Browsing Category "Talks"
30 Oct
2017
Posted in: Poems, Talks
By    Comments Off on Still. And Moving.

Still. And Moving.

As part of getting myself ready for the long retreat I’ll be taking at the end of December (which I posted about here), I’ve been re-listening to talks that were particularly meaningful to me during previous long retreats, especially the talk Phillip Moffitt gave at the end of the March 2016 retreat titled, Awareness: The Still/Flowing Water.

He begins with a teaching from Ajahn Chah, which uses the metaphor of water that is both still and flowing to point to the seemingly paradoxical nature of awareness (not the momentary nature of awareness of a particular object, but the awareness that’s “behind” the awareness of an object — the “knowing that you know” quality of mind that Phillip often talks about.)

He then quotes Ajahn Amaro on the same subject: “The aim of practice is subjectless, objectless awareness. The heart rests in the awareness — the quality of open, spacious knowing. There is the recognition of the mind’s own intrinsic nature: it is empty, lucid, awake, and bright.”

This is quite a profound teaching, which I won’t attempt to paraphrase here. Instead, let me strongly encourage you to listen deeply to this talk.

Consider these questions, which Phillip raises near the end of the talk: “How do we live with the ultimate insult to the ego: that we’re all going to die. That everyone we love will die, and that we too will die. How do we live with that? Where is there a refuge? Where is there a rest for the ego?

The answer, of course, is what Phillip has been pointing to all along, and which he continues to point to through poetry:

First from Rilke:
I am the rest between two notes,
Which struck together sound discordant
Because death’s note would claim a higher key.
But in the dark pause, trembling,
The notes meet harmonious.
And the song continues,
Sweet.

Then from T.S. Eliot:
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been; but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,
Erhebung without motion, concentration
Without elimination…”

***

(erhebung is a German word that means “an ennobling elevation”)

23 Oct
2017
Posted in: Talks
By    Comments Off on There is Joy There

There is Joy There

I listend to another beautiful talk last night, this one by Guy Armstrong. The title is Transcendent Dependent Origination and in it Guy tells a great story about when he was a monk in Burma having a very difficult time. He says that finally, in desperation, he turned to a photo of the Dalai Lama, and asked him for help. Immediately he heard these words (in his head) spoken in the Dalai Lama’s voice:

“Stay cheerful, optimistic and confident. A positive attitude is the best support.”

Then nothing more. Guy felt he had received a transmission from His Holiness, so he really tried to take the message to heart.

“Unfortunately there were times when I couldn’t remember what cheerful felt like,” Guy says, “but when I could, and I could bring that into my mind, it really lifted my spirits and inspired me to go back and practice again.

This is the role of joy in the practice. When we have a channel to it, a reliable access to it, it becomes a tremendous ally for us when times are difficult.” As an example, Guy talks about the joy of being surrounded by the beauty of nature. “I encourage you to take advantage of that,” he says, “and really open to the beauty. This is not foreign to the path. This is not to antithetical to the path.”

He then quotes Ajahn Sumedho: “Sometimes in Therevada Buddhism one gets the impression that you shouldn’t enjoy beauty. If you see a beautiful flower, you should contemplate its decay. Or if you see a beautiful woman, you should contemplate her as a rotting corpse. That’s a good reflection on anicca (everything is impermanent), dukkha (everything is imperfect), and anatta (everything is impersonal), but it can leave the impression that beauty is only to be reflected on in terms of these three characteristics, rather than in terms of the experience of beauty. This is the joy of mudita: being able to appreciate the joy of beauty in the things around us.

Guy continues, “So be open to beauty. Let that joy come in and lift us up. It’s intrinsic in the nature of things. When you tune into the way things are, there is joy there.

“I often tune into the way light strikes things. Whether indoors or outdoors, there’s a brightness, there’s a brilliance, there’s a radiance in light that reminds me of that joy and that beauty.”

***

I LOVE that. I’m going to try it!

