Sacred geometry


This retreat was jointly taught by Rob Burbea and one or more other Insight Meditation teachers. Here is the full retreat on Dharma Seed
Date7th November 2006
Retreat/SeriesNovember Solitary 2006


Another Pali word. So if any one thing happens, at least you'll be expanding your Pali vocabulary a little bit. [laughs] It's also a Sanskrit word, samādhi. And some of you may be familiar with this word, some less so. It's also a word that's present in other traditions. In the Hindu tradition, it's a common word, and it has different meanings in different strands of the Hindu tradition. I want to talk about what it means in the Buddhadharma sense.

So samādhi usually gets translated as "concentration." I'm not particularly fond of that word. To me, concentration implies kind of squeezing something very small into a small area. So we talk about concentrated laundry detergent or whatever. It's a lot of stuff in a very small area. And that doesn't really give a sense of what samādhi means.

Samādhi is more the collectedness of mind, a collectedness of mind, a gathered mind, a mind gathered, unified together. So collectedness, unification -- I quite like the translation "depth of meditation," "depths of meditation." Without measuring, necessarily, just a sense of deepening, that depth that one can come to.

And this samādhi, this depth, this unification is actually a lifelong exploration. It's not something we sort of, you know, calm down with the breath on the first day of retreat or whatever, and then forget about it. It's actually a lifelong thing, ongoing part of our spiritual journey, spiritual practice. Ongoing exploration of the depths of consciousness, the possibilities of consciousness. Ongoing exploration of the way that perception can change and open out and expand.

In having that thread through our life, ongoing exploration, it opens the being. There's a receptivity there. There's a rest there, a deep rest in the being. It allows us to be more available to others. Because of this samādhi, because of this restfulness, because of this depth, we're actually more available to others, more available to ourselves, and more available to life. And brings with it, on this journey of samādhi, brings with it fresh perceptions, fresh discoveries on the path.

So when we talk about samādhi, this collectedness, this unification, this depth, there's actually a whole range of states which we could kind of delineate, or we could talk about a continuum. It's probably simpler right now to talk about a continuum: just a range of the mind deepening and getting more collected, more gathered.

When the Buddha was asked, "What is right samādhi?", he would actually delineate what's called the eight jhānas. These are very specific states of deepening concentration. I'm actually not going to go into that in this talk. And within the tradition, just historically, within the Buddhist tradition since the Buddha's time, there's quite some argument about whether these are important, whether they're necessary. And so some people very much think they're absolutely necessary. Some people think they're irrelevant. And you know, the whole range in between. [4:35] But I think everyone would agree, all Dharma practitioners would agree that samādhi in the general sense is important, some kind of deepening of the mind, collecting of the mind. Almost everyone agrees on that.

As I said, I want to talk in quite a general way, and we can talk generally -- again, when people talk about samādhi, usually what's meant is taking one object for the mind and keeping the mind with that one object. So for instance, the breath or the mettā or compassion or body sensations, whatever. But I'd like to actually broaden it. Some people here on this retreat will be just interested in working with the breath, just staying with the breath. Some people are doing mettā practice and compassion practice, and then that's their one object, and returning to that. Some people will be wanting to do vipassanā, and then usually, the traditional way is a balance of developing some calmness with the breath and exploring what's unfolding, and then regathering the mind, regathering the attention with the breath again, and exploring, and moving between.

So we can still see that, for that kind of practice, samādhi is also important. It has a crucial role there. Some people just sit right down -- there's no place where they gather the attention. It's just an open attentiveness, just sitting, just alive, just present. But I would say also that the word samādhi in a general sense applies to that kind of practice as well.

What do I mean? Usually, when we're doing vipassanā or just in daily life, the mind is moving, but it's actually moving in an unskilful relationship with what comes up: "When is this going to end? How can I get that back? Or what does it mean about me? What does it mean about my practice? I want this, I'm trying to hang on to it, I'm trying to push this away." All of this -- very normal sort of human responses to things -- actually, we could say, is an unskilful relationship. So sometimes when we're doing vipassanā, we're just trying to be mindful, trying to be aware, but the mind is actually involved in unskilful relationships with things.

When the relationship with things begins to become more balanced -- less clinging, as I was talking about a little bit in the talk on vedanā the other day -- then we can talk about a samādhi happening in a more open sense, in a more general sense. We're calming the struggle we have with the moment, with our experience, with life. And the whole being begins to calm, begins to become steady, become collected. We can talk about a kind of open samādhi. The mind feels open, the awareness is open, and our relationship with things is not entangled. So collectedness, unification, depth.

