Sacrificing our conditional personality; the appropriate opponent; the function of reactive patterns, emotional core of patterned mode of experience; passive and reactive poles of a pattern; guided meditation: cutting the opponent.
One day a man approached Bayazid, the great mystic of the ninth century, saying that he had fasted and prayed and so on for thirty years and not found the joy or peace which Bayazid described. Bayazid told him that he might continue for three hundred years and still not find it.
“How is that?” asked the would-be illuminate.
“Because your vanity is a barrier to you.”
“Tell me the remedy.”
“The remedy is one which you cannot take.”
“Tell me, nevertheless.”
Bayazid said, “You must go to the barber and have your very respectable beard shaved. Remove all your clothes and put on a simple girdle. Fill a nosebag with walnuts and suspend it from your neck. Go to the market-place and call out, ‘I will give a walnut to any boy who will strike me on the back of my neck.’ Then continue on to the courthouse so that they may see you.”
“I cannot do that; please tell me something else that would do.”
“This is the first move and the only one,” said Bayazid, “but I already told you that you would not do it; so you cannot be cured.”
When I was in the second three-year retreat, one of the retreatants was a very, very intelligent young man from an upper middle class family. And he spoke English better than me. And his French, of course, was superb. And would normally have pursued an academic career which would have ended up as one of the chairs in the department of literature in the Sorbonne or something like that.
And at one point in the retreat a group of us were standing outside the temple, and he said, “Ken, what do you have to do to get some understanding?” And before I could reply, one of the other French people in the retreat said, “Oh, Francois, you’ve given up so much.” And he said, “I haven’t given up anything.” And another person said, “Well, you know what it says, you meditate for twelve years, become enlightened…or sixteen or whatever.” And Francois looked at this person with a expression of scorn and said, “That I could do at a drop of a hat, but I know it wouldn’t be enough.”
The theme for yesterday was intent. The theme for today is sacrifice. The word sacrifice etymologically comes from the Latin, and means quite literally, to make holy. Sacra, the word for holy, and facio, is one of the forms of the verb to do, to make, facere, facra, if I can remember my high-school Latin.
What do we sacrifice? Well, that’s illustrated in the first story that I read. This would-be aspirant has to sacrifice his vanity, his pride. So take a moment and ask yourself what do you have to sacrifice in order to be awake?
Start here. There are many ways to this and the way that we are using in this retreat is to meet what runs our lives in conditioning and transform the energy of that into attention and awareness. So what this means in practice is that we are going to make our conditioned personality holy. In other words, we’re going to sacrifice it.
All of you have practiced enough and have lived long enough to know that there are numerous occasions, on a daily basis, when something seems to take over and start running the show. Quite contrary to your intention to be present and awake. There’s a whole web of patterns and conditioning which is set in motion by the resonance that various experiences in life set in motion, or trigger, and that web of patterns takes over. It’s almost as if there’s another person inside us.
One person brought this up the other day—the ogre inside. And the way that we’re working in this retreat, we call this person—quotation marks—the appropriate opponent. It’s called an opponent because it opposes our intention to be awake and present. It’s called appropriate because it is actually the right focus for our efforts.
Too often in our lives we regard some external factor, another person, as an opponent. The mother in the supermarket who is under pressure for time. But she’s with her child and her child is feeling playful and a little mischievous and does something. And the mother gets very upset and she glares at the child and says, “See what you made me do?” That’s an example of attributing the opponent outside. But that isn’t the opponent. The opponent is the set of patterns inside that was set in motion. That’s where we need to direct our attention.
Aristotle had a line on this, he said, ’It’s very easy to get angry. It’s very difficult to get angry at the right person, at the right time, in the right way, for the right reason.’
Always keep in mind that patterned behavior has one function and one function only, that is to dissipate or degrade attention. That is the sole purpose of reactive patterns, the sole function. We are sometimes amazed at the ability of reactive patterns to hijack our attention and to screw things up. But we shouldn’t really be surprised. The opponent has access to everything you know, to all of your intelligence and to all of your experience. It can, and does, adapt to every condition except one. It can’t adapt to awareness because there is no awareness in the operation of the opponent. There may be intelligence, but there is no awareness.
