Bringing attention into action

So I want to give you two formulae that I've found helpful for bringing attention into action. Neither of these come from Buddhist sources, but, well I can kind of fudge from a Buddhist source, but it isn't really.

When you're in a situation and it doesn't really matter what, and things aren't going the way that you want or expect, five things:

First, get the facts. Find out what is actually going on.

Our tendency is to make up stories about it. And whenever there's something happening which we don't understand what's really going on, we make a up story. And it's astonishing how quickly we make up that story. And there's a very important characteristic of that story; we're always the hero of it, which makes it suspect right there. So rather than make up a story, get the facts. What's actually happening.

Second, rather than react emotionally, and particularly defensively or judgmentally, which is what we usually do, empathize and understand with the other people.

Find out what they're experiencing and try to understand that. And so that makes an emotional connection, which really changes things.

Focus on what needs to be done, not on what isn't going right.

Focus on what needs to be done. As one person says: "Stop messing about with the past and look to the future." I put this in terms of: "Focus on the direction of the present." What actually needs to happen here to make this work?

And be strategic. You may think it should happen a certain way but that way may not work in this situation. So you've got to figure out what will actually work.

Often when people are consulting with me about problems they're facing, I'll make a suggestion and they say, well, we can't do that because of this, and we can't do that because of that and I can't do that because of this. And their tendency is to regard all of this as obstacles. What they're actually describing is the territory in which they are living at that point. And these are things that have to be negotiated and worked around but they aren't actually obstacles unless you regard them as an obstacle. And I've found that shift in perspective is very helpful to people.

And then the fifth one is: whatever happens receive it and keep going.

One of my favorite quotations is from Churchill. "When you're going through hell, keep going." Certainly applicable in Britain in the Second World War.


The major and minor marks of the Buddha

From: Then and Now 36
Full transcript
After I came back from India the first time--this would be in the early seventies--a teacher that I knew of in India and hadn’t actually met--by the name of Lama Karma Thinley--I knew had come to Canada and lived outside Toronto. So, I called him up and asked if I could go and see him. And my younger brother and my wife and I went to see him. We ended up camping in the fields somewhere in the middle of southern Ontario, near the house where he was staying. And went to see him. And Lama Karma Thinley is quite a character, and he’s still in Toronto. And you can never tell what he's going to do or what he's going to say.

So, we came into his room, and we chatted for a while, and he noticed that my younger brother was looking very intently at a thangka, which Lama Karma Thinley was in the process of painting, and it was only half-finished. And it was a depiction of Buddha. And he looked at my younger brother and said, “You interested in that?” His English was very minimal; I did most of the translating at this stage. And my younger brother said, “I’ve never seen anything like that.” And it was an iconic, graphic depiction of Buddha with a gold body and the long earlobes and the topknot--you know, what we see in Buddha images and depictions. And my younger brother said, “Yeah, I’ve never seen anything like that.” And Lama Karma Thinley said, “You want to know what it means?” And my younger brother said, “Yes.” He said, “Come back tomorrow.”

So he came back. And for the next four hours, Lama Karma Thinley went through all of the 32 major and 80 minor marks of physical perfection which comprises the nirmanakaya of the Buddha, which is the spiral of hair at this point, the growth at the top of his head, the long earlobes, and the shape of the lips, and the length of his arms, light web between the fingers, all of these things. There's a list of them in the back here, explaining what they all were. And these are on page 454. You see the 32 major and 80 minor marks there, and what particular karma they developed from, and what their significance was. And just hours and hours of this stuff.

So, this is--and I'm just relating this, because you have this description here of what it means to be a perfect human being, which is what Buddha was regarded--this is the perfection of our human potential. This is not where Buddhism started at all, fifteen hundred years previous to this, where Buddha would just say of himself, what makes you different from other people? “I’m awake.” And that was it. But all of these myths and these symbols grew up around Buddha, and became ways of people expressing their appreciation.


Kinds of meditation practices

Meditation practices (from MMT01 0:01:38.05 - 0:08:22.00)

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Meditation practices can be divided into various kinds. Among the breakdowns the one I find probably most useful is: there are those practices which are concerned with the practice of presence or being awake and present in your life. Then there are practices which transform energy and build a capacity and energy in attention. And then there are practices which we can call purification, but in a very, very broad sense of that term. That is they get rid of the stuff or change our relationship with the stuff that gets in the way of being present. Some examples may be useful.

Mahamudra, dzogchen in the Tibetan tradition, bare attention in the Theravadan tradition, shikentaza in the Zen tradtion are all examples of practice of presence. These meditations are usually very, very simple. You can say that basic shamatha, which is resting with the breath, also falls into this category. They're usually very simple, very little to do, very little to them and one quickly finds that simple does not equal easy. And if you're not actually doing the practice then you're doing nothing, you're just wandering. So that's important.

