Opening to all elements, skill building

As you listen to this guided meditation by Ken, which builds one's capacity to open to all elements, may you also know that this meditation is what Buddha was doing himself during the Heart Sutra discussion.

This clip is from the Heart Sutra workshop (session 1), a wonderful complement to Ken's book, An Arrow to the Heart.

So here's Buddha...he's meditating. And you notice the situation; they're perched on top of a mountaintop, which is a place which exactly exists in India. I've been there. And he's surrounded by monastics and bodhisattvas. We'll talk a bit more about that in a few minutes. And he entered an absorption, called Profound Illumination or Profound Radiance--it's translated in different ways--in which all elements of experience are present.

How many of you know this absorption? How many of you would like to know this absorption? Oh you know this absorption, do you? Oh good, so let's spend a few minutes.

Now if you're going to have all elements of experience it's probably better if you have your eyes open so you aren't shutting things out. So start just by sitting and resting with something we all know, resting in the experience of breathing. 


Now generally when we rest in the experience of breathing the first thing we become aware of is the sensation of the breath through the nostrils. But that's only part of the experience of breathing. We might also notice that the breath flows through one or other of the nostrils more than the other, maybe the temperature is slightly different. You may also notice a sensation, a cool sensation at the back of your throat when you breathe in. [Silence]

Movement of the lungs and the chest. Movement in the diaphragm and stomach. So just experience all of that. 


You may also experience your back moving, a little bit. When you breathe in the body straightens up, a little bit. When you breathe out it bends forward, a little bit. It may only be a couple of millimeters. 


You may notice that your head moves accordingly, the chin moves very slightly up and down. Whoever said that meditation was actually sitting still? 


There may be other sensations taking place in your body connected with breathing. Experience all of them. You may find your attention moving from one sensation to the other. You don't need to do that, you can experience them all at the same time.


So experience all the tactile and kinesthetic sensations associated with breathing.


Then include a bit more all the tactile and kinesthetic sensations associated with the body. Sensation of clothes touching your body, the sensation of your body sitting, sensations of your hands and feet touching or interacting with each other. In addition to that ll of the sensations connected with breathing. Just experience all of it. All at the same time.

You may find that your attention collapses down on one or other thing and as soon as you notice that, just expand from that thing you are focusing on to include everything connected with breathing and your body. Just sit there for a few moments in the experience of breathing. 


But our sense of the organ of the body is only one of the five senses, there is also sight. So as you sit there in the experience of breathing you could also include everything that is in your field of vision. From where I sit that's the faces and bodies and clothes of all of you. All of the details of the thangkas and the glittering of the brocade that frames the thangkas, the lights, the ceiling, the floor, the windows, the walls. That's all part of the experience of breathing it's all part of what we experience right now.


Also include the sound of my voice and the sound of the traffic, just include everything. The feelings of your body when you breathe and all of the other sensations that arise in any of the senses.

You sit in a field of sensory experience.

And you may notice as you sit in this field that there are other elements of experience. Maybe some thought arises because of the honking outside, "I wish it would go away." And there are feelings of dislike or displeasure. Maybe there are other thoughts, other emotions. In other words there is all this internal stuff that goes on too. So just include that: the sensations of the body, all the other senses, thoughts, feelings, sensory sensations, emotional sensations, cognitive sensations--we call those thoughts. Don't push any of it away, don't organize or understand any of it; just experience it all. And whenever you find yourself collapsing down on any one thing, just expand back and include everything.

You don't have to actually sit still to do this, you can let your eyes move gently and slowly around the room; taking in all the visuals but including the body sensations included in that.

So here we are in a field of experience: sensations, thoughts and feelings. You sit in this way long enough and you begin to wonder what outside and inside mean. So maybe we could just let those go and have this field of experience. 


Now, open your heart to this field of experience. Some of you may say what does that mean? But you know what it is to open your heart to your spouse, or your partner or your child. So you just do the same thing with what you are experiencing. Just open your heart. [Silence]

So you have all of the physical sensations and all of the sensory sensations and all of the internal material: the thoughts and feelings and so forth and you have an open heart. [Silence]

Now in a moment I am going to suggest a question. I don't want you to answer the question, I simply want you to pose the question to yourself. When you do this, you'll probably experience some kind of shift. When you experience that shift just include that experience, too, with everything else.

So physical sensations are breathing, all the sensation with the body, all the other sensory sensations: sight and sound, taste and smell. All the mental and emotional sensations: thoughts and feelings. The whole field of experience which we experience with an open heart. The question is, what experiences all this?

As I say don't try to answer the question, just experience the shift and then include the experience of the shift with everything else.

What experiences all this? 


[Gong sounds to end meditation]


The path or a path?

A wonderful segment from Then and Now, session 26:
A Path (from TAN26: Then and Now (class) 00:20:33.00 - 00:23:55.08)

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One of the ways that the Tibetan tradition is expressed and translated is that this is the path. And that I’ve always had a little bit of tension with that because the stages of the path that you were meant to follow never worked for me, so I’ve always had to find my own way. And then I realized that I actually do the same thing with every student that I work with. I never work with two people exactly the same way. And then some comments that I was listening to from Stephen Batchelor pulled the whole thing together for me. There isn’t the path. You find a path; and what you actually do is you find your path. So it’s a path to awakening for you.

