Monsters Under The Bed 5

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All right, basically, this is our cleanup session. What often happens in retreat is that we lay out exactly the sequence of teachings and the process that we want to cover, and we have it all nicely laid out, so it’ll be a wonderfully climactic process for all of you. The only trouble is you don’t cooperate. [Laughter]

Student: Very good.

Ken: My favorite line for this is from military strategy, The best battle plan lasts until first contact with the enemy. [Laughter] So, there are several things that are emerging and which we want to try to address this morning and into this morning’s sitting as well. And don’t pay any attention to my comments there. I mean, this is par for a retreat, and it’s one of the things that makes retreat interesting, and also let’s us know that substantial work is being done. Because if everything goes exactly according to plan, something is usually very, very wrong.

Okay, one of the things that tends to come up is that as people step out of their lives—as you step out of regular lives, start working in practice—one or more of the principal patterns that dominate life comes up. And it doesn’t matter what the technique is; around every corner there’s that pattern staring at you. And from what we’ve gathered in the interviews and interactions with you, a number of you who are working with that, you know, come around, “Well, okay, I’ve taken it here.” And you take two steps over there and it’s right in your face there. So I think, “Okay, that’s cool, so we’ll just back up and just sit there.” And you find it staring over your shoulder right there and so forth.

And how to work with that? So Claudia’s going to do a little bit about working with the body, so that you can actually differentiate the various realms and you aren’t always stuck in just that one place, as you tend to be. Somewhat allied to this is the whole matter of posture, which…now posture presents many, many challenges because the fact is that in the way that we live life in the world, we’re not used to sitting still for very long. And so here we come into an environment where we’re trying to use the body to create the conditions in which we can work deeply internally. But how we connect with that process varies significantly from person to person.

I’ve always had extreme difficulties with posture and sitting still. I mean, when I first started to meditate many years ago, I was much worse off than all of you here. I literally could not sit for more than thirty-seconds to a minute at a time, “Okay, that’s enough, I’m out of here.” [Laughter] And [unclear] the Suzuki Roshi school of meditation, “I’m too stupid to quit.” It’s what he said about himself. It was an abusive monastery, he was just too stupid to leave—everybody else did.

And I was at a Buddhist teachers’ conference in the mid-nineties. It was all different traditions of Buddhism. And the people who were the senior teachers at the Zen Center in San Francisco were talking about how they identified people who were likely candidates for being trained as teachers. And their principle criterion was how they sat. And I put up my hand and said, “Aren’t you selecting for a certain kind of person here?” And Mel and Norm and Blanche just looked at each other and went, “What’s he talking about? We’re not…I mean, there’s no selection process here. We’re just looking to see who’s capable.”

And so I asked, “No, it seems to me that that way of looking at things, you’re going to select for a certain kind of person.” And eventually Norm started to get it. And finally I had to say, “If I had been trained at Zen Center, I would not be here today. I would not be a Buddhist teacher. It’s pure and simple. Cause I couldn’t do that.” So, that’s one of the reasons why I haven’t put a lot of emphasis on posture, because I want you to find your own way of sitting comfortably. Because it’s been very, very difficult for me.

George has put an awful lot of effort into examining the intricacies of posture. Probably because it’s been an issue in his practice as well. Because that’s usually what we do.

George: I’m so stupid…[Laughter] [Unclear] totally explode…

Ken: So, one of the things that George is going to do during the sitting period today is to walk around and check people’s posture and make a few suggestions. Because what he’s observed is that—I mean everybody sits there, and it’s wonderful what happens at retreat. You sit there and everybody else is sitting still. So you try to sit still. And they’re all sitting so still. And you’re convinced you’re the only one who can’t sit still. And the result of that is you tend to lock yourself up in something which doesn’t allow the mind to rest and doesn’t allow attention to grow and cultivate. So George is going to direct some attention into that during the sitting period.

Another thing is that—and this is a problem with the gloom and doom school of Buddhism—is that people think, “Oh, it’s all so much hard work! We’re never going to get anywhere!” You know, and our two favorite characters in this school are Eeyore and—from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy—Marvin, the depressed robot. [Laughter] You know, at The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, “Marvin, what are you doing here?” “I’m waiting for you. I’ve been waiting for 573 million years. Thank you for coming to get me.” [Laughter]

So, one of the things we’re going to talk about this morning is, “This might actually be possible to do.” [Laughter] And, I don’t know, there’ll be a couple of other things that we’ll be doing. So anyway, let me hand this off to Claudia. [Laughter] I think I’m going to have to put up a site called the Gloom and Doom School of Buddhism . [Laughter]

Student: Will you have the links for the Love and Light School or just… [Laughter]

Ken: Yes, but it will be broken. [Laughter] All yours, Claudia. [Laughter]

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Claudia: Okay, as Ken mentioned, what I’m going to do is try and do a guided meditation with you. So, I’d like you to get into a posture that’s comfortable. For this, I would recommend probably closing your eyes.