In each of us there are stories that we tell ourselves about what happened. And in our meditation practice we get very familiar with the stories. They roll on and on and on and even in our lives. So we have a story that we’re constantly telling ourselves about who we are and what we are and what our role in life is, and so forth.
On the other hand there are also quite precise memories of events and circumstances that we’ve encountered. Between the two there are a set of images which are like a memory but has much more emotional investment. It is more dream-like, more fluid. And what it is, is a record of our emotional reaction to events that occurred at other points in our lives. It’s not the actual memory of the event, it is the record of our emotional reaction to the event. And out of that comes the stories that we have. So we have all three.
The work we’re going to be doing today is directed at that emotional record.
One of the more vivid examples that I know concerns children in the Holocaust. A number of Jewish families, realizing that they were going to be exterminated, sent off to concentration camps, made arrangements with gentile families to adopt their children so that they could survive. The fact of the situation is that this was the supreme expression of the parent’s love for the child. The parent doing whatever he or she could do to ensure the child’s survival.
On the other hand, the emotional record in the minds and hearts of those children is that they were abandoned by their parents. And many of them have spent the rest of their lives trying to come to terms with that emotional feeling of abandonment even though they understand that they would not be alive today had their parents not done this. And that’s the difference between the emotional record and the actual fact of what happened.
So I am going to go through—I think we’ll abbreviate it, I think we’ll just go through one meditation. We’re going to collapse these two into one. So these are exercises three and four in here. But for the interest of time we’re going to just do exercise four. And to appreciate what’s happening in this exercise I need to give you a little bit more explanation.
All reactive patterns have two poles which can be called the expressive and the receptive. The example of abuse, physical abuse makes this quite clear. When a parent abuses a child, strikes a child, that experience is usually so strong and so contradictory to what is meant to be happening in the parent-child relationship that the child cannot experience that event in attention. So something freezes. And the child splits into two. And these become the two poles of the pattern.
The one pole, the receptive, is an identity that forms around the experience of being hit and this becomes the victim. And the victim pattern, as it matures through life, is one of passive, of always trying to please, give away, always protective, defensive, hyper-vigilant, etc, etc. Familiar territory, Arlene? Yeah. Anybody who’s worked in psychotherapy knows this very well.
But the other pole also is planted in the child, and that is the expressive, which is the abuser. Because if you have been on the receiving end of abuse there is one thing that you know how to do, you know how to abuse. You know exactly how to do it. And that becomes a sadistic, dominating, belligerent, so forth. And in life a person will typically flip from one to the other. They will form a primary identity about one, but if they encounter circumstances in which that identity can’t function they will just flip to that other pole, because it’s the same pattern.
Ken: Circumstances. If you think of the bully/coward, if you challenge a bully they flip into a coward. But if you corner a coward they become a bully. And every pattern has those two poles and they flip. This is why we say, “the opposite of a reactive behavior is still the reaction.”
In the opponent’s world with child we meet what we could not face, dissolve that into energy, unite it with the other pole of the pattern, and dissolve that into the energy which it is and in this way come to experience both in attention. In this exercise we meet and experience what we could not face before, and in doing so that dissolves into energy, which is its nature. That energy is united with the other side of the pattern and we meet that and experience it. And that too dissolves into energy. So in this way we experience both sides of the pattern in attention leading to it’s dissolution.
Now when you do these exercises it’s quite possible that you encounter very strong feelings. And it’s very likely that all kinds of thoughts, images, associations will arise. This is not journey work, this is the work in power. So you do these exercises in your meditation as a ritual, that is you just go through each step experiencing what arises in each step. But whatever arises that is contrary to or different from your intention is illusion, is the operation of the opponent. The only thing that is true in these visualisation exercises is your intention.
Ken: The exercise three is just working with the opponent. Once you have an experience of working with the opponent then it’s good to work with the opponent and child. Those are the two poles. But yes if you are going to dissolve the pattern you are always going to have to dissolve the both sides. Because both are frozen in our experience at this point. In psychological terms there’s a lot of work on the inner child. A few years ago, I don’t know whether it’s still, you know, important.
