Day 5: Threading Inner and Outer
On day five of this series, we begin to swing the doors of perception wide open. We have traversed the layers of inner experience over the past four weeks and now we begin the work of threading inner and outer into a cohesive, all-inclusive experience.
We start to invite the senses of hearing, tasting, seeing, smelling and touching into our practice. This will allow us to fully extend these methods of self-inquiry into our world and our relationships. This is a powerful tool that can be accessed at any time, anywhere. We can tap into the skill of finding our center as the world spins around us, as our deepest thoughts and emotions come to surface, and as the world calls to us in a myriad of ways.
We have already begun to see that our own awareness of things arising is a bit of an afterthought. We realize we are angry only after we have become fused and identified with anger. We realize we are tired only after running ourselves around all day or even all week. There is a term called “retrospective awareness” that speaks to the idea that we are aware of things often after they have already arisen. Pause for a moment and think back to an experience where things felt more clear after the experience had passed. Perhaps there was a sense that in hindsight you would have responded differently than you did. This feeling can arise because at the time a situation is unfolding, we are often already captivated by it. Our actions may feel more reactive and less responsive. Responsiveness requires the ability to stay with experience for some time before taking action. Only time and space allow the identification to a situation to soften so that greater clarity can be available to us.
In addition, the sense of “I” is an afterthought itself. Anger does not arise as something personal. Perhaps there is a circumstance arising, resistance begins to surface, resistance turns to irritation and irritation to anger. These moments emerge as pure sensation without any sense of “me” or “I” inherent in them. However, within hundreds of milliseconds, the experience of anger becomes one of “I am angry”. As we continue to practice, we aspire to be at the birthplace of pure sensation, where the mental construct of “I” has not yet fully formed; where things don’t have to be so immediately personal and biased. This will sound difficult to almost impossible, but like anything, with practice, “All is coming” and all is possible.
This brings us to the three P’s: Practice, Patience and Perseverance. These qualities will be essential to the life of your practice. There will be days that things feel like there are coming together. We are able to see more clearly and respond more skillfully. There will also be days where life has consumed us and we fall prey to our personality and our bias. This is ok. Everything that arises in the space of our own awareness can be transformed. All things that arise (sensations, emotions, thoughts and external stimulus) go through the natural process of birth, growth, decline and passing. All is changing. Awareness can arise anywhere along that curve and transform what has been seen. Do not take my word for this. Explore this on your own and determine whether it is true for you. In the awareness of anger, we are less fused to anger. Explore this by substituting any experience you may have.
Our method will be very much the same as we allow more and more material to become available to our inquiry. As sensations, emotions, thoughts, images, memories or external stimulus arise, we pause and take notice (witness). If we prefer to stay within the scope of a shamatha practice, we can notice and kindly return to our breath as an anchor. If we are ready for insight/vipassana practice, we hold this experience and explore the nature of what has come up by labeling it. Remember all sensations, emotions and perceptions have an intensity to it and our labeling can be descriptive enough to indicate this. Instead of just labeling sadness, we may use words like longing or grief when they feel more appropriate. If and when accessible, we may also explore how beliefs, images, emotions and/or sensation are felt in the body. After a few moments of exploration, we return to our breath as anchor. Shamatha practice will help us create a vessel of stability and ease amidst what is arising. Some of the things that arise may subside in time, others will continue to surface. We may step away from a shamatha practice with certain beliefs and emotions being more at the forefront of our consciousness so that we can pay attention to them. In a vipassana practice, the potential for insight will be even stronger as we take time to explore. We may receive insight into the nature of our self-identity, the changing nature of all things and the moments of dissatisfaction that arise. Insights may come up during practice and often come up outside of practice as we are walking through life. Things begin to feel more clear.
Beyond being the witness to what is arising, perhaps you can explore simply being in the space of awareness in which witnessing occurs; this is the space of unchanging awareness in which all changing perceptions and sensations arise. The difference between being the witness and turning to “being awareness” itself is a further softening of our sense of ego and identity. This is not to say that we should walk through life without any sense of our identity, but that we see our identity for what it is and how it has been created. We can even begin to tap into the opportunity to widen our own sense of self-being, soften it and shift it as it feels skillful to us. Our past does not have to define us if it no longer serves our own true nature. The simple, yet elusive ability to not take things as personally is life-transforming itself.
As we explore practice, we hope to balance sensitivity with perspective. Sensitivity without perspective will feel sticky. Perspective without any sensitivity with lead us to feeling detached. Both balanced together in harmony, will extend that sense of harmony into our daily life These practices are not exclusive to our cushion. The cushion is a place where we can come to know ourselves more fully so that we can live life with a greater degree of well-being, kindness, compassion and equanimity.
Enjoy your beautiful week of exploration.