Wednesday, March 14, 2012


When we sit down to meditate, the first thing we often notice is movement.

Thoughts stirring, our uneven breath, the awkwardness of our body and its sensations.  Comfort and ease seem a long way off. 

Our days are filled with motion, perpetually bombarded with information and stimuli.  Where amongst this infinite display of appearances and possibilities are we to find a moment of rest?

The Buddha taught that the mind rides the breath like a rider on a horse.  The horse is blind and requires the rider to control it, leading it in the right direction.  The rider has no legs of its own, it relies upon the horse for its movement. 

The breath here is synonymous with energy or wind as it is described in the yogic traditions.  If the breath is erratic or uneven, so too is our mind.  If the breath is calm and subtle, so too is our mind. 

We can verify this in our own experience.  Examine your mind when you are feeling anxious.  You will probably find that your heart is racing, your breath has become more shallow and constricted, you feel shaky and uneasy.  Your energy or wind match your mind.  Your mind rides the wind, helplessly carried off into barren lands it would prefer not go. 

The good news is it doesn't have to follow the wind.  If you can control the winds, you control the mind.  When the winds are calm, the mind is calm. 

So how do you control the winds? 

The Tibetan Buddhist tradition has developed a system of breath exercises called Tsa Lung.  Tsa means channels, and lung means wind.  The channels are the highways upon which these winds travel, so they are the meridians upon which chi flow or the nerves upon which our body communicates with itself and its environment.

A preliminary practice for Tsa Lung is the Nine Round Breath that we practice at the beginning of meditation.  The nine round breath balances our winds, stabilizing our energy and facilitating a calm, clear mind.

Even Western medicine with its heretical view of Eastern medicine has verified some of these findings.  Research has shown alternate nostril breathing to effect the central nervous system, with right nostril breathing stimulating the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and left nostril breathing stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest).

But the best research is to watch your own mind.  What is the quality of your mind when you have lots of energy?  When you are anxious?  When you are relaxed?     

Watch your mind. 

Here is a question for you, does mind lead the wind or does wind lead the mind?  Sit for awhile, try to verify your answer from your own experience.  The prize is invaluable.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

It's All in Your Head!

You've probably heard this before.  Usually you hear it exactly when you don't need to hear it.

Of course it is all in my head, where else would it be and indeed what place could be more dangerous?  

I wish it wasn't in my head.  I wish it was in a little box that I could hide away in a storage closet or smash with a giant freakin' sledgehammer.  Man, would I like to smash that box.

So its all in my head- what am I supposed to do about it?  Even better, how do I get this damn thing out of my head?

What we are dealing with is the conceptual consciousness that we discussed in the practice of calm abiding

Our culture really values the individual expressions of the self.  Facebook, YouTube and Twitter provide a perfect platform so that we can broadcast ourselves to the world, sharing every amazing thought and story with all of our friends, family and strangers.  As much as we fixate on our own thoughts, opinions and ideals; we are not our thoughts, opinions and ideals.  These are simply projections of our self into the world around us and they constitute bondage whether we are riding a euphoric high or stuck in that damn box. 

Our thoughts do have value, we can use rational analysis and investigation to come to a correct understanding of reality.  We need to use thoughts and words to share and relate our experience to other people and share knowledge.  But thoughts have a limit, what we are trying to discover in the practice of calm abiding is beyond speech, thought or expression.

So we need to loosen our fixation to this aspect of our minds.  Thoughts will continue to arise, but they become like the tracks of a bird flying through the sky, clearly apparent but vanishing without a trace. 

The only way we are going to arrive at this state is to learn to rest in the natural state- the vast, open expanse of limpid clarity that is beyond speech, thought or expression- your fundamental ground. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Discovering Your Fundamental Ground

Do not prolong the past.
Do not beckon the future.
Rest in cognitive lucidity free from concepts.

The first step to the practice of calm abiding, or shamatha, is to tame or pacify the mind.

In our current state we have this mind that never sits still.  We are constantly replaying past events and interactions, needlessly caught up in future plans and speculation.  Whenever we do find a moment of freedom in our busy and stressful life, usually the first thing we do is turn on the TV or hop on the internet and mindlessly get caught up in a moments entertainment.  

It is a strange thing, but we are often so caught up in action and doing, that when we choose to rest or meditate we find a lot of anxiousness.  We spend so much of our time caught up in our heads that when we sit down to meditate we have a steady stream of thoughts and plans pulling us off into some far off dreamscape.  

When we sit in meditation we need to drop the baggage and armor that we have been carrying through the day.  We need to embrace an open presence that doesn't turn away from the rawness of the present moment.  

So the first step is to calm this monkey mind, this mind that is compelled to jump from one object to the next in its unceasing restlessness.  In this regard it is important to understand how the mind works.  The Buddha's teachings break down the mind, or what we normally consider mind, into eight different aspects.

Five sense consciousnesses- eye, ear, nose, mouth and touch
Conceptual consciousness- responsible for the infinite variety of thoughts, opinions and value judgements
Afflicted consciousness- our habitual tendencies, neuroses, predominant mental states like anger, jealousy and lust
Basis-of-all consciousness- the foundational stream consciousness, the subtle consciousness that carries through our whole life, and connects life to life.

The five sense consciousnesses simply experience their subject matter, they do not interpret, judge, express delight or contempt for whatever is appearing.  That is what the sixth, conceptual consciousness excels in.  It is this consciousness, this reactionary and fixated aspect of our minds that we are trying to calm and pacify.  

We have several methods that we can use to accomplish this task of calming the mind.  The two that we taught in the meditation class were:

1) Resting with a conceptual focus (the white thigle in the palm of the hands)
2) Resting in the natural state without a conceptual focus

The purpose of both techniques is to develop a state of natural rest.  This is not a state that is a lifeless and dull nothingness.  Rather it is an open, calm lucidity like that of a perfectly pristine ocean during the daytime.  To rest in that state of cognitive lucidity free from concepts, that is how we approach the practice of meditation and calm abiding.  

That is how we grasp the mind that previously has not been grasped.  That is the start of the journey, and the destination has never been too far away.  

Weekly challenge:  Start meditating, today.  Set aside five minutes of your day to establishing your ground.  Simply rest in the present moment for a few minutes each day, and you will find that the practice naturally develops on its own.  You will find that in the wake of your previous thoughts and emotions, there is an open clarity that is beyond description.