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Monsters Under The Bed 4


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Okay. Though it may not seem like it, we’re actually following a progression in this retreat. The first step was to establish a basis of attention. The second is to use that base of attention to move into an awareness of the material that keeps us from being present in our lives—what we’ve called Monsters Under the Bed—basically, the reactive patterns associated with the six realms. And for that, we have been emphasizing experiencing how that material arises and manifests in the body, for two reasons. One is the body is always reliable. It always tells you what’s going on. The second is that by going to the body, one cuts through the conceptual process of thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking—which is spinning around in those stories, which we all know very well, and we all know very well doesn’t lead anywhere.

And, today we spent time in meditation and also in the exercises really getting a taste of the six realms. And, as one person said, it was a little frightening how close the artificial exercise was to real life! And this is what’s operating all the time.

This evening, we’re going to turn attention to how you step out of the six realms. And, for that, we want to take a look at what’s involved, so this afternoon we’re going to discuss what’s involved in stepping out of the six realms. Experience—what George is going to talk about initially—is what happens experientially when you start trying to step out of the six realms and those patterns. And the appropriate model here, interestingly enough, is addiction.

And then Claudia’s going to talk a bit about the biochemistry of addiction and how that corroborates our actual experience. Notice we’re saying corroborates, not causes. And then I’m going to conclude with what happens when you start actually moving out of the addictive behaviors. What’s that like. And we’ll conclude with the shift in the practice, which will be about—it’s a form of practice called emptying the six realms—and it’s very much about stepping out of them. So, with that basis, I’ll send things over to George.


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George: It’s going to be kind of halting talk. I’m not sure where to start. I don’t really want to talk about myself, even though I’m my favorite topic. But since we’re talking about experiential knowing—and Claudia’s gonna talk about the biochemistry and what happens kind of objectively or what happens physically, biologically, as a counterpart to experience—I want to talk about the experience itself.

I came from a long line of alcoholics, and for a long time, I drank quite a bit too, and the way I dealt with that addiction was basically I didn’t go anywhere where I couldn’t drink. So, parties without alcohol, not much fun, don’t bother with those. Going on a road trip, going camping or whatever—always make sure you have the flask of whiskey. And I wasn’t an alcoholic like my father. I wasn’t actually getting in trouble, and, you know, crashing cars and going to jail, and ruining things. But at some point I had to admit that it was an addiction in the sense that it controlled some of my behavior. It influenced my decisions. It influenced the way I enjoyed things or didn’t enjoy things. It influenced obviously, the people around me, but at that point I wasn’t really aware of that. It was me and my personal chemistry that I was concerned with.

When my father died—of course I got drunk first thing, and then I got on a plane and dealt with the funeral, etc. When I got home, within a few months, up until that point I had always quit drinking, and would also quit smoking cigarettes, at least once a year maybe for a week or two or three. And I joked about it. At the time, it was my way of bringing my tolerance back down, so that I didn’t have to drink, you know, 6 or 10 beers or I didn’t smoke a pack a day. I would just kind of grit my teeth for a few weeks each year, and, you know, straighten out my addiction, so I could continue it at a more satisfactory level. But after my [laughter]—well, it’s about maintaining, right? Maintaining a certain body chemistry, maintaining a certain lifestyle, maintaining a certain social interaction.

Ken: May I make a quick comment?

George: Yeah.

Ken: Are we on? Yeah, thank you. As George is talking about this, translate what he’s describing into your relationship with certain reactive patterns that you know well. They don’t necessarily have to be an alcoholic or a nicotine addiction. Just certain reactive patterns, which you have said, you know, have been the basis of your New Year’s resolutions for the last 25 years or something like that. Okay, so just translate it into that context.

George: Yeah, something you’d like to stop doing. So, and Ken’s interjection is also a sign that time has passed, while I’ve been sitting here talking, because alcohol is actually not my point. After my father died, I realized there are like two kinds of people in my family. There are the alcoholics—and most of them are dead—and then there are the people who stopped drinking. And I thought, “Well, I think I’ll join that group.” [Laughter]

So, I quit drinking. And it was actually easier than I thought it would be, but I had a lot of other things coming together at that time, like I started practicing seriously. And I met Ken, and so, I had somebody who could teach me how to practice, so I wasn’t just reading the books and kind of doing it on a do-it-yourself basis. And, so I quit drinking alcohol and I quit smoking cigarettes. And the sense of freedom that came from that really surprised me. It actually wasn’t that I wasn’t drinking anymore; it was that when I came home from work and there was only one beer in the fridge, I didn’t have to go back out and go get more beer. When I went camping and my cigarettes got wet, that wasn’t the end of the camping trip. So I wasn’t taking care of my addictions all the time.

So that was kind of the first thing besides not being drunk and not having so much conflict—and all the consequences of drinking—just the freedom itself was a payback. But, within a few more months I started realizing that actually alcohol wasn’t my problem, that I had some other habits. And they were not as visible, certainly not to other people, but they hadn’t been as visible to me, and I started becoming aware that a lot of my life was based on addiction. I was addicted to anger, and the adrenaline, the rush, that accompanies knowing that you’re right and putting some idiot in their place—an actual physical rush that was just irresistible. Even though I woke up the next day with what was starting to become as bad a hangover as the alcohol, with being tired and my jaws were clenched as if I’d been in a shouting match—and the shame and the embarrassment, and the need to go back and repair things, and mitigate the damage—it’s like, “Wow, this is like getting drunk, you know, getting angry, losing your temper.”

