Awakening From Belief 9

Practice questions; How reaction in others triggers reaction in one’s selfDownload

Q&A on working with what arises in the body. Paired exercise on how reactions in others triggers one’s own reactivity (based on the six realms)

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Now let’s start with any questions from your practice experience this morning.

Student: I had a hard time getting much to happen. Yesterday I did touch on some painful stuff having to do with that, you know, ignoring and avoiding conflict. And I got there, and I’ve kind of been expecting to have some kind of feelings like that. But I would call that whole situation back up, and it’s not really…

Ken: You prepared to mess with it right now?

Student: [Laughs] Yeah.

Ken: Okay, so you take a situation, a conversation. There’s a difference of opinion. You feel strongly about something. The other person’s not backing down. What starts to happen in you?

Student: I get a real clenched feeling around my heart.

Ken: Okay, so you start to breathe right there.

Student: Stop to…?

Ken: Start.

Student: Oh.

Ken: No, don’t stop breathing! [Laughter]

Student: [Unclear] in the clenching stop—

Ken: Yes, but…

Student: I actually stop breathing.

Ken: Breathe, and keeping the situation in your awareness, you feel the pain, and you feel that contraction or clenching around your heart. You okay? What else do you notice in your body?

Student: Kind of an over-clenching, drawing in.

Ken: So there’s a contraction through the whole body. Then just breathe and experience that. What emotions are connected with this?

Student: Fear and sorrow.

Ken: Okay, so just experience the fear and the sorrow. Don’t question them, don’t analyze them—just experience them. How do you experience the fear? What is it? Describe the experience.

Student: Umm.

Ken: That’s it. On a scale of panic: petrified? “I’m out of here?” Where are you?

Student: Mmm.

Ken: Okay. So, even though there’s all that contraction going on in the body, there’s also a whole lot of mobilization going on.

Student: Yeah.

Ken: Okay. How do you experience the sorrow? Five-feet deep, well-depth, down to the center of the earth?

Student: Well-depth.

Ken: Well-depth. Okay. So you just experience it. It’s like a hole in the center of us going down. What are some of the stories, and associations, and memories? Just the ones you’re comfortable voicing out loud. There are a few, aren’t there? Okay, so you have your body, which is simultaneously contracting and mobilizing, and you feel all of those contradictory tensions in there. And you have this fear and this sorrow. Any anger?

Student: Mmm-hmm.

Ken: Mmm-hmm. So include that. Any bewilderment, or puzzlement, or amazement? Okay, so you include that. And then you have all of those stories—“I can’t understand why he’s doing this,” etc., etc. All those things, right? Now just experience them all together, all at the same time as you breathe.

So, you’ve got all of that going on, and yet there’s a place in you which is quiet. Can you connect with that? Can you relax there? Just. Okay. All right so you can relax your effort now. No juice, eh?

Student: I think that I want to get into it. You know, I have this stuff happen to me in my everyday life, and I think, “Gee, if I could work with that in meditation it would be great.” And then I get here and I sit here and invite it, and it doesn’t…

Ken: You just did it.

Student: I know but it was a more intense situation with you. You know. I mean with me just sitting there asking myself it wasn’t…

Ken: You can learn to do the same thing and that’s what is important—to learn how to be in touch with our own experience. We can all do this. I just asked you some questions.

Student: [Unclear] question.

Ken: Yes, very specific about the body and things that we all know about fear. You know, there are different kinds of fear. There’s a fear that freezes [Ken makes freezing sound]—it’s the petrifying. There’s the fear which is, “I’m out of here” [Ken makes vanishing sound]—mobilizes. So which kind of fear is it? You know, that kind of fear. Okay? Sorrow, how deep is it? [Ken makes deep sound.] That deep. You know, or maybe it’s, “Oh my God!” That deep.

So, you really explore your experience, and you notice there wasn’t any analysis or trying to figure it out why it was there. It’s just relating to what is actually there. And that’s the essence of this technique. And not fighting any of it.

Student: I thought maybe it was because I, you know, I thought I wanted to go there but I really didn’t want to, and I was ignoring it. But I didn’t feel how it felt actually, you know, a really enjoining kind of spacious feeling of the meditation.

Ken: Mmm-hmm.

Student: So it didn’t feel like my usual pattern or expectation of ignoring because it was more skillful means of how to draw it out, I guess.

Ken: As I said this morning, when you’re doing this practice let the feeling open to you.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Well, a way to train for this is to get up in the morning, go to your garden and sit beside a closed flower. Then you sit there till the flower opens. Okay? Very good.

Other questions? Now everybody’s scared. June?

June: To sort of continue where Charlotte was, let’s say that you’re not on the cushion, but you’re in that conversation with somebody. And you notice yourself feeling a certain way and sitting there with the feeling. How do you stay in the conversation or not, or engage or not? Or it’s, like, I don’t know what to do at that place. It’s like I see myself, you know, feeling something that whatever it is, anxious, angry, whatever and really feeling it and being aware of it. And then where are you with the conversation?

Ken: Well that’s the challenge isn’t it? This is why we do formal meditation, because it’s a practice. And then the other half is, how do we meet these situations in our life. Now, there’s the mind of the body, the mind of emotion, and the mind of awareness. The mind of the body is always awake. We say the body never lies—it’s always awake—it always knows what’s going on. However, the mind of emotion can and does override the body because that’s where all the habituated conditioning is stored. The mind of emotion rides change. It’s in all the changes, but it’s where the reactive processes are actually stored. And then there’s the mind of awareness, which operates at a still higher level, and thus can bring attention to the mind of emotion and free up the locked patterns of emotion. So keeping those three clear, or being aware of those three is very helpful. If you want to be aware in the world when you start to slip into reactivity, and most of us can feel that beginning, go to the body.

Student: Hmm.

Student: Can you say that again?

