Releasing Emotional Reactions 5

RER Phase Five (from RER 02: Releasing Emotional Reactions (retreat) 00:39:40.00 - 00:43:16.30)

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The fifth phase happens naturally, one could say, spontaneously, and it happens when you actually join with the feeling. That is, there's no longer any separation, between the knowing and the experience. Or to put it another way, the illusion of being separate from the experience crumbles. And what happens there is that an understanding naturally arises. You understand the feeling. You understand what it is, how it arises, and you can be fully in the experience of the feeling and there is no confusion. So the fifth step is, "Breathing in, I understand this feeling. Breathing out, I understand this feeling."
Now, when that understanding arises, often it will take some cognitive form. You say, "Oh, it's this and this and this. I've had this insight etc." Don't hang onto the insight. When you go to the insight, you actually fall into distraction. It arises, rest in the understanding, not the formulation. The understanding or the knowing is like a quality of knowing there. Rest in that. It will feel, most of the time, like you have no reference. But that knowing is the union of experience. Now you are no longer separate from what you experience.
So this technique uses the breath as a way of coming into the union of knowing in experience. Go through these five steps, or five phrases. Let them unfold naturally. Thich Nhat Hahn uses the image of holding a flower, but the flower hasn't opened, and your attention is like the sun. And just being in the breathing, letting your attention be with this flower, then the flower, in it's own time, opens in the warmth of your attention.


Releasing Emotional Reactions 4

RER Phase Four (from RER 02: Releasing Emotional Reactions (retreat) 00:34:39.40 - 00:39:37.70)

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The fourth phase begins with the discovery that in that calm, we can actually relax. We discover, sometimes to our surprise, a sense of ease. So here's this difficult feeling which we are experiencing. But our experience now has a basis of calmness and we begin to relax into the feeling. And this is the beginning of a very important point in practice. Resting in the experience. By this point in this process we have a pretty full experience of the feeling and everything that's going on in it. And we have discovered the calm and now we begin to rest in the experience, with that sense of ease or relaxation. As Gunaratana says, "When your mind joins with the object of attention, the body and the mind both relax."

So we just do this for a few moments together, but go back to that sense of calm and then just rest in the calm. Letting the feeling and all of the reactions be there. But resting in the calm at the same time. "Breathing in I experience ease in the feeling. Breathing out, I experience ease in the feeling."

Now you may find, that when you start relaxing, you suddenly experience the feeling more completely, and you tense up again. Push it away. So this takes you back to phase one, but now you're working at a deeper level. And the way this particular practice works, there is a constant cycling going through phase one, phase two, sometimes back to phase one, right there. Phase three, phase four, you begin to relax, you experience more of the feeling, and now you are able to bring the feeling closer to you, and everything becomes more vivid, more awake, and so you work again with phase one. So there is a constant cycling back. But each time you cycle back, you are moving into a deeper and deeper experience of the feeling. You are moving closer to the feeling and experience the feeling itself. And that process goes on and on.
Depending on the nature of the feeling, the degree of conditioning, how it's arising, that process can take anywhere from five seconds to five decades. So there's no specific time frame. You may find at certain points, when you begin to relax, that feeling disolves and just seems to vanish and there's something else there. And if that's the case, then you begin working with that. Because you see that the original feeling was actually a layer which is obscuring something else underneath. Now you start working with what's underneath. Either of these ways you are moving deeper and deeper into your own experience.
Clip and transcription by Tracy Ormond.


Releasing Emotional Reactions 3

RER Phase Three (from RER 02: Releasing Emotional Reactions (retreat) 00:31:27.10 - 00:33:23.90)

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Phase three begins with a discovery that even though we're in the presence of a uncomfortable or difficult pain or feeling, we can actually be in that experience and quiet, calm. That is, we can be experiencing the pain and all of the reactions to the pain, and that can all be going on and yet there is a capacity to have a sense of calm in all of that. So the third phase is, "Breathing in I experience calm with this pain. Breathing out I experience calm with this pain."

Now, I'm doing this, taking you through this, you may or may not be there with your particular pain, but the possibility is there. And if you have it at an appropriate distance from you, and just working with the right fraction of it, then you can experience "Oh, yes, I can experience this and be calm. I don't have to be fighting against it." So let's just do this for a minute. "Breathing in I experience calm with the feeling. Breathing out I experience calm with the feeling."
Clip and transcription by Tracy Ormond.


Releasing Emotional Reactions 2

RER Phase Two (from RER 02: Releasing Emotional Reactions (retreat) 00:26:13.80 - 00:30:22.70)

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Now as you do that, phase two starts almost immediately.

