April 25, 2010 Sunday AM Emerald Isle Retreat, Barbara's Instructions

Keywords: vipassana, dependent origination, citta/nama/rupa, metta, spaciousness, elements

Barbara: Good morning. I hope you all slept well, and danced in the raindrops on the beach. Sometimes it's sunny; sometimes it rains. Then preference comes, "I want it this way, I want it that way," and then suffering comes because it's not the way we wanted it. (it began to rain during morning sitting on the beach)

We'll start the retreat with basic vipassana practice to let you settle into your practice. You're all old hands at this but I'm going to go through a kind of basic review to remind you.

We have physical senses-- eye, ear, nerves, tongue, body-- that contact an object. When the sense organ touches the object, that's contact. With contact, there's consciousness. As long as we're alive as sentient beings, when there's contact, there's consciousness.

Let me phrase it differently, there is the potential for consciousness. We can walk down a beautiful beach, mind so far away, planning or worrying, that you really don't see anything around you. The eye organ is there. The beach scene is there. In a sense there's no contact, it's just (sound effect), no connection. But as soon as there's connection, that organ touching the object which means contact, consciousness arises.

When there is contact and consciousness, there will be feelings of pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Sometimes the feelings are based on really being in the present moment. Sometimes they're very much based on old perceptions. So there's feeling based on the perception of what it is, sometimes a memory.

For example, if you saw--I did not see this, but if you saw a man-o-war floated up on the beach, and you had never been stung by one of these, you might just look at this gelatinous mass and say, "Ah, that's curious," a really neutral experience. It's just this gelatin-like mass lying on the beach, the remains of some sea creature. If you have been stung several times by one of these and you saw it-- seeing, unpleasant, man-o-war, perception jumps in. First, seeing is just gelatinous mass, neutral. Then perception says Man-o-war, and from old conditioning mind jumps to unpleasant feeling, "uh-oh. Wonder if there are many in the water. What if I swim and I get stung?"

So it's not about what is seen but about the old beliefs about it, old perceptions about it. And mind jumps so quickly into that story, "Uh-oh, man-o-war-- what if I get stung?" Immediately you're either thinking, "Can't swim all week in the ocean," or "They're going to have to take me off to the hospital because my whole body will swell up from getting stung from this creature." Old stories.

We watch this whole flow of mind and body experience. Consciousness, the Pali word citta is useful here. Citta fall into 2 categories, material citta: the body, rupa, and nama, the mind. When the eye catches an object, that's rupa, seeing. When it's felt as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, that's nama, mind. Rupa, seeing, then the perception is made "man-o-war" and immediately that "Oh no, the ocean is going to be full of these," that's mind, nama.

So it's valuable to know what's rupa and what's nama. If I'm walking down the beach and I step on a sharp shell and immediately there's a feeling of, I don't want to call it pain-- maybe burning or sharpness. I'm looking for a more specific word than pain, but just pain will do. This is felt in the body and then mind comes in. If it's unpleasant, the unpleasantness is in the mind but the body experience of sharpness is rupa. Then nama knows pain.

Then you sit down and look at the foot and it hurts. You pull this fragment of shell out. If mind just leaves it there, "sharp shell, unpleasant," maybe followed by the thought, "Next time I'll wear my sandals," and then you get up and walk on, or you go up to the house and wash it off and put a bandage on it, that's it. There is nothing to compound it. All of this is just in the present moment.

When something is strongly pleasant or unpleasant, it can draw us into attachment or aversion; it doesn't have to but it can. With either one then these stories start coming, mental formations.

So a sharp shell in the foot, you sit down and pull it out and immediately mind is rushing off, "I'm not going to be able to walk comfortably on the beach the rest of the week, this isn't fair, this isn't how I wanted it to be." It's just mind.

When we meditate, it is helpful to note what is body, rupa, and what is mind. We watch these objects arising. We can stay with whatever is predominant in the experience. I don't mean the content of it, but if there is the shell in the foot and you pull it out just like splinter, and there's a drop of blood and immediately a story comes, "It's going to hurt when I walk on the beach, I don't like this," --ahh, opinion. It's an object. Not the content, but the arising of the story. You can just call it mental formation if you want to, or simply "story," or opinion or fear-- what's predominant in that moment? Not the content but the direct experience of that moment.

Maybe it's a bigger cut, not just a splinter, but a slice from a shell on the sole of your foot. "I won't be able to walk on the beach this week. Sand will get it in it, it will get infected." In one moment there's anger, in the next moment maybe fear. Disappointment. You don't have to search for the exact right thing, just "contracted" is enough, tension, contracted. So we don't need to walk around with a dictionary trying to find the exact right notation to use, just awareness, "This has arisen in this mind and body. This is the predominant object of this moment."

