Practices | Basics
Mountain, Sea, and SkyDownload
A series of guided meditations beginning with “body like a mountain”, opening to the experience of the body sitting, free from any kind of effort, and grounding awareness in the present. With “breath like the sea”, opening to the constant movement of the breath, like the waves in the sea, up and down. Finally, “mind like the sky”, receiving everything that arises and not reacting or controlling. Participant experience at each stage of the process.
The first thing I want to say about meditation is that, there are many different kinds. And I am going to talk this evening, and lead you through a process in the approach to meditation practice, that I personally have found most fruitful. So this is a very prejudiced talk right from the beginning. And I’ve been exposed to a lot of different meditation practices. In my training, I’ve probably received training in about 150 to 200, somewhere around there. I’ve never counted. And one of the things that screwed me up for a very, very long time was the idea of trying to get somewhere.
How many of you practice with the idea of trying to get somewhere? Well there’s two or three honest people in the room. We all do. We all come with that. And what I have found is, what we are doing in meditation is practicing. And I really want to emphasize that word, practicing a different way of experiencing life. Let me say that again. We’re practicing a different way of experiencing life. Now, the reason I want to emphasize the word practice, is because when we’re practicing something, we’re allowed to fail. We don’t have to do it perfectly, because we’re practicing.
How many of you play a musical instrument? Okay, how many of you have practiced scales? Okay. And when you are practicing scales, how upset do you get when you make a mistake. Anybody? It’s not the end of the world, is it? Because you’re practicing. You make a mistake, you do it again, and you learn by it. And this is what we’re doing in meditation. It isn’t about being perfect, at all. It’s about practicing.
Now, the second piece I want to focus on is a different way of experiencing life. Now: how many of you, when you practice meditation, are bothered by thoughts? Ah, a lot more honest people in the room now, I like that. Okay. There is an eleventh-century teacher in Tibet, who is very famous. His name is Gampopa. And he once said, “I have this student who meditates in the mountains. And he keeps practicing trying to have no thoughts. If he stopped trying to get rid of thoughts, he would have been enlightened years ago. But he keeps trying to get rid of all the thoughts.”
And another teacher, this is a contemporary teacher, a person on the East Coast, Gunaratana. He says, “Thoughts are to the mind, what sweat is to the body!” We have thoughts. Thoughts are not the problem. That’s one of the things I want to get across to you. The problem is is thinking. Thoughts are like leaves in the wind. Thinking is like chasing the leaves. So there’s a difference. There’s no problem about leaves in the wind. It doesn’t interfere with you walking at all. But if you chase them, then you have a big problem. Because they are going all over the place and you get very confused and disorientated. Which is exactly what happens when we fall into thinking when we meditate. So, thoughts are not the problem, thinking, may be.
So, how do we step out? And that’s the first difference in this different way of relating to the world, this different way of experiencing the world. How many of you spend a good bit of your time thinking? How many of you are prone to a little anxiety? Okay, you spend all your time thinking! Because that’s what anxiety is. It’s thinking about this and thinking about that.
So is there a way of experiencing the world, without thinking? Not getting rid of thoughts necessarily, but just without thinking. That’s what I want to explore with you this evening, okay.
So, I am calling this talk this evening Mountain, Sea and Sky. And we are going to go through three things here. And the first is about mountain. And the line that we are going to work with is, body like a mountain. That’s not very difficult. Body like a mountain. Now, when you hear that, what’s the first thing that comes into your mind? Anybody?
Ken: Stillness, okay. Anybody else?
Ken: Stillness, okay. You said that so beautifully. Okay, over here.
Ken: Solid. Okay. Anybody else?
Ken: Large. Okay. One more.
Ken: Foundation. Okay.
So we have still, solid, large and foundation. I would like to introduce one more thing. Let’s look at each of these actually.
Does a mountain hold it’s self still? No. It is still, but it doesn’t hold itself still. So when we talk about body like a mountain, we aren’t talking about making, or holding ourself still. We are talking about being still. And we’ll talk a little bit more about that, because that’s a very important point.
I think the second one was solid, wasn’t it? Okay. Now, when we think of solid, we can think of hard, we can think of dense. We think of unmovable, etc., etc. And again, is a mountain trying to be any of those things? No. This is very important. A mountain isn’t trying to be any of those things.
Foundation. You know, rooted in the earth. It spreads out at the bottom; you never see mountains perched on a small point. And they have a big base, right? Well, there a few things we can take from that. If we are going to be body like a mountain, then just feel the foundation on which you’re sitting. Some of you are sitting on cushions right now, some of you, like me, are sitting on chairs. Feel the earth supporting you. And there is a big difference between sitting on the earth and feeling the earth support you.
