What Next?

January 2009. B: I have been meditating for over two decades- gone through the up and down associated with meditation in general. Good thing to say though that I am a much better person now, through the changes over the years.

I practice mainly the awareness type meditation. Three years ago, I started noticing the intense awareness of surrounding through my eyes. I could look and see the beauty of things in the daily life. This experience happened before but it didn’t last, and I had to make an effort trying to reach it.

Anyway, now I’ve started noticing the awareness moving up to my forehead. The awareness of things around me is much faster than at the eyes, or physical level. Thought? No thought! Just the awareness of what is going on. I know one thing is that the mind can only concentrate at one thing a time. So, either awareness or thought. It doesn’t take much effort to be aware of myself, the things I was doing and surrounding. I can sit with my eyes closed- meditating or standing up w/ eyes opened, and the awareness is there. Again, no thought. OK thought is there, then it’s gone. I can sit for a moment or hours if I want to with no concern of pain/ numbness (although it is there still).

When I face difficulty as everyone else, I look for ways to handle it using whatever is available at the time. I don’t look for excuse or ask why it happened that way- just look for an answer. I deal with the issues at the personal level- basically decision made reflecting the person I am here and now- not how it should be or could be. I am trying to bring this awareness more to the daily live, yet still exploring even further spiritually. What can I look forward to? How can I strengthen my spiritual self even further. There was a time long ago I was seriously thinking of becoming a monk. But, then I realized that even a monk has to work and face things just like normal people. Hmm…. what should I do next? Any insights will be appreciated.

Thanks very much for your time, I am sure your kindness will be returned in favor one way or another.

Jay: Let’s look at this together right now. You ask “What’s next? What should I do to strengthen my spiritual self even further?”

What is it that asks this question? Sitting here at the computer, the warm air on the skin, sounds of fans and furnace clicking, the brain can ask what’s next, what will happen in the future, what should I do. These questions are part of history, part of the story of me. They are built into memory, remembering what I have done and evaluating where I think I am now and trying to project what should be done next. This is all the activity of memory. When this quiets down, this quiet room with its sounds and feelings is revealed more clearly, along with the silence and spaciousness in which it exists. When the memory is active, there is confusion and anxiety in the mind and body about what to do next. When memory is quiet, there is stillness, there is what is here and there is a doing of something if it is needed now, without anxiety or worry. Memory active – confusion. Memory quiet – natural response as needed.

I am only really alive when memory is not turned on and there is presence. As you say, no thought, just awareness. Why bother with what I think I’ve done in the past to get to this point? Whatever I remember about what I have done, it is not what I have really done. It is only a very limited recording of certain events. Most of what I did and what really influenced me in the past is not only not remembered but it is not rememberable, not knowable.

Where have I arrived at through all my hard work over the years? How do I push it further? This thought also comes from memory, doesn’t it? The memory of having struggled, having suffered, having gotten something in return. The projection in imagination into the future of how I have to keep going in a good direction. But looking right Here, what have I gotten? In reality much has actually been dropped, been given away. What is left has been here all the time.

Looking carefully at this moment of awareness, is there anything at all missing? If there is a sense of something missing, then is it possible to come in touch with that sense, to keep looking, keep awaring each moment until you can discover if there really is something missing right here. If there is something missing, it must be Here. So look Here more deeply, look more carefully, listen and feel more carefully, more subtly. Become very subtly and carefully and accurately aware of the listener, the awarer. What is it? The listener and that which is listened to both fully in awareness at the same time, in the same space, nothing left out.

Let’s look at the question again, What did I do in the past to get here, to a place of maybe some openness and equanimity?

Is it not true that nearly all of what we did in the past, most of us, is to think, to imagine what we are, to try to figure out what to do about it, to react to events and people around us in habitual and inappropriate ways and to try to find or build new patterns that might protect us from the suffering that is created from living this way continually?

Occassionally this self absorption of thought stopped for us in the past and there was a moment of beauty and simplicity and completeness. Just briefly and then thought took over again and perhaps made a story about it. What did you do to get to a moment of no thought? The question doesn’t apply. The moment of no thought happens when “me” is not operating. “Me” didn’t do it. Thought, memory, patterns of behavior can only cover over presence. They don’t create presence. Presence is already here. It’s all there is.

So you don’t need to worry about how to create or maintain awareness. It’s not your responsibility because it’s not possible to create or maintain. Just watch and listen carefully every moment and notice how the mind wants to know and wants to do something to keep you safe and wants to find answers. See if it is possible for this mind to become completely visible so that it is obvious whenever it wants to do something.