10 Oct
2017
Posted in: Practice, Talks
By    Comments Off on Not Me. Not Mine. Not Who I Am.

Not Me. Not Mine. Not Who I Am.

I listened to another great talk last night by Guy Armstrong. It’s on the teaching of “Not Self,” which as Guy says, “is one of the central teachings of the Buddha and one of the most liberating…but also one of the most difficult to understand.”

He does a beautiful job of explaining this teaching in very accessible language. For example, Guy tells the story of the Buddha instructing his followers by asking: “Is what is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change fit to be regarded thus: This is mine. This I am. This is myself?”

Which Guy paraphrases as the Buddha asking: Do you want to pin your happiness and your identity on what is impermanent, unsatisfying and subject to change? And then he says: Why would we do that?! 

I love the conversational way Guy approaches these teachings. But the part of the talk I like best is when he says:

“This formulation of the Buddha’s… This is mine. This I am. This is myself ….is a very helpful way to notice our experience because we can turn it around as he did himself.

“The Buddha asked, What is the right way to understand it?

“Then he said: All forms should be seen as it really is with proper wisdom thus: This is not mine. This I am not. This is not myself.”

To which Guy adds: “This is a practice pointer. This is not just intellectual speculation.

“When you get caught up as taking some aspect of experience as yourself or as belonging to you, try saying: Not me. Not mine. Not who I am.

“See if you can tune into that with proper wisdom thus: Not me. Not mine. Not who I am.

“Just try it. Just drop those three little phrases in when you feel like you’ve identified with something. And see.

***

(Click here to listen)

30 Aug
2017
Posted in: Practice, Talks
By    Comments Off on I Know What to Do!

I Know What to Do!

In a delightful little collection of essays on Compulsive Helping, Ajahn Amaro writes:

“Our thinking mind loves to diagnose. I confess to having a thinking mind that loves to figure things out… Certainly the intellect does have its place; it is truly useful to be able to figure out how things work, but we can be over-prone to that.

We can unwittingly take refuge in having an explanation. The mind can reach forward: ‘I know what’s going on! I understand this. I read a book about it I did a course on this. I know what’s happening here!

“We immediately go to the memory, the idea, the concept and in so doing we miss what is before us, what we are in the middle of, what we are a part of. Because we have absorbed our attention in the diagnosis, we miss the actuality.

“I’m not saying that we should never push, make an effort or diagnose. It is not that we should stifle the intellect or suppress our recognition of patterns, rather it’s a question of holding these things in perspective

“When we’re faced with suffering, particularly other people’s suffering, we can feel: ‘I’ve got to do something!’ Everything is telling us: ‘Don’t just sit there, do something!’… But that urge to help and to do can often be coming from our own insecurity or our own need to be a helpful person. Our need to help may form part of our identity….

“When there is a need to do something, there may indeed be things that we can do, but that very urge, that agitated tension which wants to jump in and fix something, may be the very element that gets in the way….

“I’m not trying to encourage a quality of dissociation… This teaching is not a cold distancing or an attempt to alienate ourselves from feeling the suffering of others. I don’t advocate adopting some kind of false objectivity; I’m not trying to encourage that.

“What I am hopping is that through our spiritual practice we can find that place which is fully empathetic with the suffering of others and the difficulties that we experience, while not suffering on account of them.”

***

This is why Phillip Moffitt alway asks his students to take what he calls “secondary vows of renunciation,” which are: No Judging, No Comparing, No Fixing!

24 Aug
2017
Posted in: Talks
By    Comments Off on No Room for Self-conscious Thought

No Room for Self-conscious Thought

I listened last night to another excellent talk from the Concentration Retreat at Spirit Rock, this one by Eugene Cash titled Mindfulness of Breath: Energy, Effort, Discovery. At the very end of the talk, Eugene reads this beautiful passage by pianist Mildred Portney Chase, which really captures the feeling of being profoundly connected to what one give oneself to — which is what happens in meditation when the body, heart and mind become unified.