So I started working on that. Books, movies, so much of my life was…the addictions get more and more subtle, is what it is. I’m peeling them off layer by layer, and I’m discovering that each of them—actually, there are a lot of similarities. There’s the need to avoid something. There’s the need to engage in the behavior, even if it’s disgusting or problematic. There’s the rush when you do engage in it. And the justification in the moment, where it just seems right, you know, it’s just going to be this way.

And then the loss of time, while I’m engaging in the behavior and the loss of awareness of other people and everything else that’s going on—the passage of time. And then, when I wake up from the behavior the next day or a week later, the whole hangover and having to deal with that. So it can get pretty subtle. It doesn’t have to be alcohol and cigarettes. It doesn’t have to be, you know, dry alcoholism and, you know, rages. It can be always watching a movie, the only thing that relaxes you, you know—it’s only twice a week, but if you feel uncomfortable not doing something, there’s an addiction, on some level, going there. And that discomfort, we’re gonna talk about that, too. The discomfort of the hangover, the discomfort of the withdrawal, the discomfort of quitting the habit—all uncomfortable. But they’re all different. And when you’re in the grip of the addiction, it’s very difficult to make that distinction. The rush of losing my temper was as powerful as the rush of taking a drink. And the hangover of losing my temper was just as bad as the hangover from alcohol. And the freedom also from dealing with one is just as liberating as dealing with another.

Student: George, just a quick question.

George: Yeah.

Student: I get it, except for the movie part. If you like watching movies twice a week, what’s the problem with that? What’re you going to wake up feeling badly about? That’s the one thing I just didn’t get.

George: Well, as I say, it’s more subtle. Better to watch a movie than get drunk. Both from the point of view of addictive behavior and how to deal with it, also from the point of view of the consequences. But I have many intentions to spend time with people or to work on something that needed work on, to study something that was meaningful to me. Many times, many evenings have been spent watching movies instead, not that I’m a puritan and want to work so bad. But again, it’s that irresistible activity. You have one intention, and then something else happens because it just feels right, and then afterwards, there’s that little niggling inside that there wasn’t really a choice made. If you’re watching a movie out of choice, that’s different than, this is the way Friday nights are.

Ken: Yeah, one of the definitions of addiction is a mood-altering behavior that you engage compulsively that has detrimental consequences for your life. So, if you simply enjoy watching a movie, no problem. But if you’re using it to avoid things and there’s a detrimental consequence—I have a friend who recently spent three months on Second Life instead of doing some translation work that he’d contracted. That would not be exactly just enjoying things—okay?

George: And that, of course, is the purpose, not only of alcoholism and the heavy-duty things that we recognize as addictions—that’s the function of any habitual pattern is avoidance of something. And if the addiction is, as we used to joke—me and my drinking buddies—it doesn’t matter if you want to go out drinking tonight. If you want to be a drinking buddy, we gotta keep this up! It’s like you gotta have a drink; you gotta stay in practice. [Laughter]

And that’s a pattern. It’s an addictive pattern. If it’s working for you, then you’re avoiding something. You don’t know you’re avoiding it, because you’ve blocked it out. Some aspect of your experience, or some obligation, or some intention that brings up things you don’t want to deal with is being avoided so you don’t have to deal with it. So, it’s not the movie—just like it’s not having a glass of wine—it’s the compulsion that drives it, and the repetitive pattern, what that does, not only to your life but emotionally, mentally, and biologically, which Claudia’s gonna talk about. The repetitive pattern itself is addictive.

So, I didn’t want to drink anymore. I don’t want to lose my temper anymore. I don’t want to have to watch movies to avoid taking care of my house. But it feeds on itself after a while, and that’s precisely the purpose of it. It’s not an occasional enjoyment, it’s a habit that avoids something.

So, it’s easy to say, you know, crack addicts or alcoholics or this or that, and we have the judgment around addiction. But the model—physiological, emotional, and mental—holds, whether it’s having to be nice all the time, or getting crocked. From the point of view of a habitual pattern and avoidance, it can be accomplishing the same purpose. Somebody who has to rescue people all the time because they can’t face seeing other people in pain, becomes an addiction. And it’s problematic, either [to a] greater or lesser extent. So I had a bunch of other things to say, and I can’t think of what they are, and my time’s up so I think it’s Claudia’s turn.

Told you it was going to be annoying.

Student: This is great…[unclear]…very helpful.

George: Ah, great. Is that so? [Laughter]

Ken: It’s going to last a long time. [Laughter]


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Claudia: The way patterns work—and we got a very good taste of that—is that they filter the way we experience the world. Each one of those realms that we walked into was a different way of being in the very same scenario, and the way our patterns work is it’s a way of being in the world. I had an opportunity—oh, I can’t remember how many years ago now—but there was a Buddhist artist who had a display at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and it was, of course, like a good Buddhist, very experiential. And one of the installations had you walk into the center of this rather large complex, and on either side of it—I have to get this so that I can move now—on either side of it were beautiful, brightly-colored gorgeous paintings, on each side. And between where you were standing and those paintings were very thin, flimsy pieces of fabric like veils, hanging down, layer after layer, after layer, after layer. And I remember standing there and recognizing—’cause if you moved out of it, you could sort of see what that painting really looked like—the color and the depth and the vividness and the richness that was there—but from inside, when you looked through all those veils, you’ve lost most of what that painting was about, because it had all become filtered out through those very thin layers and layers of fabric. And that’s essentially the way the patterns operate, to affect the way we experience the world.

