Through practice you develop the ability to experience whatever arises in your life. When you have difficulty experiencing something it is often due to a problem with willingness, know-how, or capacity. The teachings from this retreat, recorded in Des Moins, NM during 2010, focus on how to increase these capabilities, the importance of intention and related matters.
Emotion in Practice Download
Working with emotional energy in practice; not seeking to eliminate emotion; faith and devotion; removing emotions from practice limits engagement in experience.
A Trackless Path II, Sunday August 8th morning session. Why do I think it’s April all the time?
Going to spend a little time reviewing this working with some emotional energy in practice. As I noted yesterday the way that meditation is usually presented is in terms of attention and the mind focusing on the breath, and there’s very little said—quite frequently—about feelings of joy, loving kindness, compassion, faith, devotion, longing that come up. Instead things like anger, pride, jealously, greed are always regarded as bad, and the approach that many people come to develop in their meditation is that no emotion is good and any emotion is distraction or disturbance, and we get, you know, meditation zombies. You can really see this in walking mediation actually, the walk. [Laughter] When I taught walking meditation at Mount Baldy Zen Center, it’s like being on the set of the Night of the Living Dead. Astonishing, the number of people who forgot that they have knees and that they bend. [Laughter]
Student: Actually what you said to me is your body knows how to walk. [Laughter]
Ken: Yeah, the body knows how to breathe. The body knows how to walk. Exactly.
So, now, another aspect of this is that the way that one works with emotion in many of the Asian traditions is also highly ritualized. And if one’s trained in something like the Catholic tradition then you have some flavor of working with emotion in ritual, as in a mass. But it’s not how most of us have developed in our lives. And thus for many people using ritual as a way to connect with emotion feels very contrived—doesn’t feel natural at all, and people brace against that.
So one of my suggestions was that you take some time every day to feel appreciation—that’s going through the three aspects of faith again.
On the one hand as appreciation, there’s an emotion there. It’s fairly close to equanimity. But it also has tinges of other things in it, in which you have found a way of practice that makes sense to you. And even if it only makes sense to you on a rational level, there’s still an emotional appreciation in there. And it’s good just to sometimes sit and feel that. I mean, just take a few moments right now and just feel that. If any of you are in the same arena that I am at this point where, you know, this is a system of practice, a way of exploring my relationship with experience that makes sense to me.
What does that feel like for you? Anybody? You got the microphone ready there? Yeah. Okay. Anybody? Nick.
Nick: Well when I do that I do feel something similar to equanimity in the sense that there’s a settling in, a sort of a calm…
Nick: …that comes over me. But at the same time there’s a tremendous warmth as well.
Ken: Okay. That’s right, the equanimity and the warmth, which is in the direction of loving kindness, possibly.
Anybody else? Sonia, Helen?
Sonia: It’s very similar to great joy and warmth. It’s definitely a bodily as well as an emotional feeling.
Ken: Yes. Okay. Helen?
Helen: Yes, mostly I feel warmth in my chest area and also tears of appreciation.
Now we’re going to take this a step further.
Let yourself move into that just the way that we did. And now rest with your breath. [Pause] What’s that like? Sophie.
Sophie: The sensation of the warmth feels like it’s almost expanding out of my body, it’s going out through my limbs and feet and head.
Ken: Yeah. And what was your quality of attention just there?
Sophie: Just felt clear.
Ken: Okay. Anybody else? Jeff?
Jeff: Very settled. Present.
Jeff: Right there.
Ken: Okay. Now, see these verses here? This is exactly what they’re about. [Laughter] You know?
Let my heart turn to practice.
Let practice become a path.
Let this path dissolve confusion.
Let confusion become wisdom.
And go through the refuge in the same way. It’s, oh, this is something that makes sense to me. And these verses, prayers, are the ritual way that we connect with that kind of emotional quality. And this is very, very clear. This is not a reactive emotion, that we’re talking about.
Christy: When you said, rest with the breath, the first thing I experienced was no breath.
Christy: And that took me straight to “I’m going to die.”
Ken: You wanted—
Christy: I’m going to die.
Ken: To die. Yes, and?
Christy: And that took me to, “This is a very precious moment.”
Ken: So in a different way, it brought you right here.
Christy: Well, I wondered about that because it was very easy to go into fear.
Ken: Did you?
Christy: A little.
Christy: That’s why I asked, because I thought you were not going to the reactive emotion, you were—
Ken: Yeah, but so when you feel that appreciation—“This is a way of practice that makes sense to me”—you rest with the breath, your first experience is there’s no breath. Were you breathing?
Christy: Eventually. [Laughter]
Ken: So I’m a little curious. Why did you stop breathing.
Christy: I didn’t need to inhale.
Ken: Oh yeah, but we hung out there for long enough that you actually had to breathe. So what was it about that way of coming into being with the breath that—
Christy: I’m confused now.
Ken: Well, so am I. [Laughter] Let’s do it again, from the top. [Laughter] Rather than trying to muck around in the past, we’ll just take it from the top.