Another important aspect of samādhi is what we might call refinement. So what does that mean? It means the mind and the attentiveness gradually, slowly, becoming just a little bit more subtle, and just a little bit more sensitive. So that refinement, this subtlizing of the mind, is a part of what samādhi is. And the deeper one goes with the samādhi, in a way the more refined the mind is.

So if you're working with the breath -- one of my first teachers used to say the breath is actually a very good object for meditation, because it has the capacity to become very subtle. And sometimes -- some of you might have experienced already -- when, sometimes, in meditation, the breath can just become almost barely there. And then the mind, the attention, has to become correspondingly subtle, has to follow the breath down like that. And so the mind and the attention is automatically becoming subtle to follow. And there's this refinement and the natural samādhi of the refinement. [9:30]

Breath is also useful because we can energize the body with the breath. Taking long, deep breaths actually energizes the body, brings energy. When we talk about samādhi, it's not just refinement and, say, calmness. It's a balance of being energized and being refined and calm. They deepen together. The breath -- very useful.

But similarly, as I was talking, in a sort of more open vipassanā practice, as we begin to struggle less with our experience in the moment, there is this kind of calming. And because of the calmness, there comes a refining and a settling and a subtlizing, a subtlety to what's going on.

So human beings are extraordinary in our capacity to develop skills, to work at skills and develop skills. If we just, you know -- it only takes a moment reflection to see -- amazing range of skills that a human being could develop if they chose to. Some of you may know the Guinness Book of Records, and it's like -- it's quite bizarre what some people devote their time to being able to do. And some of it's very beautiful, you know, like playing a musical instrument -- great skill and really a gift, actually, to humanity. Or even, I would actually say beautiful football can -- it's a lovely skill that humanity is capable of developing.

We have to ask ourselves: we have limited time on this planet, limited energy, limited resources. What is a skill worth developing? You know, you can get really good at Space Invaders or Nintendo, but at the end of the day, so what? So what? Learning to deepen in samādhi, learning to collect the mind, to unify the mind -- hugely beneficial, hugely worthwhile in our life, a real gift to ourselves, to others, to the planet, through our life.

We often underestimate the importance of that, of learning that skill, the power of it and the significance of it. Buddha -- countless times speaking about developing samādhi, countless times. So often emphasizing its importance. Actually, also talked about the path of vipassanā to awakening, the path of love and compassion to awakening, and what's much less known is the path of samādhi to awakening. That actually, in itself, it's something that can lead all the way to awakening.

It's interesting, historically, there's been a sort of, a little bit pushing away of this sense of samādhi, of the importance of it in the West. Or else turning it into this sort of very concentrated sense, very microscopic kind of awareness, which is also -- I mean, it can be useful, as I said the other day in a talk. But it's also something that, I think, as far as I'm aware, you could look through the entire collection of the Buddha's discourses, and he doesn't once describe samādhi as this kind of microscopic focus.

But I think it's changed now. People are beginning to realize -- we are collectively beginning to realize the enormous well-being that can come from samādhi, from collecting the mind, from deepening. Enormous healing. Enormous healing for the being there. The quality of life -- sense of actually being more alive, feeling more alive, living more fully, sense of awe in our life. And this kind of steadiness it brings. So anyone who's, for example, involved in service work, or involved in long creative projects, creative projects that take time -- you know, writing a book or whatever it is, a symphony or something -- how much steadiness of mind that needs to stay with the process when it gets tough! [14:08]

And then there's an enormous amount of insights that come from samādhi. In itself -- it brings insights in itself. It also provides, we could say, the most fertile soil, the best conditions for insights to flower, to grow. It's the prime conditioning of the mind, is this kind of calming and opening and collecting.

Also, what's very interesting and very noticeable as one goes deeper in practice is that -- I'm sure, actually, we've all experienced this, having been on retreat before -- go for a week or whatever it is on retreat, and it feels like, "Oh, I really saw this thing. I really understood impermanence," or "I really understood this pattern I keep getting into, personality pattern, and feel great. Okay, I've had that insight." And then we walk out the door, and maybe even before we've got home, it's all just gone. Or a little while later, it just seems to evaporate. Somehow, the insight wasn't rooted deeply enough in the soil of the being. One of the amazing functions of samādhi is it roots the insights that we have, so that they actually become living, functioning, practical parts of our life, our being -- not just abstract, not just mental, not just something that comes and then we forget.