Ken: Go to the body. [Laughter] Again? When you feel reactivity beginning to operate in you—and you feel it usually as a kind of imbalance—you know, something’s beginning to take over—go to the body. Now those of us who are from a good WASP culture, we know nothing about this of course. [Laughter]

Students: [Unclear]

Ken: Had a Jewish girlfriend once, she just looked at me said, “Oh you can’t help it, you’re a WASP.” [Laughter]


Student: I’m a little confused, so I don’t know how clear this question’s going to be, but it seems that, you know, we’re constantly trying to avoid suffering. And I keep coming back to that. And so then I try to feel the emotion from the suffering. But being somebody that feels like I need to keep myself on a positive note because I can get taken away, and get taken down, I feel like I’m waking it up.

Ken: Yep.

Student: Waking up depression or looking at all the negative things, or I mean that I understand developing attention to stay…to be able to stay in the suffering.

Ken: Oh no, it’s not about just staying present in the suffering. Let me go back to June’s question here. So you go to the body—it applies to yours as well—you go to the body. Now, there are other forms of reactivity—anybody lose their self in elation and glee? Lose attention in the body? Do crazy things that you wonder, like, “Why did I do that?” Then it’s the other direction.

Student: So you are saying depression is a reactive…?

Ken: Depression, elation…anybody get caught up in somebody else’s stuff? Well, that’s sympathy gone amok. You know, there any detached manipulators in here? Those are the…

Student: What does that look like? [Laughter]

Ken: Of course, then there’s the denying innocent one. [Laughter]

Student: I really don’t know—

Ken: I understand. So…

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Well, Prospero in The Tempest was your archetypal detached manipulator. You know, just makes things happen, rearranges the world to fit his or her way. The denying one is your classy, ditzy blonde, “Oh, I don’t understand why they give me all these rings and jewelry but it’s really nice of them.” These are all bent versions of equanimity. There’s another whole story we could go into there but we won’t.

Now, go to your body. What’s your body saying? What’s your body experiencing? And you use that direct attention into the body—it grounds you. And from there, you have a basis in which to begin to experience emotional reaction without being completely consumed by it.

So, by going into the body first you establish a base of attention. Then you can start experiencing the reactive process itself—in Charlotte’s case the fear and the sorrow. And then all of the stories and associations, which usually have nothing to do with the situation.

So, you develop this ability and you become familiar with that process. And then you’re having a conversation with someone, and you can sense yourself getting a little on edge [Ken snaps fingers]—go to your body. And you’ll be quite surprised what you’re gonna find there. And you go, “Wow!” and maybe it is like the body’s ready to charge at this person, “Oh. I’m angry.” Or “I gotta get out of here.” And your body’s right—this is a dangerous situation. You go, “Oh, okay.” Then you can start experiencing your emotional reactions. You may find that they’re quite different from the story that you’ve been telling yourself and the stories that we use to manipulate everything to conform to our conditioning. Emotion always trumps reason. You know, you can always rationalize anything. That’s why I say go to the body. You stand in the body. Right there, you’re going to be more present.

And if you can experience your emotions and not act on them, then you have a chance of seeing what’s going on. It can be very useful once you notice that little feeling on edge, you’re grounded in the body, just to ask yourself what’s going on here? That’s going to key your own investigation, and again I encourage you not to analyze. The understanding that we develop or uncover in Buddhist practice is a direct knowing—it’s a direct knowing. It is not a deductive knowing, which is always a product of the intellect—you can’t trust it.

Uchiyama Roshi talks about a bird sitting on her nest. And the bird sits on the eggs, and every now and then she gets up, turns all the eggs over with her beak, sits down again. Amazing. Now, this raises a question in science: how does she know when to turn the eggs over? What kind of biological clock mechanism is there? Well, after a few investigations they discovered there was no biological clock—she just gets too hot. [Laughter] So she turns the eggs over—now she’s cool. The result is that the eggs are evenly warmed and they hatch properly. That’s the kind of sensitivity that we develop here. You’re so in touch with your own experience, so totally in touch with your own experience, that by responding to that you actually respond to what is appropriate in the world. Follow?

Student: Yeah.

Ken: Does that answer your question?

Student: I don’t know, sort of.

Ken: Okay.


Student: I understand [unclear] emotion but I’m not sure why we’re bringing the stories into it. Is that [unclear] emotion?

Ken: When the stories start running, do you feel the emotion?

Student: Yeah.

Ken: Do you? When you’re at a meeting and you’re in control of the meeting—it’s your meeting—and somebody does something annoying, or irritating, or out of line, you can just do whatever you want—you say, you know, “shut up” or “stop that,” or what have you, right? But if you’re not in control of the meeting, and somebody does something, you have to sit there and feel your anger—you follow? The stories are ways that we get away from feeling. You know, we got thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking. In many cases I’ve worked with, people say, “Well, this person did this, and then they did this, and then they did this, and they’re always doing this,” etc. And I say, “Okay, just stop the stories. What are you feeling right now?” “Angry. And you know, ”And then they did this, and then they did that, and they’re always doing this.“ And I say, ”That’s the story again. What are you feeling right now?“ ”Angry.“ ”Okay, then just feel the anger.“ You take them into the body. When they stop being caught up in the stories, they begin to feel what’s going on.

So, the first step is to ground in the body and feel the story, feel the emotions. But we could still believe the stories. So, you bring in all of the stories and the memories and the associations and you begin to experience them—not as facts but as stories. And we have lots of stories about ourselves. You know, ”Nobody loves me, everybody hates me. I’m going into the garden and eat worms.“ You know, that’s a story. Now, is it true? Feels true doesn’t it—but it’s not true. But that’s a story we run. And so the point of including all of the stories, and memories, and associations is to experience them for what they actually are: stories, memories, and associations. And that can be very difficult, because in many cases we’re deeply invested in some of those stories—very deeply invested. That’s our identity. You know, that’s who we think we are. That relates to your situation, Paul, you know, ”This is what I am.“ But it’s not—it’s a story. So being able to experience the stories as stories is a vital piece in becoming free of the reactive process.

