Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Blink and You Miss It

The inner world may seem quite separate from normal life, but it is interacting and being influenced by it all the time. The question is how much do we know what is going on there.

There is a kind of threshold of attention. Below it most things go unnoticed, unobserved, and therefore, as we perceive it, it doesn't actually appear to happen. Or we dismiss it unconsciously, thinking something like, that’s not really me. But go above the threshold and suddenly it becomes an issue, grabbing all your attention.

There are signals going on all the time, in sensations in the body, in the mind and feelings, as well as outside from others, but which fall below the attention threshold. Either we do not notice them at all, or we phase them out because they are considered to be either too trivial or too much to manage. Or we do notice them, misinterpret them, the mind starts working them over, and we end up in trouble. In any case the result is the same - we go on accumulating those little experiences as memories leaving impressions as samskaras, little time-bombs in the mind.

What is happening in the present moment?

Somebody says something to you which you don't quite like. It creates a subliminal reaction. Do you notice your slight change in posture, the slight change of expression, the one eighth of a degree change inside? That moment - when we usually blink and miss it - is catching it in the present moment. And then being inwardly still, not reacting, remaining the observer. The aim is to catch it then, because it may be quite different from what becomes rationalized a moment later, when the first perception gets dismissed out of hand and trivialises it.

What you find in practice when you observe closely is that while it looks like you're moving in one direction the momentum may actually be moving in a different direction. (That's a bit cryptic but it is concisely accurate.) What also puts people off is that the intensity of experience increases at first - well it will if you pay more attention to it - but that intensity observed by the stillness of awareness takes you to the nucleus and then reveals stuff you had no idea of before. And when revealed, untouched so to speak, it has no further influence.

That all begins with catching it in the present moment. Keep in mind that nothing is trivial to the observer, to the awareness. Everything is seen equally. Because the smallest change is an indicator, the beginning of further changes that we do not yet know of. Miss it and it’s gone. And then everything just seems to remain at the same level of normal perception. And then we may even ask why nothing ever seems to change.

Choose the direction, choose the Intensity

As you go deeper into the inner world and the quieter you can remain, you can actually hunt the stuff down - choose the direction, choose the Intensity - that's called self inquiry. Then even if you do notice it well and become a keen investigator, the mind may still not know well enough how to leave alone. It's a very personal skill. You practice at it, continually, for a long time. It’s all related to the present moment; and there's no judgment there. The observation of the mind in this context is a meditation in itself, the essential one that is often overlooked. 

Trust for an instant in the absolute certainty of consciousness, a force or presence within as real as can be, as the underlying substratum, your true self - ever present, quite still, at peace, and totally untouched and unaffected by anything it observes. Why not? You can at least suppose for a moment. It changes everything. Then you need not mind anything the mind brings to notice, however it may originate. How we see is how we experience. And that’s the way out. Just be patient… and observe... just observe. Watch and wait… watch and wait…

Friday, 11 December 2015

Life's First Impression

Are we a tabula rasa, an empty space, when we come into life? Or are there tendencies and inclinations that come in with us? Either way what is that first impression when the curtain goes up we make our entrance?

In 1979 I was travelling in Sri Lanka taking the first steps on a long search. I ended up staying in a vipassana retreat centre for two weeks. It was very austere. There was total silence and no eye contact with anyone. Male and female were divided, of course; we had a small cell each about 8' x 6'; the bed was just a concrete step, with no mattress or pillow. The day started at 4 o'clock with a hot drink; there were two meals a day, breakfast and lunch, which were completed before midday, then no food until the next morning. 

The whole day was taken up with meditation. The actual practice, to begin with was breath awareness. Just watch the breath, that's all, all the time. Lose breath awareness, when you know you've lost it, return to breath awareness. Repeat. Continue.

There were four scheduled sittings of one-hour each; the rest of the time was either for private meditation in your cell, or walking meditation around the veranda to relieve the body of sitting. The walking was done very slowly, eyes down, with full awareness of movement, and we were not supposed even to look up at the sky or the surrounding countryside.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Meditation and the Beatles

If meditation seems to be the cause of difficulty, it is also the solution

A historical example

I grew up with the Beatles, literally. I was 11 when it started, and 19 when it was all over. They were the sound track of the times, the Sixties. It’s impossible to summarise here the changes that took place, but it has all been well documented. What we are interested in is the shift in consciousness that took place then. Because that was what lead to all the accompanying psychological, social, political and spiritual changes. 

In the West, there was a spiritual vacuum. Christianity was in decline as the all-embracing spiritual guideline it had been until then. And until that time there was no 'Eastern' philosophy, no yoga or meditation, no ashrams. And no understanding of energy, ecology, conservation or karma, etc. All that rushed in to fill the vacuum. Of course that didn’t make everything all right, but it was an optimistic time and change was in the air, so it seemed that way at first. No-one realised yet that it was going to take earnestness, application and consistency to get meaningful results.