Try those two, feel like you are sitting on something, and then feel like you are being supported. Is there a difference there? How would you describe that? Anybody?
Student: For me it felt like the sitting, one felt heavy, and then being held, you know felt light.
Ken: Right. You don’t have to worry about your own weight, do you?
Ken: It’s there. So that’s very important.
And I think the last point that was raised, was large. Well, this actually takes us into something, which is not exactly like large, I am going to say, depth. Now, how deeply can you experience your body? You know there’s that quality. There’s a certain—what’s the word I want, forgetting all my words tonight—bigness and awareness, which allows us to sense and appreciate the depth in our body. I know that’s a bit poetic, but is it communicating anything to you? Okay.
Now there’s one more thing that I want to introduce here, about mountains. How much effort does a mountain exert? Anybody? None. How much effort do you exert when you practice? [Laughter] I mean if you are anything like me, it was like push, push and push. Hold mind! No thoughts! Nothing!
Once, one of my teachers was talking about a certain kind of practice in the Tibetan tradition, relatively complex visualization practices. And he sat like this, and said, “So you visualize this, and you visualize this, and you do this, and you do this, and you are holding it all together.” And squinting his eyes, and clenching his forehead, “And you are really working at this hard!” And then you get a headache!
So, no effort. So, what I want to do now, we are just going to meditate for a short time together, but I want you to meditate this way. I want you to practice experiencing your life this way. And you know what the first aspect of your life is? It’s our body, and everything that we sense in our body. And every thing that we sense in our body, includes everything that we see, everything that we hear, all that’s going on. The sensations of touch, smell and taste, as well. That’s all to do with our body. Because, all of that comes through our body. So, find a way to sit, where you can sit without exerting effort. And you are going to find, to do that, it will help to have the back straight. And to have the head positioned on top of the spine. The chin, brought in slightly, the hands situated in such a way, that your elbows are right under your shoulders. And just feel like the body is a mountain. It’s not trying to be still, it just is. It’s not trying to be solid, it just is. And, this comes about, because you are sitting and not making any effort, whatsoever. Just sitting.
And to help you a little bit. You are sitting in the experience of breathing, and I am going to talk more about the breath in a few moments. So, meditate for a few minutes this way, and then take up something about your experience.
Body like a mountain. Feel your body, there maybe all kinds of sensations in your body. Maybe some pains, maybe some tensions, maybe feelings of warmth and relaxation. Whatever you experience, be aware of your whole body, and include whatever sensations, comfortable or uncomfortable, in that awareness of the whole body. So your body just sits, perfectly at ease, like a mountain.
Your body naturally moves with the breath, so don’t try to hold the body still. Let the body move with the breath, however it wants, and you may find, that it becomes still on it’s own.
I also talked about depth in the body. So feel your body as deeply as you can.
You opening to your body, and your body opening to you.
And if you get distracted, involved in a bunch of thoughts, remember, this is practice. When you become aware of that, relax and just come back to the sensation of your body and rest there. So rather than trying to hold your self still, just return and be still. You may only be still for a few moments, and that’s fine. This is practice. And whenever you recognize that you become agitated or distracted, relax, and return.
Don’t try to make things one way or another. A mountain doesn’t care whether the sky is cloudy or clear. Whether there’s wind or not. Just whatever is there, experience it. It’s a different way of experiencing life. Not wanting it to be this way or that. Just experiencing it, however it is.
Body like a mountain.
Okay, what was this like for you? Anybody, some people we haven’t heard from yet. Yes could you pass the mike back there please.
Student: I just really thought that the vision, sort of like swept, I was thinking of stuff pouring off, like rain, like anything can happen, I don’t know, it was interesting. I liked it.
Ken: Anything can happen and I don’t have to do anything about it. Right? So, go a little bit deeper into your experience.
Student: Well, there was a lot of falling asleep that happened, unfortunately.
Ken: That’s very understandable, because we come out of our days, and the body rests, and the body says, “Oh good.” [Snore] And it happens all the time.
Student: But I definitely managed to be less frustrated with that. Woken up and just here. It felt like a helpful image for me.
Ken: Okay. Very good. Somebody else. Nobody got anything? That’s what I love. Nobody gets anything out of these!
Student: I kind of went to—like a visionary stance on it, where I almost like—put myself on the mountain.