And, I want to approach the biochemistry and the physiology of some of this, kind of cautiously. In science, when you look at research, scientists hold as the Holy Grail the cause-and-effect relationship. They ideally would like to be able to say that if this is present, that absolutely is causing some effect that we’re seeing. But, when you look at research, by and large, very rarely do we have real cause and effect, and even sometimes when we think we have it, we end up really not having it. So most of the research that we look at is what we call correlational research. That is, all we can say about it is, “When this is present, this seems to be present.” And we really don’t know what’s generating what. They seem to arise together. So I want to share with you a little bit about what we know from repetitive types of patterns like this.

We are sort of genetically programmed to respond neurologically with our brains to what neurologists call features or experiences that have salience. And what that technically means is something that generates response in our brain that makes us feel good. And that feel-good place is a very low-brain center. It’s not in the cortex area of the brain, which is actually fairly recent part of our bodies that evolved not that long ago. It’s actually very deep brain-center, a center that is also shared with other mammals. And it’s very present when we look at patterns of addiction, as George was pointing to as drug-addiction or alcohol addiction. And it’s both a neurological and a chemical process related to the way transmitters in the brain create fluids, chemistry in the brain, and it makes us feel good.

And as any addictive process—as we pointed out—when you repeat a behavior over and over again, we do it because we think it’s going to make us feel good. Even in the face of consequences that we know are negative and we know don’t give us any payback, we continue to do them. And I wish that I could say knowing about this and thinking about this was enough to cut this behavior. It would make all of our lives a lot easier. But research shows that small things can begin as just sort of habits. You start to do something, it starts to feel kind of good, maybe it comes from when you were a child. Maybe it comes just from the way you develop a comfort level of interacting in the world. The more you repeat those habits, the stronger the neural connections get in your brain. And the easier it gets for you to repeat that behavior over and over again. And what you’re setting up in your body—and it’s not just in your brain, it’s also in the way you carry yourself, and you know, all those things that we’ve been talking about: the way you sit, the way you move, where you…

George: The way the world looks.

Claudia. The way the world looks, all of that. When you repeat something over and over again, you set up an automatic process that you go to easily, with no thought, without much energy going into it, it just starts to run. And when you do that, you are absolutely and literally putting your brain into sleep mode. Research shows that when you’re in one of those repetitive processes, the whole frontal lobe of the brain starts shutting down. You can see it in neuroimaging. The back part of your brain, and in deep-brain centers, is lit up like a firecracker. And the front part of your brain looks like it’s asleep, like it’s in what we call delta waves, zoning out.

And if you go to the extreme where you look at someone who is clearly addicted to drugs, that becomes very long-term damage that it takes quite a few years before the brain starts to actually wake up and begin to function for people. That kind of going to sleep is exactly what our repetitive patterns do for us. They keep us from allowing the frontal lobes to function.

So, what do the frontal lobes do? Well, the frontal lobes are the brakes of the brain that say, “Whoa, wait a minute—is this something you really want to do?” So, that gets put to sleep almost right away. It’s the decision-making, rational, judging—you know, this is a good thing to do, this is a bad thing to do, this is what I want to do—all of that. And that is exactly the part of the brain that is shutting down when you’ve got a repetitive pattern running. And probably most of you have experienced what that feels like. And then all of a sudden to catch yourself and realize, “I haven’t been here.” Well, you’re right, you haven’t been there, because part of you has just completely zoned out.

The research on looking at long-term meditators, it’s just starting to come out, and who knows what—again, causation, not really here—but some research has been around actually for quite a number of years that shows changes in the chemistry, in the way the actual firing, EEG firing of the brain, changes with meditation. That’s been around for quite awhile, but the latest research is showing that the actual structure in your brain, the gray matter in the frontal lobes actually increases. Now, who knows what that really means, but it’s definitely not being put to sleep, and it’s definitely in an active pattern when you’re awake.

So, you’re faced with kind of a dilemma. When we begin to talk about cutting some of these patterns and moving out of these repetitive processes, this is not an easy, easy process to do. I see—and George is very good about pointing out—the kinds of behaviors can get incredibly subtle. But we see—even in young children—we have to take, in our clinic, cell phones away from kids because they’re so addicted to texting that they can’t let them out of their hands—completely addicted to it. And, as you begin to work with some of your repetitive behaviors, as George pointed out, you will begin to find out that you pull one of those flimsy little layers down, and there’s another one sitting there. So it is very much about beginning a process that takes some time, because it’s not going to be just one big thing here that we’re removing and you’re going to be working on.

As we go through this and as we begin to work on these patterns, as George pointed out, the body is going to react a bit, ’cause it’s used to functioning in certain ways. So, when George doesn’t get his movies on Friday night, it doesn’t feel very good at first, it’s like you’re being denied something. You’re not getting what you want, and that’s a distinct, different kind of pain that you begin to experience, a sense of withdrawal from the repetitive behaviors that we’re used to engaging in. And…

George: Then there’s dopamine…it may not be alcohol, but there’s a withdrawal from internal chemicals that produce…[unclear]

Claudia: Sure, the reason kids get addicted to texting or to video games or, I mean, some of the children, you know, parents come in and say the kids sneak up in the middle of the night, get their computers on, they’ll work for hours and hours playing on those games or getting on Myspace talking to their friends or whatever. So, yeah, that part of the brain center that was getting that reward is now being withdrawn, and so the chemical, like dopamine—and there are other neurotransmitters involved, too—are not getting triggered. So, you begin to feel that. And so this is not an easy process. And one of the first things that you encounter when you begin to pull a behavior away like that is that you experience some fear.

