Space in the Mind is Peace in the Heart
I've just come back from a month in the States at Gabriel Cousens Tree of Life - Raw Food - Rejuvenation Centre and a Mondo Zen Teacher Training Retreat with Jun Po Roshi. I planned for a month of contrast and I certainly got it. In Arizona at the "Tree" I roamed around a mountainous desert, ate raw food, sat wearing white with eyes closed and palms turned up in chin mudra. At the Wild Goose Zendo in Massachusetts I abided by a lake in the woods, ate cooked food, sat wearing black with eyes open and chin mudra palms turned down. And it seems while the comparisons and contrasts were huge and felt both in the mind and the body, all roads lead to the Soul through the path of the Heart.
In a different space I might write more about the contrast between these two paths... but for now, in aid of International Peace day, I want to write more about creating space in the mind and peace in the heart. I think we've mostly arrived at a place that recognises that everywhere we go, there we always are. There is no escaping the skin encapsulated ego... yet this is not who we really are, for we are not that which can be observed. To think that we are that which we see in the mirror, or that we are that which is thought in the mind, is quite likely the biggest misconception of all time.
So then who are you? Who am I? Who are we, if we are not that which we see in the mirror, and if we are not that which is thinking? Are we not the thoughts, feelings and ideas that run through our mind? No. Then are we not our vocational titles or our parental labels? Yes we have all of these things... but these "things" that we call ourselves are not who we really are!
Then who are you? Who am I? Who are we, if we are not these things? We are that which see's all of these things... that which is capable of observing the thoughts, feelings, emotions, ideas, beliefs, attitudes and perceptions that arise and fall away. We are that which is ever presently mindful and aware. We are that which is unwavering and perfectly balanced. We are that which is able to remain joyful and peaceful for no reason at all. We are not that which arises and falls away, no, indeed we are that which is in fact ever present. To truly KNOW this is peace of mind.
And the only way we can know this, truly know this, is to be still and quiet and just sit and BE in the art of meditation. Concentration meditation is what a balanced life practice begins with and is grounded in; and it is what leads to unreasonable joy and peace... in other words, we experience peaceful joy for no reason at all. In Sanskrit this is called Samadhi and is otherwise known as Bliss. And the more people that awaken to this notion, the more peaceful is our experience of this thing called life.
In order to realize this Bliss, we need to know the difference between that which can be observed and that which we truly are - which means we need to sit in quiet concentration. This is the first step to meditation. Unless we can concentrate, we cannot meditate. And we need to meditate to realize how we identify who we are by that which we think and see. Remember you are not the thoughts that you have and you are not who you see in the mirror!!! You are that which observes these things.
If we can identify with the observer, or the seer, of these things then we are no longer associated with all of those random thoughts, ideas and perceptions that the mind continually churns through its robotic conditioning. Meditation therefore helps one transcend our robotic knee-jerk responses and realize the ever present joy that is available to us beyond the patterns of the judging mind.
This cannot be understood by simply sitting here and reading these words. It can only be realized if one were to actually be quiet and still and sit; repeatedly and consistently. Not just for one day, although once will give you a taste and improve that day, but to truly realize this experience we must engage in it every day. I haven't met one authentic teacher so far who thinks they have arrived at a place where they have transcended the need to sit - and neither have I met every teacher, so there could be a couple out there. But on the whole, us mere mortals, need to sit!
So what do you gotta do?
First of all, chose a method for focusing the mind and stick to it. You can use any of the senses for this. You could focus on a spot on the ground in front of you, a candle flame or any single point of focus. You can use the mala beads and/or choose a mantra for repetition. You can focus internally on the third eye, or Ajna chakra, or the heart centre otherwise known as Anahata. You can choose guided meditation or you can just simply count the breath in cycles of one to ten.
Or you could just focus on a sound which is what I do in my meditation practice. I choose the sound of a bell, or a gong, that sounds at least three times, and I follow the sound into the silence and concentrate my focus on the stillness between the sounds. In this way each sound leads me directly into deeper and deeper stillness and then when the sound of the bell stops I let my awareness dance lightly from sound to sound around me, never settling on any particular sound at all, all the while letting each sound fade into the stillness between. In this way any sound that is occurring in the background becomes a call to wake up to a deeper listening, a listening that happens through the mind of the heart. It matters not which method for concentration that you choose, just that you pick a method and stick to it.
So once you have chosen your method, create a quiet place in which to sit and sit there every day. Start off with 5 or 10 minutes. You may want to commit to once or twice a day when just sitting for such short periods of time. As you practice, you’ll notice you want to sit for longer periods. I now like to sit for an hour each morning and then another half hour or so in the evenings just before going to bed.
After a period of time you will notice yourself awakening to a deeper level of concentration and you will feel a clearer connection and experience of that which is doing the observing. And that is all you are doing; observing that which arises and falls away. Because stuff will continue to arise in the mind and fall away forever, the practice of meditation helps this process to become a way more peaceful experience for everyone that interacts with that mind. This is where you will find the space that allows you see the thoughts, ideas, beliefs and perceptions of the conditioned mind. In other words your experience as the Seer will intensify so that you can sense and feel the space in the mind which gives you the ability to slow your reaction rate down to a consciously calm response. This is how we overcome our conditioned robotic reactions – the knee jerk reactions that lash out violently and unconsciously. You know those reactions – the ones you wish you could take back. Well after a while, as the space in the mind grows, they stop happening. This is the birth of true freedom, where the unconscious patterns of the mind have been unravelled and released and replaced with a consciousness that is calm and mindful. The Buddhists call this the process of unlearning.
It doesn’t need to take very long at all before your practice on the cushion will follow you into everyday life and your Seer will observe the shenanigans of the mind…. and laugh! Joyfully! It will seem humorous from a deep sacred place. You will be more at peace with yourself and with everyone you come in contact with. Meditation can be seen as a solo practise, but in this way it is for the benefit of all. As we create space in the individual mind, we create peace in each heart. And as we create peace in each heart we soon realize that each of our minds is a cell in the Universal Mind and each of our hearts is a cell in the Universal Heart. At this depth there is One True Self… and the path to the realization of this One True Self is via the cushion in quiet concentration.
Until next time
Om Shanti, peace, peace, peace