s crossing with all previous, relevant kinds of experiences. That is, the past is in the now, but as the utterly unique present situation. This is an organism with a continuity of versioning process, unfolding seamlessly.

Mindfulness and Focusing keep us in touch with that unfolding now, which is the flow of the re-versioning of the past. Mindfulness and Focusing empower us to ‘kind’ situations freshly, by grounding us in the unfolding now, which contains more than we know. Mindfulness and Focusing bring attitudes (citta) which boost positivity, and birth wisdom.

Now, if you managed to stay with me during those last paragraphs, I mean this: from one point of view, we can’t just do anything. We can only surf the leading edge of the wave of the unfolding, with all the presence and skill we can muster. If we honour that there are processes here much bigger than our little perspectives, and if we have the kind of openness that will carry us forward healthily, then we can find freedom in this, and this, and this situation – making unsurpassable states of citta possible. This precious human being whom I met, he was also intensely fearful, paranoid. He saw danger everywhere; but as he talked, he couldn’t see the danger of the one who was talking. His own mind was torturing him with delusion, but he trusted those thoughts.

This may seem irrelevant to your life, because extreme, but he is only degrees away from you and I. It’s a kind of dynamic. What mind are we to trust, then? To define mind, again, would be to trivialise that great matter. But, if we take care of the real qualities mentioned above – spaciousness of heart, singleness of heart (self-possession), presence and healthy intentions in heart and soul – we are tending toward peace You then you can find that the mind is an actual presence, though it’s not an object to be found. Then the mind will reveal its depths. We can grow in peace. It was painful to meet this man. His ice habits were wrecking his discernment.


Oh, Hello, Papañca.

It’s one of the toughest things about the human mind, that we regularly think, say and do on the basis of motivations that are unconscious to us. In the classic Buddhist approach a typical scenario goes something like this: I encounter a situation – let’s say, it’s illness. And, just when my body most needs my positivity (which would support my immune system, and help me find a solution), instead I am angry that I am ill. I despair that I am ill. Or, I see it as proof that I’m weak, useless, and ill-fated. Whatever – I, the human being, add unnecessary suffering to the suffering that I already have. Our personalities – especially our inner judge – might think that it is somehow doing us good, dumping all this negativity on ourselves, but it’s just dividing us. It’s, in early Buddhist terms, just ‘papañca,’ not wisdom. Freedom is nippapañca, the absence of reactivity. That’s synonymous with nibbana.

My analysis of the root meaning of the word papañca, is that it has two aspects. One is ‘conceptual proliferation.’ The other is ‘manifoldness.’ At this time, I’ll talk about the proliferation aspect, the ‘spinning out.’ It works, like this: I’m in trouble. That is, the basic trouble is that I’m unwell. At this stage, it’s just ‘body trouble.’ In reaction to this, though, I spin out with lots of irrelevant emotionality. I don’t recognise it as that. I think I’m talking truth. At this stage, I’m unconscious of what I’m doing, though, because I’m identified with a pattern of resistance to my ill health. “I shouldn’t be ill.” “I never used to be ill.” “What will others think of me.” “My partner will hate this – I’m ill again.” “My mother will criticize me, about my diet.” We might fall into “if only” mind. “If only I wasn’t ill! Now I can’t go to the class tomorrow! It’s not fair.” “If only I didn’t have this, I could be the best in the state!” “I could be…”

In this respect, it’s easy to see that papañca is reactivity. And, it thrives on our being unconscious of the delusion aspect of what we’re thinking. It’s irrelevant to the task at hand – which is to find the next step to take care of my health; or, if I’ve already done what I can, to hold my condition in compassionate awareness. Why compassionate awareness? Because on the one hand, that is healthier – that’s one thing, But, also because to be compassionate with difficulties is to optimise a pleasant in-dwelling. In other words, if the body is in trouble, why throw inner peace and insight out the window? It’s a waste of the precious energy I have available.

So, in reactivity I’m simply thirsting for things to be some other way, compared to my present functioning of my five sentient processes (form, feeling-tones, perceptions, fashioning factors, and consciousness) – some other way that I think they could be or should be. This is based on comparison to something that’s already in the library – the known. If I actually have the present moment’s fresh reality – an ill body in this precious now – I might have to face not knowing. We need the not knowing to discover our next step. However, in reactivity, papañca obscures my most precious asset – my capacity of grounding my mind in freshly unfolding actual experience.

So, what do we do, given that this is rolling on unconsciously, and seemingly relentlessly? Be assured, a gap will come, and when it comes, there’ll be a way to weaken the pattern. At some stage, the process of reactivity exhausts its energy. It’s like an arrow fired into the air. It has momentum for a while, but sooner or l ater, it exhausts the energy that it had in the beginning, and it falls to the earth. A gap comes in our reactivity, a pause, and we wake up: “Oh, dear. What’s giving me more trouble, right now? My illness or my reactivity?” This pause comes sooner, more often, and for longer, the more we practise mindfulness and/or Focusing. And, in the gap we can recollect our deeper and truer purposes, which gives us extra strength in the gap. Am I here to continue the species habit, or to contribute fresh ways to be in the world?