And one of the areas of confusion around inner child work is that many therapists and psychologists failed to appreciate that there are really two inner childs. One is the comfort-seeking child, which is pure conditioning and has no awareness, just wants things to be nice, doesn’t want to grow up. And the other is the part of us that was frozen, the awareness that was frozen and can’t, can’t move. And the comfort-seeking inner child has to die in order for the abilities that are frozen in us to be free to grow. But when these are conflated you get a lot of confused things going on. That help?
Ken: Go after the opponent first. Now, it doesn’t matter, it depends how it arises. You may find that what limits you is the identity with being a victim. That’s your appropriate opponent. It may find what limits you is your identity with being the abuser. That’s what limits you. But don’t think in terms of and abuser because I was simply using those as illustrations.
The opponent is whatever you encounter internally when you try to move into presence. You with me? Okay? And the child is a figure for the other pole of the pattern, whatever it is. And that will just work out naturally in the course of the exercises.
Ken: Because it represents something in us that was frozen in the course of our growing up. Okay? Some inability to understand, comprehend or accept what actually happened. Okay?
Ken: That’s the next exercise, which is called specific seeing. This is going to be done in the realm of the dream-like images between the two so you don’t have to pick a specific scene or a specific event. Okay? Yes?
Okay. So I am going to, boy, time goes quickly, I’m going to walk through the practice with you. In the interests of time we’ll go through the first sections that we did yesterday fairly quickly.
Rest your attention and let your mind settle a little bit.
And then, if you are more comfortable, let your eyes close, go to your power location and become familiar with it. Looking all around, looking over the vista.
And sit down facing the vista and imagine the earth element, a yellow sphere of light, below your navel and all of the associations with earth.
And then the water’s element, white sphere, halfway between the solar plexus and the navel, connected by a shaft of light—thread of light, and think of all of the associations with water.
And then a thread of light rises up to the level of the heart, the fire element, red, and all of the associations with fire.
And then again the thread of light rises up to the level of the throat, green sphere of light, the element of air. Bring all of the associations with air to mind.
And again the thread of light rises, up to the level of the center of your head, at the level of your eyebrows, blue sphere of light, the element void, bring to mind all of the associations with void.
Feel all of the five elements vibrate and radiate light which fills your body. And you become aware that someone is behind you and you turn around and you see the swordbearer. You go towards him or her, look directly into the swordbearer’s eyes. Reach out and take the sword. Strap on the belt. Turn and face the vista. The swordbearer goes away. You draw the sword, hold it in front of you, and the wound opens in the middle of your chest. All of the old pains and memories.
And you look into the sky in front of you and a black dot appears, moves towards you and becomes a portal. There is a veil obscuring the scene inside, and behind it is the opponent’s world. The world as it appears to the web of the forms or conditioned personality that keeps you out of presence and awareness. You take the sword and you cut the veil. It peels back and you can see clearly into the opponent’s world and you walk into it.
So, for example, if the opponent’s world is one based on greed then everything appears unattainable, unavailable to you. If it’s one based in fear, then everything appears terrifying, frightening. Look around the opponent’s world, you have the five elements integrated, you hold the sword of attention. You have the capacity to experience the opponent’s world in attention.
You see yourself as a child though the form the child takes may be fluid and may change. Walk up to the child and look into his or her eyes and see who he or she is. See everything about them, her fears, his feelings, his or her abilities. Understanding, just meet and know the child that is you.
Look at the objects that comprise the opponent’s world. And you turn and you see the opponent standing in front of you. It may be as a person, it may be as some form, anthropomorphic form. It may be a monster, a child, a parent, a relative, acquaintance, a fictional being, however it arises for you. But with your sword drawn and the elements blazing inside, and the wound open, you go and you look up to the opponent. And you look directly into the opponent’s eyes and know the opponent for what it is. See all of the reactions, all of the blind mechanisms, all of the emotions in the eyes of the opponent. And when you do this all kinds of resonances and reactions may arise in you, and just experience them and stay in attention.