In phase two, we become aware of our reactions to that pain. Basically there are three kinds of reactions that arise. There are reactions in the body, in some cases we may flinch or tense against the pain. A defensive posture or something. Or maybe there's a feeling of nausea or discomforts in parts of our body. But there are actually physical reactions to the pain or the feeling. And secondly, there are emotional reactions, with the pain or the feeling. When you start holding it, you may feel some fear or some anxiety. Or maybe there's some anger or sadness. Maybe jealousy comes in, or grief, or wanting. There are all of these different possibilities, and those are the emotional reactions. And then there are the stories and associations: "Oh this is always happening to me. I always get into this kind of mess" or "This has never happened to me before. I don't understand how this has possibly happened." Or "This is all my fault" or "This is terrible what people did to me, how could they treat me like that!" There are all of these different stories. So the second phase is "Breathing in I experience the reactions to the pain, breathing out, I experience the reactions to the pain."

And start with the physical, and when you can be in the physical reactions, then include the emotional. And when you can be in the physical and the emotional, then include stories and associations and the cognitive reactions. And as you do this you'll find yourself moving into the full experience of the pain or feeling itself.

So phase two builds on phase one and actually enriches it. So let's do that for a minute together. "Breathing in I feel the reactions to the pain, breathing out I feel the reactions to the pain." And just as you hold the initial pain or feeling, tenderly, so also hold all of the reactions, the reactions in the body, the emotional reactions and the stories, tenderly in attention. Don't try to make them one way or the other, don't try to get rid of the physical discomforts. Just hold them tenderly in attention and let them be experienced.
Clip and transcription by Tracy Ormond.


Releasing Emotional Reactions 1

This clip was selected and transcribed by Tracy Ormond!

This is the first step of a Five-Step Mindfulness Practice.

RER Phase One (from RER 02: Releasing Emotional Reactions (retreat) 00:22:49.60 - 00:26:00.10)

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So the first phase is, "Breathing in I experience this," and I am going to use the word feeling, but it could be emotion, it could be pain, it could be problems, and you just fill in the blank. So let's just do that.
You take this and you say, "Breathing in I feel this pain." Breathe in. "Breathing out I feel this pain." With each breath, "Breathing in I feel this pain, breathing out I feel this pain."

Now, in the beginning, depending what you have chosen, that may be a bit like a hot potato. So there are two methods I've found that can at least get us in touch with it to some extend. The first is: "Okay, that's too hot, too difficult, too much for my capacity of attention at this point." So experience one tenth of it, or one hundredth, or one thousandth. And that approach works for some people. For other people, they find it more helpful to think, "Well that's too close, if I put it on the other side of the room, well, maybe on the other side of town." So it's a safe distance away, but still in one's awareness.
So the first step is just to bring it into awareness, either a small piece of it or at a proximity that you can handle. And that's for you to determine in your own practice. So set it up that way, whatever is appropriate for you, we go back to phase one. "Breathing in, I experience this pain, breathing out..." and imagine holding the pain tenderly in your attention. Which means that you're not going to do anything to it. And you're not trying to get anything from it. You're just holding it, and you are holding it very, very gently.

Some background info--the following is a comment made by Ken in response to a question asked by Michael, who was working on translating this practice into German:
"The crucial point is in Michael's last comment: 'To use these meditation instructions it is not necessary to feel pain. It can be an emotion or a problem which may be experienced as a kind of imbalance for example, rather than pain. And even an imbalance can make patterns run.'

This meditation is for working with reactions, those seemingly automatic processes that just run and throw us into confusion and lead us to do things we wouldn't do if we were clearer and more responsive. Reactions can be blissful or painful, though usually the latter. Think of falling in love (a blissful reaction, frequently) or the anger that arises when love is not returned.

The aim is to experience what is arising as completely as possible. In English, to give an idea of the range of experiences, I use "reaction, pain, problem, issue, difficulty, etc.". Basically, it covers anything that we can't experience for any reason."
In teaching people, I give them this meditation whenever people are encountering something that prevents them from resting. If one can rest, then one rests and lets the resting deepen on its own. When one encounters something difficult, then more specific effort and attention, as in this practice, can help.



This is an important one, for the basics. Not only does it go in detail into how to sit and breathe, but it has actually three different methods (including the one focusing on the breath). So you can alternate or choose what is easiest for you, or bring some variety into the game (and it is also interesting to compare and experience how they work differently (or not) and what kind of result they each yield). If you are interested in any of this, but it still seems to be too difficult at first, you might actually begin with this even more basic method.

Resting (from MAH01: Mahamudra 01:12:35.00 - 01:33:21.00) (download into iTunes)

On a personal note, I have always found meditation practice extremely difficult. And, Kalu Rinpoche, my teacher, always encouraged us to go right to the heart of the matter. He was not interested in getting lost in some of the complexities of meditation practice, or different kinds of meditation practice. He always just went straight for the heart, straight for the essence.

