So welcome, everybody. A very warm welcome to all of you, and welcome to Gaia House, and welcome to this retreat. I'm always touched at the beginning of a retreat, no matter how busy I've been beforehand, touched by the sincerity of aspiration and sincerity of what brings people to retreat. I feel it's quite important actually for all of us to, in a way, honour something very beautiful, something very lovely and precious in the movement of a human heart, in the movement of human consciousness, this willingness, this wanting, even, to take time out from the hustle, the bustle, the busyness, the concerns, and to set time aside -- however long or short that is. It's an aspiration, it's a movement, it's a tradition that exists in many different spiritual traditions. We talk about a Sabbath day, in this case a weekend. But to take the time out to, in a way, to look, to stop, to slow down. A human being has a sense, what might I understand a little bit more deeply if I do stop, if I do slow down, if I do look a little bit more deeply? What might I understand about life? And the sense that there is more to understand, there is more to penetrate, to discover, to open to. And this willingness to take the time to stop, to slow down, is very beautiful. It's very honourable. I feel it's actually important for all of us to really honour that in ourselves. And it's what the Buddha would call noble or ennobling.
Okay. So this retreat, as I'm sure you will have realized by now, has a theme, and the theme is equanimity. Equanimity has lots of different meanings in the tradition. One of the meanings, one of the most common meanings, is actually equanimity in relationship to compassion. So compassion is this movement of the heart in response to the suffering in the world, and when the heart that is open and moved by compassion encounters suffering in the world, it trembles with that suffering. The open heart, the empathic heart, is touched by the suffering in the world and wants to respond, wants to move out, to heal, to alleviate the suffering. And that, the totality of that, is what we call compassion -- this empathy, this trembling, and this wanting to heal, wanting to soothe suffering.
In the course of that, in our life and the complexity of our life and all the kind of conditions that come together, we quickly realize that our efficacy is limited. What we can do to help another or others can be very great and it's important that we do that, but it's also limited. And the realization of the kind of balancing of the wish to heal, the balancing of that with the realization of the limitations of my wish to heal and the limitations of my efforts, that's equanimity in relationship to compassion. We could easily spend a whole retreat on that. But that meaning of equanimity is not what we're going to be talking about this weekend. Very, very important as part of the teachings, but not the focus. Rather, the focus of this retreat is equanimity in relationship to all the conditions of life, all the situations and experiences that we find ourself in as a human being, coming and going and changing, sometimes favourable and sometimes adverse. What is it to have equanimity in the face of all of that?
So the Buddha, breaking it down a little bit, talks about what's called eight worldly conditions. These are four pairs of two. They are: praise and blame, success and failure, gain and loss, and pleasure and pain. So you can see these four pairs, and as human beings, we like one pole of that. We like praise. We like success. We like gain, profit, and we like pleasure. And we don't like the other pole. But we are subject to all eight and the moving between all those poles. Our life involves that; we cannot get away from that. What is it to have a kind of unshakeability of heart in the face of all that? What would that be? Just a heart, a consciousness that's unshaken by all that.
Now, I'm aware that many people here, just by the nature of being a fairly big group, there are situations in one's life going on right now, there are conditions in one's life going on right now, that are challenging, that we feel the burden of, that we suffer in relationship to, that we don't feel unshakeable in relationship to. It could be in terms of health, that the body is beginning to lose its strength, its resource. Something is not working in the body the way it used to be. It might have been sudden or it might be gradual. It could be in terms of our relationships -- so there's a parting going on, or a friction in a relationship; two people or more are parting ways, separating. Could be in relationship to work. Could be in relationship to money. Last few weeks or months, really, there's a real volatility around money in the sort of collective consciousness. Can cause some shaking. Or it may not be anything particularly specific, but just a more general sense of not being unshakeable, not having a heart that's unshakeable. Shaking, swaying in response to the moving conditions of life. Very normal, very human. And in a way, the Buddha says to all of that, he says to all of that, it's possible to be peaceful in the face of all that. It's possible to be peaceful. It's possible for the heart to be steady. And it's possible to be free actually no matter what is going on. That's the kind of Buddha's promise. He actually stays very steady with that.
So as human beings, of course, we are subject to all these difficulties, and it's part of the complexity and the difficulty of the human condition. But sometimes, or actually often, we give too much authority to the difficulties that we're going through. We give them too much authority, whether they're physical, mental, emotional or relational or whatever it is. There's something in human consciousness that gives them too much authority. And in a way, we don't quite question that authority fully enough. This is not easy. The Buddha and the path of the Dharma is, in a way, suggesting, very confidently suggesting, that a different relationship is possible with whatever is going on. And not just a different relationship but a whole different view, a whole different way of seeing what's going on. So the Buddha has this visual image for equanimity, and it's a big, thick, square stone slab -- like huge stone, thick slab, eight cubits long. I think a cubit is from your elbow to the tip of your fingers. So eight of those long. Pretty high. And this slab, this block of stone, is sunk into a firm, huge mountainside. Four cubits are sunk in the earth, so half of it is sunk solidly in packed earth, and the other half is above the ground. Whatever the wind kind of throws at it, that stone obelisk or whatever you would call it is unshakeable. It doesn't tremble no matter what the wind does, it's so rooted there. The Buddha says that's what equanimity is like. It's this unshakeability. That's actually a great image. It's a wonderful image and it can be very helpful.