And the energy transformation practices vary tremendously. In the Theravadan tradtion you have techniques of body scanning, even noting practice can be used as an energy transformation practice. The cultivation of loving kindness is in some respects an energy transformation practice. In the Mayayana one usually relies more on compassion or the four immeasurables: loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity. In the Vajrayana there's a whole host of energy transformation practices including most of the yidam practices and then the advanced techniques known as the six yogas of Naropa, for example. And there are a large number of other techniques which can be used to transform energy. All energy transformation practices are inherently dangerous because when you start moving things this way you never know exactly what you're going to run into. And you you can really run into blocks in yourself and it's good to know how to work with those blocks.

A third category is probably the largest category of meditation practices: purification practices. This includes again such practices as the four immeasurables but particularly things like meditation on suffering, meditation on impermanence in which you're using these practices to dismantle the operation of various reactive patterns. One of the simplest ways to understand the reactive patterns is from the Theravadan tradition, the three marks of existence which are, probably most of you know, impermanence: everything that's made of other things eventually falls apart. It passes, it's transient. The presence of suffering, all emotional reaction is by nature suffering. And you can say emotional reaction is the reaction we have to experience when we aren't able to stay present with it.

And then the third is non-self. That is there is nothing that we actually are. We are not a thing, even though we tend to go through our lives and operate as if not only we were a thing, we regard ourselves as being the center of the world.

A friend of mine puts it: "You're not going to survive life." Impermanence. "You're never going to get your emotional needs met," and "There's no one to be."

This runs so counter to most of western and American culture--you don't know whether to laugh or cry--which is based in ignoring death until you can't. If you're suffering somebody has done something wrong, so sue them. "What do you mean? I'm special, I'm unique" and you then we get into wonderful things like self-esteem etc., etc., which are endlessly problematic. I almost had a chance to have dinner with a person who started this California Comission on Self-Esteem and I was really looking forward to it. But it didn't come about.

Now, those are examples of purification practices.


Education, Learning and Teaching: Then and Now

Education, learning and teaching (from MMT02 00:02:41.08 - 00:08:42.80)

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And I think a good place to start is with the source. Where does this teaching come from? Now even with this we start right into what I think is a very significant difference between the way that we regard education, learning and training in our culture and the way that learning, education and training was done in other cultures, notably Tibetan culture, which changed very, very little from well certainly 1100, but probably as far back as 800, until the 20th century when the Chinese invaded. And none of us have the experience of living in a culture which doesn't change appreciably for a thousand years. 
It is far easier for me to read a Tibetan text that was written in eight or 900 AD than it is for me to read a text in English such as Beowulf or Canterbury Tales in its original form, which is extremely difficult. Actually you really have to learn Old English in order to be able to read that. But many of the texts that we study go back a thousand years. They're easy to read. That's how little change there was. 
There are a few other things that come up here. Kongtrul in writing his commentary on The Seven Points of Mind Training often copied almost verbatim what Chekawa had said in the 12th century, and without any attribution or acknowledgement. Today that would be regarded as plagiarism. It gets worse than that. Ingrid, my ex-wife, has been engaged in translating an encyclopedia that Kongtrul wrote, and she found that whole sections of the dzogchen teachings were literally word-for-word repetitions of stuff that Longchenpa had written in the 13th, 14th century, like five, 600 years earlier. Again, without any attribution whatsoever. 
So this is an example of the difference between the way that we regard education and training and learning and the way they did. There was no question of plagiarism. The reason was that in traditional cultures one's development as a human being--development of your potential--was based on the emulation of past examples of perfection. So you always looked to the past, say, "How did they do it?", and then you tried to do it that way. Whereas in our culture, our basis for developing our potential is individual exploration and experimentation. And finding out what works for us. So it's constant experimentation going on and it's very much future oriented. 
And the reason I bring this up, and some of you have heard me talk about this before, it is this difference in perspective, looking to the past, looking to the future, that is at the basis of much of the conflict that is experienced in the world today. Significantly between modernist and fundamentalist approaches. Fundamentalists primarily look to the past. Modernists look to the future. And these are very, very different perspectives and to some extent, irreconcilable. 
So if somebody had said it well before, you didn't try to say it any better. You just took what they said. They'd said it well. That's it! But if we write something and it's well written and somebody takes it and just puts it in their book then we file a lawsuit thing, "You copied us." And we don't usually take it as a compliment. We take it as theft. So we're going to find that again and again as we go through this. This is very much building on what people in earlier times had done.

