Sacred geometry

Second Samatha Instructions and Guided Meditation

Date1st April 2007
Retreat/SeriesSamatha Meditation


Most of what I want to say this morning, I've already said here and there at different times, but there's a lot of information on this retreat, so I want to gather that together a little bit, collect it together a little bit. So we have the long breath, and in a way, developing the skill of working with the long breath, making the breath long. Finding some sense of comfort and enjoyment, energizing with the long breath, so that the long breath feels comfortable. Very, very skilful.

And then, after a certain time in the meditation period, when one feels energized and collected with the long breath, then perhaps seeing: what's the best possible breath now? It may be staying with the long breath. It may be a short breath. It may be a very short breath, a much shorter breath. It may be a coarse breath. Maybe it's a subtle breath, maybe a rough breath, maybe a smooth breath. Finding, feeling into that.

It can be that at a certain point with the long breath, when it's comfortable -- you've been with it for some minutes, ten, fifteen, twenty, maybe more with the long breath, and it's comfortable, it's established, and it just feels like the system, the body or whatever, wants to settle into a different breath, a short breath. That movement is not coming out of a discomfort with the long breath or an aversion to it. It's actually quite comfortable, but it just feels like, it's like shifting a gear. But to feel into that, and as I say, find whatever breath it is to work with, whatever breath it is that maximizes the sense of comfort, of pleasure, of enjoyment in the body, in the whole energy system.

Keeping, always keeping a whole-body awareness. Keeping that awareness very full, not letting it shrink. It will shrink, and just re-establishing it to pervade the entire body. And then within that, if it's the expansion of the whole body that one's aware of, and the contraction, the expansion and the contraction, or the whole body being energized, or perhaps one may become sensitive to different currents of energy within the body -- for instance, up the torso, into the face, down the legs, up the spine. There are all kinds of things going on that one can become sensitive to. So any or all of that, even if it's just the expansion and the contraction, or just a sense of energizing, all of that is good. So whatever one can be aware of in the fullness of the awareness of the body.

Sometimes, if the breath feels like it wants to be really, really short, a really, really still breath, rather than -- occasionally, rather than a movement of energy, what one might notice is a kind of stillness. There's a stillness in the body, a lovely stillness, and it's an energized stillness. And in a way, one can be with that. It's not so much a movement of energy, but a stillness of energy. So any and all of that is kind of fair game to, in a way, kind of sink the teeth of awareness into, really get into, to feel into.

Second point: this samatha is a balance of energizing and calming, like I said last night. And we want to respond to this and keep this balance, keep aware of this balance. So we energize, we can energize the body, and we energize the body through the long breath. That's very energizing. We can also, as I've been saying, energize the attention, so really inject that energy, that sensitivity into the attention. Energize the body, and energize the attention. We can also calm the body. The long breath, to a certain extent, should be calming as well. Sometimes making the breath more and more subtle, more and more quiet, more and more still is calming the body, what the Buddha calls calming the bodily formation. And we can also, of course, calm the attention, just by returning over and over to the breath, to the body, keeping it in one place. So energizing and calming happens via the body, and via the attention. And we can play with this. We play with it.

Being aware today in the practice of what I talked about last night, the hindrances. When they're present, when they're absent. They do sometimes just go, and they're not there, and we are free of the hindrances. Just being aware when they're there and when they're not, recognizing: what hindrance is around, when it's around? And seeing it for that. And working with it. Can we respond to the hindrance in a skilful way? Particularly sloth and torpor or restlessness. Really not giving in too much to this nodding. Really work with the long breath, really work with energizing, opening the eyes, brightening the awareness, focusing on the in-breath to energize.

But with any of the hindrances, as I said last night, if possible, as much as possible, dropping the judgment. It's not a statement about oneself, about one's self-worth, about evaluating one's meditation, whether it's a success or failure. It's just human. It's just the conditions coming together, and there's a hindrance, that's all. Less self-judgment. Less story in the hindrance, like I said last night. Less it blowing up into this whole idea of how we want to fix ourselves, or another person, or the world, and how everything should be different, etc. Less story.

I'm just going through a number of points, like I said, collecting together a number of points, most of which I've mentioned already. So the main focus, of course, is the breath and the body, and working with the breath, and working with the attention in the body of the breath. But in a way, in that full, large attentiveness, there's a kind of, what you might call a 'background awareness,' so to speak, and we're aware of our emotional relationship to the practice at any time. So are we getting too tight? Are we becoming irritable? Judgmental? Are we putting too much pressure on ourselves? Getting frustrated? Sometimes you can actually feel that in the body -- a tightness comes into the body, a constriction. So in the fullness of body awareness, being aware of that too. Or perhaps are we too slack? Are we losing interest, and saying, "It's okay to daydream a bit and go into a bit of a fog," whatever, not really that engaged? If we're too tight, perhaps can we relax that a little bit, and a bit more spaciousness in the awareness, a bit more as if awareness is receptive and receiving the breath, it's just receiving the breath? It we're too slack, perhaps this energizing the attention, drawing really close, really intimate, and really sensitive with the breath. So responding to what the present moment is. We're aware of a bigger picture than just the breath and how that feels. There's a bigger picture going on.

