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.