So, to make my obligation to Ken, I have to tell my little Nasrudin story here. [Laughter] So he won’t give me my little red mark for today. [Laughter]

Ken: She’s addicted to that mark. [Laughter]

Claudia: [Laughs] Yes!


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One night, kind of late, it was very dark, Nasrudin was walking along this road, and all of a sudden, he heard somebody snoring really loudly, and he just got totally scared. And he went and stumbled to the side of the road, into this little dugout area and inside of it was a dervish who had been practicing—doing spiritual practices, and he had created this little space for himself—and Nasrudin had stumbled in on him. And the dervish kind of looked at him and said, “What’re you doing here? I’m trying to do my spiritual practice here!” And Nasrudin said, “Well, that’s really too bad, that’s your problem because your snoring was so loud that it scared me and now I’m really much too frightened to go on!” And the dervish kind of looked at him and said, “Well, all right, I guess I have an obligation here.”

So he said “Settle down,” and gave him part of his blanket, and he said, “You can spend the night here with me.” So, Nasrudin tried to settle down but all of a sudden he realized he was thirsty. So he sat up, and he said to the dervish, “I’m really suddenly very thirsty.” The dervish looked at him and said, “Well, that’s not really a problem. If you just walk down the road a little ways, there’s a stream there, and you can get a drink of water there.”

Nasrudin looked at him and said, “I’m much too frightened! I can’t walk down that road anymore to go get a drink of water—no way!” Oh, so the dervish thought, “What am I going to do with this guy ?”And he said, “Well, okay, I’ll go get the water for you. We have a sacred obligation in the East to provide drinking water to our guests, so I will go get the water for you.” All of a sudden, Nasrudin looked at him and said, “No, I really don’t want you to leave. I’m much too afraid to have you leave.” And the dervish said, “Oh, look. I’ll just be gone for a moment,” and he gave him his knife, and he said, “Here’s my knife. And if something attacks you, you can use this knife to protect yourself.”

So the dervish got up out of his dugout and started walking down the road. And he wasn’t gone that long, and got the water for Nasrudin, and he starts heading back, and he gets back to his little dugout area, and Nasrudin says, “Who is that? Don’t come any closer or I will attack you and kill you with this knife.” And the dervish said, “This is me, the dervish! I went to get the water for you. I’m bringing your water back. You said you were thirsty!” And Nasrudin said, “You fiend! Don’t try and sweet-talk your way in here. If you come any closer, I’m going to attack you with this knife!” And the dervish said, “Oh, this is ridiculous!” And Nasrudin said, “You don’t look like anyone that I know. You look strange to me.” So, the dervish said, “Well, you know, all right. I guess I have no choice. I’m just going to go on my way, but I’l tell you one thing: this fear—it’s really something.” Nasrudin said, “Yes, I’ll tell you it’s multidirectional.” And the dervish said, “Yes, and it’s stronger than thirst, stronger than stealing someone’s property, stronger than taking over their place.” And he started to go and Nasrudin said, “Yes, and you don’t even have to have it yourself to feel it.” [Laughter]

And now I’ll let Ken…

Ken: Pauline, is that a copy of Wake Up to Your Life there?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: No…is that a copy of Wake Up to Your Life?

Student: The book.

Pauline: Oh.

Ken: Yeah…could I borrow it please?

Pauline: I thought you said coffee. Sorry.

Ken: No, I don’t drink the stuff. [Laughter] Okay, thanks.


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So, George and Claudia here have laid the groundwork, and I see that they’re well-trained in the gloom-and-doom school of Buddhism. [Laughter]

George: Yeah, who trained us? [Laughter]

Claudia: Wait a minute, didn’t you just tell me five minutes ago it was going to get worse?

Ken: Yes! [Laughter] As I said, you’re well-trained in the gloom-and-doom school of Buddhism. Now, there are two schools of Buddhism: there’s the gloom-and-doom school, and there’s the love-and-light school. [Laughter]

Claudia: Where’s that?! No one told me about that! [Laughter]

George: We’re in the wrong place!

Student: No, he said we were going to be enlightened tomorrow, right?

Ken: Well, that’s entirely up to you.

Now, my point in bringing those two schools up—heaven knows, now they’ll probably actually emerge as two different schools—is that changing behaviors, changing the way that we experience the world, which is really what Buddhism is about, is no trivial matter. It requires training, it requires building skills, it requires building capacity, and it requires a great deal of willingness. And, there are many, many people who receive pointing out instructions for dzogchen or mahamudra or direct awareness of some kind and have an experience in the presence of their teacher or during a retreat or something and say, “I’ve got it!” And it’s true, in a certain sense. There is a valid experience of insight or presence or something like that, and that can be a very, very good place to start a practice. But a lot of people think, “Well, that’s it, I understand it. Good. Done.” And nothing in their life changes.

