Various locations | Jan 2014
This series will build upon last year's theme of Dependent Origination. Dependent Origination showed us how the sense of ourselves is created each moment and how that process inevitably leads to pain and suffering. This created sense-of-self stands in the way of the liberating presence of heart that is obscured through the wanting mind. This series on the birthing of the heart will show how to call the heart forward and incline ourselves toward a liberating awareness that may be momentarily obstructed but never removed from our lives. We will explore heart centered meditations as part of the series.
Last year's series on Dependent Origination showed how we continually invalidate the true perception of reality by forming reality through our assumptions. We cover the present with the past and then pretend that we have a firm place within a world of known objects. This talk on integrity is the beginning of a new series called, "Birthing the Heart." In this series we will be calling the heart out of hiding by directing our attention to the quiet that surrounds and holds all things. To live abiding within stillness, which is the culmination of a liberated mind, requires attention to several details. The first detail we will flesh out is integrity. Integrity is a central issue in dharma growth because stillness requires everything to be aligned within our hearts and minds. When some part of our mind is in discord, internal chatter ensues, assuring the veil of noise will project a very different world than seen though quietude. Our internal chatter holds our lives as we know them to be which is often rancorous and insatiable. An aligned perception is called integrity, wholeness of heart, or the state of being unimpaired.
I have noticed over the years that many of us are curious about death and dying but most of us want to hold it at arm length. With increased dharma understanding and maturity, we begin to want to close that gap. To do so we have to bring death closer; we have to start living it without interruption. What we notice is that it is immediately accessible and ultimately friendly. Dying is not self-controlled; it is the ultimate act of surrender. It requires both releasing our need to control and the courage to face life without the influence of thought. Our self-controlled life is lived by thinking our way through it, so death means dying into quiet. In your meditation place nothing between you and the quiet that surrounds you. A single thought is too much distance between you and that quiet. Simply release the need to think (without pushing thought away) and live the quiet. Now you are living your death. After the sitting see what interferes with continuing to live your death.
The birthing of the heart will occur on its own if we genuinely want to know what is true - not what is convenient, but what is true. This desire to know what is true is the irresistible force that cuts through ignorance, and sincerity defines the person who is compelled by this urge. Our heart knows whether we are forcing sincerity or being naturally curious, and the sincere person does not try to feign sincerity when it is absent. Instead of trying to force the mind to always be honest, the sincere student is willing to look directly at the mind that is irresolute and wavering in its commitment to sincerity. The hallmark of sincerity is not that the person is always forthright but that he/she is willing to investigate the mind when that trait is missing. "What is going on here? What is blocking my wanting to know?" Therefore, sincerity is not dependent upon wholesome states of mind, but is driven instead to align itself with the deepest truths it knows.
Before we can incline the heart out of hiding, we have to tend to the areas of our lives that still foster a lingering believe in our personal narrative. Any mental and emotional logic that traps us inside our story has to be examined thoroughly because that state holds us within form. One area that keeps us stuck within our mental history is in our lack of forgiveness. Something in the past either happened to us or we did something that we were unable to forgive, and the story may still haunt us to this day. How do we break the hold the past has on us and free ourselves from this mental bondage? We apply the same practice to this area as we do to any mental disturbance. We simple hold it within awareness as it is and allow it to burn itself out. We have to be careful not to add any additional mental rationale or excuse, which will occur when the energy of the story overwhelms us. Simply face whatever occurred without alterations until the emotions and story become less intense and burdensome. Be careful not to infuse the story with additional guilt or shame. This practice does not apply to traumatic events which are better handle under professional supervision, but it does apply to those many smaller transgressions that we carry with us throughout our lives.
We often miss the obvious ways our heart is birthed throughout the day. We may pass over these situations as unimportant when we succumb to the pressures upon us, but from a spiritual standpoint these moments are precious. These are the times in which our hearts are fully exposed and available, the moments when the mind is quieter and awareness is sensed, the times when the veil between the world and us is thinned considerably, and when life pours through uncensored. One such time is when we are quiet enough to appreciate the rich display of life before us moment after moment. Let us look for these opportunities throughout our day and not pass over them because we have more important things to do. Let us incline our mind toward appreciation as if it were the only experience that truly confirms why we live, and relish the adventure.
Mentally we set boundaries because we are afraid, while the heart through nonresistance is attempting to dismantle those boundaries and show us life is safe. This creates an apparent conflict in spiritual practice between opening to reality as it is presented and feeling safe within that situation. When this contradiction arises be patient and ask what we are protecting ourselves from. If it is emotional or physical harm then leaving the situation is wise action, but does escaping mean that we create the boundary of separation in its wake? If so then whenever we decide to part ways, we will live within the turmoil of the division we just created. Can we take effective action without forcing a boundary upon a situation? It takes clear discernment, an attribute of awareness, to understand what we are doing and why, and discernment will move us to safety without forming tension filled boundaries.