So allow yourself to feel that appreciation, “This is a way of practice that makes sense to me.” And as people described, how it arises for you, I don’t know, but other people described as a settling, as a feeling of equanimity or calmness, and a warmth. And I think one person mentioned joy. So just however it is for you. But you start off by saying, “This is a way of practice that makes sense to me.”
And now let your attention rest in the experience of breathing. [Pause]
So what’s that like Christy? And just for the record, you didn’t die. [Laughter]
Christy: Something died.
Christy: Something died.
Ken: Go on. Could you say more?
Christy: Well, being of the nature that frequently kicks in the stall—
Ken: Sorry I can’t quite hear.
Ken: I can’t hear you. [Laughter]
Christy: Being someone who frequently kicks in the stall, ummÖ
Ken: It upsets the horses. [Laughter]
Christy: When you said, you know, you’re doing a practice that makes sense to you, immediately something in me says, Hmm, hmm, hmm. [Ken laughs] So I had to invite that guest in. So much for the Rumi poem.
Student: It’s the same thing. It’s okay.
Ken: A few little rebels in the back corner there. [Laughter]
Student: [Unclear] sucks!
Ken: Well, that’s something to take into consideration. So we’ll do it another way. This is practice that doesn’t make sense to me. [Laughter]
Student: Ah, that’s more like it! [Laughter]
Student: There’s no sense of equality! [Laughter]
Ken: Go back to kicking in the stall, Christy.
Christy: Well, okay, so that’s a guest; I invited it in, and it wasn’t much different from the guest who looks at it as no struggle, who looks at it in a positive way.
Christy: So I try to get around to the breath, and when I finally got around to the breath, then all those guests aren’t there any more.
Ken: Okay. Thank you. Does that clear up your question?
Christy: What question? [Laughter]
Ken: Okay, sorry, backtrack. Does that clear up your confusion? [Laughter]
Ken: What have you got to say here?
Claudia: I mean, I understand where you’re going and I appreciate it, but that doesn’t work for me at all.
Ken: Evidently. [Laughter]
Claudia: For a huge part of my life, practice isn’t a sensible thing.
Ken: Ah, sigh. [Laughter]
Claudia: To say that I practice because I have a sense of appreciation, is like, I don’t know, raising a couple of red flags. [Ken laughs] You know it’s a much more passionate quality for me. That is—
Ken: Okay, We’re going to get there. Give me time, okay?
Ken: Anybody else? Just leave the rebels in the corner. Anybody else? What was this like? Roby.
Roby: Oh, I think it was said earlier that—maybe to provide a little bit of a counter to what Claudia just said [laughter], I do understand where she’s going—but there was, as someone just said, with appreciation there was an equanimity with that. And, you know, I know that for me and my practice, as we all know, it’s really critical. I mean that’s part of the stability of practice, so—
Ken: Thank you. I have a question for the rebels in the corner. Do either of you have difficulty with feeling positive emotions, or feeling good about yourself?
Claudia: I don’t have a problem about feeling positive about myself.
Ken: Good about yourself? Thank you. [Laughter]
Claudia: It’s not that bad.
Ken: No. But now I know what this is hitting.
Claudia: I don’t think so. I just think that there’s a lot of aspects to practice that from a rational point of view, don’t make sense.
Ken: I didn’t say that they made sense. I said that they made sense to you.
Claudia: I don’t think they make sense to the rational part of me.
Ken: [Laughs] I didn’t say, did they make sense to the rational part of you. I said, did they make sense to you. It’s a very straightforward thing. You wouldn’t be doing it if it didn’t make sense to you at some level. Maybe sense is the word you’re having issue with, you know, if you didn’t feel like it, or whatever. If it didn’t, you know—but it connects with something in you.
Claudia: Oh, absolutely.
Ken: Yeah. Okay, that’s all I’m talking about. And what I’m saying is, when we meditate, allowing ourselves to feel that connection whether it’s rational or emotional or whatever. But what I was saying is that even though it makes rational sense to us, with a few exceptions here, there’s an emotional quality to that connection. So, sorry if I’m not articulating this very well, but that’s what I was trying to get across.
Okay. Now we move into the passion. [Laughter] They do make you work, you know. [Laughter]
[Pause] What do you long for? And, what do you long to know or experience through your practice? Okay? So just take that question. You okay with this one Claudia? Okay, good.
So, what are you longing for? What are you longing to experience, know, feel, you know—I’ve got to be really careful about words now—through your practice and just connect with that feeling of longing? And for many people, they’ll move into a kind of hope there, but I want you to really stay in the area of longing more than hope because, as we talked about before, when you feel that longing, again there’s a whole set of emotions there. Some of the ones we’ve touched on before is there’s joy, and there’s pain, and the joy and pain can be together. They can both be there. So again just allow yourself to feel that longing. And what’s your experience of that? Who’s got the mic? Sophie.
Sophie: The longing is for contentment and peace.
Ken: Okay. And when you allow yourself to feel that longing what do you experience?
Sophie: I feel at ease.
Ken: Okay. Anybody else? Yeah, June.
June: A sense of resting.
Ken: Okay. Anybody else? Nancy.
Nancy: I long for a connection with the world but in a less personal way. And actually, it seems to galvanize my energy.
