Question about energetic activity while meditating

With great concentration comes… interesting phenomena.  I’m sure this isn’t common to all meditators, because many I’ve spoken to (most, actually) give me a kind of curious response when I bring it up, but it’s very common in my sitting and I have run into a few people who also have these experiences and I want to know more about it.

When sitting, and typically only once a steady concentration has been achieved, I can start to feel strange phenomena in my body.  The phenomena feels like it is body sensation, but unusual patterns of body sensation. I often feel pressures that seem to move parts of my anatomy, when in reality, no such motion is happening. Sometimes I feel sensations that suggest items are moving *through* me – under my skin, through my skull, or opening my ribcage, for instance.  Sometimes small and other times quite large. I have come to categorize these as something happening in my “energy body”, not knowing a better way to classify them.

The pressures move slowly, and aren’t painful, but they are exceedingly strange. If I open my eyes suddenly or move my body or otherwise lose concentration, often the sensations disappear completely.  I truly feel that if someone were looking at me during one of these events, they would see what I am feeling, but I know this isn’t the case.   For instance, I’ve had the feeling my jaw was opening very wide.. so wide that my head was tilted back at an extreme angle and my mouth was wide open. If I “peek” to see if I’m staring at the ceiling, I’m not.  I’m sitting in normal posture. The checking makes the sensation disappear.

I’ve had the sense that a hole had been created between my ribs in my back and that the hole was quite large, allowing for some sort of energetic exchange in my chest.. this happened at my most recent retreat and left me feeling as if my insides were spacious and light for about a week.  While I don’t think the person behind me would have actually seen a hole in my back.. I felt at the time as if they would have.. and certainly SOMETHING happened!

Other experiences include: extreme facial distortion, downward pressure on the nose, lifting sensations on my palette (in my mouth), large blocks (like a loaf of bread) moving through my chest (which happened on retreat just after my mother passed away), and other sensations often in my head (ie. my skull).

The only teacher to address this directly was Shinzen Young. He said the sensations were a form of Kriyas, an energy some cultivate in Yoga practice, and that the energies were “cleansing” my body/mind.  Hearing this was good, and helped avoid any fear that might arise during these events. I know that the first rule about anything that occurs during meditation is to treat it with kind attention and equanimity, don’t get attached to it or avoid it. I know that’s the basic instruction, but I feel some understanding may be helpful. I feel these occurrences are important to my practice because they show up when my practice is strong and they seem to “operate on me” while I’m on the cushion. In short, I want to know more.

Does this happen to others? Will anyone share?

Can any teachers shed light on these occurrences?  Is there a way to work with them (or just observe as stated above)?

Thank you to anyone who can shed some light on this.

Bringing the Buddha into the City

When the mind is kept away from its preoccupations, it becomes quiet. If you do not disturb this quiet and stay in it, you find that it is permeated with a light and a love you have never known; and yet you recognize it at once as your own nature. Once you have passed through this experience, you will never be the same man again; the unruly mind may break its peace and obliterate its vision; but it is bound to return, provided the effort is sustained; until the day when all bonds are broken, delusions and attachments end, and life becomes supremely concentrated in the present.

~Nisargadatta Maharaj


For anyone who may be reading the posts here, it should be obvious that the retreat experience over the years has really flowered, bringing a new understanding and appreciation for the buddhist teachings, and a direct insight into our Buddha Nature.

My practice continues now as a ‘daily practice’. Meditators may instantly recognize these words and what they imply.  For many, ‘daily practice’ will be a far fetched euphemism for their sitting practice, which is probably more like a weekly, monthly, or ‘once in a while’ practice.  If lucky, the intention to sit is supported by a weekly sitting group, dharma talk downloads, good books, etc.  It can be a steady daily sitting practice, or a not-so-steady wish-I-had the time half-hearted intention.  It’s hard to keep it consistent.

Retreats on the calendar have always been a prime motivator for me, and the time following retreats brings me to the cushion as well.  This is one of those times, and I have the feeling this one will last longer than a few weeks. It’s already been a few months..

My sitting directly following the retreat was strong, but already removed from the ‘abiding in present time awareness’ that was often the nature of my retreat sits.  The talking, the exposure to the busy-ness of travel (the bombardment of billboard advertising in the van to the airport itself), the discussions with friends and family about the retreat, the return to work — all of these things swirled the content of the thinking mind back into the stillness of the Empty Mind, like a snow-globe and a flick of the wrist.