Note:  I found this passage on education, learning and teaching very powerful. With so little change for such a long period of time, it's not surprising that the recycling of old materials and methods by Tibetan teachers was both common and effective. The other side of the coin is the importance of translating Buddhist teachings so that they become accessible and can be practiced in our modern context, which is so very far removed from the culture where Siddhartha Gautama taught and where Buddhism subsequently developed.

Interestingly, the Buddha lived and taught during the Axial Age, a concept coined by the German philosopher, Karl Jaspers. Jaspers claimed that the spiritual foundations of society were laid simultaneously and independently by individuals who lived during this time, including Plato and Socrates in Greece, Mahavira and Siddhartha Gautama in India, Lao Tzu and Confucious in China and Zarathustra in Persia. Karen Armstrong paints the Axial age as one of profound and rapid change and as the early stage of the evolution of a different type of society. She suggests that we are experiencing another Axial Age today.



Five Mysteries

From the Warrior's Solution retreat, which is about how to live in power without being controlled by it.

Below are the definitions of the five mysteries examined in the retreat:
  1. Power
  2. Balance
  3. Presence
  4. Truth
  5. Freedom
Definitions of five mysteries (from WS01: Warrior's Solution (retreat) (revised) 00:10:29.00 - 00:17:18.00)

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Power is the ability to be present in intentional action.

Balance is the union of knowing, being, and acting at the point at which experience arises.

Presence: being in the full experience of what is arising: internal, external, and awareness.

The definition of truth is what is.

Freedom is the ongoing release of constraints (or being nothing as experience arises).



Negativity (from 37P 03: 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva 00:34:08.00 - 00:39:49.00)

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Give up bad friends.

One could look at this very literally which Thogme Zongpo undoubtedly means. But in the way that we were talking last time one can also look at it as, "What do you do with negativity in your experience?" And here there are three ways of working with it. And which way you use depends on your ability with respect to that particular experience of negativity.

If you have sufficient capacity in attention, you can experience the negativity and not lose attention. And when that happens, what is negative opens up and releases, and the energy locked in it becomes available to you in your practice.

And you can actually experience that with people. If you are present with them, not reacting, their negativity can release and a very different kind of relationship and different possibilities can open up in them. I know that many of you have experienced that kind of thing, either being with someone who had that transforming effect on you or you had that transforming effect on them. So that's where you can actually drink the negativity and it enriches you, which is vajrayana level practice.

If you don't have a sufficient capacity to do that, then trying to do that is actually counterproductive. So then you use...you make the enemy into a friend, an ally. Which is analagous...you're going to have this fight and you meet this person and you say, "Why don't we go down to the pub and have a drink?" And you end up buddies so you change them. The principle practice that you have for that is taking and sending. And in any experience of negativity there is a sense of separation and alienation and in taking and sending you actually bridge that.

But if you don't have the capacity to form a relationship that way, and I was actually working on an area in my own practice and discovered this quite hard area I don't have any relationship with. My work's cut out for the next few months. Oh, it looks like fun ahead.

If you don't have the capacity to form a relationship with it, then it's actually best to limit contact. Because you can't experience it without getting lost in it. It's not where you want to end up. It's a practical thing to do in the short term.

Now, look at these not as absolute injunctions but pragmatic advice. These are not the ten commandments, which is God's word engraved in stone. They've been trying to engrave it in stone and it's on all the courthouses all over. These are instructions. These are practices, which doesn't mean you get to do whatever you want. But how do you use them?

Well, if you hang out with certain people and you get distracted. They want to stay up late and drink and have a good time. And there's nothing wrong with that, it's just that it weakens your intention in your life. That's all. So look at this in pragmatic terms. Is that a useful response?



A gem from Then and Now, session 36:

Buddhahood (from TAN36: Then and Now (class) 01:02:31.00 - 01:04:31.40)

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Knowing things as they are and knowing things as they appear is possible when we can rest in knowing without the projection of thought or emotion, which is a different way of describing those two distortions. The distortion of conceptual knowing is the projection of thought. And the distortion of emotional reactions is the projection of emotion. So we can say that what buddhahood is, is to know things without projection of thought or emotion.

Now, just take that in for a moment. What would that actually be like? And the first thing that often arises is--we can’t imagine this. Because we are so conditioned to thought and emotion. But if we stay with it a little bit longer than that, we can see that it's going to be a clarity and a precision and an immediacy in that kind of knowing which are almost unimaginable. And there is going to be no possibility of editing, there’s going to be no operation of preference or prejudice. And there’s actually not going to be any sense of separation between subject and object. There will just be experience itself. Experience and awareness arising together. Do you follow?