How do we apply the heart to practice? There are two prerequisites for the balancing of Insight Meditation. The first is that we have to be able to observe and see so we can understand what the mind is doing. In the beginning the struggles of practice often have to do with steadying the attention sufficiently to be able to see without the interference of thoughts. This takes time and effort. But the second prerequisite is just as important but more easily overlooked, and that is that our attention has to contain a quality of heart within it. I call this combination of observation plus heart, caring attention. To know that all facts are friendly, which is one of the fruits of insight, is to not only focus upon the fact but to truly let it in and allow the fact to affect us. Our heart allows all facts to enter. We will then meet the fact at the sense door with relaxation and ease, and our judgmental opinions will stand aside, and we will let it pass, trusting in the inclusiveness of the heart.
Watch this YouTube video for inspiration on accessing the tenderness of the heart: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPSAgs-exfQ
It is difficult to speak about the Intuitive Heart because it is an intrinsic part of ourselves that cannot be known prior to its arrival. In other words it is not conjured up by thought or derived from emotions, rather it is a knowing coming from the whole of the situation. To think about it is to distort it. In Buddhism we speak about Clear Comprehension which is this “whole knowing.” Usually we see only where our attention is directed, but when we are sufficiently quiet, there is a sensing that is more complete and full than the sensing of any particular sense organ. Often the intuitive is a sensing beyond the data, a kind of knowing whose origin will always be a mystery because it does not rest on mental processing. We can approximate its location by saying that this intuitive sensing lives within presence.
Kindness could be an easy inroad into the heart if we believed we deserved the label of kindness. As we become more self-aware, we often lead with our deficiencies by seeing where we are not living up to our spiritual ideals. Yes, we might say, we helped that person, but there are so many ways that we are still inconsiderate. We do untold damage to ourselves by casting us out of our own hearts. We can turn this around by noticing when we are kind. Make a point of warming your heart to yourself in that moment, and when you are not kind, become interested in what seemed to deflect kindness. You might have been in pain and unable to consider another. Resolve to understand what keeps you internally focused unable to connect with others. Patience is an attribute of kindness and allowing the necessary time to learn the path of kindness requires patience. We have to lead with kindness as patience from day one.
Building upon the previous dharma topic on kindness, resolve is the conviction of heart that moves only in accordance with deep levels of connection. Resolve is a confluence of steadfastness, wisdom, certainty, and surrender. It is the unwillingness to keep acting within the same conditioned patterns over and over again despite the outcome. At some point our conditioning has pushed us as far as our hearts are willing to go. Now we surrender our resistance, steady our posture, and see what the moment brings that is not conditioned from the past. It is surprising how far most of us have to be pushed before we give up our control and surrender to what is. Only a firm resolve allows this to happen.
What happens when we incline our minds toward love, when we actually intend our lives toward love and say, “I want to live within love’s aura,” not as a possibility but as a resolve? This comes after we have realized there is no other way to live, when we are without options, and we are finally willing to surrender to the only remaining action. What happens to us physically, emotionally, and psychologically when that surrender occurs? There will be a loosening and heart opening and perhaps a loss of some degree of control. Love alters our perspective and brings us very near the living moment in a way that thought based living never could. The rawness of the exposure assures we will feel the empathetic pain of others as well, and compassion will result. It is interesting to notice when this “letting go” becomes too much for our egos and we pull back within the safety of our thinking and self-protection. Play with this edge of surrender and control, the shift between heart and mind, and honor both responses.
It is so easy to think we are birthing the heart when actually we are reinforcing the mind. This is tricky work and the difference is poorly understood even among the more astute meditators. The key factor is the “I” and the effort the “I” exerts in finding something, like love, that seems to be missing. If love feels like a project “I” am working on for my benefit, then we can be sure it is coming from and reinforcing the mind’s idea of love. To find love within the heart, just be quiet, and incline the heart in that direction, not letting thoughts interfere with that inclination. Try it and see. Just be quiet and soft and incline your heart toward love and see what comes. We make love a mental construct so we can control it, but love pours through a vulnerable heart that is quiet and soft, and vulnerability frightens us. Remember, the heart does not have to be “made” to love or disciplined into kindness, but the mind does. Love is not missing, we are obstructing the love that is there.
