Transformation In Taking And Sending Download
Transformation; make adversity the path of awakening; attention, intention, will; drive all blame into one. 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.
Ken: A couple of people haven’t come yet, so let’s start with any questions arising from your practice or from any of the teachings. If there are any questions?
Student: In the taking and sending practice, it was like I was suffocating when I was taking in others’ suffering.
Ken: When we experience things like that—the physical reaction—what you’re experiencing is the physical manifestation of the pattern of contraction, which is attempting to protect the experience of pain and suffering in another from being experienced in you.
Rather than try to get rid of it, just continue with the taking and sending practice. Maybe a little less intensity, so that you actually feel that. You experience it in attention. And, when you do this, it’ll probably get worse. It’ll get worse until you experience it completely. When you experience it completely, then it releases. And then you find yourself open to the pain of others in a way that you haven’t been before.
That’s how taking and sending works. You’re experiencing the friction of those two sticks. And so, don’t try to move away from it. Don’t try to do anything with it. Just continue the practice, and experience what is arising at the same time. Okay?
And sometimes it’ll feel like you can’t breathe. Sometimes you may feel like you have to double over in pain. And other times you feel like you’re flying high with joy and openness. And all kind of different experiences arise with this. And you do the same with every one of them. Okay?
Student: I had this tremendous guilt while I was trying to take the experience of torture victims in Bosnia.
Ken: I find guilt a very interesting emotion. So, you’re taking in—at least if I’ve understood you correctly—you’re taking in the rape, torture, mutilation that took place in the death camps in Bosnia. What would you send to those people? That you have.
Student: My life.
Ken: There you go. So you give them your life. And you send that. Is that obscene?
Student: It’s very difficult.
Ken: Yes. It feels very difficult because it actually heightens the experience of their suffering and the pain and loss. And you feel very self-conscious. Which I think is where guilt comes from. You feel very self-conscious: “I have this, all of this was taken away from them.”
Now, self-consciousness is organized around a sense of I, me. And the guilt is basically another pattern, trying to deflect attention away from that self-consciousness, which feels very uncomfortable. And so you feel that self-consciousness, and how totally irrelevant it is to the business of being present in the world. And the self-consciousness actually prevents you from sending what is appropriate in that situation. Right? So you train this way, you enter a situation where people are suffering. You’ll find yourself more freely able to give whatever you do have in that situation, without any sense of self-consciousness or me or being special. So this is very good. Difficult.
Student: Are eyes open or closed?
Ken: That doesn’t matter. You might find it easier doing it with closed; you can do it with open. It doesn’t make any difference.
The section we’re going to focus on today:
When misfortunes fill the world and its inhabitants,
Make adversity the path of awakening.
A little different from the translation that I made many years ago for The Great Path of Awakening. In here [Mind Training Santa Fe Retreat booklet], page 37; in here [2005 edition of The Great Path of Awakening], page 17.
I want to talk a bit about the nature of transformation. Transformation is what makes spiritual practice possible. So it’s very important. When I was giving you the instructions on taking and sending, I said very explicitly that it’s an exchange, not a transformation. That is, you take in the suffering of others; you give your own happiness to them. And you don’t take in the suffering of others, do this alchemical little thing, and send it out as happiness. Because basically, then you’re just a catalyst and nothing touches you, and it doesn’t do anything to bring you in touch with your own resistance to being present with the pain in others and your own attachment to what you have that you enjoy and find fulfilling in your own life. Cause all you’re doing is taking this thing—doesn’t cost you anything, in other words. You aren’t giving anything away. You’re just giving them transformed suffering, right? You aren’t taking anything in, because it’s not gonna to touch you—you know you’re gonna do a nice little alchemical thing.
So, when you take the suffering in and you give your own happiness, as I said earlier, it’s like the habitual way that we operate. The habitual tendency—to take what supports our sense of self and to push away what threatens our sense of self—we’re reversing with this practice. So it’s like the two sticks rubbing together.
Now, this is the transformation. The general process of transformation is that you bring attention to what operates habitually. Now, one can use different metaphors here or analogies. One that I sometimes use is that patterns are like a crystal. That is, energy has coalesced into a set form. Think of it like ice. Now, ice is made up of H20 molecules, but they’re joined in a crystal structure. And they can’t move very much and they’re rigid. And, most of you know, patterns are like that: fixed ways of operating.
Attention can loosely be described as directed energy. So, just as when the sun shines on a piece of ice, the rays of the sun penetrate the ice, and energy is added to the crystals, or to the molecules. And eventually they get enough energy that they cannot hold the crystalline structure anymore, and the ice melts and becomes water. Now it’s much more fluid, of course. In the same way, attention—which is directed energy—is directed into a pattern—in this case self-cherishing—and everything that’s locked up in there is given energy.
