November 14, 2012 Wednesday, Open Heart Class

Barbara: Continuing with a short explanation, the distinction between vipassana and pure awareness practice. We're going the same place. Vipassana is a practice wherein we watch objects arising and passing away until we become very certain that they're not self. I don't take whatever has arisen so personally. In other words, if there's a cold wind blowing, this body feels it, but free of the thought,  “Why am I making the cold wind blow?” or “Why is it doing this to me?” Certain conditions are present and the wind will blow. When conditions pass away, the wind stops. So, in practicing vipassana, wisdom develops. We see the whole nature of the world we live in and the bodies we live in.

As we observe that conditioned world, I like to use this as an example. The body, the thoughts, the emotions, perceptions, are all wiggling around there (holding fingers up in front of the face)—I stare at them, vision limited to them. Suddenly I look through. I've been taking all of these as the limit of what there is. But we just break through. Then we open into the experience of the Unconditioned and we start to see how the conditioned and the Unconditioned relate to each other.

With pure awareness practice, we start by resting, perhaps not deeply in the Unconditioned but on the edge of the Unconditioned. We're not paying such strong attention to the objects; we're just noting them and breaking through again and again and again. The same wisdom doesn't develop as quickly about the nature of the conditioned realm, but we find that we can rest in the spaciousness, and we discover how big the spaciousness is, how unlimited it is, how stable it is. Then we start to bring attention to powerful objects that are pushing at us, perhaps uncomfortably, and we are able use the vipassana practice to learn more about those objects. But we're doing it more from the perspective of spaciousness than of self.

One practice is not better than the other. They both support each other beautifully. If I had to choose just one practice, it would be vipassana. But I love the way they support each other, and I encourage you to practice both. For me the ideal way is, often at home I sit for 10-15 minutes, eyes open, sometimes with candles lit on my altar early in the morning, just ahhh.... And there's so much spaciousness and ease. And then I close my eyes and ask the mind to become alert to what is arising, whether it's pleasant or unpleasant, any reactions to the various arisings of objects. But for the most part, when I switch to vipassana, at that point there's just spaciousness. Objects still come-- a cramp in the leg, an itch. Simply noting it. But it's noted with much more spaciousness.

We're going to move on. Let me ask quickly, are there any questions about vipassana vs. pure awareness? And we will keep working with these practices through the coming classes. Any questions? Okay, we're going to go on.

A common challenge many of you find in meditation is based on the erroneous assumption that the mind should be still. What would you think about a body that did not feel sensations? If you're sitting in a cold draft, would you say to the body, “You should not feel the coldness.”? If you bump your leg and it throbs, would you say, “There should be no sensation, because I'm meditating.”? The nature of the body is to give rise to sensation. The nature of the mind is to give rise to thought.

When we work with vipassana, we watch thoughts arise and pass away and arise and pass away, forever, an endless cycle, until we begin to break through this surface level of the body and mind and sink down to a depth where it's still. In the ocean if there is wind blowing, you're going to have swells and current and choppiness. But a half a mile down, the water is still, or perhaps there's a current, but it's not choppy down there. So we sink down into this still mind which exists simultaneously with the active mind.

One of the ways we get to know the still mind is through pure awareness practice. I'm going to talk just a bit more first, and then I'm going to lead you in a guided pure awareness practice, and then we will come back to some vipassana sitting.

With the eyes continued closed, I ask you to imagine or visualize an absolutely still sea, a mirror-like surface. Not the smallest ripple. Imagine perhaps the moonlight, a full moon shining on the water so that it creates a perfect mirror. Rest in that stillness. Hold that image of stillness in the mind.

As you sit there, the wind begins to blow a bit, and very small waves start to lap upon the shore, coming up a few inches and then falling back into the sea. (pauses not noted) New waves coming up and falling back. When the wind stops, the water becomes mirror-like again. When the wind picks up, the waves increase, growing in size.

Can you understand that the still sea is always there, and sometimes there are waves, sometimes not? I would request you to try to hold the simultaneity of movement and stillness. Don't try to get rid of the movement, that's just more movement. Simply watch it, and rest in stillness.

With that in mind as a concept, and perhaps partially an experience, I ask you to open your eyes, but let your gaze be soft. Look up. You can turn and look at the altar, with these beautiful lights. Or simply look at AM's and Barbara's bodies, or whoever is sitting across the room from you. Let the mouth be slightly open, not forced open, but just gently open, and the tongue not touching the roof of the mouth or the teeth. The tongue is floating in space. Eyes not trying to focus and name objects, just a soft gentle seeing where everything begins to merge together.

Breathing in; let the breath flow out through the open mouth over the tongue, ahhh... Make a vocal ahhh... And then drawing the breath back in; exhale, ahhh... Drawing the breath back in. Those of you who are wearing glasses, you might want to take them off so the gaze is more gentle and blurred. No sharp objects, no boundaries or edges. Ahhh... Ahhh... Ahhh...