Sitting Here, body moving with the breath, heaviness in tired eyelids, there is no need for being anything in particular. No need for perfection, no need for growth, no need to know what happened before or what should happen next. There is just aliveness. Is anything missing? Listen and listen and listen!

Please write back if something here has not been very clear or doesn’t seem right to you or if you want to explore some of this further.

B: “Just watch and listen carefully every moment and notice how the mind wants to know and wants to do something to keep you safe and wants to find answers. See if it is possible for this mind to become completely visible so that it is obvious whenever it wants to do something.”

Everything mentioned previously sounds very familiar. On watching the mind wanting to do something- I thought I am supposed to guard the mind from wandering/ keep the lid on it as mind goes from one place to another. An apple turns into a football, so on and so forth.

How will I know how the mind will reveal itself? Is there something obvious I need to pay attention to? There were times when I “felt” I had to do certain thing, of course without thinking of doing it before. Is this what you are talking about?

Jay: The mind reveals itself all the time. For example, if you smell something burning, the mind presents the fact that there is danger and it searches through memory until it recognizes that the smell matches the memory for eggs burning and the brain may present an image of getting up and going quickly to the kitchen or there may be no image but the muscles are activated along with some adrenaline and one gets up and goes to the kitchen.

The problem is that our field of attention is usually very small. We may only be listening to our thoughts and inner words. Because the field of attention is too small, the activity of the mind is not seen clearly.

The key is to stay in a wide open field of attention (unless your situation requires you to focus on something like driving or having a conversation). How do you find a wide open field of attention? Listen with the whole body and mind. Let the attention include the body, the inner feeling of the body. Listen through the body into the space around the body. You will find that there is no real borderline between what we think of as the body and the whole world. Listen with all of this and forget about the mind.

Then if a thought comes up, the thought will hold still and its deepest contents are revealed in a moment. If the field of attention is wide, there is room for thoughts to reveal themselves clearly, not squeezed or pressured as when the field of attention is narrow.

There is no need to guard the mind. Guarding is a narrow field. Experiment with this wide field and you will find that thoughts are not a problem when they come up in wide open awareness because there is an amazing intelligence in this wide space of awareness and that intelligence takes care of things.

If you find thoughts acting in a disturbing way, see if it is possible for more space to open up for them. Feel how the thoughts move in the body, what they press on, where they create tension. See if it is possible for these areas to open more to create more space. If the whole body seems open but thoughts are still disturbing, see if it is possible to open up beyond the body into the world itself.

When everything is wide open, the whole world, body and mind are transparent. Anything that comes up is revealed clearly in its own instant without tension or conflict.

It doesn’t matter whether you see thoughts in the mind or don’t see any thoughts. The only important thing is the wide openness of awareness – unlimited space in which things can appear as they need or if nothing appears just this space of being. It doesn’t matter what is seen. Only the fact of seeing, of wide open presence is important. It is just the universe being itself, complete in this moment. That is all. That is everything.

I’m glad you asked for some clarification. That’s helpful for both of us. Please let me know if you have some other questions that come up now, or if something comes up as you explore this.

B: October 2009. First, I need to thank you for the advice you gave me early this year.

I have been meditating mainly on being aware of things around me: the feeling/sensation/thought/sight. Sometimes, I sit with my eyes opened and just look- knowing that I was just looking and not really get in too deep as far as what I was looking. Sometimes, I would “look” at things, still not getting in too deep and too involve with the thoughts from seeing. Sometimes, just walking and aware that I was simply “walking”. Just being aware of what I was doing at the moment, yes it was interesting to notice that while really focus on one thing, I was also aware of many things around me : thought, senses, noises- like seeing at the corner of my eyes while reading (not too deep). As I was aware of what was going on around me, I noticed the peace inside me which I didn’t really have to look/search for. The peace is always there.

Although, I have this experience before for past couple of years. I was not sure if I was on the right track. I had been meditating mostly on the concentration type, and everything else but “awareness”. At time, I noticed that I was too focused and everything else didn’t really meet my expectation as my brain/ concentration were racing full force. Sometimes, I felt angry as I wanted to be in peaceful moment, and I either had to do something else, except sitting/meditating in peace. Or someone/something had to disrupt me. Yes, I was at peace- usually, and my concentration was good, but I felt I was not progressing as I should. Even while sitting, I felt I had to rush event hough there was not anywhere to go. I always had to rush to reach a certain stage, certain level.