Ken: Mmm-hmm yes. And talk a little bit more about that “galvanizing of energy.” When you allow yourself to feel that longing, what emotions come with it?
Nancy: Well, there’s a feeling of hope.
Ken: Mmm-hmm. How do you experience it physically? Where in your body do you feel the longing?
Nancy: In my chest.
Ken: Yeah. Okay.
Ken: And what sensations are there?
Nancy: Well there’s warmth, there’s an expansion.
Ken: Mmm-hmm. Okay. Ralph? Ann did you have your hand up? Or Gail did you? Okay.
Ralph: I must be in the rebel camp because—
Ken: And please hold the microphone up.
Ralph: I must be in the rebel camp, I said.
Ralph: I want contentment and safety, yet when I long for that I have a sense of doubt because personally, my own experience right now is there’s very little ground. And I think as you advance in the practice you realize that there’s very little to hold on to. So it almost seemsÖ
Ken: Okay. So why do you keep going?
Ralph: Well, I’m questioning “keep going” quite frankly.
Ken: Okay. So when you feel the longing, okay, so you want rest and contentment, did you say?
Ralph: Contentment and safety.
Ken: Contentment and safety, okay. Allow yourself to feel that longing for contentment and safety.
Ralph: Well that’s a very peaceful experience [unclear].
Ken: All right. Gail?
Gail: To me the longing feels like my body’s been split open and my guts are being fed to the vultures, andÖ
Ken: [Laughs] And?
Gail: And there’s an incredible amount of joy with tears.
Ken: Yeah. So pain and joy both quite deep. Okay. Ann? Ann, did you have…? No. Okay.
Now, how is this longing expressed? You find this in both refuge and awakening intention. Awakening intention is a formalized expression of longing.
Beings are numberless. may I free them all.
Reactions are endless, may I release them all.
Doors to experience are infinite, may I enter them all.
Ways of awakening are limitless, may I know them all.
Can you hear the longing in that?
Okay, so now let yourself feel that longing and rest in your experience of breathing.
What’s that like for you? Nick. Ralph, could you pass the mic?
Nick: When we first moved into that longing, I felt a lot of pain, like emotional pain similar to what Gail was saying about, except it felt like my heart was bleeding.
Nick: So then when I moved into resting with my breath, I felt immediately, like overwhelmed by that pain for about one breath. And then something switched. And then my mind became really clear and really crisp, almost cold, but cold in the sense of being crisp not like frozen.
Ken: Like a winter’s day after a snowstorm.
Nick: Yeah. Yeah that feeling. I mean it’s very alive, but it’s very, very crisp. It’s interesting. There wasn’t a lot of that warmth that I felt before.
Ken: Okay. Anybody else? Sonia.
Sonia: Definitely feel it through my whole body, right from the root right through. And very similar to what everyone’s been saying, a sense of the heart cracking open but, there’s a fierceness to it, and I don’t mean an aggression, I mean there’s a—
Ken: A strength to it.
Sonia: A strength to it. Yeah.
Ken: Yeah. Okay. Right. Ralph then Sophie.
Ralph: This time my experience was a little bit different. It felt like just a beautiful opening where I allowed myself to feel the experience. And it was very peaceful and nurturing.
Ken: Okay. Sophie, last one.
Sophie: Well, I get hung up on this one, on “Beings are numberless, may I free them all.” When I go there, I just feel despair.
Ken: Yeah. And what about when you go through the others?
Sophie: Well the others, they’re more hopeful.
Ken: Yeah. You see, what that particular verse is expressing is compassion. So despair and compassion, very closely related, because we open to the pain of the world, which is very much what the first line is about, and when we feel we can’t meet it, then we go into despair. And others describe it as their heart cracking open, or their body cracking open and so forth.
What I’m trying to show you here, is how to connect with practice emotionally, and not only how you do that, but when you do that, attention has a different quality. It is more complete. It is stronger, clearer, whatever I’ve heard people describe. And whether it’s mahamaudra, whether it’s dzogchen, whether it is seeing from the inside, whether it’s taking and sending—some of the other forms of practices that we haven’t discussed here, like yidam practice, I would even say Koan practice—this emotional quality, if you keep that out of the practice, then you’re actually only practicing with at best, half of your capability.
Now why do people not do that? Why don’t people just open emotionally to their practice like this all the time? Because it brings a much higher level of attention and you feel a lot more. And a lot of people, what they want to practice is to sit peacefully and not feel anything. Now that to them would be perfect practice. But you’ll never know anything that way. You’ll never know anything that way.
So I hope this is helpful to you and I’d like you to explore this in your practice during the day. The prayers that we do at the beginning and at the end are in a very definite sense, walking through, connecting emotionally with the practice. And it’s really good to approach the prayers that way. At the same time, I think it is very, very helpful for you periodically, you know, on your own choosing, just to take some time and feel your emotional connection in all its different dimensions with the practice—and they’ll be many, many dimensions, some of them quite contradictory—but to let yourself feel that emotional connection and all the stuff that brings up. You don’t have to do formal practice to do that. You can do that while you’re going for a walk or something. That’s fine. But it’s a very, very important part of practice.
Okay. Breakfast time.