How does it feel? What is the experience of this disappointment or anger or fear in the body? How long does it sustain itself without a story? And as it changes or dissolves we come back to the primary object, whatever it is you're using as a primary object.

Some years ago Aaron gave a teaching over, he kept repeating over many months, that he called POPA: proper object; proper attitude or predominant object; proper attitude. Whatever arises, can the attitude around it be one of metta, spaciousness?

So when an object arises like a sliced foot, pain, unpleasant, then fear or anger around that object, in the end as we go through fear, anger, disappointment, mind may realize, Ahh, just in this moment here is this human experiencing something she doesn't want to experience. Can there be kindness to this human?

You're told when the object changes or dissolves to come back to the breath so sometimes people hurry back to the breath. We have a habit, some of us, to do that. But we can use that habit to avoid an unpleasant object, and our instructions are never toward avoidance or enhancement, just things as they are.

Very strong disappointment maybe-- "I won't be able to walk on the beach this week. I have a big cut on my foot." Disappointment. "I won't be able to swim in the ocean, there's a man-of-war here, what if there are more of them?" Disappointment, maybe fear. "It can get infected." Or, "I could get stung."Sometimes we don't want to be with that kind of challenging object like pain, disappointment, fear, anger, so we tend to rush back to the primary object of the breath, turning our back on what has arisen.

This has to be done with delicacy; to stay with the object as long as it's predominant, not to be attached to the object or back away with aversion. In other words, not to hold onto the fear or anger or disappointment with an idea, "I have to fix this," or "I have to work it out. I can't leave it until it's gone or it's better." That's too much force in one direction. Too much force the other direction is, "Fear. Turn my back on it, I'm going back to the breath."

We need to stay centered, present with the object, with a kindness that's willing to stay there with difficult objects. With pleasant objects it's not so hard but with challenging objects it can be hard. But only when we stay deeply present with these objects do we really see the dharma. That is, it's all arising out of conditions, it's impermanent, it's not self, and in that knowing we find liberation. Knowing with a certainty, it's just arising out of conditions.

So we practice in this way, very present with what is arising. And I want you, especially through today, to be very aware of this whole chain of dependent arising. Dependent arising, that means things arising with dependence on the conditions; when the conditions are present, the objects will arise. When the conditions cease, they will cease. All is impermanent; all is not self.

By not self I mean that it's simply arising out of a multitude of conditions. I don't have to take it personally. The man-of-war is not on the beach to upset me, it's on the beach because there was a man-of-war in the ocean that died and got washed up on shore. It has nothing to do with me. But the mind says, "Why is the ocean doing this to me? Why am I not going to be able to enjoy the ocean this week?"

So we let go of these stories. When there are strong stories, we note the strength of the story. There's something under there, some old fear, something that has not really been attended. What needs to come into stronger focus? Maybe the mind was building up a subtle story, "This week is going to be so wonderful, I am going to be able to walk on the beach and swim every day and the sun's going to be shining and I'm going to lie down and nap on the beach and sit and meditate looking at the ocean. It's going to be so blissful." And here it is raining and there are 30 or 40 dead man-of-wars washed up on shore-- there aren't, I'm not trying to scare you, just creating a possible scenario. And there's a high school marching band next door and they're practicing on the beach! "Not fair, why are they doing this to me?" Well, somewhere under there, there's a deep level of disappointment, maybe a deep feeling of need. "This body and mind are exhausted." A deep sense of wanting a place of refuge, a place to rest, for restoration, nourishment, quiet, peace, joy, and so everything should go exactly the way I want it to this week, and if anything doesn't, why is it doing this to me?

Story. Seeing the story but also going deeper and seeing, "What am I not attending to in myself? When I bring attention to that feeling, I'm just exhausted, I'm totally wiped out. And I don't feel like I can deal with frustration at this point, I just want it to be quiet and peaceful."

This is a form of metta. It's not a formal metta practice, it's just kindness to one's self. Noting, "This mind and body has need at this point, this human has need, and I really wish it could be that way but it's never going to be just the way I want it to be." Kindness. Not, "I shouldn't have these thoughts. I should be able to cope with a marching band and the men-of-war and the rain; they shouldn't be a problem"-- that's not kindness.

So we want to practice in this way with kindness to ourselves, with a spaciousness that can perceive objects arising and passing away and not get caught up in the stories. As mind quiets down we see the stories more and more in focus and are able to say, "Ah, there's one... another one," and just catch them. "Story-- hello story! Come have tea. But shh! No talking." You know this story about Milarepa. He invites the demons in for tea. They say, "Are you afraid of us? No, your hideous appearance only reminds me to be aware and to have compassion. We offer them tea." But he doesn't say, "Let's get into a long dialogue," He just says, "Shh, sit quietly and have your tea." Disappointment, frustration, anger, fear, sadness-- "Shh, I am present with you. My heart is open to you. I'm not afraid of you. Have tea, but you're not going to tell me your stories, I've already heard them 10,000 times."