To a certain point, I was also not happy and at peace with myself. I could understand the story why someone would ignore his career/ family and everything else to just sit next to the river talking to him being at peace with himself. (This perhaps is a pitfall as mentioned in the advance study of meditation- a book I found at the Thai temple in MD). Sometimes, I noticed the awareness, when I really looked at something – almost like looking at picture, but moving picture. There was a sense of peace inside, and the aware of surrounding. Yet, I wasn’t sure if I was on the right track. And, I started searching for more. It was also difficult to talk and ask questions since many teachers may be stuck “searching” for peace themselves.

Anyway, having experienced the awareness before, along with the meditation of this type, I understood right away what you told me to do. Now, it has been several months since I committed to it, I feel at peace but not because I had to look for it. The awareness simply guides me there. As mentioned before, I notice many things around me simultaneously- yet still aware of what I was focusing on. I don’t feel I need to be anywhere, trying to reach certain level. Just being aware of this very moment- if there is something needs to be done, I will sense it and it’s time to go do it. By being aware of the moment, I feel at peace inside, even if people/ things are distracting. I am aware of this too.

I don’t exactly have a career- just doing odd jobs here and there after leaving my NASA work ten years ago. Now, I feel I am on the right path spiritually. I am still not sure what destiny has for me, but every time I am aware of the moment I feel everything will be fine and no one can take it from me. Not exactly, extraordinary things, as some friends of mine expecting to see me “float”, like a typical “Guru”- if there is such a thing. In dreams, yes, I was flying with my hands pushing myself above the ground. But, in reality, people would be flocking to me expecting that I solve their problems, or healing someone. Not saying that I don’t want to really make a difference, yes, I really want to be able to heal and take pains away- I just don’t know how! Unfortunately, I have to consult Ms. Destiny as well. Everyday, I do what I can, to make different regardless of how small- at the same time trying to make an honest living. Sometimes, I feel the uncertainty, but I let awareness by my guide which then turn the unfortunate into opportunity. The difficult time which most of us are facing currently, is not so bad afterall. To me, survival now takes a back seat, doing what I am to do is most important. Again, the awareness lets me know what I need to do.

Thanks again. And, you are welcome to add your insight to this, along with advice that you may have. I am sure this is just a beginning but to a different direction.

Jay: It’s nice that you have discovered the peacefulness that comes when the mind is not trying so hard to get away from this moment. And the intelligence to – somehow – know what to do when it is necessary to do something. All of it coming without having to try.

The mind works best when it is simply a receiver. And it can’t simply receive if it is trying to focus or trying to react to something. Even when there is some kind of action, if it comes from just listening, the action does not make the mind noisy. The mind can stay quiet, receptive, even in doing, even in thinking when necessary.

You mentioned some little thoughts about “what to do next” or about being helpful. In some ways you can see that these are just thoughts. I don’t have to know what I will do next. But the thought comes up. It’s a thought about “myself”. There is imagery behind it of what I am, what I was, what I will be. In sitting quietly, presently, these thoughts may not come up at all. What a relief. Then the thought comes back. What will happen to me in the future? Will I just sit and do nothing? Shouldn’t I have a goal, like helping other people? Or even a goal of just going around in presence doing the appropriate thing, and how people will see me and be impressed or maybe inspired. All of this is the brain making imagery about itself because that is what it is trained to do. It doesn’t want to stop.

It is also possible that there are things in the mind – past memories, patterns, habits, reactions, assumptions – things that do need to come into the light. They can come into the light whenever there is a moment with no focus, no need to know, forgetting about everything because what is right here is so present. I personally find that a seven day retreat is the best way for me to give these deeper patterns a chance to come out more clearly and fully. This is seven days of living in a very simple, direct way, along with other people.

I would recommend this very much. I personally go two or three times a year, maybe more. It is very helpful. There is a kind of unknowable “going deeper” that happens on its own.

Many retreat places impose certain kinds of tradition or practices or requirements that sometimes seem to interfere with just the opportunity for simple presence. I can recommend the Springwater Center in NY as a place that provides a very simple, direct retreat and yet has people there who have done this work for many years.

We are also holding a seven day retreat here in New Mexico the first week of December.

If you have not been to something like this, I think you will find that it is just what you have wanted – the chance to be in deep presence, with others, in Nature, for a good long time.

I will look forward to hearing how things are going for you.

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