That help?

Student: Mmm-hmm.

Ken: Okay.


Student: I don’t know how to start my story. From my interview with you, I realized that I had an identity that I needed to express. And I began exploring that, and I discovered that same identity I’ve had all my life. Very easy to see that. I had an older sister who was sick. My parents—my mother was a nurse, my father was a doctor—they taught me how to take care of her. Then I was a single mother with three children. Then they grew up and went away, and then the old people got old and needed care taking. So I learned early on to be the do-gooder. And I identified everything with this being that do-gooder. And I manipulated my world righteously as a do-gooder. I protected myself as a do-gooder; I was in control because I was a do-gooder. You couldn’t argue with me because I knew that I was right because I was the do-gooder.

Ken: [Laughs] Yes.

Student: Okay, so then I realized that. And at this point it just makes me sick because it has permeated my—

Ken: Mmm-hmm.

Student: And there’s nothing underneath that.

Ken: Very good, very good. You’ve taken an important step in reclaiming your life.

Student: Yeah.

Ken: Yeah. In what I was talking about yesterday, we see how pervasive the pattern is. And when see the pattern, you see it everywhere. That’s why one of the sections of the book is titled Patterns, Patterns Everywhere and Not a Moment’s Peace. An old paraphrase of the Ancient Mariner. And as you say, there is nothing under it—perhaps. Describe your experience of that nothing. Hm?

Student: It’s just there.

Ken: Mmm-hmm.

Student: Between here and there is nausea.

Ken: Ah, yes. [Laughter] But we’re focusing on—

Student: Here it’s okay—

Ken: We’re just focusing on the nothing right now. I’ll let you sort through the nausea because there will be a few months of that, probably, but let’s go to that nothing. Okay? Right there. Describe it.

Student: Physical sensation and lots of energy…like very intense…because of all the attention…I feel focused on it.

Ken: Mmm-hmm. What if you relax into it, rest in it?

Student: It’s like my body opens up.

Ken: Mmm-hmm. Now describe the experience.

Student: Opening.

Ken: Is it empty like empty space?

Student: No, it’s empty like energy.

Ken: Mmm-hmm. Is it only nothing?

Student: No.

Ken: What is there?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: What knows it?

Student: Say again.

Ken: What knows it?

Student: Nothing.

Ken: Nothing knows it, but it’s known right?

Student: Yeah.

Ken: Good. That’s your true nature. That’s what you really are. That wasn’t so bad, was it?

Student: No, I just don’t want to start playing games from here.

Ken: [Laughs] Oh, that’s the trick. Yeah, okay.


Student: I’d like to piggyback on [Ken laughs] all of that because what I suddenly came up against was that my attention was this hyper-vigilant experience. And once I recognized that I could not get out of it, is that every time I put my awareness into that space—

Ken: Yeah.

Student: A super-vigilant experience.

Ken: Yeah, so you’re hitting the actual operation of the pattern.

Student: Yeah.

Ken: Yeah and now you just rest in that experience—it’s not particularly comfortable, but that’s how you are all the time.

Student: Yeah.

Ken: Yes.

Student: I wrestled with my experience so it didn’t matter that I was resting in attention…

Ken: Yeah.

Student: [Unclear] super tense.

Ken: Sixteen eyes in all directions, right? Yeah.

Student: Yeah.

Ken: Yeah, good.

Okay, we’re going to stop here with the questions, okay.

Now, this afternoon I want to do an exercise with you which is, again, an interaction exercise. You’re going to get all the rules up front once more. The purpose of this exercise—and we’ll do two takes of it, it’s not a long one—is to experience how reaction in another person triggers a reaction in us. It’s okay; it’s very controlled.

Student: I’m just thinking how well I know this. [Laughter]

Ken: Well, we know it by its affect on us; we don’t know it by its experience.

Student: Oh.

Ken: And also how, in the moment, to step out of reacting to another person’s reactivity—that may be useful in our lives. [Laughter]

So, I want you to pair up again.

This is based on the six realms. How many are familiar with the six realms? Lots of people, good. One way to describe them is that each of the realms is the world, projected by a reactive emotion. When you’re angry, you see the world in terms of opposition. Doesn’t matter whether it’s your wife, your husband, your child, parent, whatever—when you’re angry, they’re the enemy. That’s it. You see the world in terms of opposition. It takes over your worldview completely. You forget this is your child: they’re the enemy. You forget this is your spouse: they’re the enemy. It may be only for a moment but it can have significant consequences.

Was it Robert Frost?

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say ’twill end in ice.

From what I’ve seen of human desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But I have seen enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And will suffice.

Wonderful, and you can see there are different flavors. You have the hot hells and the cold hells. Well, the hot hells describe hot anger [Ken makes explosion sound]. The cold hells describe hatred. Icy hatred. When you hate something you’re frozen inside. And to move out of that hatred feels like your skin is cracking. It’s exactly how cold hells are described in the texts—one has to learn how to read these texts, you know.

Hungry ghost realm. This is the realm projected by greed—”There just isn’t enough out there. There isn’t enough.“ It doesn’t matter how much you’ve got, there isn’t enough out there. And even if you’ve got a lot you can’t enjoy it because it’s never enough. There’s always that feeling there isn’t enough. So you’ve got to take, you gotta grab and get whatever you can.

Animal realm. Now, this is usually translated as stupidity, but it’s a little more subtle than that. I heard a delightful talk, a conference on Buddhism and psychoanalysis by, I think, it was Brian Wilson [James H. Austin, M.D.] the person who wrote Zen and the Brain. And his talk was not well received, but I thought it was one of the best. He analyzed…he discussed how the word self is used in contemporary psychology. And he went through nine different ways it’s used. You know, he ended up with a big mess of course.