Aaron spoke last night about spaciousness. This morning we'd like you to just focus on watching objects arising and passing away. When the object is gone, come back to the primary object. For most of you, it's the breath.

As mind and the body settle down you'll notice more and more that when the object passes away there's a space. I don't know how long this carries the sound, but listen to the sound of the bell-- hearing, hearing, and then the tone fading away.

(bell, long pause for fadeout)

Can you feel even just a moment of space when the sound is gone and before a new object comes? Some of you nodding yes, some nodding no. Let's try it one more time. Just go out with the bell, hearing, hearing, hearing, and as the sound dies away, go where the sound goes. (bell)

Where does the sound go? Where did it go? Any thoughts?

Q: Back into the Unconditioned?

Barbara: Yes. More.

Q: Out into the spaciousness?

Barbara: Into the spaciousness. Any others? Into emptiness? It goes back into the Unconditioned, into emptiness, into spaciousness. That means it came out of them.

Q: It arises and ceases simultaneously so it's there and not there.

Barbara: It arises and ceases simultaneously so it's there and not there. You don't mean the arising and cessation are simultaneous, or do you? You do. I think I understand what you're saying but explain it for others.

Q: Just through my experience. I can't find there's separation between the two. I don't know it any deeper than that.

Barbara: Okay, thank you. So it arises and ceases simultaneously. And if you get what Q means, that's useful, but if you don't get it, don't worry about it.

John: It can be your koan for the retreat. What is the experience of simultaneous arising and ceasing of an object?

Barbara: When the sun comes out that would be a wonderful one to work with, sitting by the ocean watching the waves. When does an individual wave arise and when does it cease? First the water is flat. As soon as it builds up into a wave it's already arisen and it's already ceased, on one level. On another level it seems to build up, flop over, and then it ceases. So on one level it's linear, on another level it's simultaneous. But if you really watch the waves you'll see that right there in flat water, no wave, is the wave. All the conditions that give rise to the wave are right there in that bit of flat water. And then the wave begins to arise out of those conditions. So current, force, water movement and wind, and whatever has the nature to arise, has the nature to cease. Right there in those conditions that give rise to the wave are the same conditions that bring it over, splosh it down, and it's gone.

If the weather gets nice enough, go and sit in waist-deep water or stand in waist-deep water letting waves come by you, and just do a sitting or standing meditation there experiencing the arising and cessation of waves. And ask, "Right there in the arising wave, can I feel the cessation of it? Right there in the cessation as it slaps down, can I feel the arising of it?"

Okay. Let's leave that for the moment.

Be there with these objects, watching objects arising and passing away. When you see a space as the object dissolves, don't rush to go back to the breath or primary object. If the space is strong enough to catch your attention, be there with the space. If the space is not strong then simply bring attention back to your breath; don't go looking around saying, "Where did the space go? What can I use as an object? There was a loud noise. The noise stopped. Now I don't know what to do." Just come back to the breath.

I'm going to shout. It will probably startle you. Watch the body startle, the experience of being startled. Hearing, hearing the loud shout. And then almost instantly the shout is gone. You may experience a moment of deep spaciousness and silence, and then the thought, "What next?" And if there's such a thought, just note "thinking" and come back to the breath.

So start this by being present with the breath. Breathing in, breathing out. Breathing in, and breathing out. (pause) Breathing in, the mind calm and at peace. Breathing out and watching the mind calm and at peace. Or perhaps breathing in and watching the mind a bit tense with expectation. Breathing out and watching the mind a little tense with expectation. Breathing in, and breathing out. Feeling the breath at the nostrils or at the abdomen...

Just present in this body, present with this mind. Breathing in and breathing out. Feeling the mind and body coming into a calmness, a spaciousness, able to be present --(shouts!)

Suddenly there was loud sound and hearing. Did any of you experience a kind of emptiness after that startle reflect, just stopping, space? Anyone feel that? Yes. And then very quickly the mind started in again, but there was that space.

If the object passes away and there's that kind of space, just rest in that space. If something comes in and tries to fill up the space then note, "thinking," or wherever mind and body are going, and come back to the breath.

If you're using nada or luminosity as a primary object, it's a little bit different because the breath is a mundane object. That is, it arises from mundane conditions, relative reality conditions. It's impermanent and based on conditions in this relative realm.