So in the very beginning sense of samādhi, just, for instance, having a daily practice, or just turning up to the sitting, doing the walking, sitting, walking, sitting, walking -- that kind of steadiness, that kind of steadiness of our commitment -- in some strange way, it finds its way into the being, and it begins to, like, percolate through the rocks, and gives our life, our being, a sense of steadiness -- slowly, gradually, just a little bit, a sense of steadiness. With that steadiness comes some strength. Not a rigid strength, but a pliable strength. And generally, samādhi brings this steadiness and strength. Returning to the meditation object, staying with the meditation object, returning to mindfulness -- there's a steadiness and strength that comes with that. Just in the most basic sense, it begins to come.

Anyone who's been practising a little while, or even who's just committed in their life to living with awareness, living with honesty, living with kindness, living, questioning life, challenging themselves, looking at the problems of life -- anyone at all committed to that will say, "This is not at all easy. This is not at all easy." How much strength we need for that journey! How easy it is for things to become difficult, and we kind of keel over. We don't have strength. Samādhi gives a beautiful, deep, pliable strength to the being. [17:39]

So the Buddha would often talk about samādhi, and then one day, someone asked him: "Okay, well, what causes samādhi? What's the most significant thing, the significant cause for samādhi?" And he didn't skip a beat, and he said, "Happiness." Which is an odd answer at first. It's an odd answer: happiness leads to the mind collecting and calming and deepening.

Now, certainly it's true, without question, that samādhi leads to happiness. There is this sense of well-being, of -- yeah, really, happiness that comes as the mind deepens and collects. And the Buddha's saying it's the other way around as well, that a certain amount of sense of happiness is actually required for the mind to settle down. So what does this mean for us here, now, today? [18:40]

I feel that very much what it means is to let in, into our practice, into our time here, really a sense of appreciation, if possible -- appreciation for ourselves, for showing up, for doing the practice, appreciation for those around us, their steadiness, their commitment, appreciation for all the work that goes into running Gaia House, the beautiful place we have here, the opportunity, gratitude. Some people, the happiness is because they're actually letting in, opening to the love they have of being in a Dharma community, listening to the teachings. There's a love of the Dharma, and there's a real happiness that comes from that, a real, deep nourishment.

I hope for all of us, there's a receptivity, deep receptivity to nature. You know, I've been living here a while now, and it never fails to blow my mind, how beautiful and what a lovely setting. And I can't hear anything now. Silence, nature. As part of the retreat, the being opens to that. The being opens to that, and we feel nourished and touched by that. Some people, the simplicity, this is happiness-inducing. Generally, though, some receptivity is very much a part and a foundation of our practice -- ongoing -- so that there is just a basic sense of happiness on which our practice and the samādhi can be based.

So with practice, with commitment, our samādhi, our practice begins to deepen. This totally does not happen in a linear way -- completely not. It's not that there's this smooth and unimpeded ascent into the luminous depths of the being, and you just kind of sit back and watch it all go -- never, never. It has to be wavy, this process. But it does begin to deepen in a very gradual and slow and non-linear way. And I think yesterday Christina may have spoken a little bit about the hindrances -- so these waves, basically, as it's deepening, the hindrances to samādhi, to calming. I won't say too much about that, except a big part of deepening in meditation is learning to accept these waves. Huge, huge and necessary part, learning to accept them, because they will almost definitely be with us for the rest of our lives, coming and going, coming and going, in one form or another. To learn to accept them, to learn to work with them. And I'm not going to go into that here, but there are specific tools in relation to each of the five hindrances that we can really learn: "Oh, this one, okay, I have my little toolbox for the hindrances," and that's completely appropriate.

That's one of the things that we develop when we mature in meditation, as we mature in meditation -- just a range of tools for working with the hindrances. Sometimes we try and work with them, nothing works, and we just see them out: "I know what's going on. It's one or maybe all five hindrances, and just, okay, I'm clear, I'm just seeing this out. I'm surfing this wave." That's what's needed. [22:50]

What also develops with maturity of practice is, hindrances still come up; what happens less, though, is that we get taken for a ride by them less. We get pulled by them less. So we're sitting or walking or just around our day, and there's craving suddenly, for something or someone or whatever it is, or aversion. How quickly, unprotected, we start then pumping the hindrance full, injecting it, mainlining it full of our story, our history -- "Oh, it's been like this since, you know, and then with my parents, and their parents" -- and our whole life story, and how it's going to go on forever, and the whole nine yards of it.

With maturity -- again, slowly, gradually -- we learn to just see, "It's just a hindrance. I don't need to pump it full of all this stuff and kind of inject more life into it." Just see: "Oh, it's the hindrance of ... doubt," whatever it is, and just recognize that much, and either work with it or sit it out, but not give it life. So we don't give it life by getting our story so hooked up in it.