Ken: [Whispering] Don’t forget to keep your voice down low, because your voice tends to drop when you do get [unclear].

Claudia: [Responding to Ken] Okay.

Claudia: So, let’s begin simply by moving our attention to the breath; feeling the body come to rest. Feeling relaxation in your shoulders, in your arms. Noticing and experiencing the breathing happening in the body; how the breath moves, naturally, on its own. You don’t need to control it. Finding its own pace. Now we’re going to shift our attention, keeping the breath in our awareness.

We’re going to imagine beginning our day in the hell realm. The alarm goes off; that’s your first irritant. You slam your hand down on the top of it. The alarm clock falls on the floor. You drag yourself out of bed, take your shower, get dressed. Go to have cereal and open the refrigerator, and one of the kids drank the last of the milk. You feel in the pit of your stomach a fire starts to burn. Your body starts to tighten up. You kind of slam the refrigerator door, grab a piece of toast, and out the door you go.

You get in your car. You notice it’s raining. That really pisses you off. It’s going to slow the traffic down. You make your way to the closest Starbucks to grab some coffee. You’re standing in line. There’s a high school kid in front of you. A bunch of the kids’ friends walk in the door and join ahead of you in the line. [Laughter] Now the fire in you just surges up. [Laughter] The world is out to get you. You finally get your coffee.

You get in your car. You grip the wheel. You feel tightness in your chest. Your shoulders are rigid. You try and keep a space between you and the next car. Because it’s raining. And every time you have a space, somebody cuts in right in front of you. You know they think they’re better than you.

You make your way to work. You get to work. And of course, the person that you least want to see is right in your face. And so you begin your day rigid, stuck—body angry and hot. Nothing is very pleasant about this life.

So, take a couple breaths. We’re going to begin the day again, shifting to the hungry ghost realm. The first thing you hear in the morning is one of the kids yelling, “Where’s the cereal? I can’t find the cereal! We’re out of milk!” Right away there’s kind of a wrenching. You feel your day hasn’t even begun, and somebody wants something from you. You need a little peace and quiet. You have a sense you’re not going to get it. While you’re in the shower, your partner comes in, tries to have a conversation with you. Complaining that you’re spending too much time at work, “We’ve got to have a conversation about things.”

You just want to get to work, but all these people want something from you. You feel a deep hunger in your body already, and the day has barely begun. You get in the car to go to work. You just really want a little peace. Everybody around you wants something from you. You get to the Starbucks. All the kids—happy, talking—they don’t pay attention to you. They’re not going to give you the time of day. A person in line at the Starbucks screws up your coffee drink; that’s not going to help fill you up very much.

The need in your body is starting to ache. Your need is growing stronger as you jump in the car. Nothing seems to make you feel full. It’s like your life is a bottomless pit. Everyone around you wants something from you, and you can’t get what you need. You feel the strain as you get in the car to drive. You go to pull into a parking place; somebody beats you in. They even want your parking place now. You are hungry. You just want to survive. You just want to get your coffee, get to work, do your job, and even that isn’t working very well.

The first thing in the door at work somebody comes at you with a pile of work that they want done. You want to explain that you need some time to catch up on all the backlog at work. But you know it’s hopeless. You’re never going to get caught up. You’re never going to feel like it’s done. That need is just going to keep growing. And that’s the way your day is.

So, take another breath or two. Now we’re going to be shifting into the animal realm. Your alarm goes off. You turn it off. It’s just another day. You feel, “Oh well, I’ve got to survive here. Nothing very interesting going on.” You take your shower. You eat the same thing every day for breakfast. You go outside and you notice it’s raining. “Oh well.” [You] get in your car. You drive to the Starbucks. You don’t even notice that the school kids are jamming in line in front of you. You just want your coffee. Your body feels heavy, dull, nothing coming in, nothing going out. You’re just doing what you have to do. You can’t feel your heart. You can’t feel much of anything.

You pretty much ignore everything that’s going on around you. You put your body in autopilot, and you drive to work. You don’t know what you passed. You don’t even notice when somebody pulls in front of you. If you need to put on the brakes, you put on the brakes. You can’t really afford to have your car wrecked, so you do what you have to do to survive here. You manage to get yourself safely to work. The same people are there, day after day. The same annoyances. “Oh well.” Your body’s just kind of numb. You don’t really care much one way or the other. You just do what you have to do to survive, from moment to moment.