Now, here’s the wonderful thing: the body is the already on-going process, when a gap in a non-grounded process like papañca occurs.  That is, the body is the always on-going process, and when the gap occurs, you can come back to the body, and feel the effects in the body, and find the way forward. Papañca is just repetitive, isn’t it? One feels trapped by it.

 However, there in the gap, we can return to mindfulness of the body, right there, and recollect our skilful means. I can notice my breathing. Include my breathing in my awareness, even if it’s part of the illness. I breathe with the whole body; or, be aware of the whole body. Then I can name what’s been going on, and that starts a different relationship with papañca. Instead of being identified with it, it can be: “Oh, hello, Papañca. Fancy seeing you, here.”

Wonderful to Protect the Heart

Difficult to see, very subtle, latching onto whatever it covets –
a wise one protects the heart. A guarded heart brings happiness.

– Dhammapada, verse 36. Translated by Christopher J. Ash

Where human life is, there will be difficulties of one sort and another. They can be little – today, for instance, I am unwell; but it’s probably no big deal. And, it might be. So, how do I keep an appropriate relationship with my condition? Or, the difficulty could be huge – someone we love suddenly and unexpectedly dies. Again, now to be related to it?

So, we encounter a great range of difficulties; yet, for a spiritual practitioner, it is important to protect the mind from despair, at all times; to not let despair stay too long, and block the heart. Despair blocks the heart from feeling a great range of healthy responses to our situations – including sorrow at the tragedies we encounter.

Yet, we don’t want to struggle with despair, either. Despair will come, sometime, and we can acknowledge it. We can even empathetically feel our way into its roots, if there’s sufficient support, inner or outer. However, most of all, we needn’t fall into it, or follow it. It needs to be able to pass through us.

When we keep in touch with our bodily knowing, the body can find a way forward. It may not be evident now, but there will be a way, at some level of our relationship with the difficulties. Sometimes, it might not be a way which alters a difficulty, or which alters it much. My Chronic Fatigue is an example. But the way forward might come in the heart’s relationship to the difficulty.

How can we know, when despair knocks on the door, that there will be a way forward? Again, because the body has its own knowing, based in its inherence in, its belonging to, its participation in, its indwelling in the big life process, the ‘This’ which exceeds our library-shelf knowing. One thing the body ‘knows’ is that not initially knowing what the way forward will be, that is not a difficulty, that is a part of the way forward. Not knowing is the space in which we can listen for intimations of the way forward.

The problem for us, though, is that – especially in the early stages of the spiritual way – despair has leapt into our mentality, our speech, and our body, before we know it. Once recognized though, it is important to study it, and then let it go. Because, like all things, it will go. This is the way of taming the demons.

Difficult to keep in check, frivolous, latching onto whatever it covets –
it is wonderful to tame the heart. A tamed heart brings happiness.

– Dhammapada, verse
35. Translated by Christopher J. Ash

To tame the demon of despair, we need to get a relationship with it. If we are identified with it, we can’t see it for what it is. If we suppress it, or avoid it in some way – play yet another DVD, for instance – we won’t see it for what it is, that way, either. The middle way is neither to suppress it, nor to indulge it. Breathing in, and out: “Hello, despair. I know you’re here.” I can imagine the Nikāya Buddha saying, “Oh, hello Māra, it’s you! Come on in.” Thich Nhat Hanh had a lovely story about that. He tells it – one version of it – here.

I like the version in his Heart of Understanding, and retold in Soul Food: Stories to Nourish the Spirit and the Heart, by Jack Kornfield and Christina Feldman. Someone has put that on the web, here.

Ānanda, in the story, is not yet awakened like his teacher, and so is worried about Māra. But the Buddha’s relationship is free of fear. Mara, it appears to me, doesn’t know what to do with that. It’s difficult work, as a seeker, to protect oneself. It’s hard to tame the demons. But, it’s of the nature of the mind that it is possible, because the mind creative, relational present exceeds its old patterns.

Does this story give you a good feel for a playful spirit with which we can approach the work at hand?

One is one’s own lord protector.

What other protector could there be?

With oneself well-tamed,

one gains a protector hard to find.

– Dhammapada, verse
160. Translated by Christopher J. Ash

Collected Posts 10 September to 15 October

This one post is to replace the thirty-eight lost posts, putting them online. I’ve combined them, marking with dates where each post finishes.

“There you go…”

It seems that through some error of mine, I have lost 38 posts. My WordPress site broke, so I had to reinstall, and I couldn’t find a way to save the database, at that point. I haven’t lost the texts (which I keep in Scrivener), but I’ve lost some posts on the blog.

I had a backup, from over a month ago, so I was able to restore the site and many posts, but not your subscriber email addresses. So please re-subscribe.

The backup could only restore posts that were written before September 10. (Good lesson in this; quite apart from the lessons about uncertainty, contingency, and transiency! Backup regularly. Losses don’t happen regularly, but they do happen. It’s like cancer, in that respect.) Overnight, I’ll look for a solution to restoring the record.

My paternal grandmother, when we were up against some unmovable fact of reality, would say “There you go…” with a half-smile and a sense of: “And, on life goes, just the same…” I can hear her now, bless her.

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