[0:00, guided meditation begins]
If you want to come into a posture that's comfortable, if you're not already in one. Again, the posture really reflecting this sense of uprightness, of wakefulness, of alertness, but also very much a sense of ease and openness. Not rigid, but soft. Feeling yourself settling into that posture. Feeling the balance of it. Feeling the uprightness, the openness of it.
If you want, taking a few moments and just scanning down the body, releasing any obvious areas of tension. Connecting with the sensations of sitting, sensations of contact with the cushion, with the chair, with the bench. The sensations of contact with the floor. And just aware of the body as a whole.
When you're ready, bringing the awareness down, stationing the awareness in the lower abdomen, an inch or two below the navel, and to the left, an inch or two to the left. Just roughly in that area. And feeling, or imagining even, the breath energy coming in and out from that area, into that area and out of that area.
Can you feel into what is the most comfortable, most enjoyable breath to come in and out there? Is it a long breath or a short breath? Coarse or subtle? Rough or smooth? What's the most pleasurable way of breathing into that area, into that point? Feeling free to experiment, to play with the breath.
How does it feel? Just a very delicate sensitivity, without forcing it, without bearing down on it. How does it feel in the rest of the body, with the breath coming in and out there? What do you notice?
How does it feel up the left-hand side of the torso? Very delicate, the attention. How does it feel down the left leg, breathing in and out?
What can you notice in the whole rest of the body?
When you're ready, shifting the station of the awareness, the centre of awareness to a similar point on the right-hand side of the lower belly, and feeling into or imagining the breath energy coming in and out from that area. Is a long breath best, or a short breath best? Coarse or subtle? Rough or smooth? What happens in the rest of the body with the breath energy coming in and out at that point?
Being very light with the attentiveness, very delicate.
[11:06] If you like, moving the centre of the awareness to the centre of the lower belly, a couple of inches below the navel. How does that feel? What happens in the rest of the body? How does the breath want to be? What's the most helpful way of breathing?
Very light with the attention. How does it feel up the front of the body? How does it feel down into the legs? How does the energy feel in the belly itself?
And if you want, moving the centre up into the solar plexus, the sternum, just below the sternum. Centring the awareness there, but sensitive to the whole body, very light, very delicate. What kind of breath is best there? And how does it feel in the whole rest of the body?
If there's any kind of sense of comfort, or pleasure, or enjoyment, really feeling into that, allowing that very much into the mix, into the attention, even if it's very, very quiet, very, very subtle.
Feeling or imagining the breath coming in into the heart centre, a little higher up in the centre of the chest, the upper chest.
If any of these centres feel blocked or somehow constricted in some way, seeing if you can just find a way of breathing in and out there that eases that to some extent, brings some degree of okayness.
How does it feel to breathe into the centre at the base of the throat? And breathe out there? What can you feel in the face, breathing in at the centre of the throat, breathing out there? Very delicate attention. Very light.
[21:46] Is it possible to station the centre of awareness in the middle of the head, the middle of the skull? And the breath expanding and contracting there. Sensitive to the whole body, but stationed in the middle of the head.
What happens if the breath is felt or imagined to come in at the top of the head, into the crown of the head? How does the breath want to be there? Long or short? What can you feel flowing in the rest of the body, perhaps down the body, if the breath energy comes in at the top of the head?
Can you sense or imagine the breath coming in at the top of the spine, the bottom of the neck? Centring the awareness there and open, sensitive to the rest of the body, the whole body. How does it feel in the arms when the breath comes in and out from that point?
If you want, centring the awareness in the upper back. Breath coming in and out at that point.
And then, if you like, stationing the awareness at the base of the spine, right around the tailbone, and the breath energy entering and leaving the body at that point. How does it feel best to breathe there? How does it feel up the spine? Down the legs?
Coming finally to centre the awareness either at the heart centre, or the solar plexus, or the hara, the lower belly, and just stationing the awareness there, sensitive, feeling the whole body breathing with the awareness stationed at that point.
[32:05, guided meditation ends]
In the practice today, if you want to, you can explore what we just did, moving the centre, the station of the awareness, moving it around the body and feeling what it feels like to breathe into and out of different parts of the body, different centres in the body. So you could take a session and you actually move around. It doesn't have to be in any particular order. You could move around the body. Or you could feel free to really sit the awareness in one place and breathe in and out there, with the awareness centred there.