Take another breath. Now we’re going to begin in the human realm. You wake up in the morning. You go to give your partner a hug. Just want to feel that connection with that person. And they kind of stiffly hug you back and say, “I…I had a really bad night.” [Laughter] And right away, you kind of notice a little ache in your heart. It’s like, “Well, that didn’t feel very good.”

But that’s kind of the way it is in the human realm. If you have kids, you send them off to school. They’re already fighting. You look up at the sky and you notice it’s raining, and you say, “Well, I’m glad it’s raining. It’s been dry around here. Feels kind of good.” And you get in your car, and the first thing you notice is there’s a bad accident on the road from the rain. And kind of a sadness moves over you. Kind of sinks into your body. You know somebody’s suffering. You feel some empathy that somebody’s life is going to be messed up for a while one way or the other.

You go to the nearest Starbucks. You have a clerk there that you kind of feel a connection with. So you kind of like that person…you have a little conversation with him. And they do a better job of making your coffee drink, so you’d really like to have them wait on you. So you kind of pace yourself so you know that that person’s going to be the one, so you can have that little conversation that makes you feel good in the morning. And a bunch of the school kids come jamming in the door and kind of screw up your whole plan. And you get the other clerk that isn’t very friendly and that doesn’t make you such a great drink. You kind of sigh, and you kind of feel that in your body. You sort of missed that connection. There’s a little bit of sadness there.

You get in the car. The commute traffic’s really bad, people are jamming in all around you. You can feel yourself kind of getting frustrated with the whole situation. But you know, that’s kind of the way it is. Some days are better; some days are really crummy. You get to work. And you have people that you really care about at work that you’re really connected with. And one of those people comes up to you and says, “I need to talk to you for a few minutes.” Sits down and tells you that they’re moving on. They’re going to move out of town. They’re going to be quitting their job, and they’re going to be going away. You feel in your body right away that sense of loss. You know it’s hard to keep those friendships active when people leave. Your heart aches a little bit. You start grieving before the person even leaves.

And that’s the way it is in the human realm. You want those connections. You want to have a little fun, a little enjoyment in life. But nothing is permanent, and things constantly keep shifting. And a lot of sadness sort of flows in and through your body.

So, take another breath.

Now we’re going to begin the day in the titan realm. You wake up. This is an important day. You need to get to work. You’re going to be doing a presentation. And you’re going to be really good at it, because you want that next promotion. So you’re all business this morning. You get yourself dressed and you pick your clothes just right, so you’ll look really good. You grab something quick to eat. You notice it’s raining, but you’re not concerned. You know you can handle that. You feel strong. Your body feels good. You feel a sense of power moving through your body. You get in your car. You notice there’s maybe an accident on the road. And you think, “Well, those people probably weren’t paying attention. But I’m careful, I can do this.”

You get to Starbucks to get your coffee. Bunch of school kids start to cut in on you. You just walk right in front of them. [Laughter] You’re powerful. You’re not going to put up with that. You get your coffee. You make sure it’s made the way you want it. Because you tell the clerk that’s making your coffee exactly the way you want it—so it’s right.

You get behind the wheel of your car. You feel good. You feel strong. And then you look over in the lane beside you, and you see somebody with a brand new, beautiful Lexus convertible. And there’s a little pain that rises up, cause you know you’re not quite at the top yet. You’re good. And you’re going to do it. But that person, they probably’ve got it. So there’s a little bit of envy that starts to move in your body. And you can feel that. It’s like a burning desire.

You want it all. This is a juicy world. And you want to get it. So, you’re moving with all the energy you can bring to force to get what you want. And you’re pretty much going to step on anything in your way. So, there you are in the rain in your car. Somebody starts to hedge in. “Oh no, that’s not happening in my lane!” You step on the gas, and you move forward. And you feel that kind of surge of pleasure that comes up when you’ve done it. You aced them out! And it feels really good.

You get to work. And you get ready for your presentation. And another person who’s doing a presentation the same day—and you know they’re your competitor—and you kind of look to see what they have. And you kind of notice that one of their ideas is pretty good. So, you tell them, “Oh, that’s, that’s…yeah, that’s good…” You don’t say too much. But when you get in to do your presentation, you just casually bring out that idea into your presentation. You steal their thunder, and you do it really well. So when they get ready to make theirs, they’ve sort of lost their little pitch. When it’s over, you feel really good. Because you know you were the shining star that day. And that’s how your day goes in the titan realm.

Take one more breath.

Move into the god realm. You don’t have an alarm clock. The cook’s already in the kitchen, taking care. The nanny’s dealing with the children. You don’t have to worry about that. You just wake up naturally in the morning. You run the company. So you get in when you feel like getting in. You feel a sense of real luxury around you. You take your time getting dressed. You have a huge walk-in closet. Lots of shoes and lots of clothes to choose from. You take whatever you need, whatever you want. You’re very confident. You know that what you do is really good. You get yourself dressed.