The most direct route into the heart is through silence that ultimately ends in stillness. Quiet essentially neutralizes mental chatter such as our persistent inward narrative and allows the heart’s full expression. But our relationship with silence is often conflictual, and we find ourselves both approaching and avoiding it. Becoming comfortable in silence is an ongoing spiritual practice that requires risking our self-image. Like all spiritual practices working with silence will threaten our comfort level. Silence is like a small hole in the balloon of self that we have to keep filling with noise to maintain ego inflation. Without the input of noise we quickly feel deflated. If we do not get caught in that feeling of despair, we will discover that awareness is there to catch our fall, but this life within awareness can never be known unless we risk a life of quiet.
Another attribute of the heart is its inclusiveness. The heart does not deny access to anyone or anything and is open to the full catastrophe of living. The mind, on the other hand, judges and defends most of what it sees, and thereby selectively chooses what it will allow in. As the mind loosens its grip and the heart emerges, it sometimes feels as if we are awakening out of a dark cave, and this can accompany a fear of being too exposed. But if the heart steadies its composure and does not concede its bearing, the feeling of vulnerability soon evolves into joy. The secrets to continuing to open are nonresistance to experience and remembering that all experiences can be held.
Listening is a direct link to the heart, but it is often used in the service of the mind. Listening can be defined as meditation since the definition of meditation is receiving whatever is arising. So formal meditation is essentially identical to listening, but listening can be internal only, external only, or internal and external at the same time. Simultaneous internal and external listening is essential when we listen to one another. We have to be able to know the difference between what we hear (external) and what we think (internal), and that requires practice and intention. This is especially tricky in conversation when our commentary is running along side the verbal message coming in. Yet it is possible to detect the intrusion of our internal narrative on our listening, and this discernment can help us become more continuously present throughout the day. Birthing the heart is not a part time affair and what better way to make it continuous than to use each interaction as the very expression of our life’s work.
When many of us think of love we think of compassion, but love has many faces, compassion being just one of them. Compassion is the natural response of love to suffering, and love is the warm hearted connection with everything. In order for love to continue its compassionate response, we have to allow suffering to be experienced. If we turn away, love’s response will be obstructed by our aversion, and we will act from our aversive response rather than our compassionate one. Like all openings to love, compassion requires our stillness of being, which to the ego feels like being defenseless and vulnerable. The ego would rather move toward reaction than be defenseless, so it breeds hostility and indignation as its counter response to suffering. This puts “us” back into control and then “we” set out to do something about this outrage. But if we forestall this fear reaction and sit for a while within the vulnerability and stillness of suffering, a truer and more interconnected response emerges. We realize that the world is broken apart by a 1000 acts of righteousness but comes together only through love.
It can be difficult to piece the many instructions of our Buddhist practice into a single coherent whole. We may sense we need to shore up one area and in the next moment we seem deficient in another. The Buddha summarized all the practices he taught into three words: sila (ethical conduct), samadhi (steadiness of mind), and panna (understanding and wisdom). When we get confused about what we should be doing, we might want to return to those three words for direction. They are the keys to birthing our hearts. These three words move in synchronicity to one another. If our minds are too discursive, we focus on distinct experiences, like the breath, until the mind settles. As it settles more, we see deeply into the interconnected fiber of life, which reinforces actions in alignment with the principles of our hearts. When there is sufficient steadiness of mind, our understanding of life deepens, our heart opens, and ethical conduct falls in line with the pain and suffering we see. The wish to hurt ourselves or others falls away with insight, not from moral restraint. We experience ourselves as being a part of and no longer separate from the web of life and we act in accordance with that understanding.
What inhibits our resolve to show up for our life? What are the competing motivations that keep us looking toward the future for fulfillment instead of surrendering to the present? Do we take our personal agenda so seriously that we lose the value of being present? Seriously ask whether the actual payoff of our agenda is as fulfilling as the expectation. In the rare moments when we are connected, quiet, just being, without any motive whatsoever, what is that like? We have to acquire a taste for the present and at first it feels too normal and unexciting, but if we hold the stillness of the moment there will come a deep serenity and depth of connection and aliveness that is beyond the ordinary. From here we may well state, “Nothing is missing and there is no where to go.”
Spiritual practice is all about unburdening our lives, which depending upon the circumstances, can be called surrender, renunciation, letting go, simplicity, or relinquishment. Suffering is the process of adding to the nothing we are. Every psychological, material, and spiritual layer we add on, ultimately weighs us down, narrows our options, and ties us to its limitations. For example when we define ourselves, we are forced to live as if the definition were true and deny a range of qualities that do not fit our image. At some point the burden of these add-ons become overwhelming, and we then become willing to surrender everything that we have artificially imposed upon us. Relinquishment is returning to our natural state by releasing our accumulations. This process can go as fast or take as long as we wish it to take. The more we are accountable to the burdens we bear, the more willing we become to relinquish that unneeded weight. The timing is ours alone, but the process of relinquishment is very simple and straightforward.