Student: Rather than focusing on like—the sitting up position, I tried to feel the earth underneath me, really heavy, and like—be that mountain, not move, as if I was that stationary mountain. And it was really helpful to me. And it was calming to feel support of the earth under me, and becoming part of that stillness. I felt like sometimes I feel the air, I smell something, and it gets me off path, and I just got bought back to—like me being the tip of the mountain.
Ken: Very good. Thank you.
Guy: I had an experience of a lot of energy coming from below. And it was kind of surprising.
Okay. Now, what’s important to note here, there isn’t one right experience. There isn’t one way to do this. This is practicing a different way of experiencing life. So, each of you are going to have your own experience, because each of you have a different experience of life. I don’t think any two people, any two of us here, have the same experience of life. And so your meditation experience is also going to be different. But these instructions can still help us, because they point us in a way of, “Oh, I can approach my experience this way,” and then it’s different.
Now, I want to introduce the second. Traditionally this was breath like the wind, but as I was practicing over the last few days, thinking about coming here this evening, it seemed to me that breath like the sea actually works better.
Now, we live close to the ocean here in Los Angeles. Now except in really exceptional circumstances, you go down to the beach, and what’s one thing that’s always there. Sand? But we are talking about water here! [Laughter] Yes, there are waves, right? And, it struck me that the breath comes in waves. It goes up and down, up and down. Now, how big is the ocean?
Ken: How big is your breath? Okay. What if you relate to your breath, as being like the sea? Now, again, you can feel the depth there.
Now sometimes, do any of you notice, how your breath changes while you practice? Sometimes it’s short and shallow, sometimes it’s long and shallow. Sometimes it’s long and deep, sometimes its short and deep. Sometimes it’s very ragged. You know, usually lots of people here feeling anxiety, that makes a ragged breath. I always find that my breath is much more ragged when I am thinking. There’s quite a close relationship there.
And this is like the sea. Because, there are big slow waves, and then there are little waves, and then there are choppy things. But it doesn’t matter what is happening, there’s still that infinite depth, an infinite expanse. So in the next period, in addition to body like a mountain, I want you to consider breath like the sea. You breath in, it’s a wave rising, breathe out. It’s a wave falling. Breathing in. And how successful are people at controlling the waves on the sea? I mean, it’s unimaginable, we can make small waves if we have really big ocean liners, or something like that. But, you can’t control the waves on the sea. And they can be huge.
I once read an account of a person who tended a lighthouse of the coast of Nova Scotia. And during storms he would walk down to the beach, and he would watch hundred foot waves crashing on the beach, and we have that much water coming down, can you believe this, the beach shakes. Have you ever imagined that the beach is shaking? Big waves!
So. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in you, or how you’re breathing. You don’t have to worry about that at all. In the same way you don’t have to worry about what’s going on in your body, if your body is like a mountain. However it is, that’s your breath. And you just breathe. And let the breath come and go. Like the waves in the sea. At the same time, you let your body continue to be like a mountain. So, we’re not moving from the body to the breath. I want to make that very clear.
We have the body, and now we’re adding the breath. So I am asking you to do two things now. It’s going to get more complicated, soon I will ask you to do three. But, that’s as far as I am going this evening. So, body like a mountain, breath like the sea.
Now, before we go, any questions about this? Anybody got anything they would like to ask? And I do like to have questions. But I’m out of luck tonight. Okay. So, body like a mountain, breath like the sea.
So as you sit, just let your body breathe, let the motion of the body, breathing, be like the waves in the sea. They come and go, on their own, no control on your part, and if anything, it’s just like you’re riding the wave. While your body sits, making no effort at all, like a mountain.
Body like a mountain, breath like the sea.
Feel the waves, rising and falling, on their own.
You may, sometimes feel like you are the wave, rising and falling. You may also feel, sometimes you are the mountain.
If you lose track of the breath, this is practice, that’s fine. There comes that moment of recognition, and then you just come back to: body like a mountain, and the wave of your breath.
The breath comes and goes. Let the breath be like the sea, infinitely deep, and this regular pattern of waves, rising and falling.
As you rest this way, you may notice tensions in your body. Don’t try to relax them. Keep attention on the whole of your body, and include the sensation of tension, in your awareness. You may find that something changes, perhaps not right away. One place that many of us hold tension is in the jaw. So what’s happening in your jaw right now. Another place of course is the shoulders. Have you ever seen a mountain hunch its shoulders?
Let yourself rest in the rising and falling of the waves of your breath.
Body like a mountain, breath like the sea.
Body like a mountain, breath like the sea.
Again, if you fall asleep, or you are distracted, you always come back to yourself, that’s the way we are. As soon as you do, don’t bother beating yourself up, this is just practice, and come back to: body like a mountain, breath like the sea.
