Practice on the small things

I listened to Radio Adyashanti from last week (August 29, 2012, a very helpful episode for me), and he suggested what I have found for myself.

When there is a slight discomfort in daily life, and I open to it, and I keep doing it in daily life, it’s easier when big things come up. I am more familiar with the terrain. It becomes a new habit. The groove deepens.

Discomfort. There is a slight discomfort here. I am still. Open to it. Notice how it’s all awareness, it’s all happening within and as awareness. I notice the tendency of the mind to try to figure it out, find a solution, go to stories for resolution, and that too is all awareness. Content of awareness is busy. Awareness itself is still. It’s what’s always here. It’s what it all happens within and as.

By exploring a small discomfort in this way, a new habit is formed. I take the 180 degree turn from my old habit of avoiding this stillness, and instead am still, notice it all as awareness, allow the content of awareness it’s life and notice it already has it’s life. If or when a bigger discomfort comes, there is already familiarity with meeting it this way.

It’s the same with just about any other exploration, of course.

Pain. Right now, I find a slight pain in the right side of the jaw. I explore this through the sense fields, noticing what’s there in pure sensations, what’s there in images, what’s there in stories. I notice the pure sensations, and how the experience of “pain” comes when an image (a boundary, a texture) and a label (pain) is added onto it. I notice how it shifts when attention is on the pure sensation.

Then, I explore the turnarounds. TA: It’s not pain. When attention is on pure sensation, it’s not pain. Pain is only a label, reality is something entirely different. TA: It’s pleasure. Can I find where that’s true in immediate experience? What do I find when I stay with that turnaround? TA: I am pain. I am a pain to myself when I believe all my stories about pain, when I take the label as true and the stories about what it means as true.

By exploring small pain like this, I get to see what’s really there. I get to see what’s more true than my initial thoughts about it. And that makes it easier if/when there is a big pain. A different habit has been formed.

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Basic goodness

If we are willing to take an unbiased look, we will find that, in spite of all of our problems and confusion, all our emotional and psychological ups and downs, there is something basically good about our existence as human beings… Every human being has a basic nature of goodness, which is undiluted and unconfused. That goodness contains tremendous gentleness and appreciation.

Chögyam Trungpa, The Sacred Path of the Warrior

Why do I resist experience? Why do I go into beliefs? Why is there identification with that sense of I?

I find it is because of a basic lack of trust in existence. A basic belief that existence cannot be trusted, and this human self cannot be trusted. So I need to take charge. I need to resist certain experiences. I need to take refuge in beliefs to find safety. There has to be identification with this sense of I to make sure it does what needs to be done. It cannot be trusted to function on its own.

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Fascination with the unpleasant

A quick look at the entertainment world – books, movies, songs, fairy tales, mythology – tells us that we are fascinated with the unpleasant.

Why is that? I can find several reasons for why I am drawn to it….

The most obvious is that these things (death, pain, cruelty etc.) are part of human life, and this is a way for me to get familiar with it in a safe way. I get to explore it without putting myself at risk. And I get to prepare for it should it happen to me or someone close to me. If or when something like it happens in real life, I am somewhat prepared.

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Ways to work with ruts

It is a common experience for all of us:

We get in an emotional state, our thoughts cannot help support it, and we act accordingly.

The three support each other. It starts with a belief, we inevitably feel and act as if the story is true, and we take these feelings and actions as support for our initial belief.

And this is why it may, at times, be unattractive to do what is likely to get us out of the rut. There may be no opening anywhere, or if there is, the belief-induced mood is stronger than our impulse to get out if it.

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Getting familiar with the lack of drama, then curious about how it plays out

What I find for myself is that following a shift from confusion to clarity, there is a period of getting familiar with this new clarity followed by a curiosity about how it plays itself out in the world.

I notice it sometimes in how I and others respond to question number 4 in The Work (who would I be without the belief), and also the turnarounds. If there is less familiarity with the shift from confusion to clarity, there is often first a period where the passive expression of that new clarity is emphasized. I may find peace. Clarity. Being OK with or even appreciate the situation. Grateful for it pointing me to the belief and having the opportunity to inquire into it. A release from drama.