We can come to see how things are through our own efforts

More inspiration from class 36, Then and Now!

The Joyful One (from TAN36: Then and Now (class) 00:08:33.06 - 00:11:21.05)

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The first stage of bodhisattvahood arises at the path of seeing, if you remember that from the five paths, last time. And this refers to seeing the nature of experience--which is of course emptiness--and knowing that to be how things are.

In a lot of respects, this is where practice actually begins. Which may sound completely deflating because--I mean, "I have to get that far before I’ve even got to the beginning?" And in my opinion it’s very questionable, or it's a very interesting question to consider: what does this actually refer to in terms of our own experience?

These descriptions make it sound very lofty, as do the descriptions of the five paths, where in order to attain this you have to have twenty-four hour stable samadhi or stable attention. Which seems pretty far out there. Not too many human beings ever get to that stage. So, are we relegated to sitting--being like the person who is just looking in the window and seeing all of these wonderful things that we can never know? Or is there something else going on here, where we can actually relate to this?

And my own view which is not, probably, not a traditional view, is that this is very attainable. That is, we can come to see how things are through, through our own efforts. And when we do that, everything changes; we can’t go back to our ordinary way of living. And often a tremendous joy that comes with this, because now that we know that whatever state of mind arises, whether it’s peace or disturbance, it is simply a state of mind. It has no ground, it's not a thing in itself. And so we know the freedom in everything that we experience. And that’s why it is called The Joyful One

The full audiofile of this class and the other classes in this series can be accessed HERE.


The ten bodhisattva stages

In the Then and Now class, consisting of 37 sessions, Ken makes the classic Tibetan text, Jewel Ornament of Liberation, accessible while also revealing how such texts can be approached by modern readers. I found this clip from TAN36 inspiring.

The ten bodhisattva stages (from TAN36: Then and Now (class) 00:22:31.00 - 00:25:02.05)

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The ten stages are--I think we covered this a little bit last time--the ten stages mark the degree to which the experience of the totality of experience, or the experience of pure being, is present in one’s experience all the time. When a first level bodhisattva is resting in emptiness--he or she is supposedly having the same experience as you’d have when you're Buddha, when you're fully awakened.

But the difference is, when you get up from that meditation, how much is that experience or understanding actually present in your interaction in life? We all know there's quite a difference there.

The technical terms in Tibetan are composure and subsequent understanding or subsequent attainment. Composure is when you're sitting in meditation--that is when attention is unmixed with activity--you know how things are: completely groundless, things arise like dreams, like illusions. You get up from that and at the beginning, that's not too present in your life. By the time you reach full buddhahood, there's no difference between when you're meditating--or when you're sitting unmixed with activity--and when you're doing things.

So what the ten stages of a bodhisattva describe is the extent to which you're are able to mix, to be active and doing things and still have that quality of completely present, awake attention.

And in this sense it's not so much like climbing stairs--it’s actually gradual growth of an ability. I think the better metaphor--rather than looking at it as stages, step one, step two, step three, where that would be the natural question; can you skip steps--is as a process of something growing. And when something grows, it’s a process of evolution. There's no possibility of skipping steps. You're growing gradually in abilities and these things unfold.


Stop Smoking

Stop Smoking (from 37P 02: 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva 00:42:02.00 - 00:42:28.00)

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Ken: Well, this is the Mark Twain theory of quitting cigarette smoking, isn't it?

Student: Yes, it's always sweeter when it's the last cigarette?

Ken: No. "Ask me about quitting cigarette smoking, I'm an expert. I've done it at least 50 times."

You only have to leave it once. Don't go back. Stop doing that.


Hurt and Harm

Hurt - Harm (from FI 01: The Four Immeasurables 00:29:36.00 - 00:32:00.00)

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This is probably a little more arbitrary distinction, but I also like to distinguish between hurt and harm. Hurt occurs in relationships whenever two people interact in a way that doesn't fulfil the expectations or wishes or hopes or aspirations of the other person. They're hurt. Harm is when they're damaged in some way. So in this world of interaction, it's probably, I won't say absolutely, but it's probably difficult to avoid hurting people from time to time. But I think we take as something very fundamental in our practice to live our lives in such a way that we don't actually harm people. Because when we harm people, what we're actually doing, or one way of thinking about what we're doing, is that we are affecting them in such a way that we're increasing their reactive tendencies and so increasing their suffering. You follow?

Okay. So, out of this very brief discussion we come to this point. We're here to end suffering or we're here to learn how to interact without harming people.


The Greatest Fool

The Greatest Fool (from TAN11: Then and Now (class) 00:04:05.10 - 00:05:45.10)

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Ken: There's an old story from medieval Europe of a king being entertained by his court jester. And after a particularly entertaining session, he throws his court jester a bag of gold and says, “You are the greatest fool in the world.”