You get in your luxurious car. Or if you don’t feel like driving, you have your personal assistant drive you to work. When you get to work—you run this company. Your decision is always the right decision. You’re confident and you know it. In your body there’s a sense that you’re just on top of the world. You don’t notice who works around you. You don’t have to go to Starbucks, because people bring you coffee. So you don’t have to stand in any lines.

This is the god realm. Everything is wonderful. And you feel that surge all through your body. You’re right. You know it. You don’t have to listen to anybody else. And you don’t. And that’s the way your day is in the god realm.

Take a few moments to come back to your breath. And gently open up.

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George: [Volume very low here] I ended up in Ken’s gloom and doom school because I was, you know, gloomy and doom-y. And I was kind of half animal, half titan and half…I don’t know…animal and titan. My body was dull and stiff and kind of numb. But I was a titan, so, you know, let’s sit in meditation. So that’s the way I would sit. And the pain and the burning and everything would start to build up, and I didn’t care. Because I’m energetic and I’m pretty strong and mostly I’m really stubborn—like to the point of stupid. [Laughter]

Animal realm, right? This is the way we do it. This is the way we always do it. This is how it’s done. And if it burns I don’t care, because I’m going to meditate. And somebody else over there is moving, but I’m not. [Laughter] So, there may be…fifteen years this is the way I sat. [Laughter]

Then Ken starts in on his gloom and doom stuff. Like there’s pain; there’s suffering; there’s confusion; you’ve gotta go through it; you’ve gotta experience it fully. Well, that fit with my experience. [Laughter]

And I was getting sick, and like, you know, my back was in horrible shape. And you know, I…I’m breaking down, cause I’m not that strong. But I thought I was. And then one night up in the zendo my body just exploded. I mean, it was like Star Wars inside. And everything just went haywire. And luckily it was at night, so I didn’t have to, you know, sit there for more there for more than—how long is the night session, like, eight hours or something? [Laughter]

And so I crawled out of there. And my vision was weird and my balance was weird. And I made it back to my cabin and I laid there. And all night long my body’s just going “whew, whew, whew.” All the nerves and everything’s going crazy. And the next morning when I came into the zendo…you know, I crawled back up there in the morning, and my body’s just like “this.” And about halfway into the session, I thought, “You know, this feels kind of good.” I can actually feel my body. There’s like…I have internal organs. And if I want to sigh, I can get some air and sigh. It was like, “Wow.”

And so, if you make that gloom and doom website, I’m going to put together a team of hackers, because there’s…I mean, it’s true, you do have to experience all the struggle, all the resistance, all the pain, all the burning, all the wanting, all the competition—whatever you’re into, you’re going to have to experience that.

And you’re going to have to experience it until you get to the point where you really understand physically, emotionally, mentally, perceptually, socially—you don’t care how stuff’s going anymore—you realize that the struggle’s not going to work. The fighting is not going to work. The needing is not going to work. The dull, “Just do it the way it’s always done” is not going to work. It doesn’t work. That is what the realms are. Each one’s got its own flavor of struggle. But the whole thing’s kind of self-contained and self-referential, and it doesn’t work.

What works is giving up on that struggle. And each of you is going to have to find the way, you know, to do that. It’s not really even something to do. You’re going to have to stop struggling. If you’re dumb and stubborn like me, then you’ll wait until you explode. Or if you’re stronger than me, you’ll go through your whole life struggling and then you’ll die, and that’ll be—[Laughter]

So, that’s the gloom and doom part. How do you get to the good part? It’s better than love and light, it’s like bliss and freedom. And it’s there. I don’t care what Ken says. I’ve escaped from the gloom and doom school. I’m still hanging around with him because he gives me tools. But I’m starting to use the tools to hack into a different system. And I’m not at all clear about how to do it. I think, again, it’s giving up on some level—every level—whatever your, you know, favorite kind of struggle is. You’ve gotta give that up and die to that realm. That’s how the realms are emptied.

The only tool I think I can give you is the physical one. We call it physical. We call it the body. And then we have the emotions, and we have the mind. Well those are conceptual, you know, things that we put on them. The body doesn’t exist. This is a field of energy. It’s a field of awareness. And all the emotions, all the sensations, all the thoughts that you ever experience—ever will experience—take place in this field. It’s not like the emotions are here, and the thoughts are here, and the body is, like, somewhere, “I can’t feel it.” It’s like, there’s a field here, a field of experience.

How can you sit, so that you can feel the field of experience? And when emotions arise, thoughts arise, you can feel them in your body. That’s where they’re taking place. So, sit however you want to sit. You stay like that, and yeah, everybody stay where they are. Don’t get into meditation posture. Posture has the same root word as pose. So you find this pose, and then you hold it. It doesn’t work.

