Resting - Listening

A feedback loop: a self-referencing system

From Janet Hathaway:

I found Ken's Monsters Under the Bed retreat (especially the first podcast) had excellent advice on meditation. It was extremely helpful for me. If you get a chance, you might enjoy listening to it, as it speaks to all of your questions, in detailed ways.

Meditation (from MUB01: Monsters Under The Bed (retreat) 00:35:07.00 - 00:48:10.00)

(download into iTunes)

Ken: Within what Claudia and George were both saying are two qualities which are extremely important in meditation. And actually in our lives, but we first begin to form a relationship with them, or many of us do, in meditation.

The first quality is resting. Claudia talked about resting in the experience of breathing. We just tried that for a few minutes. And some of you noticed that you barely start resting in the experience of breathing and the horse kicks you off its back. Just like that. What’s your your name?

Cathy: Cathy.

Ken: Cathy. I thought you were one of the Cathys! Yes, you’re the C, right? Ah. Okay.

So, you notice how what you say is your mind—I’m not quite sure what that is, so I may ask for some elaboration on this—but some thing jumps in and starts trying to control the whole process, telling you what to do. “Well, do this. Stand up. Sit down. Lean to the left. Lean to the right. Breathe a little more deeply.” And all of that stuff. How many of you in your meditation practice have this little commentary that goes on the background, “Okay, hey you’re not doing badly right now.” [Laughter]

“Now, just ease up a little bit there—you’re getting a little bit tense. Oh, cool, cool—that’s it! Just—oooh, nice move! Ah, a little dullness here, better sharpen it up. Oh, come on, you got lost in a thought! What kind of an idiot are you?” Anybody else have this?

I suppose that’s what you’re referring to as your mind. Ah, okay. Well, so you start resting in the experience of breathing, and most of us get caught up in thoughts immediately. This is where what George is saying comes in It’s very important.

We may not notice this at this point, but every one of those thoughts is actually a reaction to a physical sensation. People are looking like, “What?” It’s a physical sensation with an emotional charge, and we don’t want to touch it so what we do is we start thinking. This is why I said last night, and George reiterated this this morning, that the most reliable way to cut through the thinking process is to bring your attention to what you are experiencing in the body. And you say “Well, I came here to meditate. I came here to be quiet and peaceful. I didn’t come here to feel all the aches and pains and little stuff, you know, I just want to sit and just have a really quiet mind.” But it doesn’t work that way.

George also talked gave us some very, very useful pointers on sitting. I want to take it step further here. I said there are two important components to meditation. First is resting. The second one now comes in—listening. And this was implicit in what both Claudia and George talked about: You listen. Your body knows how to breathe. Can you listen to your body and let it breathe the way that it knows how? Or do you have some half-ass idea about how it should all be done. And you just go ahead and breathe that way?

You know the most difficult people I find to teach? Yoga teachers. Not all of them. But a good number of them have got so used to controlling their breath that they can’t actually let the body breathe. And it’s fair enough because in Hinduism/Yoga, it’s a different approach. And you learn to generate experiences through working with the body and working with the breath in ways. But they come to Buddhist practice and they sometimes find it very, very difficult because they can’t actually just rest and let the body breathe. It feels like everything’s going out of control.

Now, in that sensation of everything going out of control, there are a whole bunch of physical sensations. And that’s where you start in your practice. Okay, so, I feel like things are out of control, what am I experiencing physically? I feel like I am going to sleep, what am I experiencing physically? I’m feeling angry and upset, what am I experiencing physically? We do this over and over again.

In other words, you listen to the breath. You listen to the body.Your body will tell you how to sit. It will tell you when you are straining too much. It will tell you when you are slumping too much. It will tell you what it can do. It will tell you what it can’t do.

As you sit with the body, then you’ll find all of these different sensations. You listen to them very deeply, you will know how to sit. You listen to your breath and your breath will tell you when it’s out of sync with the body. And you will know, or your body will know, how to breathe. As you listen to all of that, you’ll find that you will know how to rest.

Resting in this way may feel a little different, because as Claudia said in her comments, there isn’t this sense of control that many of us are used to. And so, the moment we start actually resting, our emotional reactions to the lack of control start to arise, and now we just go through the same cycle again. What do I experience in my body?

And so meditation practice in this way of resting and listening is a dynamic process of adjustments in our posture, in our breath, in how we’re placing our attention. But the net result of all of those adjustments is an increasing sense of both rest and balance. That’s what we mean by such terms as shamatha. It’s not a case of just holding everything still. That just produces suppression and that generates other problems.

Rather, when sitting this way, practicing this way, we’re listening to our whole experience and finding a place of balance in it and resting there. Now, as we rest there, the place of balance will naturally shift because of all of the movements that George was describing. And so we find ourselves resting in a constantly moving balance.

Now as time goes on and we gain more experience and understanding, that becomes more and more subtle. So, from the outside, it will look like we’re doing nothing. But inside, we will sense this constant movement out of balance and then the adjustment to move back towards balance. And I’ve said on other occasions, it’s a bit like riding a bicycle. It doesn’t matter how fast you’re going on a bicycle, the bicycle is always moving a little bit from side to side. And you’ll find the same thing in meditation: It’s always moving a little bit. And the moment you try to hold it still, you actually stop the process. But if you just rest in this movement and keep listening and listening, you’ll find that the adjustments become smaller and smaller and you rest more and more completely.

Now, if you’re like most people, you’ll want to rest on something. And I ask you to remember, it’s turtles all the way down! [Laughter]