Then, as I get more familiar with that clarity, there is often an emphasis on its active expression. I find that I am free to engage from it in daily life, or not, and am curious about how it is to live from it. What is it like to engage without the old drama?How is it to become familiar with engaging from this new place?

So say I have the belief my neighbor shouldn’t play his radio so loudly.

If I am new to the work, or am new to working with this type of belief, I may stay with the passive expression of clarity. I find peace with it. A release from the drama. Appreciate how this situation helped me notice and examine this belief.

Then, as I become more familiar with The Work, or this particular type of belief, I may also include – or emphasize – the active expression of this new clarity. I see that I am free to talk to this neighbor or not, and may be curious about how it is to talk with this neighbor without the drama created by the initial belief. How would it feel, look, unfold? Would the sense of drama come up again, giving me an opportunity to examine it again – or notice other aspects of the initial belief?  How would it be to engage in the world without this drama?

It is of course not always like this. If a situation requires our engagement, our attention will be drawn to that aspect of it right away. And sometimes, it can be good to just rest in the passive aspect of the absence of drama, to deeply feel it.

But in general, it makes perfect sense whenever there is a progression from the passive expression of clarity/lack of drama being in the foreground, to being curious about its active and engaged expression. First, we take time to get familiar with this new lack of drama around a specific situation. Then, we are naturally curious about how it looks when we live from this lack of drama.

Trigger: Watching people new to The Work stay with the passive expressions (which is very understandable) and also notiching the shift for myself from the passive to include the active. Btw: This post is an example of an insight that does not have much practical value, apart from as an anti-dote to the story that people should include both passive/active aspects when they do inquiry.

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Awakenings: dramatic and gentle

I am enjoying reading through David’s articles at justperception. It is the real thing, and quite uncompromising as well. (Similar to U. G. Krishnamurti in that way). In a world where many teachers couch their words, it is refreshing and much needed.

But I am also reminded that awakenings come in different flavors. The awakening itself, to realized selflessness, Ground awakening to itself, is of course the same. But the flavors of the leadup and the fallout are many and different.

The flavors of the leadup can range from very dramatic and painful (strong beliefs and clashes with what is, and little awareness of what is going on) to gentle (more fluidity, and transparency of beliefs), and can progress quickly or slowly, as Vince Horn mentioned in a recent comment of his.

(To me, it seems that the more dramatic and painful version comes from a basic sense of insecurity, which leads to a holding onto beliefs with particular vigor. There is a vigorous war with reality which creates a good deal of drama. A basic and deep sense of safety and security, of trust in life and existence, often leads to more fluidity, receptivity and more gently held beliefs.)

The flavor of the fallout of the awakening also comes in different flavors, and it seems that it depends, at least partly, on the degree of pre-alignment with Big Mind, and also the amount of pressure built up beforehand.

With a more thorough and finely tuned pre-alignment, through inquiry (Big Mind process, headless experiments, The Work, etc.) or other practices, the shift can be more gentle. The pre and post shift terrains are closer together.

When there is not much of a pre-alignment with Big Mind, when there is a good deal of caught-upness in coarse delusions, the shift and its fallout is more dramatic. The gap is greater, so the shift is also greater.

Similarly, pressure builds up through the strength and level of attachment to beliefs (stories). The stronger beliefs, and the more these beliefs are at odds with life, the more pressure. A great deal of pressure leads to a dramatic shift, and less pressure to a more gentle shift.

(My initial awakening, although not complete, was very dramatic due to a combination of absolutely no preparation and a great deal of built up pressure. The fallout, the reorganization needed, was also quite dramatic, long lasting and very painful at times. When it recently slipped into Ground awakening (which lasted for a couple of months and then subsided because more work is needed) it was very gentle, just a simple shift into finding “myself” as awake emptiness and form, without any “I” there at all. This time there was much more familiarity with the terrain, and there was not much pressure built up, so the shift was correspondingly gentle.)