You know what the immediate consequence of that is? You get to experience it. Everything that’s locked up. And that’s why these practices are often very difficult and quite painful, because you’re experiencing what has been locked up in there, which is usually some unexperienced pain or trauma. It can actually be a positive experience that you couldn’t assimilate at the time it arose. Stuff is locked up. And as that is experienced, what you’re experiencing is the breaking up of the pattern.
Now, this isn’t a particularly smooth or linear process. There are many, many ups and downs, because sometimes we can focus energy much more into it and then it goes very deep, and it’s really challenging. And other times you’re skating over the surface—it goes up and down—and there are big fluctuations. But as we do this consistently, eventually the pattern cannot hold. And what is happening is, you experience—if this is the pattern, locked up, and this is the attention, the pattern and attention meet, so you experience the operation of the pattern in attention. And that’s what leads to the transformation of the energy that’s locked up into the pattern into awareness or attention.
Now, we have two main disciplines. Not in the Buddhist context, but one way that people seek to sort their lives out is psychotherapy. Another way that people seek to sort their lives out is spiritual practice or meditation. What often happens in psychotherapy is that people are put in touch with their pattern material and simply relive it, because they don’t have any attention. And so they go through the thing over and over again. But not a lot of change takes place.
On the other hand, there are many, many places where people practice meditation, and they get very, very good at meditating and resting in attention. They can rest in attention quite deeply, but they never bring that attention to the operation of the patterns. So as soon as they get up from their mat, they’re a complete jerk. And there are hundreds of thousands of these jerks. [Laughter] Does anybody know of what I speak?
Ken: A woman I worked with some time ago, who is quite a talented artist, practiced TM [Transcendental Meditation] for years. And when I listened to her experience in her meditation, it was quite profound. And her life was a total mess. Because she’d never brought that attention that she had cultivated in TM practice to bear on the actual issues which were operating in her. And so I started showing her how to do this—she did not like it. It was very, very difficult.
But this is what we are doing with this practice. And it is really the heart of effective practice: bring attention to the operation of the pattern material, so you experience the operation of the pattern in attention. So in essence, you’re awake in the pattern. And then you really experience how it operates. And it doesn’t feel good, because attention’s penetrating. And you’re experiencing what the pattern was set up to protect. And when you experience what the pattern was set up to protect, you take the guts out of the pattern. Now it no longer has any function because you know you can experience that. And anything that you experience that comes and goes—what’s the one thing you know about it? Its relationship with you. It’s not what you are. We get stuck on stuff because we think, “If I experience this, this is what I am.” It’s a certain self-image. Identity. Sense of self. But when we experience that as something that just comes and goes, you go, “Oh.” And several things happen then. We go, “Oh. I’m not that after all?” And we can feel a sense of loss. Or we can feel a sense of freedom. But in either case, it drops away, and we gain another dimension of freedom in our lives.
So, this is the essence of transformation. So, Pat, you were doing this practice with a person who’s very ill, right? And you felt happy, joyful. And Shauna, you were describing a feeling of joy, but it didn’t feel like it was yours. Okay. What you’re experiencing there is the immeasurable joy. And sort of my favorite term for the four immeasurables, these are impersonal emotions. They’re higher emotions because they are not associated with a sense of self. That’s why they’re impersonal. That doesn’t mean that they’re cold or removed, in fact they’re the very opposite of that. But they aren’t associated with a sense of self, and you think, “Wow, how can I feel this?” But it’s there. And this is the capacity of our human nature.
When misfortunes fill the world and its inhabitants,
Make adversity the path of awakening.
What we generally do when things go wrong in our lives, we think, “Oh, poor me. Why me? Why is this happening to me?” Something along those lines. “This is terrible. How am I going to survive this? I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
The phrase that I love most—and it’s just wonderful—“I don’t think I can handle this.” You know, well, I’m sorry. You are going to handle it. You may handle it gracefully. You may not handle it gracefully. But you are going to handle it. [Laughs] You may make a big mess in the way that you handle it; maybe you’ll do it very elegantly. But you are going to handle it. You do not have a choice. When people say, “I can’t handle it”—sorry. Now, you can see in all of those phrases how it’s all about me.
In taking and sending, and mind training in general, we take these challenging situations and we use them. Buddhist practice in general—mind training in particular—is best done cold-bloodedly. Okay? And by that I mean you take an absolutely cold-blooded, ruthless approach to the operation of patterned material. How many of you have got into an argument with one of your patterns at any point? You never win an argument with a pattern. You can cut through the pattern, but you never win an argument. Patterns always win the argument. So you can’t negotiate with them. Don’t bother trying.
What is the one thing that you have that patterns do not have? Awareness. Okay? Patterns are programs, tapes, algorithms—whatever you want to call them—mechanisms. And they operate blindly based exclusively on past history. You have awareness. You have the ability to do what’s appropriate in the present. Patterns can be lucky and pick something that works in the present sometimes. But that’s actually fortuitous. Awareness is not, because it’s relating directly to the present.
