Noticing as inquiry

 

When we sit and have little choice but to notice the mind, we all – inevitably – have certain insights. That’s one of the reasons regular sitting (aka meditation) has an effect.

Here are some of the things we may notice.

Any particular content of experience keeps changing. They come and go. They are visitors.

The activity of the mind seems to naturally quiet down after a while when I sit still and the content is noticed.

My mind tends to run in similar patterns, revisiting similar dynamics and themes.

Identities and roles tend to “flash up” when called for by the situation or triggered by thoughts. They appear, I can engage with them or not, and they then go away again.

When my mind beliefs certain thoughts, they have a charge. And that charge is really sensations assicated with the particular thought. That’s how my mind creates beliefs and identifications, and any thought with a charge.

Strong emotions may pass through with little identification. They appear as emotions passing through and not much else. And slight emotions may trigger a strong identification and seem more real and true as if it really means something.

There is an infinite richness of experience here. I can find any experience and emotion right in this experience, even if just as a whisper or trace.

Content of experience may be active, strong, and in movement while there is also rest and silence here. It all happens within and as silence.

Content of experience may seem anything but OK while it happens within and as what seems OK. OKness and not-OKness both happens here.

Something doesn’t come and go. I can perhaps label it awareness, or awakeness, or consciousness, although none of those labels really fit.

Any description of this is insufficient. It can’t really touch it. Not because what’s happening is so amazing (most of the time it’s very ordinary), but because reality can’t really be touched by words. Words fragment and split while reality is a seamless all-inclusive whole.

I don’t know anything for certain. Thoughts are images and words created by my mind to make sense of the world. They can be helpful for orienting and functioning, but there is no absolute or final truth in any of them. Only a charge (sensations) associated with them can make it seem that they have some final truth, and that’s just a charge – also created by the mind.

Any “me” or “I” happens as content of experience, and is created by my own mind. They are created by thoughts (images and words) combined with sensations. I cannot find any me or I outside of that.

My experience is consciousness. Any experience is consciousness. Or, at least, that’s what the mind can label it. The mind cannot know anything but consciousness since sensory experiences and thoughts happen within and as consciousness. It doesn’t know anything else. The world appears as consciousness. (And any thought about it being consciousness, or not existing etc. are just thoughts, imaginations, questions about the world.)

Thoughts are really questions about the world. Sometimes, the mind recognize them as questions. And sometimes, it tells itself they are more true or real than that. Although it doesn’t really know.

The mind tries to find safety in telling itself it knows something, even if that knowing is painful. And it does so by combining certain sensations with the thoughts. The thoughts seem more substantial, real, and true when they are associated with sensations. And the sensations seems to mean something when they are associated with the thoughts.

Of course, many of these are easier noticed through more structured or formalized inquiry, either through The Work or Living Inquiry or something similar. When they are noticed in inquiry, they are more easily noticed in regular sitting (AKA natural rest, basic meditation, just sitting, shikantaza etc.). When they are noticed in inquiry and/or natural rest, they are more easily noticed in everyday life. And when they are noticed in everyday life, they are more easily noticed through a range of situations in everyday life.

I have participated in a few circling sessions on Skype recently, and this noticing comes even more alive when shared. Sitting in silence has it’s benefits, as does sharing our noticing in real time with another or a small group of people. For me, the sharing adds something to the noticing.

Focus, field and curiosity in meditation

 

In meditation, there are three dimensions I think of as field, focus, and curiosity.

Focus can be narrow or wide. Bringing attention to the sensations of the breath at the tip of the nose narrow focus. Bringing attention to lines or colors of an image, or the shapes of letters, is also relatively narrow. Bringing attention to the sensations of the breath as a whole, or a contraction in the shoulders, is wider. Bringing attention to the space a sensation, image or word happens within and as is wider. In either case, it trains a more stable attention. And a more stable attention benefits just about any activity in our life.

Attention can also be brought to any content of awareness as awareness itself. And the whole field of awareness, with its content, as awareness. The latter is an even wider and more inclusive focus.

Curiosity is an inherent part of this exploration, at least if the exploration is held lightly, and comes from a natural interest in who and what we are, and how reality reveals itself to us.

We may notice…..

How training a more stable attention allows attention to naturally stabilize over time.

How attention is drawn to identifications, to beliefs, to velcro (sensations “stuck” on words and images.)

That any content of awareness – any sensation, word, image – is awareness, it’s “made up of” awareness.

That any content of awareness, and the whole field of experience as it is, is already allowed – by life, mind, awareness.

That what we are is really this field of awareness, as it is. And looking more closely, the capacity for awareness and its content.