So just move the body around just a little bit. You’ve been sitting still for a while now. Move your arms, move your shoulders, legs, stretch a little bit if you want. Anybody? Thank you. Talk about your experience.
Student: Hi, if this is practice, then what are we practicing for?
Ken: [Laughter] You are going to need this. [Laughter] Why did you come here this evening?
Student: To meet my friend.
Ken: Okay, you met your friend, but you stayed. And you’re sitting here.
Student: I’m still meeting my friend.
Ken: Yes, and you’re not interested in meditation at all?
Ken: You’re not interested in meditation at all?
Student: Yes, I’m interested in meditation.
Ken: So why are you interested in meditation?
Student: Well, I don’t know.
Ken: I’m going to ask you to dig a little deeper. Because you didn’t come here just to meet your friend. You could have met in Starbucks.
Student: This is where I always meet my friend.
Ken: Okay, you come here when you practice meditation too, don’t you?
Ken: Why do you choose this place?
Student: It’s the only place I know.
Ken: And why are you interested in meditation?
Student: I don’t know.
Ken: Oh, okay. So when you sit this way, what do you experience?
Ken: Nothing? You have no thoughts, no sensations, absolutely blank for the last ten minutes?
Student: Pretty much.
Ken: Were you asleep?
Ken: Were you at peace?
Student: I don’t know.
Ken: No? You don’t know whether you were at peace?
Student: It was just time passing.
Ken: Right. Were you bored?
Ken: Okay, do you have a use for this experience?
Student: I’m experiencing the experience, so I don’t know what the use is.
Ken: Well, you remember earlier this evening I asked if people were anxious? And almost everybody held up their hand, but I don’t recall whether you held up your hand. Did you?
Ken: No, so you’re not anxious?
Ken: Well, all of these people who are anxious, they have a use for this experience, you see. How many of you felt a little less anxious for this? You see, take a look around. See all those hands? They have a use for this experience. They’re looking for a different way of experiencing life. But maybe the way you’re experiencing life is just fine for you.
Student: I don’t know.
Ken: Yeah. And that’s fine. But when I asked, “What are you practicing for?” most of us come to meditation practice, because we don’t like the way that we experience life. Is that fair? See, I actually got some agreement there. And so, it’s that discomfort or struggle with the experience of life, that brings people to practice meditation. Other people do other things. Some of them take drugs to get away from the struggle of life. Some of them, you know, build businesses, some of them do all kinds of crazy things. But people come here—
Student: No, I think my question was more along the lines of like: if we’re quote, unquote, practicing something, then what are we practicing for? Usually there is something that we are practicing for. Like when you’re playing the guitar you’re trying to learn a song or there is some sort of goal in mind. I am wondering like, we are practicing, but is there something that we are practicing for, or that we are trying to achieve? Because to me its already perfect. So what’s the point of practicing when it’s already perfect.
Ken: And that’s a very important point. If it is already perfect for you, there is absolutely no point in you practicing.
Ken: [Laughter] And that’s true. If that is how life is, you are very, very blessed. You are extraordinarily blessed. That’s wonderful. You can meet your friend here, sit quietly, enjoy the passing of time. Fine.
But if your life is perfect and if things are just perfect the way they are, the way things are are perfect, then there really isn’t any point in practicing. So that’s great. You are very fortunate. Maybe I should study with you? [Laughter]
Okay, anybody else? Please. What was this like: body like a mountain, breath like the sea?
Student: When we did the first exercise, I have always been comfortable in sitting, so I didn’t notice too much of the mountain, I feel pretty grounded. But when we did the breath as the sea, I was really surprised by how my body reacted, especially on the out breath, the bottom and the top of it. It’s sort of like—you know normally it would just go down and all the air would go out—but I kept feeling like the water kept receding, and I could just stay down there. Even though my lungs start moving, like the energy just kept draining and draining, and I felt it go very far down. And the same thing when I brought it back in, it’s almost like the wave of energy kept enlarging and expanding outward. And it was also great too, because it was very unconscious, it was almost as if my body related very well to the image of water flowing.
Ken: Yeah, thank you. So it sounds like you found the breath was much deeper than you originally previously experienced it?
Student: Yes, and more fluid. I think my mind tends to invade the process, and this helps sort of shoo it off a little.
Ken: That’s a really, really good point. Because, that’s exactly what happens. We think, “Oh, I am meditating,” and part of us goes, “I have to control the breath.” But it’s not true. Very good. One other person. Over here.
Student: Do you have any suggestions as to how to do two things at once?