Now it’s very much working with that genesis of awakening which we all have, and finding, discovering through a lot of trial and error, and a lot of effort, how to provide that genesis of awakening with the conditions in which it can grow and find expressions in our lives. And I don’t think that any one person’s path is identical with anybody else’s. There are certain factors which really help and which have been tested by time and experience.

And that’s what Gampopa is relating here, you know, everything we've talked about in terms of impermanence and karma, and the six realms, and loving-kindness, and compassion, etc. All of these things--and what I talked about in Wake Up to Your Life--these are things which all help in this, but one has to find one’s own relationship with them. And it is through taking them in and finding one’s own relationship that you find the path for you, through which you wake up, or this awakening manifests in your life.
Is that clear, what I am saying? Okay.


Working with pain

In this clip from a class on the Eightfold Path Ken talks about the value of cultivating inclusive attention and gives advice on a way to work with pain and discomfort in the body....

Working with pain (from 8FP02 01:11:30.1 - 01:16:37.0)

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Now, attention. This is usually mindfulness. And this term has now become somewhat of a cliché, but like all clichés it contains a truth. It's usually described in terms of the four foundations of mindfulness: mindfulness of the body, which actually means all sensory experience; mindfulness of feeling tones, that is the tone of pleasant, unpleasant or neutral that accompanies experience and whether it's a physical sensation or mental sensation. And then mindfulness of what is usually translated as mental states, but it's like what's going on internally, and then mindfulness of all experience.

Now I'm not quite sure how this happened, I think there are a number of possible ways, but people tend to associate mindfulness and attention with the narrowing of attention. It may be the word concentrate, was influential here. And so people often approach their practice and approach any form of practice of attention with the focus of narrowing and excluding things.

And this has been really problematic in a lot of people's practices. Because when they're excluding things stuff gets suppressed and that comes back to bite them in all kinds of ways. Creates sometimes quite severe imbalances.

And one of the principles which at some point I was forced to start relating to, because I was getting into such a bad place in my practice, is the notion of inclusive attention. That is you include everything in your experience. So you may be attending to something but you don't ignore everything else.

And so at the beginning of the meditation period when I said to you, "Rest in the experience of breathing," it's different from focusing on the breath. When you rest in the experience of breathing you are in the experience of breathing, but as you rest more and more completely you include absolutely everything that you experience. Don't be distracted by any of it but you will include everything you experience because it's all part of the experience of breathing. And you'll still be right there with the breath but experiencing everything. And this notion of inclusive attention really helps form a relationship with your experience which is free from struggle, which is really what the point of the whole exercise is. So that's something I think you may find helpful.

One of the ways that I've found to work with pain and discomfort in the body is an application of this. I had a lot of difficulty with pain in the three year retreat and I took the instruction and put my attention on the pain. It was not a good thing to do. I learned much later that when you put your attention on something, energy collects there. And so if you put your attention on the pain in your body then you are often drawing energy into the place that is already stagnant. The energy stagnates and makes things worse.

What I found works much better is to be aware of your whole body and include the sensation of pain in the awareness of the whole body. And that way you aren't focusing on the pain but you are opening to the experience of it. Because you aren't focusing on the pain you aren't drawing energy or sending energy into that.

Because you're aware of the whole body you're creating the conditions in which energy can circulate freely in the body in the way that it wants to, or the way is natural for the body. And that is going to move energy through that area of pain, allow energy to move through that, and that's going to break up the stagnation of energy there.

So from a very practical point of working with pain in the body this inclusive attention and working with an expanded field of attention rather than narrow focus of attention I found to be very very important. So, that's a principle that I hope will be helpful to you.


Bringing attention into action: the Toltec way

In this clip from Ken's talks on the eightfold path he draws on Don Miguel Ruiz' The Four Agreements...

Bringing attention into action (from 8FP02 00:17:25.07 - 00:20:58.04)

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The other one comes from the Toltec tradition and I have no idea how it's worded in the original language, so these are translations.

Be impeccable with your word.

Now that's going to happen quite naturally when you listen, when you bring attention into speaking.

Just a little question for you, How many of you talk to yourselves? Okay. When you talk to yourselves, do you bring attention to what you're actually saying to yourself? Most of us don't. There's this voice that natters at us and says all of these horrible things and judgmental things. Or if they aren't saying horrible things then they're saying quite ridiculously arrogant things. It just goes on and on and we call it thinking.

So be impeccable with your word certainly in our interactions with others but also start paying attention to how you're speaking with yourself. Might be a good idea. That's the first one.

Second one is: Don't take things personally.

I'm working with a business owner right now and he's a good guy, but he has this tendency to take everything terribly personally. So a lot of the coaching I'm doing with him is just about, "You know, that wasn't actually about you. This is what was going on there." And he went , "Really? Oh."

And things happen and people do things but a friend of mine says, "Ninety eight percent of what people say is about themselves." You may think they are criticizing you but they aren't. They' re actually on their own case and they're just projecting that on to you.

The third one is: Don't make assumptions.

This is closely related to get the facts. We make all kinds of assumptions about things. Rather than make assumptions, ask questions.

Bryon Katie has a very nice formulation here: Is this true? How do you know it is true? She got a couple of other ones but those are the first two. And that is usually sufficient to work though an awful lot of projections right there.

And the fourth one is: Always do your best.

Suzuki Roshi makes a very similar statement in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind when he says, "Whenever you do anything burn up completely so there aren't even any ashes." Now the idea here is very simple. When you know that you have done your best then you'rre able to receive whatever happens.