Daily sitting became an imperative. I needed the time to settle each day. I needed the taste of stillness and quiet. I needed the reminder of my true nature, Awareness Here and Now. And at best, my sitting would bring the scent of it, a glimpse of it, an idea of it. My joy at discovering the ease and bliss of abiding in awareness was now mixed with the disappointment of having it be mostly concealed. The dust of the mind is so easily stirred!

So this is the challenge now. Sitting sincerely and practicing in the midst of the worldly clutter. How do we bring the Buddha into the City?  I’ve still got momentum in my practice this summer, following the springtime retreat.  I find that my concentration grows and wanes with my uneven sitting schedule. If I sit at night, my morning sits are stronger. Weekly sitting groups and Dharma talks bring a surge of energy into my practice.. for a day or so. Finding the time to sit, or to practice on the bus, or to be aware of movement through space as I walk the busy sidewalks. I can feel the practice building, actually. I can sense the roots of practice finding some nourishment in the ‘daily practice’ I’ve been able to keep.

I feel like I’ve cultivated something in a nursery, and now I’m trying to transplant it into the garden.  I have to remember, even as I write this, that the true discovery wasn’t about bringing something into existence, but rather uncovering my true nature by staying present to the current flow of experience and balancing there. Not letting the habits of the mind — the chatter, the judgement, the likes and dislikes — all the clutter–overtake the flow of experience.  If I can learn to be present in the city, not so dependent on the retreat environment.. that is the next step on my path, or so it seems to be.

The design of the PrannaTimer

The PrannaTimer has been a lifeline to me.  The project has been fascinating and fun, and it’s kept me in touch with the Dharma and sitting meditation by virtue of it’s very existence.

I fell in love the Dharma through zen literature and stories, then again on my first meditation retreat. The first time I fell in love with the Dharma had to do with the possibility of Enlightenment and the second with the realization that this was the way to it!

Sitting in retreat meant sitting at home; at least some. At least for a while. Sitting at home meant keeping track of the sitting times. A timer was needed. The timer idea occurred. The materials, a stick of incense, a hammer, and a singing bowl, were close at hand.  And it worked. And I cleaned up the design a little and I used it.  I refined it from a hammer on a piece of string, through it’s shift to an incline plane with a bearing, and on through designs that included removable incense trays, whip-wrapped sticks for beautiful tones, attention to details and polished wood finishes. I made them on my $100 Craigslist woodworking bench and sold them to meditators around the world. I give the plans for free so anyone who wants one can make it. I’ve begun a guest artist program, where others can make and sell the timers through the site. It’s a tiny industry, but it’s a great mission.

All the while, my wish for the project was to offer the wonderful function of the timers to others, so that they may sit in stillness and silence without a trace of worry about the time; so that they could delight in the pure pleasant tone of the timers as they sounded. Imagine offering a product that would be used in such an intimate way — right there in the presence of someone’s meditation practice; so close they are bathed in it’s smell, held in it’s silence, and awakened by it’s sound.

And these wishes and these timers kept me connected to the practice when life may have otherwise wandered. My little timer business kept me busy, and my connection to meditation was kept alive.  Using the timers means sitting, after all. My three foundations for PrannaTimer, in order, are: using the timer, building the timers, distributing the timers.  And each is it’s own whole story.

Thinking is just one or two facets of diamond Mind

I came to Wes Nisker in a group interview. Things were going well, with lots of concentration building. I’d gotten glimpses of inner and outer collapsing and I knew at this point that resting in awareness was where freedom lay. Thoughts were the obstacle. Awareness the answer.

Awareness is mind. Thoughts are mind. How can mind be the answer and the problem? If mind is an obstacle, how to proceed?

Wes then unlocked it by saying,’thoughts are just one facet of Mind. Mind is [and he gestures far and wide with his hands to mean Everything, the whole kit’n kaboodle].

This took the confusion away, leaving me to practice with awareness of the present in all it’s forms. Arising of sensations, sights, sounds, words & images were all the same ‘stuff’ and could be allowed to arise and pass without struggle or judgement as to which category they fit into. Resting in awareness. Choiceless  awareness.

The thinking mind– the small ‘m’ mind–is a facet of Mind itself. Abiding in Awareness happens in the big ‘M’ Mind. It includes everything without distinction and is our True Nature.