There is a kind of clamor we make when we are pushing ourselves forward trying to accomplish spiritual objectives. We keep ourselves pumped up in an excitable state and busily looking toward the results of our efforts. But the direction the heart takes is in the opposite direction. The heart moves toward nothing special, simplicity, and a full embrace of the here and now. We can rediscover the refuges we take in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha when we pair the refuges with the true direction of the heart. The Buddha is stillness, the Dharma is discovering that stillness in all things, and the Sangha is the intimacy shared when two or more people can be safely quiet together. The heart flourishes within these refuges and intimately connects with the nothing special here and now.
The practice of metta is not the state of metta. Metta is unconditional love and the practice of metta attempts to nudge the mind in the direction of unconditioned love by showing how the opinions we hold of ourselves and each other create separation and distance. It is our perceptions that need to be changed and the key to doing that is questioning deeply the opinions we hold. We think our opinions are the truth, and we can be very reluctant to change them. But opinions are just circumstantial emotions that have been conditioned onto a person, place, or thing. To live under the influence of our opinions is to live enslaved to our thoughts and feelings. Opinions can and do change but they need our intention to look from a different perspective. That is what metta practice attempts to do. It works because we begin to appreciate the state of connected love we fall into when we release our opinions, but our convictions come back very quickly if we have not explored the false nature of all assumptions.
The Buddha said, “One who knows love is very close to the truth.” As we practice, and identification with appearances diminishes, we will find ourselves from time to time suddenly surrounded by great space. The great space seems to have come from nowhere. Maybe it came from the relaxed way we were observing, or out of a momentary respite from self-indulgence. It does not matter how it came, only that it came. The space reassures us that love is there, and even when it seems to be hidden, it lies in wait for our acknowledgment. If we look through that space focusing on objects, love will be missed. If we abide within the space itself and rest there, then our actions will come from its power and grace.
Please note: This video is out of focus, due to technical difficulties.
The Brahma Vihara practices try to pierce the many ways we resist love. Two of the ways we block love are through jealousy and envy. Mudita attempts to balance this dark contracted energy with perceptions of abundance. We can chose to see life from either angle, tightly drawn and very personal where every variance is an indication of our troubled relationship with life, or wide open where there is enough for all and deep gratitude for the abundance available. Often our childhood pain will indicate which direction we chose. If we grew up with harsh judgment and self-criticism, likely we will express jealousy when other succeed and have a strong competitive relationship with others. But regardless of our existing pain body, we can always make a choice to step out and away from selfishly quantifying the forms of life. Mudita is love of another’s success and represents the joy intrinsic to love. To access this love look directly into the pain that remains in your heart when it is closed, and ask yourself, “What is blocking my joy?” and, “Why am I invested in this story?” Challenge your thoughts; challenge anything that stands in the way of your heart.
Silence precedes equanimity. If you attempt to become equanimous prior to being still, equanimity will be the distance you place between yourself and the disturbance. The disturbance will be seen as something to avoid and the mind will detach and separate itself from the disturbance. If you find yourself doing this, stop and reconsider what equanimity is. Equanimity is the absence of a story, the absence of a qualifying thought about what is occurring. It is not a dry or distant state without feelings or emotions, but a different dimension entirely where everything is allowed to be just as it is without discourse or reasoning. What if the mind simply stopped protesting the shape and content of reality? What if we conceded reality and its full presentation as just what is? Within that concession, there would be stillness of self, without argument of contention. That is equanimity. It is not a state, it is the complete absence of egoic control. Therefore do not try to conjure up a state where “you” are not affected by life. That is very close to dissociation, which will lead you to serious psychological disturbances.
Most of us are tired of hearing loud and often confrontational religious teaching where the minister is emphatically expressing an opinion. How is the minister living his/her teaching in that moment, we might ask? Where is the living Christ within the philosophy espoused? It seems to me that it is time we stopped shouting and began manifesting. We are only as spiritually developed as our actions indicate. Recently someone asked, “I have been practicing for many years. I am older and people are now dying all around me. How has the practice prepared me for this?” I asked her what she had been doing in her practice all these years, and she said, “Watching my mind." I asked if she had noticed how her mind was in constant movement and that everything around her was on its way toward becoming something else. I suggested she might want to live in accordance with that movement by keeping her mind malleable and unfixed. If she did that, I continued, she would understand where death fits in with her practice and begin to rest more comfortably within these inevitable transitions. The way to live the teachings is to bring the philosophy of the practice forward into our daily actions. We all know that conceptualizing reality breeds a false sense of control and ultimately our resistance and suffering arise from that perspective, but how many of us are willing to live that truth by questioning and releasing our thoughts throughout the day? Do we live what we know to be true? Embodiment means acting from the truth and conceding our lives toward that end.