And when you look deeply and you actually meet the opponent’s gaze you will see a flash of fear cross the opponent’s face. And at that moment you bring down your sword and you cut the opponent right in half, entering one shoulder and exiting out the head so that the form of the opponent is cut cleanly in two and the two halves fall to the ground. And as they fall to the ground they dissolve into light from the inside out. And that light comes into the child. And as that light comes into the child, the child fully comprehends what the opponent is and everything that it had been unable to know up to this point.
Now go to the child a second time and look into the child’s eyes. Know the child and let the child know you. And light shines from the sword and the whole world of the opponent dissolves into light and is absorbed into the child.
Then take the child by their hand, or pick the child up, and you leave through the portal returning to your power location. The portal disappears. And you look into the child’s eyes the third time. And as you look into the child’s eyes you say, “You think you will live forever, you cannot live forever. All things are impermanent. You, like me, like everyone, will die one day.” And do taking and sending with all the reactions that registers in the child’s face.
And the child’s form grows brighter with light. And then tell the child, “You want to have your emotional needs met, but your emotional needs will never be met. Those people, those situations are all in the past. They are gone and there is no going back. What is is what is.” And you see the consternation and other feelings register on the child’s face and you do taking and sending with the child again.
And the child’s form grows still brighter.
And then finally you tell the child, “You want to be somebody, but there is no one to be. All we are is an ongoing response to what arises in experience, not an entity that exists separately.” And you see the shock and fear in the child’s face and you do taking and sending. And as you do taking and sending the child’s form turns to light completely and that light enters you through the wound.
And now light shines from the heart with such intensity that your power location and your form all turn to light, and you rest in being the light.
Form the intention to be here now. When you’re ready open your eyes. You are here and the light is with you.
[Recording cuts and come back on]
And as you do taking and sending the child’s form grows brighter and brighter and then you say to the child, “I know that you want your emotional needs to be met, but all that took place a long time ago. And those situations, those people are gone forever. Your emotional needs will never be met and that is just how it is.”
And again you see the child’s reactions. And you do taking and sending, taking in the pain and confusion and fear of the child, and giving him or her the clarity, understanding, empathy, courage. And as you do taking and sending the child’s form becomes light…more and more light. Radiating light more and more brightly.
And finally you say to the child, “I know you want to be somebody, but there is no one to be. We are not entities, individual selves, we are simply an ongoing response to what arises in experience. There is no one to be.” And again you see the child’s reactions, and you do taking and sending, taking in their fear and pain, disappointment and giving your own clarity and understanding. And the child’s form turns into light, and that light comes into you through the room.
And then light shines from your heart with such intensity that everything: your power location, your vista, your own form, all of the elements, everything becomes light. And you rest being the light.
And then form the intention to be here, in this meditation hall, today. And when you’re ready, open your eyes and be here, and the light is with you.
That’s your practice. It’s exercise number four in the booklet.
I hesitate to ask this, but are there any questions? Yes, Deb?
Ken: Not exactly. In fact they’re somewhat different. One person I know, her opponent is the image of herself as a loser, she’s actually a very competent woman, but she has this image. So using this as an example, the opponent’s world is one in which there is never any possibility of success. Everything you do turns to shit. You know, there aren’t any opportunities and if any opportunities come, as soon as you engage in them they turn to mud. Nothing ever works out. You’re always goofing up and so forth and so forth. That’s the opponent’s world. That’s how such a person sees themselves.
The wound is the pain of never experiencing any kind of success or fulfillment or achievement or place in the world, all of those things. Which creates…out of which comes the identity of the loser. Do you follow? And for another person their opponent might be: they’re one of the elite, and they identify fully with that.
Student: One of the what?
Ken: One of the elite. And they feel superior to everybody. And that feeling of superiority and being better than everybody. So that’s what the world looks like. Everything is wonderful. That’s what the opponent’s world looks like and everybody else is just part of the riffraff. But the wound will put them in touch with the pain which that feeling of superiority is a defense against. Follow? I haven’t got my glasses on so I can’t see. Are you nodding?
Ken: Good, ah, there you are. Okay.
Other questions? Yes?