But the way he started it off, he says, ”You know, I was talking with my dog the other day, and I said, ’What is your true nature?’“ He practices Zen you see. ”And my dog looked at me very intently. And I thought, ‘Oh, communication. Good.’ So I decided to go a little bit further. ‘What is your true nature?’ And he looked at me even more intently and he barked. And I thought, ’We’re getting there.’ So I said, ‘What is your true nature?’ Then he jumped on his feet, barked, and ran to his feeding bowl.“ [Laughter]

Now, this describes the animal world. Animals are very good at what they have been conditioned or evolved through evolution to do. Then they just do it very, very well. I was in the San Diego Zoo once watching the orangutans. And there they have a rope, you know, thirty feet down. And these apes go up that rope hand over hand—you never see a muscle flex—it is so incredibly smooth. Can you imagine climbing that? It’s extraordinary. But they hang up in trees all the time so they have it.

But anything outside that conditioning—it’s another story. You know, so there’s the cat hissing at his reflection in a mirror, you know [Ken makes hissing sound], or the dog scratching at the door, you know, pushing at the door. ”It’ll open I’ll just keep doing this enough, it’ll open.“ And we see this all the time.

So, what the animal realm is describing is the kind of automatic functioning used for survival—that’s what the animal realm is. And occasionally we fall into that.

Student: In every new situation…

Ken: Well, not everybody. The human realm is about satisfying desire. Now, it’s fundamentally different from the hungry ghost realm. They’re based on the same dynamic—that’s the three poisons—there’s attraction operating in both of them. But the hungry ghosts never experience any satisfaction, so there’s this bottomless pit of need which gives rise to the greed. In the human realm, and you can debate whether it’s worse or not, you experience satisfaction, [Ken lowers his voice dramatically] and you want more. So you end up working, and you work really hard. You end up working so hard to get more that you never get to experience more. But you do have that sense of satisfaction, whenever you get it, ”Ah, that felt good!“ and so now I want more of it. So it’s this endless cycle of desire and satisfaction.

Titan Realm. The titan realm is very closely related to the hungry ghost realm, and both are based of a sense of deficiency. The hungry ghost sees the deficiency out in the world; the titan sees the deficiency in themselves, so they’re always trying to be more, always trying to be the best. That’s why they’re intensely competitive. And so you always see the world in terms of who’s got the most and how do I get there?

And then there’s the god’s realm. The god’s realm is about people who have arrived. You know, and there’s a change. It’s no longer about striving to get more—it’s about maintaining your position. And there’s a feeling of superiority…superiority because you’ve done the right thing—you got there. If everybody else just understood how the world worked they would have the same thing—it’s their fault.

So, these are the six realms. Does anybody recognize any of these? Okay, just make sure I’m not speaking Greek here or Arabic.


Student: Where is fear?

Ken: Fear is the basis of all of these, so fear is a deeper-level emotion. You know, fear’s technical definition: fear is the last reactive mechanism of a pattern.

Student: Not the first?

Ken: No, it’s the last. It’s the deepest one, so whether you look it as the first or the last is depending on your perspective.

Now, in this exercise one of you is going to be in the realm and the other is just going to be there. And person A who’s in the realm is going to say to person B a sentence which captures the realm, or actually two sentences. For the hell realm the sentence is, ”You’re against me. I’m against you.“ And I want you to say these sentences in a flat monotone. You don’t have to put a lot of emotional energy into it because the point of the exercise is, when you hear someone say, ”You’re against me,“ to feel what comes up in you. So if the person’s saying, ”You’re against me!“ that’s going to decrease your ability to observe. When you hear those words, just observe what happens to you.

I was doing this at a training in New York. It was divided up in the same way, but I didn’t go into the business of the six realms. I just did the exercise and sat down. The first pair that I was working with, the person looked at his partner and he said, ”You’re against me,“ and she went, ”No I’m not.“ [Laughter] And that’s exactly what happens. Okay, so that’s what I want you to feel. ”You’re against me.“ And then same the person’s going to say, ”I’m against you.“ Now, one is the projection outwards, and the other is the statement inwards. And there’s a slightly different reaction but I want you to observe both of them.

Student: The fact that she and I were [unclear] I would say, ”I’m against you.“ She would say, ”You’re against me.“

Ken: No, you’re going to say…

Student: Both.

Ken: You say both. And then after you’ve gone through all six, then we’ll reverse the roles. Okay. And you’re going to find that each of the realms has a little different flavor and elicits something different.

Hungry ghost realm; always have trouble with this one. ”I’m taking everything.“ Or yes, you could say, ”It’s all mine.“ And the other sentence is, ”It’s all yours.“ You can feel the neediness in those lines right?

Student: ”It’s all yours.“ It’s all you?

Ken: Yes because they see it—it’s all yours—there’s nothing for me—or if you want, ”Everything belongs to you.“

Student: For both of them?

Ken: Yeah, either.

For the animal realm: ”I’m just trying to survive.“ ”You’re just trying to survive.“ Human realm: ”I’m just having fun.“ And again, ”You’re just having fun.“ Titan realm: ”I’m better than you.“ ”You’re better than me.“ God realm: ”I’m right and that’s just how it is.“ ”You’re right, that’s just how it is.“

Okay, everybody clear? Now we do this, because it doesn’t take very long, but with each sentence just observe what happens in you. These are not violent, you know, death-grip type reactions. And you’ll find probably that some of these elicit more in you than others because we all have our various predispositions. But just go through and then reverse roles and go through them again.

Student: The person who’s not acting, making the statements, is in their own mind getting into the realm [unclear]?