Sit how you’re sitting. Feel your spine from the top of your head to your tailbone. Just feel it. You might feel like, “Eh, nothing.” Or it might feel, “Well, I can feel my tailbone, but I can’t feel anything, you know, my upper back…” Just feel what you feel from the top of your head to your tailbone. That is kind of the central core of the nervous system that’s the communication system for this field of experience.

So feel your spine. Is there tension in your body? Does your lower back hurt? Is there that monster between your shoulder blades that just kind of lives back there? Do you have a kink in your neck? Move your spine as a whole. Don’t straighten your neck. Don’t get rid of the kink. Move your spine. And find a way—find what makes that pain worse, and then find what releases it. And play between those two points. One way to do it is by rocking your pelvis—which the guys, especially, are not going to want to do—but try it.

Feel your belly button or your pubic bone and rock the pelvis itself. What happens to your belly as you rock your pelvis forward and back? What happens to the small of your back? What happens to your shoulder blades as you rock your pelvis forward and back? What happens to your sternum? What happens to your ribcage? What’s your head doing?

When you’re moving your pelvis, is your head locked up? Or is your chin, your head rolling on top of your skull? Your spin is curved like an S. If you’ve got a kink in your neck and you try to straighten that kink, then you’ve just put a crease or a kink in your shoulders blades. If you try to arch your back—your lower back—while keeping your head, you know, slumped like that, you’ve just introduced tension. So move your spine as a whole. If your head moves, then your lower back better move, or else you’ve just put a kink in your nervous system.

Same thing with rotating. Can you rotate your shoulders—doesn’t have to go more than half an inch—can you rotate your shoulders and participate with your ribcage? Can your shoulders move independently? If they aren’t moving independently, you’re holding something, because your shoulders are only held together by a little tissue and a couple of tendons. Your collar bones are only attached in one place. Your shoulder blades and your collar bones should move independently. That will unlock whatever that demon is between your shoulder blades.

Same thing with the sternum. The sternum is a little bone that sticks down here all the way up to the little hole up on top. All your ribs are connected to the sternum. We think of it as a cage, cause we’ve built a cage. And we hold it rigid. And when we turn, we turn like that. And we bend, we bend forward like that. We’ve turned this into an iron cage, cause guess what’s behind the sternum? The heart. Guess where grief comes from? Right in between those ribs. Guess what happens if you, you know, slump? You’re shoving down on your solar plexus! Guess what’s…what emotions come out of the solar plexus? What comes out of the lower belly that we’re always holding in?

You can move your sternum half-inch in and out, encourage it with your fingers. You can actually bend there. What happens to your shoulders? What happens to your shoulder blades when you move your sternum back half an inch? It doesn’t have to be very far. And it may start to crackle and crunch. That’s cause you’ve been holding it for about fifteen years. But it actually does move, and all those ribs move independently.

So, I can go around when we go up to the next session. But I’d like you to start by sitting. Find your sit bones. Let your skeleton hold you up. Gravity, your skeleton, and your chair will hold you up. You can let go. Let your belly hang out. Let your head do whatever it wants to do. Feel your spine. Find the place on your sit bones where you can balance and all your weight is on your sit bones, and you can let go.

Five minutes later something’s going to start burn. There’s going to be some pressure. It’s cause your back is arched. Or you know, you’re, like, trying to be Mr. Soldier or something’s holding. See if you can move your whole spine by undulating it, you know, forward and back, rocking your pelvis—the pelvis is really important—or by doing the rotation thing. See if you can find where that holding is, and what you’ve gotta do to let go. And if you want to sit like this for five minutes, because it feels good to twist a little bit, then fine. You’re allowing the fight or flight mechanism—that anxiety that wants out—and you’ve been holding it back. It wants out. So if you just let your body twist a little bit, it’ll pop out.

The patterns that we’re trying to dismantle, they operate on physical, emotional, mental levels, perceptual levels, social levels. There’s a physical component to every pattern. You’re working it with your brain, with your mind. You identify it. Now you’re going to be willing to get rid of it. You’re going to chip away at it. But if your body’s like this—the pattern that you’ve held in your body, the knot, the samyojana—the knot itself that is that memory of that pattern that you’ve been carrying in your body is not going to be able to release.

So you’re going to have anxiety. You’re going to have fear. You’re going to have hatred. And you’re just holding it there. If you let go, your body wants to move. Those knots release by themselves when you have enough awareness and the field of experience is open and relaxed enough to let that movement happen. You are not going to dismantle a pattern of anxiety until your body can move the way it needs to move to release that knot. So, with so many things in life we’ve set up a contradiction, “Sit still, you know, find the pose, the right place. Sit still, and now dismantle your patterns. You know, like, release all the knots in your body…” Okay, well, you can try.

