Participant’s experience and questions; resting attention in experience; letting patterns open to you; resting in the experience of adversity. The audio for this series of podcasts was originally recorded on audio cassette. As such you may find the sound to be of a lower quality.
Work at resting in the field and doing that for a while. You’ll develop a capacity in attention in which you can start opening to what’s inside, and even at the stages of field, you can still work, to a certain extent, with a sense of balance and noticing imbalances.
One method of practice, and the method that I rely on principally in working with you and in my own practice, is resting attention in experience. In doing this, one’s capacity in attention gradually increases. Because you keep coming back in attention, keep coming back in attention. And as that capacity of attention increases, the energy of the attention penetrates more deeply into patterns. And as the energy penetrates into patterns, then you begin to experience what’s there, which is often confusing, disturbing, distracting, dulling, any of those typical reactions to pattern material.
Another method which some traditions and some individuals use is to develop significantly higher states of attention than one ordinarily has. Those higher energy states also penetrate into the pattern material. But you may or may not have an ongoing capacity in attention to handle what is being stirred up or being brought up by that.
A typical example of this, for instance—I don’t know whether it’s still going on—was primal scream [therapy], where you used a somewhat artificial technique to develop a high level of energy and stir stuff up. People would have these dramatic experiences. But it was an open question whether they could work with that material afterwards.
So, in response to Dan’s question in particular, in both the classical approach and the approach that I introduced, only what you have a capacity in attention to experience will actually emerge into awareness. As you actually experience that, with all of its ups and downs, ins and outs, turmoil and everything like that, then it releases. The energy that was locked up in that now becomes available for attention and one can start penetrating the next layer. Which is what I think you were talking about, that you were not aware of initially. And so it goes down, layer by layer—the old analogy of peeling the layers off an onion. This to me is a balanced and reasonably safe approach to practice.
In the [three-year] retreat, we were given energy transformation techniques which were very powerful. And unless you have a corresponding ongoing capacity of attention—i.e., mindfulness—weird stuff starts happening. And I’ve definitely come to appreciate, at least for myself, that working in a balanced way across all fronts produces better results than trying to go a long way in one area.
[A student describes a strange meditation experience in which a pattern seemed to take on the form of “a drunken sunflower,” which he tried working with in few different ways. ]
Ken: And what does it want?
Student: It wants to be seen.
Ken: Yes, but that reply is never specific enough for a practice purpose. How do you know what somebody wants? Sometimes when you ask what somebody wants, they go, “Oh, nothing.” Right? “Everything’s just fine.” And you can say to them, “I can tell by your behavior that everything’s not fine.” And they go, “What do you mean? Everything’s fine. I’m not going to talk about it anymore.” So, what do you do when you see a person, they seem to be upset about something and you ask them and they say, “No everything’s fine.” What do you do, how do you learn?
Student: You project.
Ken: You project? That’s not such a good idea.
Ken: [Psychiatrist] Milton Erickson was very good at this. In one of the more extreme cases which he recorded, was working in a mental health institution. There was one person in a ward who just spoke gibberish and would speak nothing else. So he couldn’t get any information about the man’s experience, and none of the staff knew how to work with him. So, when the man was leaning against the window sill or something, Erickson would just go over and lean against the window sill with him. And as he talked in gibberish, Erickson would listen very carefully. After a while, he would start speaking in the same gibberish. [Ken speaking gibberish] This went on for several months. And the guy finally turned to Erickson and said, “You know, you’re the only person here who makes sense.” [Laughter] Then he started to open up. Sometimes working with patterns can be like that.
So, have patience. Opening to the pattern is often effective. But when that’s not working, then you just sit down and let the pattern open to you. What you’re doing is just applying attention. You’re just there in attention. And you let the pattern open to you. Which may take, you know, five minutes, five hours, five years, but it doesn’t really matter. Okay.
[A student asks a question about opening to patterns in attention in the context of Tibetan meditation]
Ken: In 1986, Thrangu Rinpoche visited the center I was running in LA, and he set up a small program, which was very unusual for those times. You know, people would meditate and they would actually have a meditation interview with someone like Thrangu Rinpoche. I just had people practicing by resting with the breath. And they’d come and talk with Thrangu Rinpoche. Thrangu Rinpoche would give them very helpful instruction. I was translating for this. And at the end of this, Thrangu Rinpoche looked at me and said, “Your people, when they rest with the breath, they actually rest with the breath, don’t they?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “That never worked in Tibet. They just went to sleep. That’s why we had them say mantras.” [Laughter]
In our practice, most of you—all of you, really—when distraction arises, and disturbances arise, you don’t get carried away with them. I certainly noticed this in the interviews. If any of you are just getting carried away by them all of the time, you’re not telling me. So, as soon as a disturbance arises, you’re on top of it. Okay? Jump on it. Right? That’s what you’re all doing. Now, it’s not like jumping off a roof onto something. Or jumping off a horse and wrestling a cow to the ground or anything like that.
Most lay Tibetans, certainly, and a very good number of monastics, knew nothing about practice. I mean, from a practice point of view, all of you are very, very experienced compared to the average Tibetan monastic. I’m not kidding. When instruction is given in the Tibetan tradition, you say, “Just go and do this.” And people would just go off and do the liturgy and recite the mantra and they would not do anything else. If thoughts came through their head or emotions came, they would just sit there with their prayer wheel, mala, and do that. There would be absolutely no attempt to focus the mind or what have you. And that was very, very widespread. Their attitude to practice was, “My lama told me to do this, so I just do this, and I will get enlightened.” That’s it.