Ken: Ah, well describe to me a little bit more detail, what your difficulty was?
Student: Well, it wasn’t all difficult, but I felt my mind trying to put the thoughts together, as opposed to simply experiencing the experience
Student: And every once in a while they felt united, but then a moment later it was like, okay, mountain, sea. You know—
Ken: Okay, really good point, thank you.
These phrases body like a mountain, breath like the wind,are pointing at something. Sorry, that’s the usual version. The one I’m using is “breath like the sea.” I haven’t completely adjusted. Thank you for catching that!
These phrases body like a mountain, breath like the sea, are pointing to something. Okay, so, body like a mountain, and once you are feeling that, you don’t need the phrase any more. You don’t need to think, “Oh I’ve got to make my body like a mountain.” Why? Because you are still and you are not exerting any effort, you are just there. And, breath like the sea, as this gentleman described, “Oh, there was just this flow, and I didn’t have to do anything anymore.” And once that happens, then you don’t need the phrase anymore. And you find, as you pointed out, you can experience both of those at the same time. And if that’s happening then you’re doing it. So, you don’t get to ask me how do you get to do two things, because you already were!
Now, when you fall out of it, because something happens, then you use those phrases to point you back. It’s a way back. Zhuangzi who is a Chinese Taoist master from twenty-five hundred years ago, put this as: “When the shoe fits, you forget about the feet. When the belt fits, you forget about the waist.” And it’s the same here. When you’re just experiencing it, you rest there. That’s meditation, that’s practice. When you fall out of it, then you use these phrases to come back. Okay, very good. All right.
Now, any other comment that anybody would like to make?
Student: Well actually expanding on what you just said. My experience was that I was having the same kind of separation of, if I started to think body like a mountain, then the sea was way in the distance, and I was up here. And then they sort of reverse, and they go back and forth, but I couldn’t keep them both in focus at the same time. And then I started to try, instead of sort of describing them to myself as I was doing it, I was sort of trying to just be it, kind of?
Ken: Yes, very good. Yes, we don’t have to talk ourselves into it.
Ken: There’s another set of instructions in the Tibetan tradition, and one of them is, “Be like a child that goes into a cathedral for the first time.” How many of you have been into one of the cathedrals in New York or in Europe? Yeah, okay. You know, you walk in and there is these fantastically beautiful Gothic architecture, and these high vaulted ceilings and the stained glass, and you just go…you know and that’s the meditation instructions. It works in exactly the same way. It’s pointing to something, and your mind is just so open and everything’s just so open.
But one person asked my teacher, “I say those phrases over and over to my self, and it just doesn’t work!” Well, no you don’t say these phrases over and over to yourself. They point you to, in a direction, and then you go there.
Now, in the beginning, most of us don’t stay there very long. Body like a mountain, that’s good for about 2 seconds, and then something starts to happen, we let it go, come back, okay and just rest. And that’s why we call it practice. Because you are practicing actually just resting in the body that completely. And then, breath like the sea, it’s the same thing. But as you gain facility, then one’s able to rest in the experience for longer, and that’s how you begin to form, or develop a relationship, with a different way of experiencing your life. Does this make sense to you? Good, okay, thank you.
Student: In fact, I think I understand it so well, I don’t think that I need to practice anymore! [Laughter]
Ken: Ah yes, we fall into that trap very easily. Okay, now for the third component.
Mind like the sky. How big is the sky?
Student: Wide open.
Ken: It’s wide open you know, and as you go up to Antelope Valley, you get huge expansive sky. I was up there when the poppies were in flower, it was just like fantastic. Big sky country, a bit like Montana, New Mexico and so forth.
So, very, very big. Now, between you and me, if a cloud appears in the sky, how bothered is the sky? If a bird flies through, does the sky get upset about that? And what if a whole bunch of planes come through. Does the sky get upset about that? Now, when you are sitting in meditation, if a thought comes along, how upset do you get about that? Yeah. “Get out of here, thought, you are disturbing my meditation!”
There’s a wonderful line from a Japanese tradition,
The floating white cloud does not obstruct the infinite sky. Usually we think of it the other way around. The infinite sky, the cloud can go anywhere it wants in it. But the floating white cloud does not obstruct the infinite blue sky. So, mind like the sky, now we need to go into this a little bit further.
The word in Tibetan and in Sanskrit, which we translate as mind, also means heart. Mind we associate with thinking, heart we associate with feeling. In Sanskrit and Tibetan it’s associated with both. So I just want you, for the sake of our practice here this evening, is to think, okay, mind like the sky, that’s big in a certain way, right? And you can feel very open, everybody with me on that one? Now I want you to try this, your heart is like the sky too. What’s that like for you? Does that have a different feeling? Okay, so you got to do these two things at the same time again.