The Beatles did not create this change of course. They understood that, even as they knew they were a measure of it. They rode the crest of the wave of the time, reflected it and gave it a voice and a soundtrack. 

The Beatles as spiritual seekers

And, they were spiritual seekers. If it had a basis in a shift of consciousness, they were also in some measure a catalyst for it too. Their music reflected this - and because at first they were beginners, the same as everyone else - they were edging their way toward it and what they were saying was almost universally acceptable… at first…

Then they got serious about it. And they followed their spiritual path in the public eye, and took it seriously enough eventually to find and follow a spiritual master and then go to an ashram in India for a time of sadhana, meditation practice, and retreat. And by all accounts they did a lot of meditation practice for an extended period of time. Anyone who has ever done anything like that - a week, a month or more - will tell you this is not trivial stuff. 

And it divided opinion; it still does. At the time many commentators were in shock over this strange behaviour - the meditation shit and gurus and ashrams. Beatles had lost their marbles. And many later historical commentators still take a similar view in that it was the main blot on their unblemished record as 'artists', their later falling out notwithstanding. 

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Getting Your Priorities Sorted

People often say how do I practice when I have so little time. There is always time for what you really want to do. Just how important is the search for these higher things? Where in your list of priorites, written or unwritten, is it? Above or below the new car?

God made the world in six days. On the seventh day he and the guys were hanging out congratulating themselves on a job well done – they had a sign up: Mission Accomplished! They were reminiscing about some of the cool moves - mountains, rivers, the seas, the oceans. And then, coolest of all, the people - a work of art, in his own image. 

Some way into the proceedings one of the girls looked up at God at the head of the table and said, 'So, what’s it all for?' 'What do you mean, what’s it all for, it’s great,' said God. 'Yeah I know, but I mean, what's the point? Why bother? Everything was stable, in equilibrium when it was unmanifest, so why shake the balance?' God started to think about this and after some time he said, 'Yes, that’s a good point, there has to be a purpose. If there's going to be choice in the world then there has to be something that motivates a good choice from a bad one.' 

So a silence followed while all the guys started thinking what could be the purpose. Well, pretty soon they realised what was needed was a search for something, a trial, a quest - something like the holy grail or the golden fleece - and the prize would be the Ultimate Truth, the meaning of it all. Okay that much was clear. 

Next they began to think where to hide it. Now this exercised them a bit more. There were suggestions like the bottom of the deepest ocean, the top of the highest mountain, the middle of the hottest desert, Antarctica, and so on. But God dismissed all suggestions. 'Too easy,' he said. 'I mean we gave these guys an adventurous spirit and they’ll soon get to all these places. No, it has to be somewhere they’ll never think of.' 

When another longer silence had fallen on the group, one of the older boys, a gnarled old fellow who hadn’t participated much in the general discussion, made his way round to God's side and started speaking in his ear. As he did so God began to smile. 'Yes,' he said, 'I think you got it. I know where to hide it'. The old boy at his side was sniggering away, hardly able to contain himself. 'Okay, I’ll tell them,' God said, 'We’ll hide it in every single heart. They’ll never think of looking for it there. Because, if they do, they’ll think it can't possibly be the real thing if everyone can have a go at it.'

You are pure consciousness

There is absolutely nothing preventing anybody from having a direct experience of the Truth. Of course, as a general principle we may well accept this, but why then is it so difficult? 

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Changing the Inner Dialogue

There was once a wise man. He had been visiting for some time the city of Asyufindit. In his time there he had seen everything and observed it all impartially, but knowingly. One day the wise man left the city. He was a traveller by nature, and by travelling he met many people and learned many things. When he had been going for some time he met a traveller coming in the other direction. They stopped and chatted a while as travellers do. 'Tell me,' the traveller said, 'I have heard many things about Asyufindit'. 'What have you heard?' the wise man asked. 'Oh I’ve heard it’s a wonderful place. That the people are welcoming and friendly, that business is honest, play is joyful and sport is fair.' 

The wise man was watching the other man carefully but discreetly for a few moments. 'Yes that is true,' he said, 'you will enjoy your time there very much. And if you decide to settle there I’m sure you will be very happy.' The traveller was very pleased to hear this and smiled happily. 'Here, let me offer you some food, I’m sure you must be hungry. I was fortunate enough to be given a package of food in the last village.' 'Yes I’m not surprised,' the wise man said somewhat enigmatically. They shared the lunch, and, both well-fed, they said their goodbyes and went their respective ways.