And the court jester says, “Ah your majesty, there is one who is a greater fool than me.” Or "than I," if you want to be fussy about the English.

The King looks at him and says, “There is? Well! You’ll have to show him to me sometime.”

The jester says, “Now is not the time, sire, but I will do so.”

Many years pass and the king is taken ill and eventually it's clear that he is going to die. And the Jester appears by his bedside and says, “Remember, sire, you asked me to show you a greater fool than me?”

And the king goes, “Oh, yeah.”

“Well, sire, you've always known you were going to die, now you're dying, and you have done absolutely nothing to prepare for this. What greater fool is there than that?”

This is the kind of thing that you can get away with if you are the king’s jester. Not to be recommended otherwise.


Everything grows in its own way

Everything grows in its own way (from TAN22: Then and Now (class) 00:57:37.20 - 01:0:45.20)

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What makes bodhicitta--awakening mind--so wonderful is that when it actually becomes our intention in life, then as we were discussing a couple of weeks ago, there is an inexhaustible fountain or font, of goodness that comes from that. And an inexhaustible energy that comes from it. But, yes, one encounters many difficulties in the way but it gives you a way of meeting all of those difficulties.

This isn’t everybody’s spiritual path. What's very important--this came out of a conversation I was having today--we have to be very, very careful with the Tibetan tradition because it sets out a path so clearly. And we can say, "Okay this is the path," and many of us feel a connection with it and want to follow it. But one of the things I've come to appreciate about teaching is no system actually works. Sooner or later, if you're in a teaching position, you're going to have to adapt whatever process or procedure you have for teaching, to the needs of an individual because everybody's different. If you're teaching something that's relatively straightforward for a short period of time you may be able to get everybody through just a, b, c. But teaching and learning are primarily about growing, not being processed. And everything grows in its own way. You plant two seeds of exactly the same plant, like say a tree, and they will branch in different places. You can't get them to branch in the same way. One will branch and the branch will go to the right and one will go to the left or straight ahead, or something like that.

So I've come to the conclusion that if you have a system, you can only use it for a certain period of time with people and how long you can use it is going to vary on those particular people. For some they can follow that system for a longer period of time, for others for a shorter. But at some point, they're going to have to make it their own and figure out their own relationship with it.


How the "steps" of the five-step mindfulness practice evolve

Ken has encouraged me to use the five-step mindfulness practice in conjunction with the primary or central practice, and this has been very helpful, particularly when strong resistance, aversion and anger arise in daily life. Recently I've been listening to the audiofiles from A Trackless Path II  and found this advice from Ken to a student who asked about whether it was important to do all the steps sequentially.....

Evolution of 5 Step Practice (from ATPII02: A Trackless Path II (retreat) 00:01:05.00 - 00:07:35.60) (download into iTunes)

It's called five-step mindfulness practice and there may be a better word in English rather than step because step is the idea that I take one step and then another step, or climbing a set of stairs, and you deliberately move from one to two to three to four and five. This practice doesn't really work that way. The steps evolve out of each other. So the first step is: "Breathing in, I experience this reaction; breathing out, I experience this reaction," or pain or difficulty or problem. And as you do that you naturally evolve into the second step which is: "Breathing in, I experience my reactions to this problem; breathing out, I experience my reactions to this problem." And those reactions are, at the physical level, how the body's reacting; at the emotional level, all the emotions that are coming up and at the cognitive or mental level, all the stories and associations and memories and distractions that come up. And you just experience those.

And what's happening there is one is moving into a fuller and fuller experience of the problem, the reaction, whatever. And in that you find yourself just experiencing all of that. And now rather than reacting to all of that you're just experiencing it, which is actually the start of the third step, which is: "Breathing in, I experience calm in the reaction," or in the problem. And that's something that evolves out of opening to the experience of the problem itself and all the reactions to it. You follow? So you may find yourself naturally moving into step three without actually deciding to.

Now when you hit step three and particularly step four, as you rest in all of that stuff, okay, "Breathing in I experience calm in this reaction; breathing out I experience calm in that reaction. " That calm gradually evolves into ease or relaxation. So now you're sitting with this problem and you're actually relaxed. And as soon as we start to relax, then attention opens up and we experience the problem more deeply. And often that puts us right back into step one again. But now we're operating at a different level. And it continues to cycle around this way. And can, over decades actually. [laughing] Maybe none of you are as screwed up as me, but it really can be like that because you are actually able to experience something progressively deeper.