So like I said also last night, for whatever reasons, most human beings have this tendency to be sucked into what's difficult in the experience. There's a little bit of a niggling pain or some tension or something, and for some reason, the attention just keeps going there, and it keeps going there, so that this thing festers, and the attention, instead of helping, it's actually festering this thing.

If there's any kind of pleasantness -- even a subtle pleasant, a subtle kind of enjoyment or comfort somewhere in the body in the practice, can we just gently encourage the awareness, the attention to stay there, to settle there, to have a kind of sense of okayness and nourishment there in what is pleasant? And can we allow ourselves to enjoy it, no matter how little or strong that pleasantness is, that enjoyment is? It's quite an interesting thing -- we need to be kind of given an 'okay' sometimes: "Is it really okay to enjoy this? I don't know. It can't be good for me." Really to give oneself a green light to enjoy. It's absolutely, as the Buddha said, "This is a pleasure I will allow myself. This is a pleasure to be pursued, developed, cultivated, not feared." Even if it's subtle, even if it's nothing to write home about. So as I said last night, there can be a hindrance, or some difficulty, and if we look, maybe there's a sense of, somewhere, an okayness, a pleasure as well. Can we, in the samatha practice, just lean the mind over, lean the awareness over to being with what's pleasant, what's okay or just comfortable, rather than obsessed with what's wrong?

Okay, last point, which probably almost everyone has experienced in the course of a meditation retreat. The body sometimes gets uncomfortable -- pain or discomfort through the sitting. This is very normal, very common. So there's a number of ways to work with this in the context of a samatha retreat. (1) Again, when there's, say, a pain in the knee, or the back, or wherever it is, the shoulder, the awareness will tend to just go there and become a little bit obsessed with it and shrink around it. Can we keep trying to establish a whole-body awareness, a spaciousness of awareness, so that we're not sucked into the pain? Sometimes if we have that whole-body awareness, it's almost like the pain just kind of has its place in that. It's a little bit dissolved in that. That's the first option: really whole-body awareness, pervading that awareness through the body, and the breath energy through the body.

(2) Second option, as I've already said: maybe there's pain somewhere, and there's pleasure somewhere else in the body. So a pain in my knee, but maybe around the belly feels fine. Can I just sit with the belly and where it's okay, and not be so dragged? (3) Third option is to actually feel the breath, or even imagine the breath (and this is quite okay), imagine the breath coming into the point of pain. So of course we tend to think, "Well, if I've got a pain in my knee, that's silly, because there are no tubes in my knee to breathe." Of course we think the breath comes in the mouth and the nose, and at one level it does. But actually, when we get into the energetics of breathing, the whole body is actually breathing, energetically. We can imagine, if that's what it takes, or feel the breath coming in at the point of pain, and out at the point of pain, breathing in that way. Experiment with this, and sometimes that can be very, very skilful and very, very helpful.

So, expanding the awareness, sitting the awareness where it's relatively okay, comfortable, breathing into and out of the pain. (4) And the last possibility is breathing through the pain. So in other words, one might be aware of these energy currents with the breath coming in and out. And say, for example, I had a pain in the knee again. The energy current can actually go down the legs, through that point, through the knee point, down the legs, and back up again. Energetically speaking, pain is a constriction of energy, and when we move the energy in this way, we allow the energy to move through it, the pain can open, dissolve a little bit. We can find some comfort.

So just an encouragement to experiment a little bit if there's discomfort in the body, in the practice. Having said all that, it's certainly not an endurance test. We're not giving any medals for machismo and all that. If it's too much, if you've experimented with it and it's still really painful, just move the body. And the body needs to be relatively comfortable for this, for samatha to develop. So just move the body, quietly and mindfully, and be in a new posture for a while, and then perhaps move it back.

[14:41, guided meditation begins]

Okay. If you'd like, if you're not already established in a posture that's comfortable -- a posture of ease, of uprightness. Really having, finding that sense, in the posture itself, of uprightness, of wakefulness. Finding, if possible, as much as possible, also this sense of openness, of softening in the posture, particularly in the chest area. Ease, uprightness, and openness are all somehow balanced in the posture itself.

Taking a moment or two just to scan down the body. Release any obvious areas of tension, just as much as possible for right now.

And just connecting with the sense of the body sitting here, the simple sense of the body, the feeling of the body. Within that, aware of the movement of the breath.

[17:18] And when you're ready, beginning to lengthen the breath, to a really long, slow breath. Not necessarily moving that much air. Just as long and as slow as is comfortable. And working with that long breath for some time, before finding the breath that is most comfortable, most enjoyable. Really keeping the awareness large, filling the body with awareness, filling the body with the energy of the breath. Luminous awareness pervading the body.

[37:50] Pervading the body with sensitivity, bright awareness.

[41:55, guided meditation ends]

Sacred geometry
Sacred geometry