Now, how to bring out this quality, this willingness to work with whatever arises? The first thing we have to do is stop caring about what happens to us. You know, something bad happens—okay. Something good happens—okay. Because what is the driving or fundamental motivation in our lives is to wake up and be present. It’s not to have a good time. You know, if you wanted to have a good time, you’d be doing something else this weekend. [Laughter] Right? Just thought I’d remind you.
Student: Is it too late to get a refund? [Laughter]
Ken: It was too late many years ago. [Laughter]
Ken: Now, I said earlier that attention is directed energy. Intention is directed attention. Will is directed intention. Or to put it slightly differently, attention is the ability to direct energy. Intention is the ability to direct attention. Will is the ability to direct intention. What does this mean in practice? It means at the level of will, you’re able to use whatever happens. You can shape your intention so that you can use whatever happens for what you’re willing towards. And here, the will is towards waking up.
A couple of years ago, I had a disruption in a very, very close friendship. And I’d said something which offended this person, but I wasn’t aware that I had. I called him up a couple of days later and—about something else—and before I could say anything he said, “Ken, we have a problem.” Click. And I felt like I had been hit in the stomach with a diesel locomotive. This is a very close friend. And I stayed right in the experience. Which wasn’t a lot of fun. And it was a bit weird cause I was in a deli at the time—Jewish deli—and had a crazy waitress. Totally surreal experience. [Laughs] And just stayed right in the experience.
And the power of that situation was such that it put me in touch with a whole bunch of stuff: dynamics that operated earlier in my life, which I had never really appreciated about how people shut down relationship to me without warning. I just—and I was always left in a kind of—“Huh? What happened?” So I was able to experience all of that material. Now, a couple of days later we got together and worked through things without any problem. And I said, you know, “By the way, I was able to use this experience,” and described what had happened. And he said, “Well, good for you. That wasn’t my intention, of course. I was just angry with you.”
But this is what it means
When misfortunes fill the world and its inhabitants, Make adversity the path of awakening. Use that situation. So if somebody does something unexpected that’s really, really upsetting to you, or very painful, or shocking—betrayal is a great thing to work with here—use it. Use it. That is, bring your attention right in and experience what is arising right there. Because that’s how the transformation takes place. And that’s basically what it means to practice in all circumstances. That whatever happens, you experience it as completely as you can.
Now, there are a number of instructions here which help you do this. And you can see that they fall into three categories. The first two pertain to how we interact with others. And the first one is wonderful:
Drive all blame into one.
Basically, what this means is that you are responsible for everything that’s gone on—that’s gone wrong in the world. Each one of you. You know, in your life, in the life of every being on this planet, you’re responsible for everything that’s gone wrong. How does that feel?
Student: Power. [Laughter]
Ken: Either you’re very clever, or you’ve just walked into my trap. [Laughs] Say more.
Student: Well, if I’m responsible for everything, then I can have that power to change things.
Ken: Exactly. What happens to guilt?
Student: It goes.
Ken: Exactly. So if you’re responsible for everything, you’re to blame for everything—guilt’s gone. You don’t have that luxury anymore. Okay? You’re to blame for everything. You’re the universal screw-up. [Laughter] Everything that goes on in the world: your fault. That’s it. Now, when you really sit with that, how does it feel? Does it feel heavy?
Ken: No. Yeah, very freeing. That’s transformation. Now, it’s very easy to do it right now. We’re just doing it, like, theoretically. Okay? So, you leave this retreat, you go to work, and your boss says, “Where the hell have you been? Do you know that we lost these contracts, and so-and-so’s left, and all this stuff is falling apart. This is the last time you can go on vacation.” You didn’t know this was a vacation, right? [Laughter] Okay, now do this instruction. What do you do? How do you respond? [Laughs]
Student: Yeah, I know.
Ken: Shauna? [Laughs]
Shauna: What? [Laughs]
Ken: A little too close to home? [Laughs] How do you respond?
Student: Well, it actually might help…
Ken: Yeah, but if your boss is there it’s probably not a good idea just to go, “Yeah.” [Laughter] So? [Laughs] Right. What do you do?
Student: You agree with him
Ken: Say it again.
Student: You agree with him.
Take all loss and defeat for yourself, Give all gain and victory to others.
“So, yeah, you’re right. This business depends totally on me.” And, “Okay, I’ll get to work.” And you go about, and you do your work. What’s your boss going to do? [Laughs] Right?
Rule of thumb: When somebody insults you, agree with them. “You are the meanest, most selfish person I ever met.” “You’re probably right.” Where did it go? Now how does it feel to do that? What does it rub against? [Laughs] Yes, what does it rub against? [Laughter]
Student: Well, I was gonna say, “self…”
Ken: Well, yes, but more specifically, “This is not who I am!” [Laughs] Right?
Student: “You don’t see me.”
Ken: That’s right. Janaki?
Janaki: You’re right. I’m the most selfish person they ever met.
Ken: Most selfish person they’ve ever met. Yeah..