But, I wasn't able to do that. And part of me really wanted to meditate resting on the breath. Whenever I asked Rinpoche, if I could just meditate resting on the breath. He would always say to me: There is no breath in the bardo. There is no breath after you die. So why are you waisting your time? And he was quite right.

But, in all honesty, it wasn't the most helpful thing to me. Because I did not have the capacity. So I meditated on the breath anyway. Felt terribly guilty in doing so. Because it was all I could do. I had my own difficulties. It was all I could do.

So, do what you actually can do.

Pith instructions:
Don't pursue the past,
don't entertain the future,
dont think about the present,
just rest.
Body like a mountain,
breath like the wind,
mind like the sky.


Practice Daily

Practice Daily (from TAN01: Then and Now (class) 00:06:34.90 - 00:07:31.10)

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Practice is basically your responsibility. I suggest that you practice at least half an hour a day. Better, 40 minutes to an hour, but half an hour is really the minimum. Whatever form your practice takes, it is going to help you very significantly in absorbing and being able to make use of the material because it is through practice that we get a somewhat quiet mind, and the quiet mind is one which understands things... becomes naturally clear, and that clear, quiet mind naturally understands things much more than the busy intellectual, thinking mind. In some ways it’s a different kind of understanding, an understanding that a lot of people in this culture are not used to; but it’s a far stronger, far deeper, far more vibrant understanding.
Note: Please compare this with later comments by Ken on developing Basic Skills, in case you are just about to start out and feel a little bit intimidated about the half an hour plus "requirement":-).


Confusion - Dreaming

In the morning there's the occasional, "Oh thank God (or Buddha?)! It was just a dream, relax." Or sometimes, "Oh how unfortunate, it was just a dream."

Then there's the situation, where you want someone to pinch you and tell you it is just a dream, but no, it doesn't happen - it seems to be really real. Damn it. Can't believe it. And on rare occasions you wonder if this is really happeneing to you right now. Normally things like this just happen in a dream (or a movie, or to other people), but it's real, isn't it? Cool:).

One night last week I had two dreams. In the morning I thought, well, that was a weird one. Then when I came around a corner in the office to my desk I saw someone (from the dream) and realized, "Oh, that other thing was just a dream too." Had just immediately forgotten the second one in the morning was a dream and must have filed it straight and wrongly in memory under real.


Confusion - Dreaming (TAN01) (from TAN01: Then and Now (class) 00:52:28.00 - 00:55:35.00)

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How can we understand this confusion? How many of you remember your dreams? Okay, in a dream does everything appear real?

Students: Yeah.

It may be somewhat more fluid than it is right now, but while you’re dreaming it appears real. One of the great teachers of the 19th century had a dream in which he was being chased by a lion. And he ran into a temple where one of the ancient heads of that tradition was sitting on a throne laughing his head off. He said to this guy, “You can’t be any great lama if you don’t even know that you’re being chased by a lion in a dream and you’re this frightened.” And then he woke up from the dream. But during the dream it feels very real.

How do you know you aren’t dreaming right now? This actually is a deep philosophical question. There is no way to know. How do we know we aren’t a dream in the mind of God? We don’t know. There is no way of telling. That may be a little disturbing to you, but there is no way of telling.

When I was in the three-year retreat, this was made very, very clear to us, because the retreat schedule is pretty demanding, and basically you’re functioning on four or five hours of sleep a night, six if you’re lucky.

You’re meant to be resting in your meditation, but you get tired. And several of us experienced this: we’d wake up, and we’d set up the offerings which was part of the morning ritual, and start doing our prayers and things like that. We’re all in our individual rooms.

It would be going quite nicely, and then we’d wake up [laughter], and we’d go, “What?” Because the offerings wouldn’t be done. Several times I had to wake up twice. In the first wake-up I was actually dreaming, but I had no idea that I was dreaming. And then I’d wake up and go “huh?”

So we don’t know. And that’s what this confusion is like. We experience all this stuff. It feels so real, we act as if this is it, but we really don’t know what the hell’s going on, at all. And the only thing we know is that we struggle. There are a couple of other things we know, but I’ll get to those in a minute.


The Six-armed Mahakala: compassion beyond despair

One of the most memorable passages from Ken's many teachings for me is from the class Ken gave called Working with Fear from January 2005. This is where he tells the traditional story of the origin of the Six-armed Mahakala. It begins at around 29 minutes into the podcast.

Ken describes how Avolokiteshvara, the embodiment of awakened compassion, falls into despair at the vastness of the world's suffering. Through the help of Amitahba, he moves through despair into a kind of fierce determination. That's what Mahakala represents.