Ken: Not necessarily, I mean one person I worked with, his version of the opponent was—we actually got a name for him—Joe the taxi dispatcher. Who is a hulking, overweight, unshaven, unkempt, beer guzzling guy who just…was just lazing around all the time, just barking orders into…to dispatch taxis. And this was the image of laziness which prevented him from moving forward in this life. And—
Ken: It looks…yes, so, I mean, what is…it’s not a version of ourselves. It’s an image of all that web of conditioned personality. And I hesitate to say ourselves because there isn’t any self that we are, that’s all. So maybe I’m quibbling here. But it’s how we see.
So when you can come into a situation and you know what to do to move into presence and you feel this, “I can’t do it”, that’s the opponent there. It says, “You can’t do this, you’re not allowed to do this, you have to behave this way.” That’s the opponent. So it can be a tyrannical person, it can be someone who seduces you. It can be someone who just is so lazy, that whatever you do has no effect, you can’t get any movement out of them whatsoever. You get sucked into that. All of these different forms. It can be very fluid. Don’t think about it, just let it come. If you think about it, you engage the intellect, this is at the level of emotion.
Ken: As you do this exercise over and over again, it will become well-defined but it may not be initially. Okay?
Ken: They may switch roles sometimes, because they’re the two poles of the pattern. So sometimes it’s—as I said earlier—it’s the attachment…the identity about, “Oh, I can’t do this, I’m too weak, I’m too little.” That’s the opponent. And the child is, “Let’s get this thing together, let’s just do it.” And the other times it may be that the opponent is, “We’re just going to go, go, go, I don’t care what get’s in the way just…” You know, in that kind of intimidating, dominating thing. And the child says, “I’m helpless.” This is the embodiment of helplessness.
So these are very, very fluid, that’s why it is like a dreamscape. So you work with what arises. The only thing that’s real in these exercises is your intention. Okay?
Ken: We have numerous faces to the opponent, and this exercise that I’ave just given you, is when you’ve reached a certain point in your practice, you’re not sure what to do next, you can do this exercise and see what comes up. It will put you in touch with what your next step in your practice is. It’s a way of going hunting for patterns.
Ken: Yeah. Just whatever’s there, step into it.
Student: So maybe you could try to be present there. [Unclear] If you don’t have a pre-conceived idea [unclear]
Ken: You’ll see it. I think you’ve got a fair amount of material to work with, Joe.
Student: Could you say something about the five elements?
Ken: Yes. We’re composed of the five elements. All our experience is composed of the five elements. But we are…experience is usually fragmented so what we doing in this is integrating. By consciously recalling the five elements and all the associations with it, we’re integrating the five elements in us. And you may notice that when you finish doing all of the Five Elements you feel more present, more aligned. And that’s a movement into attention and presence So that’s the support that it provides. Okay?
Student: [Unclear] attempt to come back to the same vision of it. Do we a variation of it as a distraction or do we—
Ken: Once, once…if something clear comes to you then work with that in all the sessions of meditation until you have an experience, you’re meeting the same thing because there’s a progression there. We’re doing this for a very short period of time. Most people, when they’re doing this, over a week or two, things will come down and there’ll be a clear impression. But for the purposes here, learn the exercises, just work with whatever arises. And I would suggest, unless one definitely isn’t working, work with the same scene that arises, it’ll help you to get the dynamics of the practice better. Okay?
Last question and then we’ll take a break.
Ken: Yeah, that’s why I gave you the books. Yeah, you may have to, I don’t expect you to memorize it, just like that. I mean, there used to be days when people would do that, but that was like a hundred years ago. [Laughter] I mean, there were many people, like Ananda in the time of the Buddha had a phonographic memory. And there’s a guy in Bhutan, in the 20th century, who, literally, if a teacher gave a talk he could repeat the talk, verbatim. But we’ve lost that ability, so.
Ken: If you need to, we’re going to take a short break. Read it over, it builds on what you’ve done. There isn’t a lot more to learn actually so, I imagine you can take it in quite quickly.
Okay, let’s take a break. Who’s ringing the gong for meditation? Yeah, so, ten minutes, okay, start a little bit late. Thank you.