31 Jul
Posted in: Talks
By    Comments Off on Soften. Widen. Include It All.

Soften. Widen. Include It All.

Ajahn Sucitto has a new talk, called The Practice of Inclusivity, that I’ve listened to a couple of times now (and surely will listen to a couple of times more) because it just keeps speaking to me, on so many levels.

He begins: “I’ll offer some reflections, some thoughts…. straight from the heart:

“When I began to practice, I began in a highly structured way. I was using the Burmese satipatthana system, which is quite a carefully tooled, structured system. I hadn’t done any meditation at all! So I went from nothing to that. [laughs]

“Then because I felt I needed some structure in my life, after the class was over, I said to the monk who was teaching (this was in Thailand): Can I go to the monastery? Because I felt the structure there would keep me focused. Otherwise it was just going to dissipate. He said: Yeah, you can go. It’s free. Just show up.

“So I packed my stuff, sorted my things out, and went down the road to the town where the monastery was and they said: OK. Here’s this little hut you can live in. You’ve got to keep these eight precepts…. It was solitude. No eating in the afternoon, no entertainments, celibacy… You know, the “thing.” So that was Day 2 of my meditation career. [laughs]

“And I thought, yeah, maybe a week of this and I’ll sort things out, and get back on the road. And after a week or so, I thought: Hey, I can sit still for 5 minutes. I’m nearly there! (Because I hadn’t sat still for 5 minutes in my life at all.) And then after a while I thought: Uhh, this might take a little longer. Maybe 3 months. And then: Well, it doesn’t seem to be quite settled yet, but probably a little longer should do it.

“So then it was 3 years that I was in this hut. In solitude. It was structured in terms of the meditation. And in a structured situation….”

From there Sucitto goes on to tell how after 3 years of practicing with great diligence, his father dies, so he goes back to where his mother is living in England, and finds that his practice — without the structure he’s been used to — completely falls apart. So he decides to join Ajahn Sumedho at a small monastery in London. He tells how the communal living situation was quite helpful to him, but this time, as far as the teachings were concerned, there was very little structure at all. Ajahn Sumedo’s instructions were:

Sit there. Everything that arises, passes away. Be with that.

Sucitto askes: But how do you mediate? 

Sumedho says: The thought: “How do you meditate” — notice that it arises, be with that, it will pass.

So there was very little structure to the practice. “But what was provided was a community structure. You lived together; you operated together; you had certain loyalties and affiliations to the teacher, to the other people in it — it was only a small group. So you were held within that. And you were held within a larger structure, which was all the lay people who would come round and help to hold the thing together. So there was a communal structure, a living structure. So gradually over time, that sort of began to replace my early structure.

“Then as I shifted, or as my mode of practice began to shift of its own accord, I thought: How would I try to sum up how to meditate? One day I had to go and teach a retreat. And I was in the shower and I thought: How do I meditate? (Showers are great because then people leave you alone. And you’ve got nice, soothing water running down!)

“So I thought: Well, you pay attention. You definitely pay attention. Yeah. And as you pay attention, then: You begin to widen and soften your attention. Yeah. And then: You meet what arises in your mind. Yeah. Meet what arises. Just meet it.

“And then as you get that underway, as you begin to meet stuff rather than react to it, shut it down, run away from it, proliferate on it, complain about it, identify with it, blame it on somebody else, blame it on yourself, try to sort it out in your head…. you just meet it.

“And as that becomes more available: Include it all.

“So you keep widening to include it all. Which means it comes into your day. As a model of how I practice — yeah, that’s about it. Then after years of just sensing that and practicing with that, the words “meet what arises” and “include it all” began to take on a larger significance.

“I was still operating within the boundaries of what I call “my mind.” My thoughts: I include all that. My reactions: Yeah. My emotions: I include all that.

“Then, as I began to include all that, I recognized there was something else I was leaving out. Which is: Other People. How they are. What’s happening for them. I decided I wanted to get interested in that. Learn to be still with them; pay attention to them; meet what arise in that; soften, widen, open my heart; meet what arises; whatever they’re experiencing — meet that. Include that.

“Rather than determine that they should be different; or give them a pill; or tell them to go away… You know: strategies. (Like: fix them; change them; even understand them.) Don’t bother! Just meet what arises; widen, soften; include it all. And see what happens with that.

“And through that I began to recognize just how many boundaries there are to cross. How many places or boundaries marked by fear, marked by people’s nervousness, marked by people’s criticisms of themselves and others, marked by people’s traumas, where they feel they can’t go, they’re not allowed, they’re not OK, there’s something wrong with them. These familiar boundaries that arise for people. Where they’re not being included.

“As I began to teach more, listening to people, more and more I began realizing: everybody’s feeling there’s something wrong with them and that they’re the odd one out. Or that they’re not included.

“They’ve been excluded by: the society, their parents, their partners, their health, their race, their gender… There’s something where they’ve been shut out. And they’re hurting because of that.

“So I began sensing that and not even fixing it or changing it or giving any anesthetics or sedatives (like: Don’t worry about it). But just meeting the pain. Of people’s hearts at this place of exclusion. And including that. And witnessing that.

“Then I thought: where does all this happen? When one realizes it’s so beautiful… It’s so beautiful, it’s so transformative, when we can — either within our self or with others — just be at the place of meeting. And widening. And including. And not naming, changing, fixing, analyzing…. Just including. What happens with that?

“So I’ve spend about twelve years doing this approach quite consciously with other people. Just to focus on that, notice what happens when we just sit together in presence and what arises. Whether it’s the agitations, the fears, the sense of what do we think about each other, the feelings of I’m not good enough for you or you think you’re not good enough for me, or we’d better keep talking and making something happen because we feel nervous, or you know…. Whatever. Just meeting that and letting that arise and pass.”


The talk, of course, goes on from there. I just wanted to give you a taste. The text is edited, mostly for readability. I strongly recommend you listen for yourself. (He has an accent. And he mumbles. But just get used to it.) He really does speak, as he says, “straight from the heart.” Which is so beautiful. Also, make sure you get all the way to the part at the end where he talks about what he means by citta, and how he has come to understand it as…. Well, listen to the talk and find out! Click here. (Start at the very beginning. It’s less than an hour. It’s so worth it.)

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