And all of this time you think, "It's just a mess," but that's the subjective experience that it's a mess. What is actually happening is one is experiencing more and more completely what's really going on in you. And the more we're able to experience the less we have to react. So though we may feel like it's a total mess inside. Other people may think, "How can you be so calm?" Because we're dealing with all the reactions inside rather than spewing them out into the world. You follow?

And through this then step five isn't something you decide. "Oh, I understand this now," or "I'm going to understand this now. It's something that evolves out of being in that experience and what happens is that you find the clarity in the experience and the understanding of the experience, of the reaction, of the problem, arises spontaneously out of the calmness and clarity. And you realize, "Oh, I was looking at it this way, but now I see it this way." And one's whole relationship with it will have shifted. But none of the steps are something that you decide: "Oh, I'm going to do this now. I'm going to do this now. I'm going to do this now." It's not those kinds of steps. You just start off just breathing in, experiencing it, and then you become aware of the physical reactions, become aware of the emotional reactions, you become aware of the cognitive reactions.

Where people get tripped up a lot is that as they sit with the problem their level of attention is often swept away by the stories that come up. And so they start spinning the stories, but once you start spinning the stories you're no longer experiencing the reaction or the problem. You're in the world of the stories. And this is why I consistently emphasize coming to the body. And becoming clear about the physical reactions that are arising, because that grounds you in your present experience and you don't spin off in the stories. When you're able to stay in the body and the emotions then you can experience the stories as stories and not get distracted by them. They're just stuff that is flying around all over the place.


Anything, Not Everything

Any Not Everything (from SUS05: Sutra Session (questions) 00:50:56.00 - 00:54:51.80)

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We can do anything we want in our lives, we just can't do everything. So, part of being really clear about your intention here, is being clear about what you can do and what you can't do. And that way you stop taking on too much.


Five Dakinis

We've clipped six guided meditations from the Five Elements | Five Dakinis retreat podcasts. This the sixth and final meditation of the series:

Five Dakinis Meditation (from FEFD07: Five Elements | Five Dakinis (retreat) 00:31:40.00 - 00:55:05.00)

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Access the other dakini meditations: Earth | Water | Fire | Air | Void | Final


Void Dakini

We've clipped six guided meditations from the Five Elements | Five Dakinis retreat podcasts. The fifth is the void dakini meditation:

Void Dakini Meditation (from FEFD06: Five Elements | Five Dakinis (retreat) 00:49:22.63 - 00:58:40.00)

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Void is about space, the sky, the still point of the turning world, the space which allows things to move, take form, come into being. Too strong and it's the end of the world, earthquakes, tidal waves, volcanoes and hurricanes, one on top of the other. Too weak and it's like death, the dissolution of any form of being, dull, blank, nothing. In reaction, it manifests as confusion and bewilderment. In response, it is presence, the indescribable experience of things just being what they are.

Access the other dakini meditations: Earth | Water | Fire | Air | Void | Final


Air Dakini

We've clipped six guided meditations from the Five Elements | Five Dakinis retreat podcasts. The  fourth is the air dakini meditation:

Air Dakini Meditation (from FEFD05: Five Elements | Five Dakinis (retreat) 00:30:02.20 - 00:41:50.00)

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Air is about activity, movement, ideas, and strategies. Too strong and it becomes movement for movement's sake, tearing things apart in a whirlwind. Too weak, and it becomes lack of movement, disconnection, loss of identity, loss of meaning. In reaction, it's all over the place, movement without connection. In response, it is effective action, just what is needed.
Access the other dakini meditations: Earth | Water | Fire | Air | Void | Final


Fire Dakini

Photo by Clemens Lee

We've clipped six guided meditations from the Five Elements | Five Dakinis retreat podcasts. The third is the fire dakini meditation:

Fire Dakini Meditation (from FEFD04: Five Elements | Five Dakinis (retreat) 00:27:55.00 - 00:43:00.00)

(download into iTunes)
Fire is about heat, warmth, light, passion, and knowing. Too strong and it burns, consuming everything it touches. Too weak, and nothing happens, and all is desolate. In reaction, it turns everything to ash. In response, it warms, motivates, provides the energy for things to happen.
Access the other dakini meditations: Earth | Water | Fire | Air | Void | Final


Water Dakini

We've clipped six guided meditations from the Five Elements | Five Dakinis retreat podcasts. The second is the water dakini meditation:

Water Dakini Meditation (from FEFD03: Five Elements | Five Dakinis (retreat) 00:13:50.00 - 00:27:52.00)

(download into iTunes)
Water is about flow, fluidity, emotions, adapting. Too strong and it feels like a threat, a wave or current that will carry you away. Too weak, and there is no sense of connection or flow: things are frozen. In reaction, water is evasive, wishy-washy, difficult to pin down. In response, water is clear and transparent.
Access the other dakini meditations: Earth | Water | Fire | Air | Void | Final