When I go around this morning, when the bell rings, you know, find that place. Take the time to find the balance, so that your skeleton holds you up instead of your muscles. That’ll work for about three minutes, and then your body’s going to want to move. Move it. Riding the bike. Riding the horse. You’re not holding still. You’re balancing. Whatever has to happen, let it happen.

I’ll come around, but I can’t ask you how you feel and where’s the pain and how long’s it been there and do you have a physical injury and all that and then, you know…I could do that if we each had an hour together. But I’m going to go around, so if you have a persistent pain or a habit of holding, if that knot between your shoulder blades is your big thing, then when I come around to you, like, point at the problem or say “Shoulder blade.” Or you know, if you’re holding yourself up all the time and your lower back is starting to go out, say “Lower back.”

So, like, identify a place in your body where there’s tension, burning, pain, you know, something like that. And I’ll do whatever I can in the context of, you know, silence and the time limitation. But the essence of it is to remember there’s a field of experience here and it has to be open. The spine and the nervous system have to communicate. It has to move. There’s energy moving inside.

When you can do that, the tingling, the burning, the fear—all those things that, when you’re in the realm, you’re struggling with them, either to hang onto them or to get rid of them, or to ignore them, because you’re trying to meditate—all that struggle, the sensations, the emotions, et cetera, in themselves, are a source of exhilaration and movement and flow. And I shouldn’t say this in front of Ken, but bliss. That doesn’t mean everything feels good. It means everything feels like “Whoa.” And, like, the pain is like, “That, you know, that is amazing. It’s like, you know, my back is, like, burning. Or something, you know, in my solar plexus keeps coming out and my jaws just keep going [pops cheek]. It’s like, Whoa, this is like an adventure.” [Laughter]

So whether it’s pleasurable or painful, there’s something…that’s the third mark of existence, right? Nothing but suffering. Everything is unreliable. Everything is suffering. Well, the flip side of that is when you let it be that way and let it flow, everything is bliss. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s pain or pleasure, it’s a full-bodied experience. It’s always moving. It’s never stuck. And it’s really exciting. And it’s actually the full-bodied experience that we’ve been looking for. That’s what the struggle is all about. Whatever you’ve been locking in and stuffing and trying to control and manipulate and keep or get rid of is—what you’re missing, that sense of incompleteness—is the full-bodied experience of the field of the body.

The body, the mind, the heart is all the same. It’s a field of experience. And when it flows—and you let it move—it’s pretty amazing. And there are problems and there’s pain and, you know, etc. If you have injuries and whatever, it hurts. But it’s different. And there’s not a struggle. It’s just whatever it is.

I’ve left Ken four minutes. [Laughter] It’s about right. [Laughter]

Student: It’s all he needs…[Laughter]

George: [Unclear] He’s going to try to cancel that one…[Laughter]

Ken: Well, there’s no where to go here but down. [Laughter]

George: Free fall! Skydive! [Laughter]

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Ken: Okay. Few months ago, I read a review of a book called Radical Hope. And I found the review very interesting, so I got the book out of the library. The book is an examination—more or less a psychoanalytic, philosophical examination—of the last great Crow chief, whose name was Plenty Coups. He died 1929, 1930, somewhere around there. But late, very late in his life he recounted his life story to a white man that he’d known for many, many years—knowing that it would be recorded—and he felt that that was important.

And the line in the biography which the author of this book, Radical Hope, found fascinating and just couldn’t let go of was Plenty Coups’s statement that “After the buffalo left, the hearts of my people fell on the ground, and they could not lift them up again. After that nothing happened.”

This is an extraordinarily powerful statement. And it describes what happens when everything which is given meaning and substance and form to your life no longer has any meaning at all. This was the dilemma that the Crow and many of the other Indian tribes faced. But Plenty Coups’s approach to this had been—to this cultural dilemma—had been figured…prefigured in a dream that he’d had when he was a very, very young boy, 9 or 10 years old. When he had dreamt that the Buffalo had disappeared and had been replaced by cows. And that he’d been told by a wisdom figure in the dream that the Crow tribe would be okay if they learnt the way of the chickadee.

And the chickadee is—in Indian lore—it’s a bird that listens and watches and listens and watches and explores things. And so what this person’s writing about is living a life when everything has fallen apart and you can sense there’s a good, but you have no idea what that good looks like. And you’ve only got your sense of it to guide you. And the conclusions he comes are that such a way of life or such an approach to life depends on a courage which is based in lucidity or clarity of mind, a clarity of intention.

Now, I wanted to read this book because it struck me that, in a certain sense, this is exactly the dilemma that we are choosing to face ourselves. As George made very clear, the way that we approach our lives doesn’t work. And that is why every one of you is here. There’s something fundamentally wrong. You sense it. You may not be able to put your finger on it. And one of the things you learn through practice is not only does it not work, it can’t be fixed.

