Wednesday, May 21, 2014

All of Us Together

Before going on retreat in April, I had started to try to do all day what I did while sitting in meditation, with beneficial results, so I was perfectly primed to learn Sayadaw U Tejaniya’s style of teaching. (Again, how lucky that I ended up on that retreat!) Prior to the retreat, when I sat, I was keeping about a third of my attention on sounds, a third on the sensations in my chest, and a third on thoughts or lack thereof, and it was a nice, spacious feeling, with less thinking, because thoughts were usually noticed pretty soon after arising.

After the Tejaniya-style retreat at Spirit Rock, I began to do a brief check-in with each sense door after sitting down to meditate: what do I see, smell, taste, hear; how does the body feel externally and internally; how is the mind? This probably took about 60 seconds, and then, for the rest of the 30 minutes, I would notice what was most prominent, which is usually sounds and the sensations in my chest, plus I was trying to notice my attitude of mind. That is, pretty similar to before the retreat, except that if a certain experience was more prominent on a given day or in a given moment, I would notice that, and I was trying to discern attitude of mind.

Now, after hearing Eugene Cash on a recent Sunday night, I’ve dropped even the brief initial tour of the senses and instead just, per his instructions, do nothing and notice what is noticed. Eugene also said we could make an explicit point of noticing that which is being aware (i.e., the mind, or awareness itself). I like this new approach because it’s even simpler and even more applicable to any moment of the day. Soon after the instruction to myself to do nothing and to notice what is noticed, I tend to become aware of the sensations in my chest and of a mild unease, which is good, because if that’s what’s there, I want to be aware of it. Then I can notice my attitude toward the unease, which is generally that I’d prefer to have a blissful experience of peace, physical pleasure and cosmic oneness. Great! If that is the attitude, I want to know that.

Thereafter, I just notice whatever there is to be noticed: am I noticing anything at all or am I lost in thought? What sense experiences are calling attention to themselves? What is my attitude toward those sense experiences? Quite often there seems to be a correspondence between attitude and physical experience: the mind is jittery and can’t settle, ditto the body. The mind is peaceful and happy, same with the body. Sometimes, over the course of the half hour, there is a progressive settling and opening, as body and mind are noticed and accepted, with greater and greater peace and contentment. Sometimes not.

I am loving this Tejaniya-style practice, but would like to mention that for years and years, I simply practiced mindfulness of breathing, and consider every single second of that time well spent. I heard Eugene say many times that mindfulness of the breath will take you all the way to liberation. It should not be regarded as a junior or preliminary method. It is a profoundly transformative practice that can be undertaken with confidence.

On the retreat in April, someone asked about practicing metta. Are we not to do that, and if so, will our hearts snap shut for good? One of the teachers said that bare awareness and metta are both excellent practices and both lead to the same place: when you see clearly, your heart will naturally be open, and if your heart is open, you’ll see clearly. Accordingly, in thinking about my new neighbors, which I do rather often, I decided one day that when taking a walk, which is when I have the most ill feelings, I would either just be aware of my experience or cultivate good wishes, to be decided in the moment.

“May you be happy” is beyond me in this situation, except as awkward-feeling lip service, but this wish is always sincere: “May my heart be open to my neighbors.” There are many times when I feel judgmental and unfriendly toward these people, whoever they actually are, but no time when I wouldn’t like to feel warm and friendly toward them.

So I set out on my walk that day intending, maybe, to practice awareness when walking alone and maybe to deploy the above wish—“May my heart be open to you”—when another citizen hove into view. I’ve gotten into a horrible habit of sorting people into old or new Mission based on how they’re dressed, and it’s a short hop from there to thinking about who has over-consumed while others (ahem) were making a point of not owning a car and living in a modestly sized space and eschewing meat (fortunately, without any self-righteousness whatsoever). Soon enough, I have determined who is mostly to blame for the impending environmental collapse.

Though lately, seeing that collapse is actually coming (exact time not yet known) has made me feel that it’s past time for blame. We lived in different ways and had different priorities, but we caused this problem together, whether through action or inaction, and we’re going to suffer the consequences together. Yes, those with money will have six months’ more canned fish and water, and will have armed guards fending the rest of us off and maybe coming to steal our provisions (I hope they won’t want to eat my cat!), but the ultimate result will be precisely the same for everyone. But deciding that blame is inappropriate is theoretical. Wanting to let go of it is an inkling of a gut feeling, but not enough to prevent a wave of aversion when someone goes by in a certain car or dressed in a certain way.

So, anyway, on that walk, it turned out that I fell into the groove of practicing only awareness, and when I saw another person, especially someone who struck me as being “new Mission,” I immediately inquired—here words were useful—“What is it like to see this person?” I felt the clenching in my gut and chest area, and—that’s about it. I felt a knotting sensation, I noticed it, I walked on, it abated on its own, I saw another person, I inquired what it was like, I felt a knotting sensation … . And that was all. 

This is post number 700, in case you’ve lost count.
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