Earth Dakini

Photo by Carolyn Bremer

We've clipped six guided meditations from the Five Elements | Five Dakinis retreat podcasts. The first is the earth dakini meditation:

Earth Dakini Meditation (from FEFD02: Five Elements / Five Dakinis (retreat) 00:47:00.00 - 01:00:10.00)

(download into iTunes)
Earth is shape, form, substance, support, and structure. Too strong and it leads to rigidity, which imprisons. Too weak and it leads to instability or lack of substance, and things never take shape. In reaction, rigidity is often a cover for uncertainty. In response, earth is nurturing, supportive, and free from judgement.
Access the other dakini meditations: Earth | Water | Fire | Air | Void | Final


Mind like the sky

The final part of a three-part guided meditation: Body like a mountain, breath like the sea, mind like the sky...

Mind like the sky (from MSS: Mountain, Sea, Sky 0:56:58.40 - 1:10:10.60)

(download into iTunes)

[Bell 4x]


Body like a mountain, breath like the sea, mind (or heart) like the sky. Let the experience of each arise, and rest in the experience. We aren't moving from one to another, but resting in all of them together. Body like a mountain.

Breath like the sea.

Mind like the sky.


Don't be concerned with thoughts, memories, stories. Rest in the expanse of the sky itself, letting whatever comes take care of itself. You are not even observing it, you just rest in the expanse of the sky itself. And the clouds, and the planes and the birds, they do their thing. You are the sky.

Body like a mountain. You are the mountain.

Breath like the sea. You are the sea.

Mind like the sky. You are the sky.

And just rest there.


When you fall into sleepiness, or distraction and you recognize it, just relax and start again. Don't try to hold onto anything. Just let everything go, and start again. Body like a mountain. No effort. Breath like the sea. Infinitely deep motion, that just goes on and on. And mind like the sky. You can experience everything. Because you are the sky.


Sometimes your attention will go to the body, when it does, and you notice it, first expand so that it's your whole body, and then include the breath, and then include the mind, which is like the sky. Sometimes your attention will go to the breath. When it does, and you recognize it, include the sensations of the body. Body like a mountain, and mind like the sky. Sometimes your attention will go to the sky, and when it does and you recognize it, then include the body. Like a mountain, and the breath, like the sea. And then rest.


Now there are lots of parts of us that are not used to relating to the world, to life this way. They have a few things to say about it. You can let them talk, and their movement in the sky, they are ripples on the wave. They are trees and bushes on the mountain. They're there, but you don't actually have to do anything about them. You can continue to be the mountain, the sea and the sky.

At first we can only do this for very short periods, and that's fine. Something pulls us away, and so we come back, that's why we call it practice. It's not failure, we're learning. Body like a mountain, breath like the sea, mind like the sky.


[Bell 3x]
Note: Thanks to Tracy Ormond for the transcribing.

Breath like the sea

This is the second part of a three-part guided meditation: Body like a mountain, breath like the sea, mind like the sky.

Breath like the sea (from MSS: Mountain, Sea, Sky 0:28:10.10 - 0:38:04.40)

(download into iTunes)

[Bell 3x]


So as you sit, just let your body breathe, let the motion of the body, breathing, be like the waves in the sea. They come and go, on their own, no control on your part, and if anything, it’s just like you're riding the wave. While your body sits, making no effort at all, like a mountain.


Body like a mountain, breath like the sea.


Feel the waves, rising and falling, on their own.


You may, sometimes feel like you are the wave, rising and falling. You may also feel, sometimes you are the mountain.


If you lose track of the breath, this is practice, that’s fine. There comes that moment of recognition, and then you just come back to: body like a mountain, and the wave of your breath.


The breath comes and goes. Let the breath be like the sea, infinitely deep, and this regular pattern of waves, rising and falling.


As you rest this way, you may notice tensions in your body. Don’t try to relax them. Keep attention on the whole of your body, and include the sensation of tension, in your awareness. You may find that something changes, perhaps not right away. One place that many of us hold tension is in the jaw. So what’s happening in your jaw right now. Another place of course is the shoulders. Have you ever seen a mountain hunch its shoulders?


Let yourself rest in the rising and falling of the waves of your breath.


Body like a mountain, breath like the sea.


Body like a mountain, breath like the sea.

Again, if you fall asleep, or you are distracted, you always come back to yourself, that’s the way we are. As soon as you do, don’t bother beating yourself up, this is just practice, and come back to: body like a mountain, breath like the sea.


[Bell 2x]

Note: Thanks to Tracy Ormond for the transcribing.