We also don't take it so personally. Hindrances are part of the human condition. Absolutely, they are part of the human condition. They are part of what it is to have a human consciousness. Can we see that? It's just this stuff happening. It's just waves happening in the ocean. I don't actually need to start judging my practice. I don't need to take it personally: "I bet my neighbour on the cushion next door does not have this." I don't need to get into all that. It's just human. I don't need to take it personally. [24:53] Can I respond with kindness, because hindrances are basically suffering? They're difficult, and they're human. Can I respond to it with kindness, or find a way to respond to it with kindness instead of reacting to it?

So when we talk about samādhi, especially in the sense of staying with one object (like the breath, or like the mettā, or like the compassion, or whatever it is), especially when we talk about it in that sense, it can often be that people have objections to that, to even that process -- that a tightness comes with it. Or that there's a goal-orientation involved in it, and a striving involved in it. Or that we'll get attached to it, we'll get attached to this calmness or the refinement or the collectedness or the depth. Or that actually what's happening when we're involved in samādhi, we might be suppressing some emotion, some very important emotion that's necessary to feel.

So all of these, you know, very thoughtful responses to meditative life, I'd like to go into them a little bit. So actually, sometimes what happens, a person starts practising with one object -- the breath, or the mettā -- says, "I want to do this," then after a while, feels tight. The being has kind of got -- feels like "ugh," got tight around the whole process. "This isn't that nice. I think I'll let that breath go, let all that go, don't try and do anything with that, and just go to a sense of open awareness. I'll just be with what is. That's what I'll do." And then one does that, and it's like, "Oh! Lovely." There's a relief. You know, lovely, because you're not trying to stay with one thing. [27:14]

Now, what I don't want to do in this talk is say anyone has to do one practice or anything like that. That's really not my way, and it's certainly not the Gaia House way. Just to say there's a range of approaches in meditation. Ānanda, who was the Buddha's cousin and attendant, after the Buddha died, he sort of became quite a senior figure. And so he was speaking one day, and he said, "Of everyone that's come to me and declared themselves fully enlightened, an arahant -- of everyone who's come to me and said that, they've either said, 'I practised samādhi first, and then I did vipassanā,' or 'I did vipassanā first, and then I did samādhi,' or 'I developed the two ongoing -- side by side at the same time.'" Basically, those are the three options, in other words. [laughter]

What's being said here -- and I certainly see it for myself in my own practice -- a balance over one's lifetime. Sometimes we'll be, "I'm just being with what is. I'm just doing that more open sense of vipassanā." Sometimes, "I'm really exploring the samādhi and the depth that comes that way." But to see -- in a way, what I want to paint is a little bit of a bigger picture. It's completely appropriate to make a choice at a certain time, either one or the other, or both at the same time, but just to see the bigger picture -- that in a lifetime, we want to kind of balance these two. We really want to balance these two. There's as much freedom, I feel, that can come out of samādhi, as there is that can come out of vipassanā. And in the end, they blend. They're indistinguishable as it goes deeper.

(1) So, we're practising, and we feel this tightness. How can we deepen the samādhi, how can we deepen the practice and work with this tightness, or actually not even really get that tight? It's a really important question, because in samādhi, or another ingredient of the mix of samādhi, is a kind of softness. It's not a hard, narrow, closed state. There's a kind of tenderness to it, a softness to it. And tightness is not going to produce that. So somehow we have to find a way of working that's not tight.

So, slightly bigger mindfulness -- we can still work with one object, if that's what we're doing, the mettā or breath or whatever. But slightly larger picture. So foreground, background, slightly bigger picture, bigger mindfulness, including the whole sense of the whole body. To be aware of the body and aware in the moment, in the sort of background of the awareness, the general awareness, "What is my emotional relationship with the practice right now? Am I over-tight? Am I frustrated? Am I angry? Am I bored? Am I disinterested? Am I balanced? Am I open? Am I soft?" This awareness of, "What is the emotional relationship with what's going on right now?" It's a key factor to be aware of.

In the bigger space of the body awareness, we can feel the tightness when it comes up. We actually feel it in the body. There's a certain tightness that creeps into the musculature. We can actually feel it with this larger awareness, and just relax it. Just keep relaxing it. [31:26]

One of my early teachers used to say, "Get the whole body involved." So working with the breath, he would say, "Get your legs involved. Are your legs breathing?" [laughs] I remember hearing another teacher more recently saying, "That's ridiculous. You don't have any tubes in your leg. How can you breathe?" And that's true, but actually if one's careful and has a more sensitive attention to the whole body, you can feel the breath energy move in the legs. Or if you're just working a small area with the breath, there's still this sense of the whole body and the background awareness. The whole body is included, including the legs, including everything. Whole body is involved with the breath.