Ken: You’re just observing what each statement elicits in you.

Student: Oh, that’s all?

Ken: That’s all.

Student: We’re not…okay.

Ken: Now, the example I gave is when this person said, ”You’re against me.“ And they said, ”No, I’m not.“ She’d immediately taken on the projection. And so, him being in the hell realm had triggered her to go into the hell realm, and now they were in a fight. ”You’re against me.“ ”No, I’m not.“ ”Yes you are.“ ”No, I’m not.” Any fans of Monty Python here? Okay, anybody seen the one about argument?

Students: Yeah.

Student: No, I haven’t.

Ken: Yes.

I didn’t have an argument.
Yes you did.
No I didn’t.
It wasn’t the argument I wanted.
Doesn’t matter. That’s the argument you had. Five pounds. Please leave.
It’s wonderful. You know what the secret of Monty Python’s humor is?

Student: The six realms?

Ken: John Cleese does this wonderfully. Monty Python’s humor is all based on playing out what is going on inside all the time—it’s right out there. And some people love it—those dark souls—and other people hate it because it’s putting them in touch with what’s going on inside. Okay, so pair up.

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How reaction in others triggers reaction in one’s self (continued)Download

Reaction to, and continuation of, exercise in AFB 9a. Q&A on speaking in attention, anger and non-violence

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Okay, let’s come back together. [Ken rings bell] So much easier than shouting. Nah, that’s fine. Okay.

All right, what was your experience here? Now, this is no, you know, supercharged, lightning-bolts-from-the-sky kind of exercise, but what was your experience? Leslie?

Leslie: I thought anger and fear, and something left me cold, like fun, you know, [unclear] I’m not a big desire person. But when he said, “You’re against me,” but more clear than, “I’m against you…”

Ken: Mmm-hmm.

Leslie: …it was my bigness brought greater conflict inside me. And then when we went to the titans’ “I’m better than you,” it was like a flare of anger that carried all the way to the gods. [Laughter]

Ken: Watch your back, Ron. Anybody else?

Student: I really noticed that it was energetic. Like, with every one of them, when she was saying [unclear] when she would say, “You’re right, that’s just the way it is,” my energy go like this. When she would say she was right, I would kind of…with every one. I think because it was monotone, I could perceive that subtle shift in the direction energy was moving in.

Ken: Yeah, that’s the reason for doing it in a monotone—so you can actually sense that. And you bring up the gods’ realm. There’s a close relationship between the god realms and the hell realms. Why?

Student: Opposition.

Ken: Opposition. Because the gods oppose change. They’re about maintaining their position. But things change—you cannot possibly maintain your position. So once you arrive at the gods’ realm, you are now in war with impermanence—so you’re back in the hell realm.

You know, which is wonderfully ironic, given that the current stated foreign policy of the U.S. is to let no other power emerge which can threaten the U.S. A classic god realm; that’s really unfortunate.


Student: I’m just surprised that something so neutral evoking not, you know, thoughtful emotions here, but when like you said “I’m taking everything” [laughter] [unclear]…

Ken: Right, okay.

Student: You know, like, when you say, “It’s all yours,” it’s…

Ken: Yeah. [Laughter]

Student: Exactly. You know there’s nothing at stake here.

Ken: Right, but…

Student: But it’s crazy and I couldn’t stop my face from going… [Laughter]

Ken: That feels good. Right, but this is the nature of reaction.

Student: Mm.

Ken: Okay, we’re not talking about anything here, and it’s still operating. Okay, that’s how deeply this stuff is in us.

Student: Without a story.

Ken: Without a story, without any context, with nothing on the table—just a few words—and it’s right there. Now, what we’ve done in this exercise is simplify down, reduced to just a bare sentence what is actually going on in many conversations. In fact, probably most conversations [laughter]. And one person is saying to the other in so many words, “I’m right and that’s just how it is.” Or, “I’m against you, and you’ve got to deal with that.” Or you know, “My intention here is to take everything.”

Student: One thing I realized is that I heard a lot of people, because I was going through the same thing; struggling to kind of evoke some sort of emotion or feeling this morning, you know, whereas, in those five sentences that I said to him, as much happened in a way [Ken laughs] as happened all morning…

Ken: Yeah.

Student: …because I was actually dealing with another person even though there was nothing on the table.

Ken: Yeah, yeah. Yes?

Student: I wasn’t being outright with the first story of them, and then “I’m going to take everything,” and I thought, “Oh, I don’t think so” [Ken laughs], and yeah. And then good, “I’ll take it all; that’s okay.” And then when she said that, “You’re better than I am,” I said, “Maybe she is.” And I found myself retreating into like that sense…that lack of sense of…

Ken: Confidence?

Student: Confidence.

Ken: Yes?

Student: And okayness. I mean it was just…

Ken: And when she said, “I’m right and that’s just how it is”?

Student: I said, “Well maybe you are.” But then there’s another part that’s like, “Ah…”

Ken: But this is what happens in our interactions.

Now, I want you to do the same exercise except this time, when the person—and choose a different partner so you aren’t working with the same person—but this time when the person says a sentence, take a breath and just feel what goes on in you. Just take that one breath and actually feel it. So you’re going to have to go slower, and the person who’s saying the phrases, you need to give them time. So when the person says, “I’m against you,” and the other person’s going to go [Ken takes breath]. And see what changes. Okay? So I want to go through the same exercise with a different partner but this time taking a breath after each one.


What was your experience with this? Arthur?

Arthur: It gave me more time to feel it in the body this time around, during the breath…kind of get into the reaction that way.

Ken: Pardon?

Arthur: I could tune into my body’s reactions for it more…more time.

Ken: Okay. Yes?

Student: My reaction was similar. For most of them it was just a sadness that somebody was communicating that way, and I just…you know.

Ken: All right. Susan?