Really riding in the present moment

Walking meditation is a tricky bit.  Often the stillness of sitting seems to be the clear darling of the meditation student.  You hear all kinds of anecdotes about students opting for sitting over walking on retreats.  Walking just doesn’t seem as noble as sitting. The connection between meditation and walking doesn’t seem as intuitive to some. Sitting in posture is noble on it’s face.  It seems the clear way to progress. Yet I’ve had many experiences while mindfully walking. The sole of the foot is a great gateway into the present.  Body sensation, is, after all the root of zazen while watching the breath. The feet are amazing tools to bring awareness to sensation while walking.  Walk slowly. Point the mind deeply into the sensations of walking. Watch closely, without allowing any stories or thoughts except the mindful awareness of each step. Bring the mind to each footstep and the sensations that make it up. It is a river, not a list, though naming the sensations as they go by can help bring us into the stream.  Stepping, moving, touching, placing, shifting, lifting, raising, moving, touching, placing, shifting. Heal sensation, foot is flat and balancing, heal is lifting, weight moving towards the toes, as the other heal is touching, weighting, back foot lifting, moving…

Like pain, walking provides a place to focus the mind, bring attention to the present, trains our selves to stay with what is, with moment to moment awareness we are once again finding the present.

Sitting, walking meditation, sitting again.  Retreats give one the chance to really string practice together. Like a stream.  What an amazing opportunity. What a wonderful blessing it is simply coming to rest in everyday awareness as it simply unfolds moment to moment.

Concentration is coming. Keep practicing.

Equanimity in a nutshell.

It’s not rare, as I mentioned, for pain to be a great teacher.  This retreat was no different, and again the lessons learned had been taught in zendos over the years.  In my very first retreat, I was introduced to pain that was bright and brilliant. I could see into my own experience of being a body with bodily sensations, at times painful, pleasant, mysterious and very, very normal.  Pain played huge roles over the years, learning to build equanimity by staying with burning knees and sweat inducing, full-body back pain.  Waiting for and wanting the bell to ring is a well known state of mind for probably just about anyone who does long retreats. It’s not easy, but you’ll end up seeing that even the struggles with pain are actually in your mind.

“Pain x Equinimity = Spiritual Purification” is something I learned from Shinzen Young on retreat.  There are many variations to it, as well: “Pain x Resistance = Suffering” is one.  Life brings pain – that’s the First Noble Truth.  If you can’t drop the pain, you have to drop the resistance.

For me, the experience of sitting with strong and bright sensations has very often paid off with a great wave of concentrated energy.  A strong period of sitting can come the sit after a really painful sit – one where I stayed steady, stayed still and stayed calm, but stayed very focused!!  How could you not be focused on the supernova in your leg, after all?  After a little stretch, or a walking period, and a return to the cushion, one might feel more at ease, without the strong pain but the mind remains very very focused, and surprisingly nonjudgmental.  The opening up of the meditator to the pain itself has brought about a mind that isn’t so quick to react.  In that way, steadier.  More willing to receive, and less busy with thinking!  Hey, that sounds like the mind quieting down, doesn’t it? Dropping the resistance.  Focus on pain has brought equanimity to the mind.  This is how meditation unfolds. Sometimes mysteriously, but as sure as falling off a log.

the mind has really hijacked the show

It turns out that the mind has really hijacked the show.  That’s why we consider it such a hinderance when it comes to meditation.  That’s why we are taught that we need to train it.  It’s not really a bad thing, of course. It is actually part of the big thing: the limitless Mind that we’re seeking!!  It’s is a facet of the diamond, a reflection both wonderful, mysterious, yet blinding when it steals the show.  Remember papañca? The mind becomes so busy and full, so full of itself and it’s thoughts, it blinds us. It makes us forget to be present. It takes us away just a little. But once you’re not in the present moment, even just a little tiny bit.. you’re gone. Buddha Nature only functions through direct contact with reality. Any separation means you’re in the world of thoughts. The word of the little mind is a far cry from the world of the Big Mind. Thoughts cannot capture reality. They are pale in comparison.

But we live in the little mind. It is the story of me. They are my thoughts and I believe them. I am them. We all are [most of the time].  This is what we must overcome.   We must train the formless mind. We must overcome our very selves.

Wow. That doesn’t sound so easy after all. It sounds impossible, actually.  The good news is that it is not so.  The good news is that we all have the tools to be our own aware selves. We have everything we need to become our own awareness, because it is our nature to be it!  It is our birthright to embody it.  It is simply always right there for us to inhabit.  And the mind may be hardened by it’s ways; it might be tricky and coy; it might be angry or stubborn or fearful.  It might be all these things, but it can still be coaxed to stillness. It can be let go or seen for the insubstantial, empty, formless reflection that it is. It’s possible to gently drop the mind, leaving the whole of suchness to fill the void.

Luckily, there is a way beyond the mind that begins with the mind.  It’s called zazen.  Sitting meditation.  Focus on the breath. Simple, simple breathing. Simple watching, counting, returning to the breath. Keep coming back. Again and again. For the breath, as basic and wispy as it is, is the path back to Now. It is the path that brings the mind to stillness, silence, concentration, and completeness. Once again, It can bring you back to Now.