Or with the mettā: again, sometimes we station the attention in the heart -- you know, very obviously the seat of the mettā -- but actually, get the whole body involved, so that there's this sensitivity to the whole body. The Buddha said, "Sensitive to the whole body," so that as the mettā or the compassion practice deepens, actually the whole body begins to radiate this mettā. The whole body begins to be covered with this sense of mettā.

Or again, you know, vipassanā practice, to have the whole body involved. So there's this sense of the whole body sitting. We can take up looking at this object or that object or whatever it is, or a more general sense. But the whole body is involved. As samādhi deepens, it really needs this whole body sense. It becomes very key. One of the keys to the samādhi actually deepening is this sense and sensitivity to the whole body.

So if we want to develop this collectedness of mind, it's really not a matter of, "Right, I'm going to do this. I'm going to roll up the sleeves," and you grit your teeth and, "grrrrrr," and you know, boring a laser-beam hole in the breath. It's not going to work, basically. Do we have, as part of our emotional climate, do we have kindness in relationship to what's going on? Kindness to ourselves -- hugely important. And just to check in: am I being kind with myself in the process?

Sometimes there will be tightness. Absolutely, there will be tightness in the process of samādhi deepening. But it's okay. In a way, it's just a wave. It's okay. We can work with it. I was talking to someone a little while ago. They weren't on retreat, but in their everyday practice, they were just complaining of this sense of tightness. And they actually figured out for themselves very soon after we had spoken -- "What happened when I just accepted, 'Oh, it was just tightness,' and I was caught in this struggle of, 'It needs to go away.' And when I just said, 'Oh, it's just tightness,' there could be the acceptance of it," and actually, the whole thing could gently dissolve and move into another level.

So the bigger picture: we're aware of our bodies, we're aware of the emotional relationship we have with what's going on, especially the question of effort. So this also -- very important, and can become very subtle. Am I trying too hard? Am I trying not hard enough? It's very delicate, almost like pedals on a -- well, car is too gross an analogy, but some very delicate play of pedals with the effort.

Can also, related to this, move between working in a very sort of probing way with the attention -- so if we're working with the breath, the attention can really probe the breath, can really, like, focus in like that. Or it's, almost, metaphorically, like one's almost sitting back and just receiving the breath, receiving it. It's a more receptive mode. Awareness is, in a sense, sitting back just to receive the breath. So there's a sort of probing and a receiving. Can be very skilful to work with these two, to have some sense of these two and what's appropriate at different times. [36:11]

But this also goes for a vipassanā practice. So sometimes, we're really probing one object. Sometimes, as I was saying the other day, we're working with a much more spacious sense -- awareness is just receiving what's arising, and allowing, receiving and allowing.

Again, with the mettā or the compassion practice, we can feel like we are giving love, or that the love is kind of imbuing the space, or that we are receiving love as well. So if you're doing mettā, is that part of what's going on, that there's receiving? Even when one's giving to another being, one's also receiving that climate. So more directed, and more receiving. These kind of -- you know, in a very graceful way, to move between these emphases, these poles in practice.

If we get too tight, what can happen is it's like squeezing the mind, and it actually leads to more thought, leads to more restlessness. Paradoxically, we try too hard, and actually, more thought comes. So I'd say, sometimes it's like you've got a banana skin, and you're squeezing it too tight, and the banana just goes flying out. The mind, actually -- it's too slippery, start drifting. If we're too loose in the approach, generally, kind of a dullness will creep in -- slight sinking, you know, something akin to sloth and torpor. So this whole question of effort and tightness is a very delicate question, to be explored and played with. Tightness.

(2) Second possible question people could have about this is about goals: "I thought we weren't supposed to have any goals. I thought, spiritually, we were letting go of all that." Or "I don't want to have any goals." Again, can we bring our wisdom, our reflective mind to bear on this question? Because it's very important. Is it realistic to say, "I'm not going to have any goals"? What would that mean? Life is full of goals. Can we actually learn to have an okay relationship with goals?

You know, on a very mundane level, at 12:30 every day, the lunch bell goes. And then in the next forty-five minutes, it's most people's goal to sort of toddle along to the lunch hall and get their lunch. Is that really a big deal? And then the food is on the plate, and my goal is, "This mouthful is going to find its way from the plate into the mouth." You know, it's a goal. What's the big deal?