Pardon? I’m a bear. So, mind like the sky, heart like the sky, work with whatever moves you more deeply. That’s the right one to work with. And, I need to go at this in another direction. What is there to the sky? This is a trick question. When I ask trick questions, I like to label them. What is there to the sky? Space, emptiness. Yes. What is space? Yes? It’s nothing. There is nothing to the sky. Space is another way of saying that. What is there to your mind? Pardon?
Student: Blue. [Laughter]
Ken: Okay, so we forget that. We forget that there’s nothing to it. And we take everything that arises in it, totally seriously. And so, one of the ways that we’re practicing this different way of relating to life, is, remembering this nothing to it aspect. It’s open, it’s empty if you wish. There’s space for absolutely everything, and it doesn’t matter how much there is, there could still be more.
So, when we sit, now, we’re going to sit with body like mountain, breath like the sea, and mind like the sky. So now, completely open, or heart like the sky. Completely open and resting in the openness, and not at least bit concerned with stuff that comes and goes. Whether it’s a fog bank that moves in, or whether there are meteorites, or falling stars coming through. It doesn’t matter. Because, it’s the sky. Okay, any questions here? All right. Lets do this for a few minutes together.
Body like a mountain, breath like the sea, mind or heart like the sky. Let the experience of each arise, and rest in the experience. We aren’t moving from one to another, but resting in all of them together.
Body like a mountain.
Breath like the sea.
Mind like the sky.
Don’t be concerned with thoughts, memories, stories. Rest in the expanse of the sky itself. Letting whatever comes take care of itself. You’re not even observing it; you just rest in the expanse of the sky itself. And the clouds, and the planes and the birds, they do their thing. You are the sky.
Body like a mountain. You are the mountain.
Breath like the sea. You are the sea.
Mind like the sky. You are the sky.
And just rest there.
When you fall into sleepiness, or distraction, and you recognize it, just relax and start again. Don’t try to hold onto anything. Just let everything go, and start again. Body like a mountain. No effort. Breath like the sea. Infinitely deep motion, that just goes on and on. And mind like the sky. You can experience everything. Because you are the sky.
Sometimes your attention will go to the body, when it does, and you notice it, first expand so that it’s your whole body, and then include the breath, and then include the mind, which is like the sky. Sometimes your attention will go to the breath. When it does, and you recognize it, include the sensations of the body. Body like a mountain, and mind like the sky. Sometimes your attention will go to the sky, and when it does and you recognize it, then include the body. Like a mountain, and the breath, like the sea. And then rest.
Now there are lots of parts of us, that are not used to relating to the world, to life this way. They have a few things to say about it. You can let them talk, and their movement in the sky, they are ripples on the wave, they are trees and bushes on the mountain. They’re there, but you don’t actually have to do anything about them. You can continue to be the mountain, the sea and the sky.
At first we can only do this for very short periods, and that’s fine. Something pulls us away, and so we come back, that’s why we call it practice. It’s not failure, we’re learning. Body like a mountain, breath like the sea, mind like the sky.
Okay, what was your experience with mind or heart like the sky. Over here.
Student: That for me was pretty extraordinary, actually. [Laughter]
Ken: You want more of that do you?
Student: That was, it’s interesting because, although I have read it before, the heart and mind, you know basically, feeling not thinking. You know what I mean? The way that you put it, for some reason it just clicked for me. The heart/mind are one, and then projecting that, being as infinite as the sky. That expansion that I felt within, even my being, was like. It kind of exploded for me, it was even hard to concentrate. I mean it was hard to do anything at that point.
Ken: Well, you weren’t meant to do anything! [Laughter]
Student: Well I know, exactly, exactly. I just felt so much like actual joy. It was really interesting.
Ken: A different way of experiencing life?
Student: It was great, yeah. It was good. Then I could see what you mean by practicing. It was like practicing at being able to be a part of me, and expanding on that sensation, in the relaxation of just being present and breathing and utilizing the elements as you suggested to them. I saw it. You know what I mean, I saw what the potential outcome would be for me. Practicing that. It was pretty exciting.
Ken: This is very good. But now I have to throw in a note of caution. This is something we all have to deal with in meditation practice. You’ve tasted something, fair? And the tendency when we taste something is we want to experience it again. Or we want to experience more of it. Or we want to experience it for a longer time. And we can’t do that. It’s never the same thing twice, number one. And it’s very easy to attach to that experience and now judge everything that arises in terms of that initial taste. And when we do that, we have the comparing mind running all the time and it prevents us from actually experiencing everything.