Of course, these are all stories, as I am sure David would be quick to point out. And although it is possible to pre-align to a certain extent, it is also equally (or more) true that no real preparation is possible. When it happens, it comes as a shock, a complete surprise, turning everything upside down – independent of finely-tuned preparations.

Dream: a blind mulatto who can see clearer than seeing folks

A middle aged mulatto walks down by a river, and goes into the remains of a large wooden ship there. He is blind, but is somehow able to see perfectly well, and even better and more clearly than many seeing people.

He meets someone in the ship, they ask him a question, and he tells them about experiments that can reveal their connection with God. They are curious, and also surprised that experiments can lead in that way. They are also curious about this mulatto man, and invites him along with their buddies.

As the story unfolds, they give him several tests to see if he really can see as, or more, clearly than many seeing people. At one point, they give him a cigar and he has to mirror the sequence of one or two puffs of a man several feet away. He is somehow so intimately familiar with the terrain that seeing people are familiar with, and beyond, that the tests are no problem for him at all.

They gradually grow to trust him, and invite him to join their judo club. He learns the rules, and is about to do a match, which also is part of the landscape he is intimately familiar with.

There is a sense of clarity, solidity & emptiness, and a simple confidence and ease about him and throughout the dream. A sense of intimate familiarity with a vast terrain, including and beyond what most seeing people are familiar with.

The dream seems to be set in the early 1900s, in a simple working class neighborhood. The group of people the mulatto man befriends is a group of neighbors, but also almost like a gang (although friendly when they accept someone into their group.) The dream was very much like a movie: very coherent, clear, seen from the outside as in a movie, and going from one scene to the next moving the story line along. The temporary climax was going to be the judo match, although I woke up as they prepared.

The sense of being intimately familiar with a vast terrain, including and beyond what most people are familiar with, is one that has come up in waking life for me more recently, as a taste, a sense of how it can be. The seeing people in the dream represent familiarity with the human life only, and the blind man sees that and far beyond.

The mulatto in the dream was very similar to someone I met on the bus yesterday, a friend of the “green” friend on mine I mentioned in a previous post. He struck me as open, clear and grounded, with a sense of ease and confidence.

The path of untying knots: guided by daily life

One thing I forgot to mention about the path of untying knots is that it is guided by daily life.

Something comes up that is stressful, revealing the knot that life invites us to become more familiar with, here and now, by being with the experience (feelings) and by inquiring into it (view.)

Daily life is our guru, in a very real way, showing us the next knot to explore, to befriend, to become so intimately familiar with that it on its own is untied.

This is especially clear in The Work, where we after a while start looking forward to stressful situations, because we know they reveal more knots – and what has been obscured by these knots (the sense of freedom, clarity, connection, intimacy and so on that surfaces when the knots are intimately explored, and untie on their own.)

The gifts of off-days

One of the things I appreciate, usually in hindsight, about off-days is how they help me notice things about myself I usually don’t notice, or don’t want to notice, or at least don’t want to explore in much detail.

These off-days are like the ghosts of Christmas showing Scrooge his life, and especially those parts he didn’t want to see. The parts he needed someone else to show him. It may not be comfortable to go through, but it can also lead to a shift, if we allow it to.

For me, seeing what I don’t want to see about myself especially happens when something is off physically. There is less energy to maintain a desired persona, and maybe even less energy to try to change it, mask it or disengage from it by using a technique or practice.


Yesterday, I certainly noticed some of these (often well hidden) patterns such as going into a state where everything feels utterly wrong (my life, my day, etc.), and some family patterns around a martyr role: the noble quiet suffering, silently blaming the world for my misery.

I guess that is very Norwegian…! The quiet noble suffering, bearing it without complaining too much, and then often not even consciously blaming the world for it being that way. Just bearing it… until it – and my life – is over(!). No wonder that is kept safely in my shadow.