That identification with ideas – a.k.a. beliefs, velcro – creates an appearance of being a small part of content of experience, an I with an Other.

And much more.

Traditionally, these three are spoken of as distinct practices. We train a more stable attention. (Samatha.) We notice the field of experience, that it already allows its content as it is, and that this is what we are. (Natural Rest, Shikantaza.) We find a natural curiosity for what’s there, and explore it intentionally. (Inquiry, self-inquiry.)

It makes sense to speak of them separately, and it makes sense to begin our exploration of each of these separately. And yet, the closer I look, the more I see that they are all woven in with each other. Explore one for any length of time and you’ll notice and find the other two.

Note: I was reminded of this when a friend of mine said “those are two very different practices” when I had spoken of focus and natural rest in the same sentence. Yes, they are distinct. And yes, they also blend into each other.

Focus can be explored within the context of natural rest. We can bring attention to a sensation, image or word, notice it’s already allowed, and rest with and as it. And this focus can be expanded to include the whole field of awareness – as awareness, already allowing its content.

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Currently

 

I thought I would give a brief update here. There is still a lot coming up for me, of previously unfelt, unloved, unseen material, and it’s sometimes challenging and sometimes quite moving. It’s all coming up with an invitation for it to be met, felt, loved, seen as what it is – in form and as the same as everything. Things keep falling apart in my outer life as well, perhaps as a reflection of a dismantling of inner patterns as Barry suggests. It’s also because I get caught in what surfaces and live it out, to some extent, and what surfaces is sometimes quite wounded and very young.

Some practices I find helpful these days:

The Living Inquiries. I am in the LI training program, so do the LIs most days, and sometimes several times a day. I find it very helpful, and it’s an approach that makes it easy to explore what I previously have looked into through more traditional (Buddhist) sense field explorations.

Tonglen & Ho’oponopono. I use both of these on anything that my mind takes as an “enemy”, wherever in my world this apparent enemy appears – subpersonalities, physical symptoms, emotions, resistance, life circumstances, other people, a dream figure or anything else. It helps shift how I relate to and see these. There is a curiosity and a question in this. Is it really an enemy? Is my perception of it as an enemy as true as it first appears? What’s my perception of it as I continue exploring it through tonglen and ho’o? (Maybe it’s even revealed as – what a thought may call – awareness and love?)

Holding satsang. I also hold satsang with subpersonalities and whatever else is here (anything can be taken as a subpersonality). You are welcome here. Thank you for protecting me. Thank you for your love for me. What would satisfy you forever? What are you really? 

Heart flame. I find and fan the flame of the heart with my attention and gratitude. Then – in my mind – place my whole body and being inside of this flame, allowing it to burn away anything that’s not similar to itself (clarity, love). It burns away any trance, any illness.

Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE). I continue inviting in neurogenic tremors, often throughout daily life – when I sit in a chair, stand waiting for the tea water to boil, lie in bed etc. Sometimes, I also bring something stressful to mind to invite tension around that to release through the tremors.

The Work. I sometimes use The Work too. Right now, I have to admit I am more drawn to the Living Inquiries, although I see them as equal and complementary. They are both forms of inquiry. They both invite beliefs to be seen through and soften or fall apart. And yet, the Living Inquiries work on images, body images, and sensations more specifically, which I find helpful now. It’s as if it more directly goes to a more primal part of the mind.

Rest. Whenever I remember, I intentionally rest, allowing any experience to be as it is. Noticing the sensations, allowing them as they are. Noticing the sounds, images and words coming and going. Noticing it’s all already allowed. This is an alert form of resting. More accurately, it’s a resting from being caught up in images and words. They come and go, and are noticed as objects instead of being identified with…. and taken as a subject, as what I am. This is also called Shikantaza, or natural meditation, and it’s part of the Living Inquiries.

Stable attention. I sometimes also take time to bring attention to the sensations of the breath at the nostrils, or at one nostril. This invites attention to stabilize, and it becomes more pliable and a support for any activity in life (and just being). I am just getting more back into this, and wish to do it more again.

Prayer. I pray for guidance. For seeing through the trance. (Victim etc.) For support seeing through the trance. For support in meeting what’s here with love. For support in any way that’s most helpful for me. For support in living from love and clarity. For support in giving my life over to God (Spirit, Christ, Buddha Mind) wholeheartedly. For support in meeting any fear in me with love and clarity. For my life being in service of life.