Mildred writes,
“Just being at the piano, egoless, is to reach the place where the only thing that exists is the sound and the moving toward the sound. The music on the page that was outside of you is now within you and moves through you and you are a channel for the music and playing from the center of your being.

“Everything that you have consciously learned — all of your knowledge — emanates from within you. There is a sense of oneness in which the heart of the musician and the heart of the composer meet, in which there is no room for self-conscious thought.

“You are one with yourself and the act and you feel as if playing has already happened and you are effortlessly releasing it. The music is in your hands, in the air, in the room — the music is everywhere and the whole universe is contained in the experience of playing.”

***

Or in the experience of breathing!

23 Aug
2017
Posted in: Talks
By    Comments Off on Practice with Pleasure

Practice with Pleasure

Last night I listened to one of Sally Armstrong’s talks from the Concentration Retreat being held right now at Spirit Rock. The title of the talk is: Skillful Development of Pleasure in Practice and in Lifeand it is one of the clearest, most non-jargon-y talks I’ve ever heard on the importance of the experience of pleasure in practice.

Not pleasure that is based on physical contact. But pleasure based on the mind’s ability to become collected and unified, which is a type of pleasure that is “felt” in the body, but which, frankly, is A WHOLE LOT BETTER! Hard to believe, I know, but it’s true.

At one point early in her practice, Sally experienced this kind of pleasure as “being like one of those long streams of sea-kelp, floating in an ocean of warm honey.”

At the time, she described this to her teacher, and expected to be told: “Just let it go. Don’t hold on to it. Don’t get attached.”

Instead, she was told: “Do more of that!”

Which she did!!!

***

This talk is a pleasure to listen to. You can find it on Dharmaseed here.

22 Aug
2017
Posted in: Talks
By    Comments Off on Still. Peaceful. Secluded.

Still. Peaceful. Secluded.

OK, let me just say: the Eclipse was AWESOME!!!

I’m really glad I didn’t miss it. (I had been registered to attend a Concentration Retreat at Spirit Rock, Aug 14-24, but canceled when I found out the eclipse would be happening–right here in St. Louis–on Aug 21.)

I’m also glad that even though I had to miss the retreat, I don’t have to miss the talks from the retreat because many of them are already posted on Dharmaseed (here) — including the one I most wanted to hear, from Phillip Moffitt, on the deep states of concentration (known as jhana): From Directed Attention to Absorption

Phillip talks about the feeling of “coming home” he experiences when the mind is still, peaceful, and secluded.

I know that feeling.  

It, too, is “awesome”.

20 Jul
2017
Posted in: Practice, Talks
By    Comments Off on I Am Not Exempt

I Am Not Exempt

My apologies for not posting yesterday, but I was having surgery to remove a spot of skin cancer (not melanoma) that had returned. This was not an especially traumatic event, but it did give me pause.

Maybe that’s why last night I chose to listen to this talk by Joseph Goldstein titled: Deepening Insight into Permanence. It’s an excellent teaching on these 3 reflections: 

Whatever is of the nature to grow old, will grow old. I am not exempt. 

Whatever is of the nature to fall ill, will fall ill. I am not exempt.

Whatever is of the nature to die, will die. I am not exempt.

18 Jul
2017
Posted in: Practice, Talks
By    Comments Off on So As Not To Miss Out

So As Not To Miss Out

While I was in Wisconsin helping my parents, several of my dharma friends were sitting the retreat at IMS that Akincano (along with Christina Feldman) taught right before the course on Vedana. So as not to miss out, while I was driving (for 12 hours!) from Wisconsin back to St. Louis, I listen to all the talks from that retreat on Dharmaseed (here).

There was lots of great stuff in those talks. But one tiny little thing (seemingly) that Christina said — almost as an aside — during the final 10 minutes of the last talk of the retreat, has really stuck with me, maybe more than anything else.