Now, that’s a difficult and—for some people—devastating realization, to which some people respond with despair. And other people say, “Okay, now what? None of this works and there’s no way I can make it better.” And that’s where the way of the chickadee starts. Because in conjunction with that—this is one of the things I find probably most inspiring about Buddhism—is that you can sense there’s a good somewhere.

Now in the dzogchen tradition, the primordial buddha is called Kun tu bzang po (Pron. Kuntuzangpo) in Tibetan or Samantabhadra in Sanskrit. One way of translating that is ever present good. Bhadra is the Sanskrit word for good. And Suzuki Roshi—one of his quotations which I rather like, is “Our practice is complete confidence in our fundamental nature.” Now from the Buddhist point of view, our fundamental nature is not a thing at all. There’s no thing we can point to and say, “That is what I am or that is what we are,” or anything like that. And at the same time, that nothingness manifests as both clarity and compassion. And that’s not compassion at the level of emotion, it’s compassion as expression of awareness, so it’s not subject to decay or corruption. This is the ever present good, if you wish, which we sense, even if we don’t know how it is.

Now, there isn’t any question about is that present in us or not? It is the essence of all experience actually. So you don’t have to wonder whether you’re deficient in it or don’t have it or where do you get it and where can you buy it, or what have you. It’s there. And what practice by and large consists of is stripping away all of the material that prevents us from knowing this.

Claudia earlier described going through these different scenarios—the way that we lead our lives which prevents us from knowing it—and this is all habit and pattern driven. George described the opening which comes when you recognize that the way that you are approaching life fundamentally doesn’t work and can’t be fixed. One of the functions of practice is it’s a way of cornering yourself, so that you are forced into that understanding. And people often misinterpret my smile when they’re talking with me. They think I’m taking great delight in their pain. Right, Claudia? [Laughter]

Claudia: So true. [Laughter]

Ken: But that’s not actually where I’m coming from. Because what I’m rejoicing in, actually, is that they have successfully cornered themselves in their practice. And I know it feels like hell. I know it feels just miserable, cause I’ve been there a few times myself. And, as a friend of mine who worked with the AIDS epidemic in the 80s…one of his favorite sayings was “Gates look like corners until you go through them.”

Gates look like corners until you go through them, because we really have to let go of how we’re used to functioning. And the only way that most of us will let go of that is by arriving at a point where none of that stuff works anymore and we can’t use it, and now we’re thrown back on our fundamental nature.

And the amazing thing is—when we let go of all that stuff—that clear, open knowing is just there. And we wonder why didn’t we ever see it, notice it, appreciate it, or rely on it before? It’s like “huh,” cause it’s always there. So, we’re going to talk more about that very explicitly this afternoon and move the meditation practice in that direction. Working with—to put it one way—learning how to trust absolutely nothing or nothing whatsoever. But before then and in…let’s see…four minutes, not bad…[Laughter]

George: We have a schedule to keep…it has to be kept on [unclear].

Ken: Many miles to go before I sleep. [Laughter]

George: We could come up with a lot of questions, we can shorten the meditation period [unclear]…[Laughter]

Ken: You’re not using the microphone.

Student: Isn’t this the one where you’re going to fix our backs, Ken? [Laughter]

Student: It’s going to create a lot of timing problems.

George: I don’t have anything to say. [Laughter]

Ken: Best way to shut somebody up is give them a microphone.

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Okay, this is a story from the Sufi tradition. But it describes this process.

Once upon a time, there was a merchant named Abdul Malik. He was known as the Good Man of Khorasan, because from his immense fortune he used to give to charity and hold feasts for the poor.

But one day it occurred to him that he was simply giving away some of what he had; and that the pleasure which he obtained through his generosity was far in excess of what it really cost him to sacrifice what was after all such a small proportion of his wealth. As soon as this thought entered his mind, he decided to give away every penny for the good of mankind. And he did so.

No sooner had he divested himself of all his possessions, willing to accept whatever events life might have in store for him, Abdul Malik saw during his meditation hour a strange figure seem to rise from the floor of his room. A man was taking shape before his very eyes, dressed in the patchwork robe of the mysterious dervish.

“Oh, Abdul Malik, generous man of Khorasan!” intoned the apparition. “I am your real self, which has now become almost real to you because you have done something really charitable, measured against which your previous record of goodness was as nothing. Because of this, and because you were able to part with your fortune without feeling personal satisfaction, I am rewarding you from the real source of reward.

“In future, I will appear before you in this way every day. You will strike me; and I will turn into gold. You will be able to take from this golden image as much as you may wish. Do not fear that you will harm me, because whatever you take will be replaced from the source of all endowments.”