Several years ago, I did this dzogchen retreat with a teacher called Kilung Rinpoche, and it was, unexpectedly, a very significant retreat for me. And at the end of the retreat, I was talking with Kilung Rinpoche about some things I’d experienced, and he was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.” And then I said, “And one of the things I’ve come to appreciate is that none of this is possible unless you spend a great deal of effort in generating goodness and clearing away all of the unwholesomeness in your conditioning.” And he suddenly just woke up and said, “I’m so glad to hear you say that Ken, because…” And he went on to say, “I just hear all of these people come and they say they have this experience and that experience, this experience…and they never put any effort into that.” So, there’s a reason why all of this is necessary. It’s because the momentum that George and Claudia have described is very, very powerful.

And you don’t change momentum that’s moving in one direction overnight. It requires a consistent effort. And if you look at the genesis of our tradition, which is Buddha Shakyamuni, you find there a person who devoted years and years to the most rigorous practice, which provided him the tremendous resources, so that when he stepped into a more relaxed way of practicing—when he abandoned his asceticism and just sat in the natural mind—then when all of his stuff arose, which is symbolized by the attacks of Mara—Mara sending his three daughters to seduce him and then sending his hordes of demon armies to threaten him—well, these are just metaphorical ways of talking about the waves of attraction and desire that come up and the waves of anger and negativity that come up. And his capacity in practice was such that he could just experience that stuff for what it was.

And it transformed in his experience, and there’s a beautiful thangka in the Tibetan tradition which shows Buddha at the time of his enlightenment. And he’s sitting there, and you have all of these demon armies arrayed around the painting, but as everything comes closer and the weapons come, they just become a rain of flowers. And it’s the transformation of all of that negativity and stuff through the power of attention, and so it’s just experienced and it just becomes an enriching experience.

So, the work that we’ve been doing over the last couple of days is very much along those lines. We aren’t doing six years of ascetic practice that Buddha Shakyamuni did. But coming in…and so you actually feel and experience some of the momentum and the negative consequences of these projections, these ways of experiencing the world. And now we’re going to talk about experiencing things in a different way. But as you can gather from what Claudia and George have been saying, the first experience is going to be disorienting, because you’re used to experiencing things another way. And it doesn’t feel familiar or it doesn’t feel right or comfortable. On one hand, it’s a great relief because you’re not engaged in those destructive and negative patterns. Another way, there are other parts of you just like, “Uh, can’t I go back to that old stuff…I just knew how everything worked there.”

And this is another reason why I’ve been emphasizing the body, because as one moves out of those reactive behaviors, one of the first places that this is actually registered is in the body, and the body begins to relax and open in a very, very different way from the way that we’re used to—that it may only be very small bits at the beginning. But those bits gradually accumulate momentum themselves, and what we’re really doing here is transferring the momentum from the reactive processes into the awakening processes. And the first step in that is—when we begin to change how we experience the world and how we act in the world—is that we’ll often get experiences of physical discomfort, which can be anything from mild discomfort and disorientation in the body to actually quite explicit physical pains in some part of the body, and these are not amenable to any medical treatment because they’re not based on medical processes, they’re based on emotional processes.

And as we do that, we go through that, then we begin to get emotional material coming up and emotional material associated with that, some of you have had a taste of that already in this retreat. And then a strange thing starts to happen, that is, sometimes the physical stuff will be really, really up, and we’ll be struggling through that and then it’ll just disappear, and we’ll feel fine physically, and we’ll feel just terrible emotionally. And so now we start struggling with all the emotional stuff, and so we go through that, you know, we’re feeling crappy and we’re feeling grouchy and irritable and highly reactive—we’re feeling fine physically—and then suddenly that switches and again we’re feeling unpleasant physically, but now we’re fine. We’re calm and non-reactive and open, etc. This goes back and forth until we get our real reward. It’s when the physical and the emotional unpleasantness start occurring together! [Laughter]

Now, this doesn’t sound like much fun and actually it really isn’t much fun, but it’s a very crucial point because now we’re moving into the full experience of the pattern.

George: And the withdrawals…

Ken: Thank you very much, George, ’cause it is a withdrawal process. And, at this point, the pattern is beginning to break down. And what happens…and very interesting stuff coming up from computer research—they’re building these things called neural networks which are capable of learning different ways of behavior, and course once they’ve built these things and they’ve got them nicely programmed, then some scientist said, “Well, what happens if we destroy the network? What happens then?” So he started snipping the connections. And what happens is that the network reverts to its earliest learned behaviors. And if any of you saw 2001 Space Odyssey, that’s exactly what Hal does—that’s where the whole thing came from. But this is what begins to happen: as the pattern breaks down, then the basis of the pattern, the genesis of the pattern begins to come up, and we find ourselves being swept away with really powerful emotions and sometimes really weird associations that have absolutely nothing to do with what’s going on in our lives right now. And it all feels so real.

And this is where one’s commitment to practice and effort to keep going—and you just keep going through this—just experiencing it, not acting on it. And the advice that I give students, and I have been given when we’re entering this stage of practice is, “Do not make any major decisions.” You know, you’ve got a good foundation in your life, that’s good, just keep going, doesn’t matter what’s coming up. As a friend of mine said—he had a friend who was going through this and he bought a ranch in Wisconsin and six months later he said, “What the hell am I doing in Wisconsin?” [Laughter] And he couldn’t figure out how he got there, but that seemed logical at the time, so no major decisions!