She said: “My intention this year — I often have a sort of overriding intention that I use as an investigation — is to have nobody in my life that I’m indifferent towards.

“I find this really startling, in terms of metta. I get on the train or I pass people on the street….or the person at the cash register in the supermarket, the person at the gas station, the people in the hotels who look after us, in the restaurants… It’s so easy to see people in terms of their functions, isn’t it. As if they’re somehow not really worthy of the attention we would give to someone we love, or someone we struggle with. I’ve found this quite a startling practice. Suddenly I seem to live in a much friendlier world!

This is not about inflicting metta on people. [laugher] It’s not about ‘you’re going to get my metta whether you like it or not. Here it comes!’

It’s about seeing. It’s about noticing. It’s about what happens in those moments when we offer a glance of tenderness and respect where our gaze falls. Whether we offer an acknowledgment. Whether we offer a smile.

“You know, I have so many subway journeys in London now where I feel like I’m surrounded by friends!   

***

I thought about what she said when I was a Walgreen’s yesterday. The whole place feels really tacky and aggressively “marketing-y” to me, so I tend to avoid eye contact with the cashier when I’m checking out (maybe because I’m embarrassed about shopping there, or embarrassed for them that they have to work there, or guilty maybe because they have to work there and I don’t?!?). But I remembered what Christina said and I looked up and made a point of thanking the cashier (who was really hustling to get me checked out) and it made a huge difference in how I felt. About the experience. About the woman who was working there. About the world, actually. And about myself.

I’m glad I didn’t miss out.

16 Jun
2017
Posted in: Talks
By    Comments Off on We Had a Language Before We Had Words

We Had a Language Before We Had Words

I’ve been listening again to talks by Ajahn Sucitto. I do this as often as I can. There’s a quality to what he says that touches me in a way that’s almost impossible for me to express. It’s not his style or his voice. (He has a pretty strong working-class English accent that’s sometimes hard to understand. He tends to mumble a bit. And sometimes it can seem like he’s just kind of rambling.)

But there’s something under his words… some authority…or authenticity…or some other “something”… that every so often just sort of grabs hold of me, really deep at the center, and my mind seems to STOP — almost as if it’s holding its breath so it can really LISTEN in some very deep, maybe even pre-verbal way.

When that happens, sometimes I just have to turn off the tape and be quiet for a while. And sometimes I have to keep going back over it, listening to it again and again. And then, usually, I feel compelled to write it down.

Which is what happened during the last 17 minutes of this talk: Establishing the GroundHere’s what he said:

We had a language before we had words. A language of the heart. A language of presence. A language of authenticity before we had words…

In meditation we are listening behind the language for what’s being felt. How that’s affecting my mood, my energies, my nervous system. Is there anything in this where I get a sense of…uh huh, uh huh, uh huhhh. [Here he is making the sounds of someone who is listening to someone speak, following what they’re saying, and “getting it.”] That’s truth.

Then something shifts. You feel the shift. You feel the resonance of something, energy shifts and changes…from speedy to steady, from sluggish to awakening, from running around to stasis. There’s a shift.

There is is. That’s truth. You’ve just touched it. And you’ve touched it in your body. It can be difficult to really get that because we’ve lost some of the pathways into that. So sometimes there’s just flashes of it. We get intuitive resonances, where you suddenly feel more settled, more here. Clearer. Grounded.

This is the pathway into that embodied quality that we’ve lost access to. Truth reminds us where we are. Where we are is: here. It’s always present, open available, imperturbable.

Some senses, some intuitions, some things can cause the mind to return. Much of the Buddha’s teaching is a series of wonderful attempts and plays and structures to help that to occur. So it eventually becomes more than just an intuitive flash, but an increasingly strong sense of presence. When you walk, when you sit, when you listen.

Even when you speak.

So much so that it’s said that “the sage, even when they speak, they’re silent.”

Because the speaking is coming from the silence of their presence….  

Have you walked in open country? Open country is the openness of your own mind.

***

Click here to listen to the talk.