Additional. I have also done some EFT and TFT. I go for walks in nature.  I make sure to drink plenty of water, usually in the form of different types of herbals teas, so my urine is pale or almost clear. (This really helps with any sense of energetic stagnation in my system.) I take some herbs and similar things (chulen, rhodiola, eleuthero, echinacea). I get plenty or rest and sleep.  I do things that sparks my passion (photography, drawing, reading). I connect with friends. (As or more important than much else here.) And so on.

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Notes about meditation

 

It looks like I’ll teach (show, guide) meditation for a group of teenagers, so I thought I would go over the basics again here, as a reminder for myself.

There are three basic forms of meditation: Stable attention, rest, and inquiry.

Stable attention / samatha. Attention can be trained. Untrained, it may easily be scattered and unruly. Trained, it can become stable and pliable, and a stable attention is helpful for almost any activity in our lives – from relationships to sports to learning and working. One way to train it is to bring attention to the breath, for instance the sensations at the nostrils as the breath naturally goes in and out. Attention may wander, and when that’s noticed, bring attention back to the breath. The noticing happens as grace.

Rest / shikantaza. Allow everything to be as it is. Notice it’s already allowed to be as it is. Notice what’s here – the sensations, sights, sounds, smell, taste, words and images. It all comes and goes. It lives it’s own life. Rest and notice what’s here. Even notice any resistance or trying. It’s all happening within and as the field of what’s here. There is nowhere to go and nothing to do. Just notice what’s already here.

Inquiry / vipassana. Insights into what the mind is, and how it works. These happen, to some extent, through the two previous ones. And they also happen through guided inquiry or exploration. such as sense field explorations, the Living Inquiries, The Work, the Big Mind process, and also holding satsang with what’s here.

Mutual support. Each of these support the others. A stable attention makes it easier to rest and do inquiry. Familiarity with rest makes it easier to explore a stable attention and inquiry from rest. And inquiry gives insights – and a release of identification with words and images – that supports a stable attention and rest.

Support of life. All these forms of meditation are in support of life. And there are, of course, many things that supports both life and meditation. Physical exercise is one, including forms of yoga (tai chi, chi gong, Breema), endurance and strength. Precepts is another, guidelines for how to live our lives. These give a preview of how it is to live from more clarity, they shows us what’s left (fears and beliefs that prevents us from living from clarity and love), and they support an easier and more stable relationship with others and ourselves. Different forms of therapies can also be very helpful in allowing our human self to align with clarity and love.

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Stable attention, rest, inquiry, prayer, body-inclusive practices, and precepts

 

Although I am not an expert on these things, I thought I would share how I experience a few basic practices that have been helpful for and important to me.

One of these is stable attention, or samatha. It’s a way of training attention to be more stable and pliable, often through focusing on the sensations of the breath (for instance at the nostrils) or an imagined or visual (object in front of you) image. This benefits almost any activity in life, from interactions with family and friends to work, and any of the other forms of meditation or practice.

Another is rest, also called natural rest, natural meditation, or shikantaza in Zen. This is an allowing of everything to be as it is. Or, more precisely, noticing that it’s already this way. Everything that’s here now is already allowed as it is. There is a shift in gravity from being identified with certain viewpoints and identities, to noticing that what we are is what’s here now as it is. This rest can happen within a great deal of activity. It’s a rest that’s not necessarily obvious to an outside observer.

Yet another is insight, inquiry or vipassana. Some insight into the nature and dynamics of the mind comes naturally through any of the other practices mentioned here. And it can also come from a more intentional and dedicated investigation, for instance through exploring the sense fields, The Work, the Living Inquiries, or other forms of inquiry. This insight is into the nature of mind (what we are, that which all happens within and as), the dynamics of the mind (the nature of clarity and delusion), and also everyday insights into our lives, history, and interactions and relationships with others and the world (who we are, as human beings).

Then there is prayer. This may be a noticing or setting of intention. It may be a request for guidance, clarity and support. It may be an opening to what’s larger than and beyond ourselves as a human being. It may be a noticing of what we are.

There is also body-inclusive practices, such as yoga, tai chi, chi gong, and Breema. The body may be a support for training a more stable attention. There may be insights into the body and the subtle energy system, and how these interact with the rest of who we are. And body centered practices may also invite the three soul centers – head, heart and belly – to open, as do natural rest, inquiry, and prayer.

There are practical guidelines for how to be in the world, aka precepts. Following these, to the best of our ability, tends to bring some stability and ease to our lives and relationships with others and the world. They tend to give a preview of how it is to live from clarity. They show me that I am unable to follow all of them all of the time, so it gives me a sense of understanding and empathy when others don’t follow them. And they highlight places in me where there is still confusion. If I notice that I lie, I can investigate this. For instance, I can ask myself what’s the perceived benefit of this particular lie? What are the consequences of this lie? Do I lie from fear? If so, what do I fear would happen if I am honest? If what I fear happens, is it still OK? 