Either one is fine. To move the centre round is fine, and to just sit in one place is fine. They will have different effects, but they're both helpful. So an analogy one of my teachers used is a spider sitting at the centre of her web. That's where the awareness is stationed. And the spider is sitting in the centre of the web, but anything that happens in the whole web, the spider knows it -- anything that comes through, or the wind blows, or it moves. So one's centred somewhere in the body, and knows the whole body. So it's an option.
Also an option -- and I mentioned this before -- is that if there are difficult emotions around, even sadness or anger or something, just feeling free to experiment: is there a way of breathing that makes this okay, makes it easier, easeful? Is there a way I can find of breathing that feels as good as possible? Is there a place somewhere in the body where I can put my attention so I'm not so caught up in that? Being full in the body awareness, so that difficult emotion doesn't take up everything.
So all this is an experiment. And again, as I talked last night, one might think, "Well, if I've got something difficult going on, am I not just suppressing it then?" Can it be regarded as an experiment? So, again, in the broadness of practice, there is what's typically called vipassanā -- we would go into what's difficult. We would come close to and hold the difficult emotion itself, and be with it, and learn from it, and listen to it, open to it. And then there's also great skill, and much to be learnt, from actually not going there. And perhaps as much can be learnt from both. But feeling a freedom to experiment that way.
Okay, at this point I feel I should say: if all this sounds completely crazy, and none of it's making any sense at all, that's completely fine. If you're used to paying attention to the breath at the nostrils or at the abdomen -- and those are two of the more traditional ways of working with the breath: at the nostrils, at the tip of the nose, or at the upper lip, or just inside the nostrils. That's anatomically where the breath comes in and out of the body if you're breathing through your nose. It passes over the skin there, and there's some sensation. There's some delicate sensation there, and one can just station the awareness there, and be very, very delicate and sensitive with the awareness, feeling into the sensation there, and just drawing closer and closer, in a more and more alive and sensitive way, to how the sensation feels there. Or at the lower abdomen, there's a rising with the in-breath and a falling with the out-breath, and again, one can just pay attention to the actual physical sensations there. So those ways of working, nothing to do with energy movements in the body, etc., expansion, contraction, nothing to do with that. But at this point, if you really feel like, "Sorry, none of this is making any sense at all," feel completely free to do that. No pressure; it's just a technique. As I said, samatha is more important than the technique that leads to it, and one doesn't even have to use the breath for samatha.
Okay, so some of you may have seen: I put up almost a blank sheet of interviews. There'll be three group interview meetings today, at 11:45, 3:15, and 4:45. Just with some spaces in each. And please, please, please, just if you have a small question, you can begin to get a sense what a real craft and art all this is. So just if you have a small question. If it feels like it's difficult or there's some difficulty, please come and ask a question, or learn from others there. If it seems like it's going well, that's great. It can always go better! [laughs] There's always more that one can learn. Please just take advantage of that, as it's there. And as I said in the opening talk, there will be people with all kinds of different experiences. Can we, in a way, just let go of the measuring? The measuring stick and the self, and the reticence, and the fear of sharing in a group and speaking in a group -- whether it's because we think our experience isn't good enough or whether we think it's too advanced or whatever. Can we just be human beings practising together? So please, as I said, do take advantage of that.
I'm getting quite a lot of notes and quite a lot of long notes, which is very nice, but being only one of me, and having to be here, it's actually quite hard to answer all the notes. It would be easier if some people just came to the interviews and could speak then.
Are there any questions right now? Hopefully you'll take advantage of the groups, but are there any questions right now?
Q1: awareness in the spider web image
Yogi: It's about the image of the spider in the web, moving the centre. [inaudible] If I'm focusing on my left shoulder, breathing into that, is the idea that that's the centre of the web?
Rob: Say the last bit again. Is it the centre of the web, or is it ...?
Yogi: Does the centre move? Is that what it is, moving around the web? And feeling different parts?
Rob: I suppose you're moving round the web, and the spider's moving round the web. And if you look at spiders, they sit oftentimes just in one part of the web, and they just sit there for ages. So you could be in the left shoulder, and usually what happens, if I, say, pay attention to the left shoulder, it somehow feels as if the awareness is up here [in the head], and it's looking down on the left shoulder. That's a typical sort of feeling. That's fine. Is it possible to somehow actually centre the awareness as much as possible in the left shoulder or the heart centre? So it's almost like there's a sinking of the awareness. From that place, the awareness is more full and aware of everything else.
Yogi: So it's like that becomes the centre of the web?
Rob: In a sense, yeah, that becomes the centre of the web. Okay?
Q2: difficulty breathing through nose
Yogi: Do you have any advice when it's hard to breathe through your nose, you've got a cold or catarrh?