Body like a mountain

This is the first part of a three-part guided meditation: Body like a mountain, breath like the sea, mind like the sky.

Body like a mountain (from MSS: Mountain, Sea, Sky 0:13:08.00 - 0:19:30.00)

(download into iTunes)

Body like a mountain. Feel your body, there maybe all kinds of sensations in your body. Maybe some pains, maybe some tensions, maybe feelings of warmth and relaxation. Whatever you experience, be aware of your whole body, and include whatever sensations, comfortable, or uncomfortable, in that awareness of the whole body. So your body just sits, perfectly at ease, like a mountain.


Your body naturally moves with the breath, so don’t try to hold the body still. Let the body move with the breath, however it wants, and you may find, that it becomes still on its own.

I also talked about depth in the body. So feel your body as deeply as you can.


You opening to your body, and your body opening to you.


And if you get distracted, involved in a bunch of thoughts, remember, this is practice. When you become aware of that, relax, and just come back to the sensation of your body, and rest there. So rather than trying to hold yourself still, just return, and be still. You may only be still for a few moments, and that’s fine. This is practice. And whenever you recognize, that you become agitated or distracted, relax, and return.


Don’t try to make things one way or another. A mountain doesn’t care whether the sky is cloudy or clear, whether there’s wind or not. Just whatever is there, experience it. It’s a different way of experiencing life. Not wanting it to be this way or that. Just experiencing it, however it is.


Body like a mountain.



Note: Thanks to Tracy Ormond for the transcribing.

Prone to a little anxiety?

Here's the opening few minutes of a talk in which Ken McLeod shared his favourite meditation practice, a variation on the "back door instructions," Body like a mountain, Breath like the Wind, Mind like the sky.

Bothered by thoughts (from MSS: Mountain, Sea, Sky 00:00:00.00 - 0:04:58.20)

download into iTunes)

The first thing I want to say about meditation is that, there are many different kinds. And I am going to talk this evening, and lead you through a process in the approach to meditation practice, that I personally have found most fruitful. So this is a very prejudiced talk right from the beginning. And I have been exposed to a lot of different meditation practices, in my training, I have probably received training in about 150 to 200, somewhere around there. I have never counted. And one of the things that screwed me up for a very, very long time was the idea of trying to get somewhere. How many of you practice with the idea of trying to get somewhere?

Well there's two or three honest people in the room. We all do, we all come with that. And what I have found, is what we are doing in meditation, is practicing, and I really want to emphasize that word: is practicing a different way of experiencing life. Let me say that again. We're practicing a different way of experiencing life. Now, the reason I want to emphasize the word practice, is because when we are practicing something, we're allowed to fail. We don’t have to do it perfectly, because we are practicing.

How many of you play a musical instrument? Okay, how many of you have practiced scales? Okay. And when you are practicing scales, how upset do you get when you make a mistake. Anybody? It’s not the end of the world, is it? Because you are practicing. You make a mistake, you do it again, and you learn by it. And this is what we're doing in meditation. It isn’t about being perfect, at all. It’s about practicing.

Now, the second piece I want to focus on is a different way of experiencing life. Now: how many of you, when you practice meditation, are bothered by thoughts? Ah, a lot more honest people in the room now, I like that. Okay. There is an eleventh-century teacher in Tibet, who is very famous. His name is Gampopa. And he once said, “I have this student who meditates in the mountains. And he keeps practicing trying to have no thoughts. If he’s stopped trying to get rid of thoughts, he would have been enlightened years ago. But he keeps trying to get rid of all the thoughts.”

And another teacher, this is a contemporary teacher, a person on the East Coast, Gunaratana. He says, “Thoughts are to the mind, what sweat is to the body!” We have thoughts. Thoughts are not the problem. That’s one of the things I want to get across to you. What the problem is, is thinking. Thoughts are like leaves in the wind. Thinking is like chasing the leaves. So there’s a difference. There’s no problem about leaves in the wind. It doesn’t interfere with you walking at all. But if you chase them, then you have a big problem. Because the are going all over the place and you get very confused and disorientated. Which is exactly what happens when we fall into thinking when we meditate. So, thoughts are not the problem, thinking, may be.

So, how do we step out? And that’s the first difference in this different way of relating to the world, different way of experiencing the world. How many of you spend a good bit of your time, thinking? How many of you are prone to a little anxiety? Okay, you spend all your time thinking! Because that’s what anxiety is. It’s thinking about this and thinking about that. So, is there a way of experiencing the world, without thinking? Not getting rid of thoughts necessarily, but just without thinking. That’s what I want to explore with you this evening.
(Thanks to Tracy Ormond for the transcribing)