Whatever wants to stick to you, just gently releasing it, letting it all go. Mind resting soft and spacious, and things just as they are. Release the boundaries of the self, opening outward. No hard edge to you. The energy field is simply moving out and everything moving in.

If a thought comes, just noting “thinking.” Ahhh... Coming back to spaciousness. There has to be effort, of course, but it's an effortless effort, no tension. Opening everything, expanding outward. Releasing all boundaries and limits. Whatever arises, let it be as a bit of flotsam coming in over the water, the small wavelet bringing it up to shore and then washing it out to sea again. Nothing to fixate on, nothing to fix or change. Space for whatever comes in the open heart.

This is a bit different than the consciousness of vipassana. It's more spacious. It's empty of a self. But if the self shows up, that's just one more piece of flotsam washing up onto the shore. Let it be.  Ahhh... Let the mouth curve up a bit, a little bit of a joyful smile. No tension, nothing to do. Just resting in things as they are.

Please continue to practice this way for a few minutes and then, when you feel so moved, close the eyes and move into the vipassana practice, but from the ground of this spaciousness. Now there is a much less hard-edged person doing the vipassana practice, much more simply a spacious awareness. Present with things as they are.

As you come back to the vipassana practice, letting the eyes close softly. Present with whatever is predominant. Perhaps the breath comes first as the primary object. For example, right now for me I'm feeling the soft warm air from the heater, very pleasant, pleasant. But it's not a strong object, and after noting it, mind wanders off, so I come back to the breath. Another burst of that warm air touching me, touching, touching, pleasant. It's a powerful object because it comes and goes with different air currents in the room.

Whatever arises, simply note it from this perspective of spaciousness. Here, back in the vipassana practice, also, nothing to fix, nothing to do. Just present with things as they are, and aware that objects are arising out of conditions and passing away. As much as is possible, without effort, without grasping, try to rest in the awareness of the arising and passing away of objects, and in the stillness as the objects go and before a new object comes. Just resting in that stillness.

I'll be quiet. We'll sit now for about 10 minutes.

(tape paused, new recording file)

Aaron: I'm talking about the issue, if I gave you a beautiful flowering plant, you would not put it in a dark closet. But you do that to yourselves. First you have to be aware that it's just an old habitual pattern, and that you're doing it. Second, aware of the intention: I am not going to put myself in that dark closet anymore, because what I truly aspire to is to open, to be fully flowering and radiant so that everybody may receive the gift of that radiance. So I'm not going to limit myself.

Then, based on that intention, we start to see the old habitual patterns with mindfulness, and to check oneself each time one starts to close oneself in, “Oh, here comes that impulse again. But I'm not going to do it this time.” At first you may only release the enactment of the impulse to shut yourself into a limited space, one-tenth of the time, and eventually two-tenths, finally three- or four-tenths. Finally you reach a point where you're only pausing the impulse half the time instead of enacting it 99% of the time. It's a big improvement. Maybe you'll even get up to 70% or 80% freedom.

Don't worry about getting it perfect, just keep asking, what is limiting me here? What is holding me into a sour, contracted, frightened space? And as with the sea image I gave, can I find that place of stillness, of the radiant open heart, right here with the contracted energy? With anger, with fear, with envy, with disappointment? Can I find this already present seed, that two-celled zygote, ready to express itself and grow some limbs? The limbs of compassion, ready to spring out; the limbs of mudita. Trust and keep working with it and you'll find that it happens. Mindfulness and intention are the keys. Are there questions?

Now let me ask you also to pursue how this relates to responsibility and humility. Humility acknowledges, “I don't do too much of this reaching out and radiating out.” Humility also notes, “I'm capable of that.” Responsibility says, “If I don't do it, others suffer. Therefore, I am going to do this work.” So responsibility helps to ground intention. It cannot come from a place of force, only from a place of kindness.

Look at this in the coming two weeks. Are there any questions or thoughts, here?

See what works for you: meditation, chanting, movement, opening to guidance, awareness of the chakras and which chakra is closed, singing to the chakras. Going out and preparing your garden for the winter and working in the soil. What works? What supports?

It is 9pm so perhaps time to stop. The next class is, after Thanksgiving. Next week we'll send you a new quality to add and to begin to reflect upon. And keep working with all of these qualities, which all work together. Nothing separate.

The class is called Open Heart. How do we open our hearts to the best of our ability this moment, and release the old habitual pattern of that closed and armored heart? How does doing this really enable you to act with more love? That's all. (They note class doesn't meet next week.) I would like to add here, then, I don't know if it's the next quality, but with Thanksgiving coming, perhaps it should be gratitude, to begin to reflect on gratitude. What does this Thanksgiving holiday mean to you? What is the direct experience of gratitude? How does it relate to these other qualities? Simply spend some time reflecting on what you're thankful for in your lives.

I wish you a blessed holiday with your loved ones, your friends, your turkey. Good night.

(session ends)