 The Six-armed Mahakala (from: Asian Tsunami: Working with Fear 00:29:01.50 - 00:35:25.00)

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The story begins with Avalokiteshvara, the embodiment of awakened compassion. Early in his career, he took the bodhisattva vow from Buddha Amitabha, the buddha of boundless light, who is the manifestation of awakened compassion at the Buddha level. Avalokiteshvara promises to work for the welfare of beings without stop, and if he should stop or succumb to despair, May his head will burst into a thousand pieces.

For three immeasurably long eons, he works providing the beings with everything of which he can think. Then he looks and he sees even more beings suffering. He sees reactive emotions are even stronger. He sees they are suffering from poverty. All need help very, very quickly. He can’t understand. Things are worse off than before. He sits and says, "What’s the use?" Then his head bursts into a thousand pieces.

His guru Amitabha shows up and says, “Well, you broke your vow. What are you going to do now?” It’s not recorded how he is able to talk when his head is in pieces. Avalokiteshvara says, “I need to do something.” So Amitabha heals him, and the thousand pieces become a thousand arms each with an eye looking at suffering. This is the origin of thousand armed form of Avalokiteshvara with 13 heads looking in all directions at all times.

Avalokiteshvara is not content, because he’s seen the vastness of the world’s suffering. In contemplating that, a blue black hung takes form in his heart. The syllable hung is a symbol of the five pristine awarenesses. The blue-black hung manifests as the Six-armed Mahakala. So the Six-armed Mahakala manifestation compassion -- compassion that is beyond despair.

If you look at the story, it’s about when you begin to touch into compassion. As you begin to help people, you see more and more how much suffering there is and how difficult it is to really help. The suffering’s far more pervasive than you thought. Avalokiteshvara had the impression it was worse than before, but really it is that you see more and more deeply. When you open to that, really open to that, we find in ourselves the blue-black hung -- that natural knowing that in some takes the form of quiet determination. One might say fierce determination that brooks no obstacle. Nothing stops it from doing what needs to be done. It has a clarity that cuts right through through all the red tape of bureaucracy, the inhibitions of individuals, the cultural conditioning that teaches us to ignore certain suffering as not counting. That’s what the Six-Armed Mahakala represents.


Everything Is Workable

Very first quote and clip since the official release of the Then and Now series.

And it contains a message that stayed with me since I read it the first time a year ago and sometimes there is a situation where it seems there is not much more possible than to think "everything is workable", but you wonder how and what, I mean, it can't simply work by redefining "my" problem, but then indeed somehow something opens up, a new way or at least a new perspective. And sometimes things work out even remarkably well.

And yes, sometimes "things have just flowed extremely easily".

Everything is Workable (from TAN01: Then and Now (class) 00:41:25.20 - 00:45:24.00)

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So whenever you find yourself struggling in life you are experiencing what Gampopa is referring to as samsara. Okay. And I really want to underline this. A lot of people think of samsara as life in the city and of nirvana as life in nature. This is... No. Wherever you’re struggling, that’s samsara.

By contrast, how many of you have experienced situations, interactions with a friend or others, where things have just flown extremely — flowed not flown — extremely easily? There’s absolutely no sense of struggle. You don’t feel... it goes so far that you don’t feel separate from things. You don’t have a really strong sense of “I.” You’re just there. Anybody have this kind of experience? Okay, I want to suggest that is what they are talking about when they say nirvana.

Okay. So we have these two contrasting things: one is struggle; the other is this flow, or peace, or no sense of separation, openness, I mean there are all kinds of words we can come with it.

The rest of this is: how does this come about? So he’s asking, “Who is it that is confused in samsara?” And his answer is, “All sentient beings of the three realms are confused.” Now again, what’s the question here? In a certain sense it’s like, “What am I?”

I experience struggle. I experience confusion. Where does that come from? Why do I have to deal with it? And he gives all of these answers, which are very good answers, but they’re a little removed from our own experience.

’Cause he says, “Where does the confusion come from?” His answer: “Confusion comes from emptiness.” Now how helpful is that as an answer? [laughter] You’re laughing, I mean, is it helpful? I want to suggest that it’s extremely helpful.

Because when he says the confusion comes from emptiness, he’s saying in effect, it isn’t something that is fixed. It doesn’t... you know how that sense of struggle can seem solid, like it’s carved in stone, like there’s no possibility of working with it? Anybody have that sense of things? Okay. So when he says it’s coming from emptiness, he’s says that that way of perceiving things is not true.

One way Trungpa, and I think other teachers have said this, what’s being said here, is that all situations are workable. There isn’t anything we experience which isn’t workable. It may be extremely difficult but everything is workable. That’s quite a profound statement.

Student: Except the IRS.

Ken: Got tax troubles lately, Pat?