And then there’s usually a period—which can be longer or shorter depending on the pattern, on the individual, all kinds of conditions—which everything just becomes really, really intense. And it’s extremely painful. It’s so painful that you’ll hear people describe it as “I wouldn’t wish this pain on my worst enemy.” There’s a colleague of mine who’s a Theravadan nun in England, and she was talking to me about some of her stuff and she used this phrase, and I said, “That’s strange. I use exactly the same phrase myself!” And when you think about this phrase, it’s an extraordinarily powerful statement of compassion. Here you’re experiencing something that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.

So, something’s really beginning to shift when you’re running into that. And you know…you’re experiencing the pain, but you’re not identified with it. And because you’re no longer identified with it, you know that it is not you. And that’s the condition in which it’s released. And now, that whole way of going to sleep has actually fallen away or disintegrated in your experience, and there’s a freedom there, which initially is just experienced as freedom, you’re not quite sure what to do with it, but you find that your ordinary skills and functioning…you’re able to make use of it, and you actually have another dimension in which you can move in your life which wasn’t available to you before.

Now that process can take place over a week, it can take place over a year, it can take place over two or three decades depending on the pattern, the depth of the conditioning, and all the energy you’re bringing to the practice, etc. But it will go through that kind of process. I’ve been teaching retreats where people have gone through that in the course of a ten-day or a three-week retreat with a particular pattern. For myself, there are patterns I’ve worked through which literally it’s been decades, and you think, “It’s never going to change.” And then something, “Oh.” And it comes back to one of the core principles in Buddhism: nothing is carved in stone. It sure feels like it at times, but it is actually not, so…

Raquel: I have a question…

Ken: Yeah. Can you take the microphone? It’s on.


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Raquel: Not to bring more gloom and doom to the “gloom-and-doom” section…portion of this broadcast, but isn’t it…can’t it also be true that there could just be a pattern that you get to that point, but then you have to get to it over and over again? Like when you say it takes decades, during that decade, do you sometimes get to that point and then fall off and have to get to that point again or did you not really get to that point in the first place like you thought?

Ken: There are layers. So, you may feel you worked through a pattern, and then it comes up again. Now, in one respect, it’s the same pattern. In another respect, it’s a different layer. And it’s a very good question to pose, Racquel, because when you are starting into a new layer of a pattern, it always feels like you’re starting all over again, and you know nothing about meditation, and you’re completely hopeless, etc., etc. And you really do feel that way. It’s like, “What am I doing here? I mean, I can’t do anything.” But what you’re experiencing is the level of confusion in that new layer. So, subjectively, absolutely it feels like you’re starting all over again. But when you’re looking at it from a bigger perspective, you see, “Oh, it’s another layer.” But it really feels that way.

Raquel: So, deep patterns have multiple layers?

Ken: Oh yeah.

Raquel: How many? [Laughter]

[Unclear audience comments]

Ken: Well, you know…it’s not exactly “turtles,” though it can feel like that, but you take an onion. It’s very much like peeling an onion. What determines the number of layers in an onion?

Student: Age.

Ken: There you go.

George: How many times you’ve laid them down.

[Unclear student comments; laughter]


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Ken: Okay. Now, in terms of practice, we’re going to embark on a practice which we call emptying the six realms. For those of you who want to be technical about this, if you’re interested, this is actually derived from yidam meditation in the Tibetan tradition, though we’ve taken it out of that context so you don’t have to learn all of that fancy stuff and just focus on the essential points. Here we go.

Student: Can you tell us what page number where we can find it?

Ken: Page 236. [Wake Up To Your Life]

Student: Thank you.

Ken: It’s a five-step process, and it’s the same for each realm. You bring up a particular realm, and you enter and open to the experience of that realm. So, for instance, if it’s the hungry ghost realm, you imagine you’re in a world where everybody is needy, ’cause that’s how you’re looking at it from the hungry ghost realm—everybody is grabbing for everything that they can, there’s a great deal of squabbling going on, etc., etc. Some work environments are like this. I think some families are like this. Okay?

Now, you open to that; you just are in it, and you feel how it triggers an impulse—the way that George was talking about at the beginning of this retreat—it triggers an impulse in you to act the same way. It’s “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” So, everybody’s grabbing for stuff and the impulse is to grab for stuff, okay? You’re going to experience that impulse in the body. And that’s another of the reasons why we’ve been emphasizing that. So, allow yourself to experience that impulse and bring attention to it. And you can feel that upsurge of greed and wanting to grab, etc. And the point here is just to experience it, not to act on it any way, but just to experience it.

Now I need to talk a little about that. Experiencing does not mean the same as reliving it. We have three things here. We have experiencing it without any attention. That’s reliving it. We have the experience itself. And we have attention. Now, there are a lot of people who practice meditation who are able to generate very, very good levels of attention, but they have no experience of bringing that attention to internal material. And so, they can be really, really good on the cushion. And when they get up, there’s nothing there. And that’s actually very, very common. And it’s rather unfortunate.

On the other hand, there are various disciplines and some traditions of psychotherapy or some psychotherapeutic method and so forth, which are really, really good at putting people into the experience of conditioning and bringing that up, but the problem is, that’s often just experienced without any kind of attention, and so they just relive it. And reliving it that way actually just reinforces the conditioning. It’s not helpful.