So saying, the apparition disappeared.

The very next morning a friend named Bay-Akal was sitting with Abdul Malik when the dervish spectre began to manifest itself. Abdul Malik struck it with a stick, and the figure fell to the ground, transformed into gold. He took part of it for himself and gave some of the gold to his guest.

Now, Bay-Akal, not knowing what had gone before, started to think how he could perform a similar wonder. He knew that dervishes had strange powers and concluded that it was necessary only to beat them to obtain gold.

So he arranged for a feast to be held which every dervish who heard of it could come and eat his fill. When they had all eaten well, Bay-Akal took up an iron bar and thrashed every dervish within reach until they lay battered and broken on the ground.

Just a little interjection here. How many of you recognize something about your meditation practice in that line? [Laughter]

George: How many feel battered and broken? [Laughter]


Those dervishes who were unharmed seized Bay-Akal and took him to the judge. They stated their case and produced the wounded dervishes as evidence. Bay-Akal related what had happened at Abdul Malik’s house and explained his reasons for trying to reproduce the trick.

Abdul Malik was called and on the way to the court, his golden self whispered to him what to say.

When he arrived he addressed the court in this way. “May it please the court,” he said. “This man seems to be insane or to be trying to cover up some penchant for assaulting people without cause. I do know him. But his story does not correspond with my own experiences in my own house.”

Bay-Akal was therefore placed for a time in a lunatic asylum, until he became calm. The dervishes recovered almost at once through some science known to themselves. And nobody believed that such an astonishing thing as a man who becomes a golden statue—and daily at that—could ever take place.

For many another year, until he was gathered to his forefathers, Abdul Malik continued to break the image which was himself, and to distribute its treasure, which was himself, to those whom he could not help in any other way but materially.

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So, for meditation practice, I want you to continue with emptying the six realms. First…last night or last…yesterday afternoon, I suggested you work archetypically—that is, with the images of the six realms themselves—so you get a clear sense of what each of the realms feels like. And feeling that surge in yourself of when you have been immersed in a bunch of people who all have weapons. And they’re yelling and screaming, hacking and attacking each other. Your first impulse is—“Oh!”—is to grab a weapon and defend yourself and start hacking at them. You feel that [im]pulse. That’s the hell realm, of course. And so you feel that, and you just experience it in attention.

And following what we’ve been discussing these few days, make sure that you’re in touch with the physical component of that impulse, that way you’re…you’ll be in the experience. And just open to that experience. You’ll find that at a certain point, it just lets go, it releases. Then open to the experience of the hell realm—or whatever realm you’re working with—again. You find—because you’re in a slightly different place—that you’ll experience it in a different way. And just note how you experience it. And again, physically, emotionally, mentally. And then dissolve the realm into light, and move onto the next one.

We call this emptying the six realms because we do not transform the realms into something else. The realms are projections. And one of the reasons why we do this dissolving at light in the end, is just dissolving the projection. So we’re stepping out of the realm—or we’re emptying the realm—so that we can experience what actually is. So that’s your effort in your practice.

We have time for just one or two questions.

Ken: [Unclear] Microphones, please?

Student: I was just going to ask about…do you bring your personal story into that realm or are you using the realm that’s written in your book, for example?

Ken: I would encourage you to use the realm in the traditional descriptions of them first. Because that way you don’t bring all of the other agendas which always attend our personal stories. When you are clear about how to work—how to dissolve each or empty each realm—then you can start working with personal stories. Okay?

Student: In that realm?

Ken: In whatever realm or whatever realms the personal stories throw you into.

Student: Okay.

Ken: But I find that that way of working—for most people—that way of working works better. Okay? Dave?

Dave: I’d like you to explain how that story you told about the dervishes and all that is relevant to what we’re doing here today. I didn’t understand.

Ken: [Laughs] I think I would be doing you a disservice if I explained it. We’ll come back to it. Okay?

Dave: [unclear]

Ken: Okay. Colleen?

Colleen: Can you tell me how the chickadee works again?

Ken: The chickadee watches and listens and learns from whatever is arising.

Unlike most of the other Indian chiefs, Plenty Coups became a rancher, a farmer. Encouraged his tribe people to go to school. Another of his famous lines is, “We are oppressed by what we don’t know…We are oppressed by the White Man’s knowledge, which we don’t know. By learning it, we will not be subject to oppression again.” So, he saw that it was a different world. And he encouraged his people to move into that world, not to try to hold onto the past. The consequence of that is that the Crow were able to keep their—the core of—their tribal lands. So it’s watching and listening and being willing to learn from whatever arises. Okay?

All right, let’s stop here. Who’s on han? Okay, if you could go and do that…?

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