Now, are you a baseball fan? Ah well, too bad I am going to give you a baseball analogy. So, baseball, in many respects is a duel between the batter and the pitcher. Right? And over the season, that pitcher is going to meet the batters over and over again. Because they play so many games, hundreds of games. So, a really good pitcher, if they think they’re going to have trouble with a batter over the season, what they do, is early in the season, when it doesn’t matter too much, they will throw a pitch that they know that the batter wants.
And the batter will swing and hit that pitch, most of the time. And the reason the pitcher will do that, is because now he knows that the batter is going to be looking for that pitch for the rest of the season. And it’s going to screw him up! [Laughter] These guys are sharp!
So, the same thing can happen to us in our meditation practice, we have this taste, and now we’re always looking for it. No. You came into that taste, because you let go of all expectations. And when you let go of all expectations, you discovered something that you didn’t know was possible. And so the practice consists, not in reproducing the experience, but letting go of all expectations, even the expectations for what you once experienced. And that’s a really hard part. But it’s a really important part and that’s why the note of caution. Okay? But very good. Does that make sense to you?
Student: Makes perfect sense.
Student: I really liked your analogy there, because that feeling was pretty much like sort of what I have been searching for. [Laughter] Because I have had that experience, instead of the mountain, I had to put it into context. For me it equates to like serenity, and so the mountain in it was mesa. Because we did the second exercise, I was having difficulty with the breathing, because I was imagining, or had this image in my head, of a mountain with the waves crashing, but my breath got harder? Because I was imagining a wave crashing against like this cliff side. When I really wanted my breath to be like gradual, like the waves rolling in and out. But my breath was getting heavier. So in the last exercise it was back to the wind and back to this place that I call my home. Which I do have this expansive sky, and it makes me, and I have meditated there before, and it has taken me to a whole new. Like that feeling of the ground opening, it’s just like sitting for hours and being in bliss. And being back in the city, I don’t ever experience that anymore. That’s like you said, it’s kind of like a drug, you are wanting that glimpse, and it’s difficult. Because you had that experience and so many other times you are just wanting to get that familiar feeling. And so how do we try to develop a practice of not wanting that, not wanting to feel that, when we are working so much on you know…not work, I don’t like to think of meditation as work. You know, like to try to find that calmness and that peace.
Ken: And you used a phrase which is really important. “Having that experience.” That’s the phrase you used. And the phrase that I used is, “Experiencing life a different way.” And there is a big distinction between those two phrases. Because when we say, having that experience, it operates exactly that way. And that’s why I’m giving this person that caution.
What we are doing from my perspective, and what I am trying to get across this evening, is we are learning how, or practicing how, to experience life differently.
So the first thing is, it’s not one experience. It’s there all the time. It’s how we are experiencing, all the time. Whatever we’re doing, how am I experiencing life right now? How am I experiencing life right now? And you find, “Oh, I am holding on to everything right now!” “I’m agitated, like there’s waves crashing against the cliff, right now.” “Now, my mind isn’t like the sky right now. Right now my mind is like a little cave! A very dark cave, at that!” That’s something I have experienced a lot. Just like being in a small cave, no light. Which isn’t a lot of fun.
But, part of that way of experiencing life, is, not wanting something. Right? So when we find ourselves, “Oh, I want that experience.” Well, that wanting itself is simply a movement in mind. But we get caught up in the wanting and we forget mind like the sky.
Now, the reason we call it practice, is there are so many different facets where we get caught, and there are so many different levels of getting caught, that it takes an awful lot of—and I will use the word work— to actually learn this. And the reason I say, it’s practice, is because we do this over and over and over again. And by doing it over and over and over again, something begins to change in us. And so it becomes more and more accessible to us, and occurs more and more naturally. That is, we don’t have to do anything. And that’s why we practice it. Not so we can have certain experiences, but so that we are experiencing life a different way. Do you get the distinction that I am making?
And so that wanting and the grasping, that’s all part of the old way of experiencing life. And it’s hard you know. We have this nice experience, and we want more of it!
One of my more experienced students, she was just so mad at me for a whole year, because her practice was very good, and I kept saying, “No, let go of that.” She said, “I like this,” and I said, “No let go of that.” Every conversation we had, I was saying, “Oh, now you are holding on to this!” “Let go of that!” She was just so angry with me! Because I wasn’t letting her hold on to anything. And gradually she went, “Oh, really letting go?”