Rob: If it's hard to breathe through your nose and you've got a cold or catarrh? Yeah, two things. One, don't hesitate to breathe through the mouth. If it's really blocked, just open your mouth and breathe through your mouth, no problem at all. If it's not too bad, a little trick I learnt -- I assume it's from the Hindu tradition -- your ring fingers, if you make this mudrā, and press the ring finger into near the top of the thumb, and just keep that for the meditation, it can ease the air passages. It just opens them up a little bit. So that may help. Again, you could just try working with parts, finding part of the body that perhaps it feels right to breathe into with a much gentler breath, and then you're actually moving much less breath, and it's less of a problem, if that makes sense. Even if you've got a very blocked nose, as the mind settles down, the breath can become more subtle, and the blocked nose is actually not a problem, if that makes sense. So there are a few things to play with in there. Is that all right?
Q3: the point of feeling the breath come in and out of different areas of the body
Yogi: [?] to say this, basically: what is the point of this? What's the benefit of it?
Rob: Of which?
Yogi: Of this practice that we've just been doing.
Rob: The guided one just now?
Yogi: I mean that in the nicest possible ...
Rob: Yeah, yeah, sure. For some people, it just maximizes the pleasure and the energy flow, and when that's built, then the mind settles down in a very -- it lends itself to pīti very much; that's all. For others, not.
We talk about mindfulness of the body being the first foundation of mindfulness. What we experience as the body can have a whole different range of ways we can perceive it. And we can perceive it in terms of energy flows and energy movements, and that's a very valid and very helpful way of seeing it, rather than, "Here's my shin bone, and here's this, and here's that," which is also fine. It's just a certain avenue that can open up. A certain sensitivity and openness of energy and pleasure and pīti, etc., can open up from it, for some people.
Q4: working with emotional difficulty or pain in samatha
Yogi: You said to be aware if we come across pain and anger. [?] But could you just repeat [?] ...
Rob: Yeah, okay. Could everyone hear that? In samatha, you could try and find a way of breathing that somehow soothes -- if it's anger, for instance -- that soothes the whole system, that is actually calming down the whole system. It may be the long breath does that. It may be a very, very subtle short breath does that. But finding some way it can soothe. The breath soothes, and then the anger can soothe too. So that's option number one.
Option number two is, if any emotion that we have is reflected somewhere in the body -- so anger, sadness, oftentimes around the chest area, but could be anywhere. In the samatha, seeing if it's possible to find some other place in the body where there's a sense of okayness. There's a sense of, "It's actually not so painful here. It's okay. I can stay here, and just feel like I can settle there."
Sometimes, a third thing to be aware of is when there's difficult emotion, there's a contraction of the space of awareness. So anger, certainly, sadness, fear, all of that -- the very space of awareness shrinks, and to keep re-establishing this whole-body awareness is really helpful as well. So all those three.
But to remember, in the larger view, there's a balance between samatha and vipassanā, and it's never that one would do either one exclusively. It wouldn't be a full enough practice. One wouldn't learn enough about the whole way that emotion works, the whole way emotional healing works, all of that. What I'm exploring these days is just kind of one chunk of samatha, and to kind of hopefully have a bigger picture in one's life about what practice is.
Q5: coming to group interviews without a question
Yogi: For the interview sessions, you encouraged us to come even if we didn't have any questions, just to listen [?]. Unless we don't have questions ... [?]
Rob: So the question was, is it worth coming to the group sessions if you don't have a question? I'd say yes, because there's a tremendous amount to this. There's a lot. You know, I'm really cramming all this information in, and there's way more that I could talk about. Sometimes just a little bit of something, it's just, "Ah, that's something," and it can make a difference. So, absolutely, if you want to. If you'd rather be in the silence ... please check if it's a kind of fear or shyness or whatever. Maybe that's not the best reason not to come. But if it's that you want a bit of entertainment or distraction, maybe that's also not the best reason to come! [laughter] So sometimes it's better just sinking into the practice in the silence. But even if one doesn't have a question, there's a lot that can be learnt there, hopefully, anyway.
Yogi 2: [inaudible]
Rob: Will there be a group on Tuesday? No, there won't be time on Tuesday. What I'll probably do is a question and answer period in here on Tuesday. Yeah, that's probably what I'll do.
Okay, so now is a time for some walking meditation, and a beautiful day today. Just please remember this ground principle of letting in the appreciation, opening the heart to what's here, feeding and nourishing the being that way. So now some time for walking. Next sitting is at eleven.