The Realization: it was coming all along.

Along the path, I learned a few things. 6 years ago I learned that you could take refuge in the present moment.  I remember the very instant the insight came to me. I was rounding the corner from the path to the sitting hall. Returning from a break after a very difficult sit.  My body hurt. I was about to think about my body hurting–as I’m rounding the corner to go back in there. Right there, it occurred to me. I was simultaneously worried about the past and the future, when the whole point is to “Trust the present moment”.  So right there, I relaxed into the present.  I was walking, slowly, turning the corner with my left leg in motion. Putting it down. Up with the right; and down. Walking. Trusting. And walking. I’d discovered the present moment.

Another time I’d run smack into it, in a way that was brilliant and simple and had me thanking Buddhas from the beginning of time.  It was again in the desert. Again, my concentration was established. I’d been struggling, though, with an issue that seemed critical. I was going to ask a teacher about what it meant for me and for the path I was on that I like to smoke pot.  I was really consumed by what the buddhists call Papañca — the proliferation of thought.  If I started thinking about the fact that smoking is not only against the precepts, it’s against the law. And here I had written this in a note to a Dharma Teacher.  Oh, man, my mind spinning the tale has nothing but silence to get in it’s way… so it just keeps making up more material (papañca, remember) and I end up imagining I’ll be greeted at the interview and scooped up by the police.  Start the mind in the other direction, and just like that (and just as imaginarily) I end up walking into the room, being told that if I liked pot so much, I should spend a day meditating high to really deeply experience it. If you like to smoke, then smoke!! And a glass bong is fired up right in the interview!!

So, that’s what didn’t happen.  What happened was this: My teacher kinda blew it off with a quaint tale of her own, wondering what I’d really come in to talk about.  That was it.  Maybe we chatted for a moment about sitting and posture, but then I was out of there.  My mind had been concentrated and consumed. Now it was relieved and free and the question arose: what am I? No, just kidding. The question that came up had to do with the retreat schedule and the thought was: What am I supposed to be Doing?  I’m walking out of the interview, and I see that everyone’s walking *ding* it’s time for walking. Walking meditation is right now, and I’m already walking.. And just like that — my mind is out of the way and I’m walking. There is a collapse of inner and outer. I’m right here, right now, only I’m totally out of my own way!  Right here, right now. I am. The desert is. In the present moment, awareness merges with it’s object. Being awareness — identifying with only awareness means there’s no separation between any “you” and some other “object”. Awareness is that. Drink the desert in. It’s already in your Mind – there is simply no separation. That is what happened.

Again, it was a taste of the Present. The magnificent joy of being your very own Buddha Nature for a while.  What happens to it?  Why is it fleeting? How could you loose it if it’s just your stream of experience in the first place? What is so slippery about the Present Moment that catching a glimpse of it, let alone bathing in it for a moment is so precious?  The unwitnessed arising of the mind with it’s habits and views, it’s unquestioned sense of self importance, it’s fantasies and fears, it’s plans, delusions, struggles and patterns — that’s what.

It was a raft

The Retreat of 2012 brought the wisdom of past retreats to flower, you could say.  Little bits of that wisdom reflected in the present.  Arising in my thinking was this: my past retreats are supporting me like blocks that have been brought together.  It wasn’t just a scattered calendar of retreats gone by – it was a raft.

It was also a tool chest.  It taught me not to fear when the activities of the body, the subtle body, the energy body really got going.  I knew I could dive into pain. Equinimity is your friend on the cushion. Pain is often the teacher. Your breath, the wispy, empty sign post to which you attempt to train your mind to attend to.  Your mind, ahh, the mind.. the rascally mind is your only hope of proceeding and the only thing in your way.

Off the Charts

Twenty years of sitting and now I’ve opened my eyes. Of course it all makes sense, and that the simplest phrases we’ve heard along the path are not only true, but obviously so. The simplicity of the truth of it is both shocking and profoundly peaceful.  Get the simple stuff and it all falls into place.

So what are the ‘simple truths’ at the heart of practice?  The real basics, like “Be Here Now” or “Live in the Present”: haven’t we all heard those instructions a million times? The key to understanding Buddha Nature is just that. Open your mind to the present moment, and the big Mind opens itself to you.  Nature revealing itself through the splendor of Now; Being One with whatever arises. Boundless mind, wide open Heart.  Isn’t that pretty much what we’re looking for?

The Realization: it was coming all along.