And we all have this tendency to grab onto something. It’s very, very deep within us. And that’s why it takes consistent practice, of okay, let it be this way. And it’s letting things be, and not wanting things to be different from they are, that makes this possible. It’s something you have to come back to again and again. But the wonderful thing, the absolutely amazing thing is, it’s actually possible.
Anything else you would like to follow up there?
Student: I guess, I don’t really have any expectations when I go into it, but it’s like, sometimes the most difficult thing, when I’m guided, because it takes you in a certain way, and all of a sudden it presents this like glimpse of it, and then I feel like sometimes then the rest of the meditation sitting time, is kind of shot. Because you do get that little glimmer of it, it’s kind of like a fish, you see that shiny thing, and you go “Oh!” And you keep swimming towards that. Where as before, you come into it with no expectations, there is really nothing, expected out of it other than peace of mind, to some degree.
Ken: You can relate to it, there’s something to grasp after? That’s one way of relating to it. There’s another way of relating to it though. And that’s as a seed, and you allow it to grow in you. It’s your choice. Any other comments or questions. Please, over here.
Student: Yeah, I just felt my mind was able to feel that openness, but my heart, it feels a lot different from the two. Like for example, I felt grounded, and my breath was going, and my mind was open like the sky, and I felt great. But my heart felt warm and felt thumping. It didn’t feel cool and it didn’t feel open. It felt like…
Ken: Okay. So was it pleasant, unpleasant?
Student: It was great!
Ken: There wasn’t. And I was just wondering, am I missing out on something?
Ken: No. There’s the problem. No, no, no, no. With that open awareness, it sounds as if you just became more aware of everything. Fine, that’s a different way of experiencing life, isn’t it? That’s all that we’re doing, a different way of experiencing life. Okay?
But you really missed out on it! [Laughter] No, not at all. Okay, well it’s nine o’clock already. So, yes over here quickly.
Student: As you engage in this practice over time, how do you take it off the cushion into your real life? Because I’m sitting here, doing this practice tonight, thinking, wow, the last two days, Monday and Tuesday, were extremely stressful at work. And to have had the ability to engage those stressful moments, with this kind of approach, would have probably made for a lot less stress on me, and the people that I work with.
Ken: Okay, very good question. Now we begin in an environment like this, where we aren’t doing anything. And we do this over and over again, and so we get somewhat used to it. And when I have done meditation retreats, that’s what I’ve done. I mean I did a three year retreat many years ago, which we had one meditation instruction. Do nothing. For three weeks. That’s a long time to do nothing.
I’m teaching a retreat this summer, a ten day retreat, and these are with more experienced students. And you know what my instruction to them is? Do nothing. And sometimes, I did this last year, and they will come in and say, “I am experiencing things”, and I would say, “Okay, don’t meditate, go for a walk.” There’s a wonderful place up in New Mexico, big open vistas. And so they would really do nothing for this period of time. Some of them were doing other practices. So we get that, and it actually takes a lot of preparation to be able to do nothing. So, we practice this and we get some kind of feeling for it.
Then the next step, is to start dropping into it during the day. And I mean, and this is very important. It’s not meditating during the day. It’s dropping into it. So, there’s a little opening, and we just stop. And by now we’re familiar with this, so we just recall, and it’s like just right there. And we touch it, and we may only touch it for ten, fifteen, thirty seconds. That’s what I mean by dropping into it. We don’t try to hold onto it. Touch it.
And then you start to do that frequently during the day.
Student: That’s where the not thinking about it, comes in. Where the feeling about it, someone was talking about it before, comes in, where you are just feeling it rather than thinking. Because that way, it’s more instinctual, and it just comes in.
Ken: That’s right. and so you drop in, and as you do that over, and over again, then it becomes more and more accessible to you, and you will find that your level of reactivity and stress goes down correspondingly. But is it something that one has to work at? Absolutely. People talk about natural awareness. This is such a load of crap!
Because there is nothing natural about it in terms of our conditioning. We are biologically, evolutionarily, psychologically, emotionally, culturally, educationally, conditioned to live and experience life a different way. So, is this possible for us? Yeah.
Many of you, maybe everyone of you, tasted something this evening. That’s wonderful. And if you have a use for it, then it’s something that you can cultivate. And that’s why I like to use the analogy of the seed. It’s something you cultivate. So it grows in you life. It evolves in your experience.
Okay. Thank you. All right. In closing, I would just like to sit for a few minutes, I am just going to say a few lines, and let these thoughts cross your mind.
Goodness comes from the work we have done
Let me not hold it just in me
Let it spread to all that is known
And awaken good through out the world.