Basic skills

Basic Skills (from DFF06: Death: Friend or Foe (retreat) 00:46:20.20 - 00:51:03.00)

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Ken: This morning—during the breakfast break—I was thinking, “You know, I really haven’t done a very good job teaching people.” I realized if I was going to start all over again, I’d do it very, very differently. So, now I’m going to tell you the right way. [Laughs]
Jean: Oh boy!
Ken: Finally! Well—pardon?
Student: This just came over breakfast?
Ken: This just came over breakfast, yes. You have to do something to fill the time, you know.
So, the first things one needs if you’re going to learn to do anything well are the basic skills. For instance, how do you learn how to write? You make the shapes of the letters over and over again. How do you learn arithmetic? Well, you practice addition and subtraction. So, it seemed to me, that probably the first thing you should learn when you’re meditating is how to pay attention to one breath. So, screw this 30 minutes of practice every day.
I’ve got a new client who wants to learn to meditate, so I think I’m going to try this on him. Say—[Laughter] “Poor guy,” says Jim, but maybe he’s lucky! So, forget about meditating for half an hour at a time. The first thing you do is--every morning--you get up and you practice a hundred one-breath meditations.
[Ken models doing one breath.] Finished. [Ken models another one-breath meditation.] Basic skill, right? Being present with one breath.
So, move onto death and impermanence. Same kind of thing. You really want to learn this stuff? Practice it. Take in one thing that changes every day. Doesn’t really matter what. It may be the movement of shadow as the sun goes. You go, “Oh.” And what this is going to do is bring attention to some minutiae in your life, and you see change. And you’re practicing exposing yourself to change. Basic skills. I don’t have all of the levels worked out, but you get the idea.
Just for interest, what would it be like if you’d learned meditation that way? Really basic skills. So, I’m gonna try that. I’ll let you know how it goes.
So, this is not theoretical stuff. This is not philosophy. This is learning, practicing, doing. And they can be broken down into really basic skills that we can learn. So that’s something I encourage you to do is, “Look, okay, how can I really take this in?” And don’t deal with the abstract; don’t deal with the philosophical. “How can I really take this in?”
Another practice that I’ve sometimes given people when they’re doing death and impermanence meditation is that every day—all the time they’re doing meditation—they have to buy a cut flower and put it in a vase where they meditate and not give it any water. So every day they sit down, they see the plants change. And eventually it shrivels up and dies, and then they get another flower and do the same thing. It’s like, “There is change.”