On another level, anyone involved in a committed relationship -- a marriage, or a partnership, or even a committed friendship -- how much work that takes! You know, how much effort, how much time. Back to question of tightness: sometimes this isn't easy, yet it's not a problem. Sometimes, people say, "I don't want to have any goals, because that's dualistic, and I'm into non-duality," or whatever. And again, oftentimes it's -- sometimes it's coming from a place that actually lacks integrity. It's true. But sometimes, it's really coming from a place of integrity. But to bring the wisdom in. Sometimes, you know, we talk about non-duality -- it's actually not quite understood. There's a whole different understanding, a much fuller and deeper understanding of non-duality that comes when the samādhi has developed. The direction of samādhi is actually into non-duality. That's the direction it's moving. It looks the opposite at first. It's actually moving into non-duality.

And when people talk about non-duality, often they're still talking in the realm of self and the world of things and states, and "all states are equal." But deep understanding of non-duality, there are actually no states. There are no things. There's not even awareness. It goes much deeper. It's rare that that level of understanding non-duality will be understood without the commitment to samādhi. It's a whole different understanding when there's some degree of samādhi and then letting go after that, rather than just saying, "Forget the whole thing." It's a whole different understanding. [41:23]

(3) So there's the potential problem of tightness; of goals and striving; attachment. So again, often people say, and you often hear it from teachers too: "You'll get attached. Don't do too much of that, because you'll get attached." And it's interesting, you know, sometimes, that message goes out, or we think that, "I mustn't get attached in meditation, mustn't get attached to my meditation." Yet we barely raise an eyebrow, barely blink at our attachment, say, to tasty food. It doesn't even register. Or that we want a nice house to own or to live in or whatever. And sometimes, the same people saying "Don't get attached" are quite happily attached to these other areas, and it's kind of okay.

I sometimes say to people, if there is a pleasure coming from some settling in the mind, from some calming, actually really to let oneself enjoy it. So big -- you know, big flashing neon: "ENJOY, ENJOY, ENJOY." [laughter] Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of this, because we don't; almost like, "Well, I shouldn't." So this flashing neon, it's like the inner Las Vegas. [laughter] Actually, it's much nicer than Las Vegas.

One of my teachers, Ajaan Ṭhānissaro, has been a monk for thirty-something years in Thailand and in California. And he said to me, "Rob, don't worry about that. Get attached. Get attached. Go on, go ahead and get attached."

I went, "... Really?"

He said, "Yeah, get attached," because samādhi does not lead to attachment. If one keeps working at it, it does not lead to attachment. By its own nature, it leads beyond itself. It just deepens and leads beyond itself.

So slowly, gradually, as I said, in a non-linear way, we begin, the mind begins to settle down, to find some calmness, some collectedness, some samādhi. We begin to be less enticed by these stories, proliferation of things. All the issues and everything just begin to be less alluring. Samādhi is actually an acquired taste, like, I'm told, caviar is an acquired taste. So samādhi's a bit like that. Sometimes it's like, it's really lovely not to go chasing all these issues all the time. And slowly, gradually, we begin to get a feel for it, so that it can be, and people have regularly reported, "Oh, no need. You know, I can just let that thought go. No need sometimes to even finish a thought. Thought's around -- I just, halfway through the thought, do I really need to go to the end of this?" I mean, if your mind's anything like mine, how interesting are most of the thoughts? Most of it is rubbish. Most of it we've thought a million times before. Do I really need to even finish this? You just see: I can just drop it. [44:59]

Or you're doing the walking meditation outside, and someone is leaving to go for a walk, or someone is getting in their car, or a car is arriving. And sometimes you can catch this pull: "Who is it? What's going on?" Does it really matter? Is it going to make any difference? Sometimes, if there's enough mindfulness, it can actually catch that movement -- rather, that intention for the movement. You just stay. It actually doesn't make any difference. One loses the appetite for all this being involved in everything. [45:30]

Again, slowly, gradually, it can deepen. Now, what can happen for some people -- for some people, sometimes, what can happen is what's called pīti. So it's another Pali word, pīti, usually translated as "rapture." This is basically any kind of pleasant feeling in meditation that's associated with meditation. Could be extremely strong waves of bliss and ecstasy and whatever, could be just the barest sense of pleasantness, of tingling, of lightness, of warmth, of something rising, of openness. Any kind of pleasant sensation in the body, either in some area of the body or in the whole body, that can come from the meditation, that's called pīti. Can happen, but I don't want to set up any, you know, huge arena for attachment here, but it can happen sometimes for some people, this pleasantness with meditation. [46:53]