Further on down the road, the next day, the wise man met another traveller coming in the other direction. They stopped and greeted one another. 'Tell me,' the traveller said, 'I have heard many things about Asyufindit'. 'What have you heard?' the wise man asked. 'Well I’ve heard that the people are not very friendly. In fact you can’t trust anyone and you have to take great care, particularly if you do any business, they’ll rob you blind. And as for…' 

And while the traveller was talking the wise man looked him over carefully, and when he had finished speaking, the wise man said, 'Yes what you say is true. You will find the people unfriendly and you will have quite some difficulty in having honest dealings with anyone.' The traveller was actually gratified to hear this, just as he’d heard, he thought, and being forewarned is forearmed too. Just then the wise man said he was hungry and asked if he had a little food he could spare. The traveller said he was afraid he had just enough for himself and could not spare any. The wise man said he understood completely. And so they parted and went their opposite ways. 

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Taking out the Trash - A Way to Forgiveness

For three months earlier this year I was in southern India effectively living in solitude. Meaning that I did not talk to anyone except for the essentials of maintenance. For many days I would hardly see anyone nor speak when I did. It becomes a state of mind eventually. Within that I was practising my meditation every day. I’d practise between maybe two and four hours each day. I did not have a specific routine because I discovered the enormous benefit of solitude. That is the feeling, knowledge, experience of continuity that went on unbroken all the time. So I sat when I felt like it, which was usually three to five times a day.

I might be working on a project from time to time, but in the background, unbroken and undisturbed by the activity, was the awareness of a thread that ran from one meditation sitting to the next. That tended to level out expectation and increase faith in an ongoing process that was looking after itself, if only I did not disturb it. Sometimes I would wait before sitting because I could feel something coalescing and I would have a notion of what direction the next sitting would take and let it take clearer form - because awareness is intelligent, in a different way from my intelligence. Watching for the direction is not the same as expectation, but expectation can be mistaken for awareness. Think about that.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

When the Past is Too Much in the Present

Meditation has always been about self-knowledge, not self improvement. It’s as well to understand this because in the end meditation will come down to self-knowledge, and as the mind opens up that can come as a bit of a surprise if not prepared for it. But paradoxically if meditation is practised with self-knowledge as the purpose, then self-improvement automatically follows. Whereas if self-improvement is pursued for its own sake, that does happen but not so easily or spontaneously. 

It's like if you have to climb a mountain, but to get to the mountain first you have to get over a hill. The hill is no obstacle because the mind is set on the challenge of the mountain. Whereas if the aim is only to climb the hill, the mind has a different attitude. The hill becomes a greater challenge than if it were just something to handle on the way. While being realistic, the higher the goal the greater the personal achievement. And there is no limitation on anyone anywhere being able to discover more about themselves and benefitting immensely from that. 

To know ourselves more deeply, to understand ourselves more fully, we have to turn away for some time from the world out there and find a way into the complete, infinite and mysterious world within. That inner world is with us all the time but we just don’t seem to pay that much attention to it and, even if we want to go there, we may not know how to do it. There are four conditions for successful and satisfying meditation experience: voluntarily detaching from the magnetism of the active outer life for some time; knowing how to turn inward; knowing what to do when you get there; and facing up to it as you begin to discover yourself more and more.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Waves and the Ocean

The Waves are all the activities of life from the tiniest passing thought to catastrophic events. The shit that happens
The Ocean is the Big Picture, what we see in part, in glimpses, or not at all - can't be described, can't be taught. What we don't yet understand. 

There is the ocean. And there are waves on the ocean. If you see only the waves they are as we usually see the events of life. There is randomness and coincidence and an apparent capriciousness in how things happen. We may think about it and take it personally. There are times and places, some to be sought out and some avoided. We dodge and weave to avoid impact and seek out sheltered places. And possibly end up blaming some higher authority for an all-too-human carelessness and capricious nature.

But if you also include the ocean where the waves play on the surface, the waves themselves would look exactly the same but their impact and influence would be perceived differently. The waves do have their significance, but they are limited in perception to place and time. They come, they happen, they go. Storms and calm are a part of the weather cycle to be dealt with, or not; accepted, or not. 

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Deciding to do a meditation course

First of all there is a moment of inspiration, a knowingness that this is what I want to do. This takes place outside of intellect. It’s like a call from within responding to something that it recognises. But because it’s not intellectual, it can easily be missed. So what often happens is that it takes a while actually to consciously recognise that the decision has already been made. It takes time for the mind to catch up. I often think of it as like the persistent youngster running after calling out, Wait for meee… 

What that means in practical terms is that the decision making only becomes finally resolved in the mind when the booking is made because then the mind is committed. Until then, although the decision may have been made long before, a lot of thought may have to follow, seeing it from this way and that. And then sometimes, you decide, well maybe not this time, but one day this is what you intent to do. 