Susan: Much more compassion. Eeve with the one [unclear] and I said, “You know [unclear] I don’t have to go there.” But this whole sense of it being her point to take everything, “Well, we can talk about that. Maybe you need to take everything,” you know, where it was a whole different… and we had done some breathing in between, too. But the deep breath gave us a pause and that little pause that you could see a little tiny bit of the other person’s point of view.

Ken: Okay. Terry?

Terry: I felt in a different realm than I did with the first one.

Ken: Mmm-hmm.

Terry: And I think it’s because we’re different people in a different sense of fear [unclear].

Ken: Okay. Yes?

Student: I got unbelievably hot and waves of fear, just like that [snaps fingers in succession], and it was very rapid.

Ken: Okay. Yes?

Student: I had a lot of stories come up with the subjugation [unclear].

Ken: Mm. Okay. Yes?

Student: Yeah, I felt like her I-statements were very unsettling.

Ken: Mmm-hmm. Leslie?

Leslie: I didn’t know if I’d feel my belly, but I felt nothing. Like, I felt a flash of heat, but I couldn’t connect an emotion with it. And I don’t know. You know, felt it quite strongly the first time around. So I don’t know if I somehow knew I was looking for something—I don’t know.

Student: Mine was similar, it dissolved…

Ken: Pardon?

Student: The feeling dissolved for me.

Ken: When you took the breath? Mmm-hmm. Yes?

Student: I have a question I meant to ask you, but you know how, like, if you’re a Sagittarius you’re supposed to be with a Leo and stuff [laughter], I mean I feel like I’m primarily a hell realm person, and supposedly [unclear] you’re a hell realm person or a god realm person, is there any kind of…?

Ken: Let me return to that thorny topic. [Laughter] No. Charlotte?

Charlotte: Oh, I was just going to say, I felt less looking than statements.

Ken: Okay.

Now, with taking a breath, there’s a variety of experiences in the room. For many of you, what you’re describing is that taking that breath allowed you to feel your own reaction more completely. So, one person said they could. Many more stories going on; your family members showed up; could feel things more. And that’s good, because the first step to becoming free of reactivity is to actually experience it. It doesn’t go away until you experience it in yourself moment-to-moment.

Other people found that the reaction dissipated. Now, when you hold a reaction in attention, it appears to disappear. It’s because when the level of energy in your attention is higher than the level of energy in the reaction, the reaction can’t hold. And so it falls apart. And part of the purpose of the second half of the exercise was to experience the same thing. But by just taking a breath you’re moving into attention a little bit, and so you get much less caught up in the reactivity.

A practical application of this in your life: never say anything before you’ve taken one breath. It’s a very simple practice—changes the dynamics of conversation with other people completely.

Student: It seems to almost become like a sending and receiving practice.

Ken: That can come into it, but…

Student: It doesn’t have to be.

Ken: It doesn’t have to be, but it does become a practice in attention, because the person talks and they stop, and you take a breath. Now, seven times out of ten, they start talking again—which is great because you may not know what to say.

Student: Right.

Ken: And they give you all the information—works every time.

Student: Well, the other thing is it appears that you’re listening.

Ken: Well…

[Much laughter]
I’d like to say maybe you are listening [laughing] and not just giving the appearance thereof. It means that you’ll never interrupt somebody, which is usually appreciated. And, it also means that they have to be listening in order to hear you, because you’re not going to say anything until they’re in listening mode—until they’ve actually stopped talking.

Student: That is so frustrating. In our contract, there’s…I feel like there’s lots of times when I can’t be part of the conversation because in order to I’d have to interrupt. Really.

Ken: Mmm-hmm. Yeah. That’s a very simple application, and the other thing is if you do this, whatever you say in the conversation is much less likely to be reactive. If you couple that with the other practice that I suggested the other day—that is, when you do speak you listen to the sound of your own voice—I think you’ll find your interactions with people will change significantly. These are very simple things, but they are how you practice attention in your life.

In Chapter 6 in my book there’s an exercise called Emptying the Six Realms. It describes a process, but the essence is that when you encounter situations which elicit the realm in you, don’t try to push it away. So, you come into a situation where somebody is being very aggressive towards you. That almost always elicits either the hell realm, or the animal realm, or the titan realm. You’re either going to oppose them, you’re just going to try to survive, or you’re going to show them who’s boss. Right?

All of those are reactions. And you set in motion the kind of processes we’ve been talking about in karma. If you take a breath and you feel that impulse to oppose and you actually just experience it—which is anger in you—you experience the anger as a feeling, not as a fact. And what feelings tell you are not facts. It’s another reason why we include the stories. We understand that they’re stories; they are not facts. You go, “Oh, I’m angry. Hm. Don’t really need to be angry here.” And now you respond, but it’s coming from a very different place.

You may use the same words in the example that I was giving about this pair one person saying, “You’re against me,” and the other saying [angrily], “No! I’m not.” When we went through the exercise the second time, just taking the breath, it went like this, “You’re against me.” “No, I’m not.” [Ken speaking in very relaxed voice] And now it’s not about opposition and that kind of escalation. It is, “No, I’m not.” That’s just statement. And so it isn’t delivered with the same emotional charge, and it doesn’t escalate. So, you actually may use exactly the same words but because you’re in a different frame of mind, it’s going to produce a different effect.

And we have, probably because of the Indian tradition, the Tibetan tradition, we have all of this wonderful epic stage-setting. You know, we have Buddha with the ten thousand monks and forty thousand bodhisattvas floating in from realms all over the universe to come and gather for The Avatamsaka Sutra, etc. And, you know, the kings, and they do all of this wonderful stuff, and the descriptions of enlightenment and awakening are like, well, maybe in fifteen billion years I’ll get there. But it’s just about being right here, right now, that’s where the magic is—it’s not anywhere else. So you have to learn how to read these things and see what they’re really pointing to. It’s not far away.