But they wouldn’t do anything in their practice. There wouldn’t be any energy. That’s why Thrangu Rinpoche said they’d just go to sleep. So the idea of actively engaging what arises and bringing attention to it in a very alive way, that’s what I think Kongtrül is speaking to.
I like to call it the direct awareness approach. This is very much out of my own practice. So, you’re guinea pigs, as most people are who attend retreats with me. Thank you.
Guy: It seems like a combination, it seems like it has elements of projection…
Ken: The principle here is rather than working with an object on which you’re projecting an emotion, you are working directly with the emotion. That’s the difference. It’s a method that I have found very effective for a large number of people in a lot of different situations. When someone is alienated from their own feelings for whatever reason, often from trauma or abuse. Where you’ve got really very painful stuff stored in the body and it’s been very strongly suppressed for long periods of time, it can be quite difficult for people to get in touch with. They can do the classical method, with stuff coming and going, with all people, but this stuff is still in them and still driving their reactivity. So, sometimes just to imagine yourself in front of you and doing taking and sending with you gradually it opens up. And in the same way that we’re talking, respecting an earlier question, you’re letting the patterns open to you.
Another application I discussed briefly in Wake Up To Your Life is when people have difficulty getting in touch with older material in themselves. They imagine themselves as a young child in front of them and do taking and sending with that child. Some people find this really opens things up. And as I think I mentioned the other day, in doing those techniques, I think it’s very important to be in touch with a person with whom you can talk about your experience. It’s not something I generally recommend people do completely on their own, because you are going to open up a lot of psychological material, generally speaking. Okay?
It’s definitely building on the experience we’ve had in the earlier part of this retreat. I think if I had introduced this technique at the beginning of this retreat, you’d be sitting there going, “Huh?” But I will explore this terminology, compassion for yourself. The compassion is actually directed out.
Student: At the pattern?
Ken: No, not at the pattern, either. The compassion arises as a response to what? To the suffering. So, it’s not compassion for yourself, it’s compassion arising as the natural response to the suffering which you’re aware you’re experiencing. This is very important: you can’t have compassion for yourself. Doesn’t make any sense. But compassion arises. Compassion is the response to the perception of the destructiveness of suffering. And that’s an important distinction. Yeah.
[A student says she’s having difficulty with taking and sending practice]
Ken: I suggest that you work just on maintaining the field in walking meditation and in the work period before trying to introduce the taking and sending. I think there isn’t a strong enough foundation. Rather than trying to do taking and sending in the work period, do focus. You know, if you’re watering, say, there’s the focus on the hose and water. Feel. Just open to the whole sensory experience and work with that for a while.
And then you can include the internal material. Then you find yourself experiencing presence as you’re watering, which could be interesting. And when you have that stabilized in action—because you’re now mixing it with activity—then you may be able to incorporate the taking and sending with that. But it sounds to me that there isn’t a strong enough foundation when you’re mixing practice with activity. You follow? Okay.
All right, now let’s turn to our text…
Student: Which page?
Ken: Oh. Page 37. In certain of these,
Three objects, three poisons, three seeds of virtue. It’s very straightforward in this approach. It’s just right there. But then,
Use maxims to train in all forms of activity. That’s not such a useful thing in this approach because that takes you back into the conceptual mind.
When misfortunes fill the world and its inhabitants, make adversity the path of awakening. Now, what happens with this approach, with this line? Well, the first thing is, when things are going wrong in your life, what’s the first step here?
Student: Go into it.
Ken: Exactly. Move right into the experience. You know, it’s all going wrong or there’s a conflict. Don’t try to resolve anything, don’t try to figure anything out, just experience it. And go through the primary practice, you know, focus, feel. And then internal material: when things are going wrong, when there’s a lot of trouble, there’s usually a fair amount of internal material there. So one may have to make some efforts at that point. Then you find yourself just present. And even that much changes your experience. But now you’re right in it and you start working with any sense of imbalance, anything that arises as other. When there’s a lot of adversity, there’s usually quite a few candidates for other. Okay?
Drive all blame into one. What’s the one here?
Student: Whatever’s happening.
Ken: Yeah, and when you open to that what do you experience? Coming into the experience of whatever is arising—no separation. You know, “Yes I’m responsible for everything.” And now you’re in it. So, it’s the sense of separation. Everything in one’s practice comes down to counteracting or undoing those tendencies in us which produce separation. Which is precisely reactivity. And the fundamental pattern of separation is attachment to a sense of self. But, in terms of direct awareness, it’s really the sense of separation. Okay?
Student: In terms of direct awareness, what is the mechanism of a direct awareness practice?
Ken: Haven’t got a clue. I mean, basically, I’m thinking about this as taking and sending from the dzogchen, mahamudra point of view, you know. But I keep emphasizing it’s an exploration.
Be grateful to everyone. I would alter that now to,
Be grateful to everything. Everything that you experience. Why?
Student: It’s what’s there?
Ken: It’s what’s there. Everything that you experience wakes you up. One of the ways you can explore this is walking meditation this evening. I mentioned this to a few of you. When you’re walking, rather than imagining or feeling that you’re putting your foot on the ground, feel that the earth is rising or the wood here is rising to support you. And as your weight comes onto it, it actually just supports you. So there’s almost an alive interaction between you and the floor, or between your foot and the floor. When you approach things that way, then what you actually experience becomes alive in a certain sense. Because it’s receiving you and your attention and there’s almost a kind of response, that alive quality.
That’s why a lot of people they like going out into nature, because that’s what happens spontaneously. But it really doesn’t depend on nature. It depends on how you you’re approaching experience.