What’s become very clear in a number of psychotherapeutic methods—I’m thinking of focusing and EMDR [Eye movement desensitization reprocessing], among others—is that it’s necessary for the person to experience that movement and be present at the same time. Or from the meditative point of view, they’re in attention and allowing that material to come up in the field of attention. And you can talk about it either way. You’re talking about virtually the same process.

So you have the material and you have the attention, and you’re experiencing them both. What this means in your practice is that when you feel all of this material and this urge or impulse to move into that realm, you can experience the bodily sensations and the emotional sensations associated with it, but you know that you’re still in the room practicing meditation. You aren’t lost in the material. It’s a very, very important point. If you’re lost in the material, you’re just reconditioning, and it’s better just to stop there, go back to the breath and rest and build up the capacity, so you can experience the material without getting lost in it. And so somebody was asked a question this morning or yesterday about not being able to open to all of the emotion at once—that’s a really important point, so you’re only opening to what you can actually experience and maintain attention at the same time.

George: In your body, in the zendo.

Ken: Yeah.

George: [Unclear]

Ken: In the body, in the zendo. And so you experience this. Now when you experience it, you’ll find that it arises and it goes. When it goes, and you feel it, how it goes will vary from person to person. For some people it feels like it just crumbles. For other people it feels like it gets blown away on a gust of wind. For some people it’s just like all the juice runs out of it, so it’s like water running out. So don’t worry about that. You’ll experience it in your own way. But you’ll find you’ve felt that impulse, and now you don’t feel that impulse. Okay, at that point, you open to the realm again. And so, we’re talking about the hungry ghost realm; you felt this need to grab and get everything and just felt it and you felt all your body doing all of this stuff, and you breathe [breathes in and out]—yeah, and then—“Oh, it’s not there. Okay.”

And now you open to this world where everybody’s grabbing. And now you’re going to experience it differently. And you’ll find often that the impulse to join the world or to participate in that world has been replaced by some kind of compassion. Frequently, it’s not necessarily that way, but you’re able to experience the world now—that world—without being drawn into it. And the reason for that is that through this process, you’ve actually transformed attention into a higher level. So now you can experience it without that impulse. At that point then, when you’re able to do that, dissolve the realm into light, and then just rest in the light, just rest in direct awareness for a few minutes. And then, go through the process again.

Student: With another realm?

Ken: With another realm or with the same realm if you want. Holly? Could we have the microphone?

Holly: So, are you speaking then of the meditation process now?

Ken: This is the meditation process.

Holly: Okay. So, in experiential process in the world, the hungry ghost realm—if that’s been a powerful place for you that you get stuck—is that a test then also that you’re…you know, I mean, you would find that it’s less powerful for you, those situations that used to bother you then, you’ll notice as your meditation has progressed to the point that you’re able to sit in the realms with more clarity and you’re releasing perhaps a pattern. Then, in real life, situations where those kinds of patterns would be triggered will be also less so?

Ken: Well, hopefully, yes.

Holly: Okay.

Ken: That’s the purpose of the meditation practice. It’s to become sufficiently familiar with this process and instill this process so that it happens in our daily life so that when everybody’s squabbling and fighting around, you don’t start squabbling and fighting around. You feel that impulse. You’re able to be with it. It dissolves in you, and now you can open to things, and you go, “Oh!” And so, you bring a different energy into that situation. This is the purpose of training. It’s because the way that these patterns are structured—and George and Claudia have referred to this earlier in this retreat—the intellectual process is far too slow to do anything. It’s not only too slow, it’s too weak. There’s not enough energy or juice in it. This is why we train working with the body and emotion, the physical and emotional sensations, transforming those into attention so that there’s far more—it’s not an intellectual level of attention, it’s an emotional and physical level of attention—has far more power so it actually influences how we experience the world and consequently our behavior.

And I like to say, if our meditation practice doesn’t lead to actually experiencing the world in a different way and actual changes in behavior, then what the hell’s the point in it?

Yeah, Nicholas. Again, microphone right behind you.

Nicholas: As far as the meditation instructions are concerned, would you please say what are the five steps?

Ken: I’ll go through them again, yes.

Nicholas: You’ll do that in a moment?

Ken: I’ll do that right now.

Nicholas: Oh, okay.

Ken: Okay. I’ve described it in detail. Now, I’m going to go through it and give it to you succinctly. You know, it’s the George Bernard Shaw approach: you tell people what you’re going to do, then you do it, and then you tell them what you did. Maybe somebody gets it!

Okay, so the five steps are—

Enter and open to the experience of the realm. That’s number one.

Number two: Experience the realm triggering a reactive pattern in you, which will be in line with that realm, okay?

Number three: Experience that reactive pattern in attention, which as George says, you stay in your body, in the zendo, as you’re experiencing it. You don’t get lost in it.

Student: Could you repeat that please?

Ken: Experience the reactive pattern in attention. You’ll find it lets go or releases.

Step four: Open again to the experience of the realm.

Step five: Dissolve the realm into light and rest, okay?

Now, what I suggest you do—and I want to close shortly because we just heard the dinner bell—is for the first bit, for this evening anyway, work with each of the six realms as they’ve been traditionally described like the hell realm and the hungry ghost realm, etc. So, you become familiar with the process in these metaphorical and symbolic terms. And when you have a clear experience of that process, then start applying it to the realms as you experience them in life. For instance, maybe there’s a particular group that you work with on a regular basis and they’re always fighting. Come into that and feel the impulse to fight yourself, and go through the same five-step process. Or, maybe there are some people you hang out with who are needy or who are always trying to have fun or whatever, or who think they’re above it all or whatever. You go through the same process. And this is how you will gain practical experience in not buying into the projections under which most people and most groups operate in. Because group projections are very powerful, and it takes quite a bit of training so that you don’t succumb to group projections. Okay, Colleen.