Funnily enough the purpose of meditation is to be able to do just that, to hear and listen to that inner voice, to recognise it and realise it is much wiser than the intellect, which, in spite of our knowing it, the intellect can still dominate our thinking. Sometimes you just have to hear the mind, register its say in the matter, and then do what you know in some deeper place is right for you anyway. It seems counter-intuitive but it’s not. It may even seem too easy.

Some of the matters that turn over in the mind run something like: Can I organise or justify to be able to spend that much time off or away from home? Will I be able to do it or handle it? What will it all be about? Am I just hiding from myself? If the thoughts stay with the first inspiration such things as finding time and organising somehow seem to fall into place. If the mind interferes it gets more problematic. But this can be seen as part of the learning process. The course kind of begins at the moment of inspiration whether we know it or not! 

The only quality that is really needed for any meditation course is the desire to go into the inner world and investigate there, to know yourself better where it matters, regardless of previous experience. (Of course experience does help to affirm the benefits of doing exactly that, but it is not essential). Adjustments can be made so that practice fits and becomes meaningful at every level according to 'ability' and experience. 

There are techniques, of course. But whatever technique, they all have really only one purpose: to make it possible to make an entry into our inner world and feel at home there; to find the connection between that and who I have taken myself to be for all this time; to realise and release the inaccuracies of self identity. Therefore in the end what it will be about is the relationship between me and myself.

The purpose is to identify and develop a certain skill in meditation that is not just effective but actually becomes a revelation when after perhaps many trials, perhaps some errors, we get it right and the light of inner vision comes into focus. Anything worthwhile includes the effort.

As for hiding from myself, well we know that’s not really true. On the contrary all the conditions make it right to come closer to yourself. As well as guidance in actual practice everything is there to support you in your endeavour: a calm and peaceful environment; a guarantee of being undisturbed to focus exclusively on the inner life; having the benefit of continuity of focus so that your practice can take you deeper and further than is ever possible in daily life; and a diet that is appropriate for a quiet mind.

There are inaccuracies within us, every one of us: impressions that have too, too strong an influence; misplaced faith; mistakes of identity. To know oneself is eventually to meet these things face to face on equal terms. Sometimes that is not so easy, but ultimately is so rewarding. This actually is really, as they say, the final frontier - to be an inner adventurer. 

Things speed up considerably if the inclination is, Well let’s just see who we are here. It means knowing that there may be strong or intense experiences to negotiate eventually, and being prepared to handle that on the way to self discovery. Because anything I recognise accurately in myself, that I come to accept, begins to lose its power, loses its hold over me. That makes us strong, in a different kind of way perhaps than the strength we have looked for in other places, but in a way to be at peace with ourselves. 

The light is within, the sun of consciousness is there, only obscured by clouds. All real lasting change for the better comes down to changing in the weather! 

Whatever we decide, whenever we decide, wherever we decide, if we have been true to ourself it should match that first moment of inspiration when the inner voice spoke and we heard and listened. If we follow that, surely it will be so.

For more on handling the release of samskaras, the stored impressions that surface in meditation, please see the previous post in the blog:

Releasing Samskaras

For upcoming courses please refer in the sidebar to: 

Meditation Courses for 2015

Monday, 26 January 2015

Releasing Samskaras - it gets Worse before it gets Better

Samskaras: Impressions from experience stored up in memory. They have energy, and influence character and personality. Although usually considered to be positive or negative, really they are neutral. 

If we observe closely we will notice that the actual moment of recognition of inner change occurs in an instant. It is like the blink of an eye. One moment we are seeing something in the usual way, the next, in a blink, there has been a change, perception has shifted or altered. Of course because it happens so quickly we may miss it, but that’s another matter.

It’s like a bubble rising from the bottom of a deep lake. There may be some time between the moment of release at the bottom and the moment it arrives at the surface, but when it breaks through at the surface it happens in a moment. In the same way what has been 'bubbling under' in the mind for some time breaks through from the unconscious to the surface of the mind in an instant.

Even when something appears to dawn on us gradually, if we could slow down time we would find that this gradual recognition is a series of instant moments one after another that add up to what we later call recognition.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Sleep or Meditation

One mistake we make, probably because we never really think about it, is not knowing who we are or where we go when we are asleep. One third of every day, one third of our lives, is passed in an environment of which we are blissfully unaware, literally - blissful and unaware. So to begin with, a few thoughts on sleep. What happens at the moment of transition from being awake to being asleep? Can you be conscious of that moment? When you dream do you ever know then that you're dreaming? Can you have some say in what happens in dream? What happens when you are asleep and not dreaming? Who are we in sleep in relation to who we are when awake? We appreciate sleep, need it, look forward to it - why is that? What happens as a result of sleep? What does it do? Pick any question.

Start with establishing a principle: the result of meditation practice is not expansion of consciousness – consciousness is already complete - meditation is the expansion of awareness into consciousness. At first awareness appears to be who we take ourselves to be. But later awareness becomes the medium to realise who we really are.