Why does it happen? It's interesting. Or how does it happen, I should say? What allows it to happen? Because it turns out to be quite a significant -- not only is it very nice and very enjoyable, and suddenly we're really interested in meditation when it's there, but it's very much a part of the whole process deepening. So partly, we can think -- I mean, oftentimes the most common way -- I don't know if it's more common, but a regular way that it happens is just through staying with the object, just through staying with the breath, with the mettā, whatever it is. There's almost like, the mind and the object, there's a kind of rubbing up against, repeatedly, and it builds the energy that way, and the energy manifests as pīti. Or the mind is gathering energy through not being scattered. So instead of throwing the energy out everywhere, the mind is gathering its energy, and then it manifests in this lovely way in the body.

Sometimes pīti is translated as "interest." So there's a real interest in the practice. Sometimes it just comes because there's a lot of energy in the practice. Sometimes, and I think a very significant factor, going back to what I was saying before, is the kind of openness of the being, the openness, the receptivity to nature, to being here, to just an emotional openness. One is emotionally open. That kind of openness opens the energy channels in the being, so to speak, and the pīti can flow.

Saying again what I said before, the openness of being here has a lot to do with the pīti. Non-entanglement, when the mind is not entangled with things, that's one of the conditions for the pīti to arise. Now, again, there's a range of practices, so it's possible to just -- if pīti arises, fine. It's just one more thing, and I just see it's impermanent, it comes and goes, not me, not mine, it's just another thing, be aware of it, let it go. Completely fine practice in the context of one way of doing vipassanā, absolutely fine.

But you also have a choice to kind of gently encourage and nurture that energy, and allow it. And it's a kind of gateway to something much deeper, the pīti. I won't go into it, but happiness and joy and stillness, peacefulness and all that. So that's one possibility, is just to really let the being enjoy and open to this, if it's there, when it's there, and gently encourage that. [50:01]

Sometimes when there's a sense of pīti, or even not -- the mind is just calming down, settling down a bit -- for some people, a fear comes up, can come up. It's quite common. Not everyone, but it's quite common. We're in new territory. The mind, the awareness is in new territory, unknown waters. And so it might actually be there's quite some pleasantness, even, and at the same time, there's some fear.

If that happens, know that you can trust this. And is it possible to just gently incline the awareness towards the pleasantness rather than the fear? So not pushing away the fear; just gently towards the pleasantness, if this is what's going on. And the mind feels reassured by the pleasantness, and can just move gently into the new territory, and feel that it can trust it. Of course, if the fear is very strong, then you'll have to open to that and explore that.

Sometimes what's happening is the sense of self is changing from our normal, everyday, enclosed sense of self. Sometimes it just begins to really soften. And this can be, for some people, very unsettling. Some people, it even brings up, just hearing about it brings up the fear of death, even. It's like we're losing the self. And just to know that it can be trusted, and has a huge part in shaking up our sense of self. So the very samādhi, the very change in the sense of self then begins to shake up the whole sense of ego, sense of self. We're opening up into a different sense of self. Who am I when the sense of self is actually quietened? I can't rely on my definitions, or on my usual busy personality. My whole sense of self is challenged and questioned. So huge insight possible. [52:28]

When we talk about samādhi, just to say, I think it should have love in it. Love is kind of another factor of the mind gathering together and opening and deepening this way. So that's why this openness is important as a sort of ongoing foundation of our practice. Love -- as I said, kindness for the self, loving-kindness towards others, towards nature, towards all things, mixed with the samādhi. It should have that quality of love in it -- even just a little bit. And this quality of receptivity. So hopefully that's part of what's going on.

If it doesn't, sometimes -- and I have seen -- it's possible for people to go, very deep levels of samādhi, very, very deep, but somehow it doesn't have this love in it, and it doesn't have that receptivity. Then -- and I've also seen -- something happens. Some major life crisis, or some situation, or some physical illness happens, and everything crumbles. It all goes out the window. Person has nothing to draw on, even might just completely stop practising, lose their relationship with the whole path. Why? Because they were somehow going through all these states, and it was not somehow shot through and imbued with this quality of love. So a really full and transforming samādhi has to have this quality of love in it.