You had a question, yes?

Student: Well, one is about when you’re being attacked…

Ken: When you’re being attacked…

Student: Yeah, and what if you’re actually, you know, [unclear] attacked [unclear].

Ken: Pardon?

Student: The first thing is that I would think I would be [unclear] protect myself [unclear].

Ken: Well, my colleague Yvonne Rand practiced at the Zen Center for many years in San Francisco, and some of you may know the Zen Center’s not in exactly the best part of town. It’s a lot better than it used to be, but it’s still a pretty bad part of town. Somebody grabbed her from behind, and she was carrying her purse, and she just swung around and smashed the purse in the other person’s face and that was the end of it. He ran off and she went home.

Student: What if [unclear]?

Ken: Ah.

Students: What?

Ken: Somebody you care deeply about—so this is a different kind of relationship.

Student: And he may have, you know, have more power than somebody.

Ken: And they’re attacking you physically? Like a child?

Student: Yes.

Ken: Well, it’s very important that you not be reactive then. Very important. And you may very well have to restrain them, but there’s a huge difference in restraining them and fighting them. You’re raising quite difficult questions which are a little beyond the scope of what we can do here today. And there’s also a whole history there, because these things don’t just arise by chance. So all of that comes into play. And in the actual moment you’re going to need to do what needs to be done so that nobody gets injured, because when physical injury occurs, things are just massively compounded on both sides. So physical safety’s very important. But then, one has to address not that behavior but what is actually happening in the relationship that produced that result. Because a physical attack in that kind of close relationship is a symptom—not a cause—but a symptom of other problems, and problems that have been ignored for a long time.


Student: In both the philosophy and the practice of Aikido is to take that kind of aggression and be able to move into a place where it’s benign.

Ken: That’s not exactly Aikido.

Student: Excuse me?

Ken: Aikido is not a particularly benign martial art.

Student: Well it depends on its practice. The way it was taught by the sensei, it was to take an aggressive act and render it neutral. I’ve seen many instances of it practiced that way. And I know that there are other schools that…

Ken: Well, it’s not up to you. And this is one of the things one needs to understand about conflict. This is taking us in a different direction. How far a conflict goes is always up to the other person. So yes, you may make a move, neutralize them. Do they stop? Maybe they stop—that’s good. If they don’t, they determine how far you have to go. You don’t control the course of conflict—there is no control. You can do your best to neutralize it, but that may not be what happens. Depends on the other party.

You can say, “No, no, I don’t want to fight. I don’t want to fight.” And they’ll swing at you anyway. And you take that swing, you deflect it, and you say, “I don’t want to fight.” And they come back, and they try to hit you twice. So you throw them and they end up flat on the ground. And you say, “I don’t want to fight.” And they keep coming back. Where do you stop? You don’t control this.

Student: I think the best thing I’ve ever heard a martial arts instructor say was on the first day of class asking the question, “What do you the best part of your body is to use as a weapon? And a really [unclear] student said, ”Your feet, your feet.“ And the instructor turned around and ran away, and she ran out of the class. And then she walked back and she said, ”That shows the [unclear].“

Ken: Yeah. I studied martial arts myself. You know, what’s the good outcome of a street fight? You walk home. That’s the good outcome. And you don’t control what happens, because it depends on how far the other person is going to take it. That’s what’s it’s like on the street, yeah.

Now, certainly in many martial arts, you learn how to neutralize things. But you do not know in a given situation whether neutralization is going to be enough to stop the fight. You and I, we mentioned Cool Hand Luke; you know, he never stopped.

One of the big dangers—particularly for people who study martial arts—is they think they can control situations. Control is an illusion—you don’t know who you’re dealing with. You don’t know what they’re going to do. You may think you’ve neutralized them and they pull out a knife. Now what do you do? If you’re good enough, maybe you can disarm them. They pull out a gun; now what do you do? You know, you disarm them, start to walk home, they’ve called fifteen buddies and now they’re going to take you apart limb by limb. You don’t know.

You never know, if you’re going into conflict, particularly physical conflict, how it’s going to end up. Well, all we can do is increase the probabilities that it ends without someone getting hurt. You can increase those probabilities, but you can’t control them.

Student: Yet the greatest the chance of being shot is doing good.

Ken: Oh, yes. Yep.


Paul: How does that fit with Gandhi’s non-violence and the British leaving India without barely a shot, his saying to his assassin at the moment that he was being shot, ”Bless you my son.“

Ken: Yeah.

Paul: How does it fit with Nelson Mandela, and Bishop Tutu and the whole reconciliation that has taken place in South Africa? Or we could cite many other examples…

Ken: Yeah.

Paul: …but aren’t there those who have lived incredible lives committed to non-violence committed to breaking the cycle of violence by receiving blows and not responding in kind. How does that fit with your response?

Ken: Well, I was just responding [to the statement that] in Aikido, ”You can neutralize them.“ I’m saying you may or may not be able to. I was just talking about one incident. Now in terms of non-violence, it’s very complex. One of the questions—would Gandhi’s methods have been effective against Nazi Germany? You know, that’s a question that’s often thrown out.

Paul: Gandhi himself raised that question.

Ken: Yeah, and it’s important; there’s something about the British sense of fair play [laughs], you know, which they got trapped by themselves. And there’s actually quite a lot of historical studies on how the British created a system of government in India—the logical conclusion of which is they were going to have to get out at some point. Which is what happened. And as you say it was relatively without violence—there was some.

There’s huge power, huge power, in being a spokesperson for what is. Gandhi was such; Nelson Mandela and others. They were spokespeople for what is. So in India, the British brought in the salt tax; Gandhi walks to the sea, picks up some sea water, lets it fall, dries, makes some salt—has broken the rule. That’s what is—this is a ridiculous tax. And because of the depth of his contemplation, really, he was able to see into the depth of things and expose them that way.