Finally, there is a large number of approaches to healing and health, such as Tension and Trauma Release Exercises which I have found very helpful for myself. Trauma – which here is used in a broad sense – can wreak havoc in any life, regardless of the amount of practice we do, so it’s good to address it and invite it to heal. This also brings insight into the dynamics of the mind, and a sense of empathy and understanding for others who have gone through stressful experiences and may have some amount of trauma in their system – which includes almost all of us.

What can be trained: previous blind spots in mainstream western culture

 

Mainstream western culture has had some blind spots about what can be trained and what cannot, and that’s already changing.

For instance, from spiritual traditions from around the world, including western ones, we know that we can train (a) a stable attention (supports almost any activity), (b) empathy and an open heart (tonglen, prayer, ho’o), (c) opening to the experience that’s here (inquiry, true meditation, tonglen, prayer, ho’o), (d) what we are recognizing itself (true meditation, inquiry, prayer), and (e) that we can inquire into our most basic assumptions and find what’s more true for us. Many newer versions of these practices are also available now, including headless experiments and the Big Mind process (what we are noticing itself), and The Work (inquiry into our beliefs, including our most basic assumptions).

And some traditions also shows us that we can train more “mundane” things such as our eyes and sight (sometimes recover from or prevent eye problems), our body so it has a good chance of staying supple and healthy throughout life (yoga, tai chi, Breema), and even our ability to notice and support a flow of subtle energy in and around our body for ourselves (chi gong) and sometimes others.

This is a training and a practice, although it’s equally much an exploration and investigation. What happens when I engage in these activities?

Prayer w. true meditation and self-inquiry

 

Prayers continues to be an important thread in my life…

Sometimes with words and visualization, sincerely wishing all good for others (without exception) and myself.

Sometimes with words, asking for guidance and to be shown the way.

Sometimes visualizing Christ (or Buddha) in my heart and in front, behind, on each side and below and above me. (Christ meditation.)

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Choiceless awareness as inquiry and devotion

 

Choiceless awareness (aka shikantaza) is mainly a resting as what we already are.

We mimic what we are, as well as we can, until we notice that we already are just that. That which all happens within and as. The Ground of all, and all as the play of this Ground.

Choiceless awareness is also wordless inquiry. What happens when there is a shift into choiceless awareness? What happens to the sense of a center? The sense of a doer and observer? Is the center, doer or observer content of experience, as any other content of experience? Is it what I really am? What happens when I identify as a center, a doer, an observer? What happens when identification is released out of it? How is it to function from here? How is it to bring this into daily life?

Choiceless awareness is devotion. It is a devotion to truth, to kindness, to what we are and everything is, to Ground, to God. Devotion to living from this in daily life.

Choiceless awareness also includes stable attention. An attention stable enough to not (so easily) get absorbed into images and stories, and to catch itself when it does.

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Dimensions of allowing

 

Allowing experience, shikantaza, headless experiments and the Big Mind/Heart process are all flavors of a similar shift.

And they can all fall a little differently on several dimensions, often depending on intention, experience and more.

The shift into allowing experience, into headlessness, Big Mind, realized selflessness, can be more or less partial, more or less clear.

It can be done with an emphasis on Big Mind, seeing all as awareness itself.

It can be done with an emphasis on the heart, on kindness, Big Heart.

It can be done with an emphasis on the felt sense of the shift, how it feels in the body.

It can be done with an emphasis on our human self, on who we are.

It can be done with an emphasis on what is here now, as it is, or on what is here now unfolding over time, revealing a process and a journey within content of experience.

And it can be done as a combination of any of these, simultaneously or shifting attention over time.

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Shikantaza as practice, and not

 

It is common in Zen to say that shikantaza – just sitting, choiceless awareness – is not practice.

We are not practicing in preparation for anything, or to get somewhere. Shikantaza itself is the real thing. It is what we are noticing itself.

It is awakeness noticing itself. This timeless now within, to and as which everything happens.

In that sense, shikantaza is not a practice.

Yet there is also a practice element in shikantaza, which shows up in two ways.

First, it is the practice of shifting into what we are noticing itself.

Attention is absorbed on the inside of thoughts, it is noticed, and there is a shift back into just sitting. This practice happens on the cushion, often several times during a sitting period.

And this practice on the cushion is also a practice for daily life. We practice shifting into what we are noticing itself on the cushion, and then bring it into daily life.