(4) So I want to talk, just finally and briefly, about the fourth question about samādhi that people sometimes have, about, "Am I suppressing, might I be suppressing some emotions here?" Really, in my own mind, what I wanted to do was give a pair of talks, of which this is the first one, and the second one hopefully will be about emotional healing. So just, in a way, to present a broader picture, and what is involved emotionally, we'll go into that another time. But there's this question of, "If I'm concentrating on one thing, or if I'm quieting the mind in this way, and not a lot is coming up, is it possible that I'm suppressing my true emotions, my true feelings? Is it possible that's going on?"

This is a really important question. It's often coming from a person's genuine care and integrity, to ask this question. And oftentimes what happens is, we say, "Yes, I can, therefore I need to be really careful with the samādhi and actually not really go there, because I want to remain open with the emotions and to what might present itself and come through." But I think -- and partly what I wanted to talk about emotionally -- it's a very complicated question. This whole area of what actually heals us emotionally is a very multifaceted question. It's not an easy question. And so just to be slow with answering this question for ourselves, to be quite delicate and not rush into an answer. Certainly, is it possible we're suppressing emotions? Yes, it's possible. It's absolutely possible. But it's also possible that's actually not what's going on.

So I remember quite some years ago, practising in a meditation centre in America -- wasn't on retreat, was just there for an evening -- and sitting half an hour in meditation or whatever it was. There was some degree of samādhi, nothing major -- you know, no jhāna or anything like that; just some degree of samādhi. And I had been in a period of my life where there was a lot of anger coming up, really a lot of anger, waves of anger in relationship to someone that I had a working relationship with, who ... it was very complicated, but there was really some wrongdoing there -- you know, a lot of anger on my part -- and not just to me but to other people, in a quite criminal way, actually. So lots of waves of anger.

And I was experiencing this and allowing it. In this sitting, half an hour, some samādhi, some collectedness, thought of this person came up. Usually the anger would have just gone -- "All this anger, and I open to it, and I be with it." Instead, what happened -- just the thought came up, just a moment's "hmm." Nothing happened, and it just died. Nothing came from that moment. Nothing came out of that moment.

This made such an impression on me, because I had been very much from the point of view of, "I am sitting on a volcano of anger here. I've just got to be patient and let this stuff come out," and that's how I was working. And I saw: when there was samādhi, actually, that's not what happened. [58:02] Very interesting.

So similarly, on retreat a little while ago here, a yogi was saying, we were talking about this, and I suggested, "When there's calmness, just drop in these issues to the samādhi. There's some degree of samādhi -- drop in these issues that are, you know, driving you bonkers, basically. Just drop them into the quiet and see." And she came back next interview. She said, "There was some quiet. I dropped them in. Nothing happened." Nothing happened. And also for her it was a major, like -- our emotional storms, our upheavals need certain conditions. They're not "there" somewhere in this invisible psyche, waiting, pre-packaged, really to sort of present themselves full-blown. We're not sitting on that.

Again, I want to go into this another day. It's not that simple. I think sometimes we are sitting on stuff, but just to say a point about the samādhi today: it needs certain conditions. And if the conditions are not there, if a certain agitation of mind is not there in the present, this storm, this big emotion cannot actually come up. Our issues are empty in themselves. They don't exist in themselves.

Sometimes we need to see this over and over. For me, it made a huge impression, because I'd been working so much for so long in the other way, but oftentimes we just need to see this over and over. Usually, and very understandably, we tend to think of samādhi as "doing something," so kind of feverishly, we're trying to hold this calmness together, and hold this collectedness of mind. It's understandable that we would think that. It seems like a lot of work. We're doing, doing. It's a doing.

With practice, and sometimes it takes a lot of practice, what we begin to see is that samādhi is actually a doing less and less. It's doing less and less. It's actually injecting less and less into our experience -- all the way that we basically inject nothing. We inject nothing, and nothing comes up. And actually, not even nothing comes up. [laughs] We're making less and less through samādhi. It's the opposite. It's not what it seems to be at first. With this making less and less, we're actually making less and less self, making less and less problem, making less and less world. And all that making less and less brings with it love. It brings with it mettā naturally, brings with it freedom. We understand that things are actually made -- empty.

This emptiness, when we understand it, that's where the really deep freedom is: seeing that the world is constructed. I'm talking about deep, very deep samādhi now, but you can begin to get a glimpse of it, as I said, even with just a little bit. [1:01:30]

So when we talk about emptiness and stuff like that, sometimes we think, "Oh, it's going to be this sudden revelation." But actually, it's just gradual understanding that just deepens and deepens. It's not necessarily sudden. And it's something that's very real, very possible, very available to us. So not at all abstract or for someone else -- very available to all of us.

Okay. Shall we just sit for a minute together?

Sacred geometry
Sacred geometry