Three effects of physical problems

I also see how physical problems usually have one of three effects for me…

With pain, or apparently heat exhaustion, I tend to find myself as awakeness, as crystal clear awareness. Not by trying, it just happens on its own. I guess the misery is too intense and sharp, so there is a shift out of (exclusive) identification with it and into awakeness, the crystal clear witness of whatever is happening.

Physical reactions to certain foods (food intolerance) or exertion brings out the shadow, in the ways described above. They tend to lead to contractions and reinforce a separate-self sense.

And sometimes, when I am in a phase where headlessness or Big Mind is more strongly in the foreground, then whatever happens to this body-mind just happens, as Big Mind.

A spectrum of what we can find ourselves as

Writing it up this way, I see how these three reflect the span of what or who we can find ourselves as.

At one end of the scale is pure awareness, awake emptiness, crystal clear awake space. The crystal clear awake space is in the foreground, and when form arises (as it often does), it arises within and as this awake space, but as distant, just a small speck within the vastness of awake space.

Then, we can find ourselves as Big Mind, as awake emptiness and form, the awake emptiness arising as form. Here, awake emptiness and form are equally pronounced. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.

And at the other end of the spectrum, form is in the foreground, and the awake emptiness is in the background, sometimes so far distant that it is not even noticed. There is usually an exclusive identification with our human self here, a forgetting of everything else that we also are. It can be great – fun, ecstatic, an adventure, but it is also where we can feel trapped, confined, helpless, without control, in misery. We are at the mercy of an exclusively finite existence.

Cycling through, inviting greater familiarity

And for me, at least now, there is a cycling through of each of these. One after another, presenting themselves, inviting me to find myself as each of them, to become more familiar with each, more intimate, to know each of their landscapes in more detail.

Just Happens & Practice

Another posting on the obvious…

There is and isn’t a big difference between something that just happens – that happens to us or out of the blue, and something that comes through practice and from a thorough familiarity with the terrain.

Is and isn’t a difference

There isn’t a big difference, in that the terrain we land in may be very similar.

And yet there is a difference – in how familiar we are with the process and dynamics of getting there, in our ability to guide ourselves and others there, and in how readily accessible the terrain is to us if we are not there.

There are innumerable examples of this, from any area of life and human experience.

Acupuncture, relationships and awakening

For instance, I can go to an acupuncturist and experience a big shift and maybe even healing or more sense of spirit, passion and clarity in my life. But I don’t know the ins and outs of what is happening. I probably won’t be able to replicate it on my own. I am dependent on the practitioner and the needles. And all of those are fine. Yet, if I engage in various forms of yoga – for instance taoist yoga – I can learn the mechanics of what is happening at a finely tuned level. I can become so familiar with the terrain and how to get there that I can do it on my own. I can possibly even go further than what the acupuncturist can do for me.

I may be in a good relationship, which just happened to be that way from the beginning. And yet not (consciously) know what allows for such a relationship. Or I can be in a difficult relationship and work with and through it, allowing it to arrive at the same place as the other one – with the big difference that now I know something more about the terrain. I know something more about going from problems to ease, I know something about how to work on these issues – with myself and another person.

Or – as was the case for me – there may be an awakening coming out of the blue. I may be very familiar with the terrain of awakening, and it may correspond with the most clear and insightful descriptions and teachings from any tradition or mystic. Yet, I don’t know much about how to get there. It just happened. So there may be a fall (as again was the case for me), allowing me the opportunity to explore how it is without this awakening and how to work through it back into the awakening. I learn far more about this terrain in that way. And really, there is more freedom as there is a deeper and more thorough understanding of the dynamics of the process, of the mechanisms of samsara and how they are seen through and allowed to fall away.

Both beautiful

Both are valuable – the given, the gift, that which comes out of the blue, and the work, the practice, the gradual familiarity with the terrain.

The given is beautiful when it happens, and it allows for a taste of what is possible.

And the practice and gradual familiarity with the terrain is beautiful as well, especially in its insights with more of the ins and outs of the process, and it ability to help oneself and others through the terrain.