Now, there is an important proviso here—you have to be willing to die. You can’t guarantee that you will live.

A story is told of a young Japanese nobleman, he was the youngest in his family and had elected to study the tea ceremony, and at a relatively young age and become …came through the marketplace and a ronin—that is, an unemployed samurai—who thought, ”Ah, there’s an easy mark.“ And he jostled him. And then the samurai took offense and said, ”You pushed me.“ You know, ”You’ve dishonored me; we have to settle this.“ And the idea was that he would challenge this young scion to a duel, who would want to back out of it and have to pay a ransom, and [the samurai] would earn some money.

Well, the young nobleman said, ”My apologies to you. What are you suggesting here?“ And he says, ”Well, we meet tomorrow at six o’clock (at such and such a place) in the morning. Bring your sword. And we’ll have this out.“

The young man said, ”Okay.“ And then he went to one of his uncles who was a master swordsman, and he said, ”What do I do? I don’t want to pay him off—that would bring dishonor to our family. But how do I handle this situation?“ And his uncle said, ”You’ve studied tea haven’t you?“ He said, ”Yes.“ ”Serve tea.“

So got out the implements and went through the tea ceremony. And the uncle said, ”Hmm, okay here’s what you do. Arrive at five after six and apologize profusely for being late. Then bind up your sleeves this way.“ And he showed him how to bind his sleeves up the way that a master swordsman binds his sleeves so his clothes don’t get in the way. ”Then raise your sword over your head like this. When you feel his sword enter your body bring your sword down. Both of you will die and that’s that.“

This young nobleman said, ”Thank you.“ Next morning he went off and did exactly as his uncle had suggested. He arrived at five after six. The ronin, meantime, was thinking, ”Hmm, where’s that young nobleman? I’m going to have to go and tell his family that he didn’t show up and he’s brought disgrace. And it’s going to be more trouble than it’s worth.“

And then this person shows up says, ”I’m sorry I’m late.“ And the ronin’s puzzled, because this person seems to be more concerned with being late than with the fact that he’s going to die in a few minutes. And then he sees him start binding his sleeves up. And the ronin thinks, ”Hmm, that’s how an expert swordsman binds his sleeves. I may have made a mistake here.“ And then he sees the young nobleman stand in this very, very unusual posture for sword fighting [laughter]. Says, ”You know, never mind, bad idea. Forget the whole matter.“ And leaves, and that’s it.

Doesn’t always work out that way—you don’t know. But like Gandhi, like Mandela, and others he was willing to die, for, in this case, what he believed in—the honor of his family. Gandhi was absolutely ready to die for India. And that’s the other half here.

Student: It seems to me I remember some story in Tibetan history when the Chinese had invaded Tibet and ordered all the monks to leave the monasteries. And one monk refused to leave and stood in the midst of despair. And as I recall the story, the Chinese marched him [unclear] that single monk who was unwilling to move. And as the story goes, I think, the commander, the Chinese commander said, ”You know, without blinking an eye I could run my sword directly through you.“ And I think the response was, ”And you are looking at a man who could stand perfectly still while you drive your sword through me.“

Ken: Yeah.

Student: And we don’t know who told that story.

Ken: But there are similar stories from many other traditions. My favorite is…they had a lot of fighting in Japan at various ages. And one time a Zen monastery was overrun, and a soldier there was about to cut, slash the master. And the master looked at him and said, ”Like a flash of lightning your sword moves with the spring breeze.“ [Laughter] The soldier was so terrified that this person, at the moment of his death, could make up spontaneous poetry that he dropped his sword and ran.

I mean, it doesn’t have to be quite so dramatic. Sasaki Roshi was giving a sesshin in Vancouver. This was in the late ’60s, early ’70s, and that time people weren’t being screened properly. And for one of the meditation interviews—it was Rinzai; it’s a little high pressure, with Sasaki Roshi particularly—this person came in with a knife. And Sasaki Roshi just screamed. The person was so startled at the scream that he dropped the knife, bowed, and left—ran away. Senior students rushed in, go, ”What happened?“ And Sasaki Roshi described what had happened. And the senior student said, ”That was so brilliant!“ And Sasaki Roshi looked at him and said, ”Brilliant, shit! I was scared.” [Laughter]

And he was right in his fear and gave voice to it [laughter].

Okay, so this is about presence; it’s not about making things work out—that’s a very important distinction. Often, when we are present, things work out—that’s nice. But the practice is about being present—very important.

You had a question back here?

Student: Yes. To go back to something you said, about your voice. Yesterday, you talked about paying attention to your voice, and I’d like to decouple voice from dress [unclear], and also if you’re talking about volume as well as the words, you know, what you say…

Ken: When you listen to the sound of your own voice when you speak, you hear everything. You hear the volume, you hear the pitch, you hear the words, you hear the content. And you’ll also hear whether it’s your voice you’re talking in, or whether it’s somebody else’s—you know, one of your teachers, one of your parents, so forth. You’ll also hear whether what you are saying matches what you are feeling, whether the tone of voice aligns emotionally or doesn’t align emotionally with what you are feeling, and so forth. You hear all of this. And by listening to the sound of your own voice, whenever there is an imbalance, you will start detecting it and automatically, quite naturally, start adjusting it. So bit by bit as you do this practice, you will speak more and more in your own voice. And what you say is what you intend to say. And you will say it the way that you intend to say it. And it all comes from just being in attention when you speak. So it’s all of that, okay?

Let’s turn to meditation. I think we just have time to do two sessions before we close at five. Right? Okay, I want you to continue the practice of the five-step process, so that you’re resting in the experience of the difficult feelings in your patterns. Now is anybody short on difficult feelings? Everybody’s got material to work with? If not I will supply you with some.

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