Nada and luminosity are what we call conditioned expressions, direct expressions of the Unconditioned. They still are conditioned, they arise out of conditions, but the conditions they arise out of are the Unconditioned itself, so they're always there. Just as the Unconditioned doesn't come and go, nada and luminosity do not come and go, our attention to them comes and goes. And space is the same way. Space, I'm not talking about the space in this room or the space within a balloon when you blow it up. The basic spaciousness that we're talking about, is an expression of the Unconditioned.

So we use this finger and space behind it example, looking at the fingers, wiggling the fingers in front of your face, fixed attention to the fingers. All we can see is the fingers, here's form, feeling, thoughts, and so forth. And then look through the fingers. You keep the fingers going. The fingers haven't stopped, the aggregates haven't stopped, but the space is always there. Breaking through into that space.

And then maybe a butterfly lands on one finger. Ooo, got your attention again, back to the aggregates, back to the body, back to the mind. The space doesn't come and go, our attention to it wavers. However, our practice is not to stay fixed in that space and ignore the aggregates, our practice is to be present with whatever is predominant.

So we start with the aggregates, with the form aggregate, feelings, thoughts, and so forth. As we're present with the aggregates, sometimes they seem to just fold up and get quiet. There's nothing holding our attention there so the space reveals itself. Nada becomes stronger or luminosity becomes stronger. And then a butterfly lands on the finger, here's a seagull sitting on my finger, wow! Very much back in the body. The seagull takes off. The fingers still themselves. Back to that spaciousness.

So practice through the week moving in this direction. But for now if you're not experiencing spaciousness or nada or luminosity, or any of these direct expressions of the Unconditioned--there's also a scent of the Unconditioned like a very sweet honeysuckle, and a taste. If you're not experiencing any of these, just come back to your breath; use a mundane object, that's fine.

One other place we'll go this week is watching the elements, and we've worked with that at this retreat in past years. The elements of earth--body, ground--air, fire, water, and space. We also use the words ether and akasha. The space element is not exactly the same as the space that we might perceive as a direct expression of the Unconditioned but it's related. We'll talk more about it and I don't meant to get intellectual about it here. Aaron will talk about it through the week.

When you practice with vipassana with the elements it can simply be an observation, for example, an awareness that one is feeling lethargy. Pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Strong lethargy. And then there may be the insight how the body feels very heavy, overly grounded. Don't think about the elements so much as practice with them as objects, at this point. Here is overly heavy earth energy. Just being present with it. Breathing in and aware of the overabundance of heavy earth energy, breathing out and feeling that. Present with that imbalance of the elements. You're not trying to fix it, just watching it.

In watching it, often it will shift. You're not doing anything, you're just watching it, but often it will shift. When it's no longer holding your attention, when lethargy or the direct experience of the earth heaviness of the body is no longer holding your attention, come back to the breath.

As you come back to the breath, right there in the breath you might feel more air energy and it breaks up the earth. It might not be so conscious, just the intention, "Feeling the heavy earth energy, feeling the lethargy. I put my hands on my heart. I breathe in, feeling lethargic or feeling so tired. Body feeling very heavy. I offer the intention to bring this body and mind back into balance for the highest good of all beings." Smiling into the body, and then I come back to the breath. If the heaviness still is there and pulls my attention away, I go to it.

Later in the week we'll talk more about conscious practice with the elements, but for now just bringing awareness to it. A lot of agitation, maybe. Suddenly the idea, the thought comes, overabundance of fire energy. "For the highest good of all beings, I offer the intention to bring this body back into balance." Just letting the body and mind come back into balance, letting fire energy dissipate a bit and be balanced by the other elements.

So for today I just want to bring your attention to including the elements as part of the practice but not any conscious work with the elements at this point. Just awareness of whatever is there: mind, body, elements, tension, spaciousness, whatever is there.

That's about it. Are there any questions about the morning's instructions?

Q: I think we talked about antidotes before? Are there antidotes to over-expression of the elements? Like water or fire?

Barbara: Yes, and we'll talk about that more through the week and especially out on the beach in the afternoons when we're working more directly with the elements. But for today I want to just keep it simple, just a practice of noting what is present and what is predominant, and being present with it. With antidote it's so easy to get into the idea to "fix" this. The antidote is never offered as a fix but from a very heart-centered place as kindness to bring balance.

So for today I want us just to stay focused on what's present, and can I be present with the predominant experience with kindness. And if there's not kindness but contraction that says "fix it," that becomes the next object. Contracting, fix-it mind. Just noting fix-it mind. So we're not going to do anything, we're just going to note that it's there. Okay?

Okay. If it's raining (suggestions about where and how people can walk indoors)...

The group this afternoon, you're divided into 3 groups (schedule, instructions) ...

(session ends)