Colleen: But here, it’s the…

Ken: Just…microphone please.

Colleen: Here, it’s the…you’re in the personality, shall I say, of the realm?

Ken: No, you’re opening to the realm.

Colleen: Yes.

Ken: The way the—realm is a way that you experience the world.

Colleen: It’s not a situation?

Ken: Originally, no, it’s not a situation. But I’m saying, take it—when you’re familiar with working with the realms—then start taking it into actual situations. Okay?

Question here? Microphone please.

Student: I’m just curious. The third point: Experience that reactive pattern in attention—in your body, in the zendo. George had made a comment about—’cause I have trouble not being in my head and being in my body and knowing the difference sometimes—about the soles of your feet, being aware, feeling the soles of your feet, and he said, hands and the crown of your head. Would that be appropriate at that point?

Ken: That’s a very good way of staying in your body, yes.

Yeah, so when you bring…when you feel that surge of material—soles of the feet, top of your head—and so you can experience the surge as well as those two points, then you have a much better chance of experiencing it in attention. That’s exactly right. Valerie—microphone please?

Valerie: I have a question about capacity. Because, when you’re using words like surge and vivid, I’m thinking I need the full-on, technicolor—I mean, I feel that my ability to generate the experience of these things is really faint, compared to the words that you’re using.

Ken: [Laughs]

Valerie: So is that your enthusiasm or my capacity?

Ken: Well, we start with what we can do. And, a number of people have very limited ability in the beginning because things are blocked. So you work with what you actually can experience, and as you release that, then you find you can actually move into a fuller experience, and after, you know, a little while, it becomes really vivid! [Laughs]

Claudia: One suggestion is to take a realm…

Ken: Do you have a microphone, please?

Claudia: No, I don’t.

Ken: Right here.

Claudia: One suggestion is to pick a realm that you most sort of resonate with, to start with. Because it’s more likely to be vivid, and it will get you into the process and into that experience, and you can kind of build from there.

George: Another way of saying that is that not all six realms are going to be as accessible to you in practical—I mean, work with each of them and not just with the one that drives you crazy. But you’re not going to be able to jump from one realm to the other and they’ll all be equally accessible. That’s just the way it’ll unfold.

Ken: Dave?

Dave: Yeah, Ken, I’d just like to piggyback on what that lady said over there. I’ve been working with anger for some time. And I find I get angry at times much less than I used to but…little things like when something goes wrong with my computer—

Ken: And you don’t have Celia to blame anymore!

Dave: Pardon?

Ken: And you don’t have Celia to blame anymore!

Dave: That’s part of it! [Laughter] But when something goes wrong with my computer, it just sets me off. Now…and it’s embarrassing after the fact. I mean I can actually scream out. I’d like to take that computer and just crush it. But here’s the point, here’s the point. Recreating that in this…I tried to do that today while I was practicing the hell realm. And I can’t even get angry—it’s so absurd, that you know, I try to think of myself sitting and the computer not working. It’s very difficult for me to gin up that anger.

Ken: This is a wonderful example you’re bringing up, Dave, because that kind of thing happens. The way that you work with it is you recall the physical sensations that you had when you were really upset at your computer. And you just feel those…recall those physical sensations. When you recall them, there will be an echo of them in your body, and that’s where you start.

Dave: Okay.

Ken: Okay. Last question, Nicholas, then we really need to close for…

Nicholas: That’s okay.

Ken: It’s okay? Anita, did you have one?

Anita: Mine might require a long response, but…so you want us to start by working with, you know, maybe one particular realm that we resonate with. I’m probably gonna pick pride. But as I said before, I don’t really resonate with this description that was given earlier today. So, what would I bring up?

Ken: Just think of—specialness.

Anita: Okay. [Laughter]

Ken: And your body language said it all right there.

Anita: It’s such a vague word. [Laughter] Yeah, okay. But I have a good word I can replace it with.

Ken: You do?

Anita: Perfection.

Ken: Oh, there you go! Now, what I do suggest is that you start off and work through all six realms a couple of times first, in sequence, so that you’re dissolving each of these realms, so you get a flavor of how it works in each of the realms. Then you can start working on a particular realm that works with you, that resonates with you. So, that’ll probably be enough for this evening, and then tomorrow morning… [Laughter]

Student: All of this in one half-hour session…

Ken: Yeah, you can. You can go through this. And it’s actually a very good way to learn, ’cause then you’re going to repeat that five-fold step six times, and that way you’ll learn it.

George: Maybe not the first session if you sit for fifteen minutes…

Ken: Fifteen minutes, yeah…

George: [Unclear]…first session ends up being shorter.

Ken: But you just work through it so you have this sense of opening to an emotional reaction, going through that process, dissolving into light, and then you start working with stuff, and then tomorrow morning, get up and probably do one of the—well, you figure out what’s going to be most fruitful and then—I don’t think we’re changing the meditation practice tomorrow morning, are we? No, so you’ll probably have a full day to work on this, okay?

Dinner time, sorry to keep you waiting. Bye-bye.


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