[10:28] Sometimes, though, equanimity has different shades, has different kind of aspects to it. And in a way, an image like that perhaps leaves out the aspect of something like flexibility. Equanimity is also very -- as much as it's solid and rooted, there's a kind of flexibility to it sometimes. There's also -- which isn't kind of captured by that image -- a spaciousness to it. So equanimity can actually be a very spacious state, very, very open and spacious. There's a balance in it. That may be another way of saying what equanimity is, a balance or steadiness. So it's a mind state and it's a heart state. It's a state of the mind and heart. But it's saying something about our relationship with conditions, our relationship with what's going on. That's what equanimity is really about. It's somehow defining the state of the relationship with what's going on.
So we could also describe equanimity as a kind of calming of reactivity. The normal human reactivity in response to things -- we like, we don't like, we want, we don't want, difficult, easy -- that reactivity is just calmed, or there is a calming of that. But it's not an indifference. This is really, really important. It's not a state of being disconnected or cold. So equanimity is not a cold state. We could call something indifference when one is actually shut down or closed down, disconnected, closed, cold, everything's kind of a bit grey, the whole world and the world of experience has been painted grey. That's not equanimity. That's what we would call indifference. Indifference is when everything just seems a bit blah. When it's indifference -- and equanimity can slip into indifference; it's important to realize that. When it's indifference, what's happened is that aversion, rejection, pushing away, not wanting, turning away, that quality has crept into the relationship with what's going on, and it colours everything grey, and it closes the heart, and it closes us down.
So equanimity, rather, is actually very alive. It has a quality of real aliveness to it. It has a quality of openness to it, a brightness to it. And actually, I would say, a beauty to it. There's a real beauty in a state of equanimity, and also warmth and love. Now, this indifference, what I'm calling indifference, the Buddha actually talks about that and he says it's what's called the 'near enemy' of equanimity. 'Near enemy' means it can kind of look like it sometimes, and we can be in a state of indifference but actually it's not equanimity. The thing is, though, and I really want to stress this, is that as practitioners we are in the process, a gradual process of really learning equanimity and developing equanimity. What that means is on that journey we will go into indifference sometimes. It's normal and actually to be expected, and it's not a problem. It's really, really, really okay. Sometimes we do shut down. Everything does go a bit grey and cold. And then we know, "Ah, that's indifference." In a way, we have to let that happen so that we know the difference between real equanimity and indifference.
The other thing to say about equanimity as a state is it's not a kind of on/off switch, like, "Do I have it? Don't I have it? Is this it, or is this not it?" It's more like a dimmer switch, you know? There's a continuum to it. So there are degrees or a spectrum of equanimity. We can talk about equanimity deepening. The Buddha talked sometimes about equanimity being the highest emotion of a human being, the highest emotion, or actually the highest emotion there is for beings, human or otherwise; in a way, peace. Or he sometimes also talked about it as the quieting of emotion. So that's quite interesting. The quieting of emotion is actually the highest emotion. But here's another caveat I want to state, and this is really, really important, so please bear this in mind the whole retreat: we can talk about the quieting of emotion and aspire to that state of equanimity as a quietening of our emotionality, but that is absolutely not to deny the beauty and the value of, in a way, the richness of our emotional life as human beings. So as human beings we have this capacity to feel, to resonate, to respond with the heart. The heart space can take all kinds of colours and kind of textures, and can be tender, and there can be sadness and joy and all of that. And I feel it's important for us as human beings, very important for us, to actually explore the fullness and the richness of our heart and our emotionality. That's really, really important. So the two kind of stand together for us as practitioners on the path: both this quietening of the emotional life in equanimity, and the richness of it. Very, very crucial.
So we may be going through something, may be going through something right now, and if we talk about equanimity it doesn't mean that we're shutting the door on grief. Is there a grief around now that I may need to feel? Is there a sadness? Is there a joy? This is very important. As a human being and as a practitioner, do I know both ends of that spectrum? Do I know the fullness and the richness and the vitality and beauty of a rich emotional life? Am I in contact with my emotions? Am I open to my flow of emotions? And do I know what it is to let all that go quiet and experience equanimity, move into equanimity? Do I know both, am I able to do both, and am I free to choose between both? This is quite a tall order for all of us.
In a way, I want to say something tonight about putting all this, what we will be going into over the weekend, in context. So a person might see a retreat titled Equanimity and think to themself, "Boy, I sure could use some equanimity," and in fact several people have said that was their exact response to seeing the title of the retreat. You think, "Oh, I could use some of that." Very natural and normal response. But we cannot, we absolutely cannot isolate equanimity from any other part of the path. It's not separate from the whole of the rest of the path. So what I would really wish that happens on this retreat, my wish is that I can offer some tools, some practical meditative tools. That's what I would really like you to take away with from this retreat, part of what I would like you to take away, some meditative tools that work towards equanimity -- some of them. I'm going to go into two on this retreat. Some of the possibilities.
But also I hope, and mostly tomorrow, I want to kind of paint a picture of a bigger context that we need as practitioners to kind of understand the principles involved. It's like, why are we doing this? How is it that these kind of practices lead to equanimity? How does equanimity come about? How does the path work? It's interesting, people can be practising for really quite a long time and the pieces don't really fit together in terms of why we're doing stuff we do or how that works. I actually feel it's quite important to understand that. It's important that the path makes sense. So I want to offer that as context and sort of understanding the principles as well.
[19:39] When we talk about equanimity -- and the Buddha talked about it a lot -- many, many, many factors on the path kind of lead to equanimity, and in a way converge in equanimity. So some of you will be familiar from some Buddhist scriptures, etc., there's a lot of lists in them -- these lists and these lists. Oftentimes when equanimity gets mentioned, it's at the end of the list, and it's a kind of culmination of all these qualities: you develop this, and you develop this quality, and you cultivate this and cultivate this, and the kind of fruition is equanimity. So it would be great if we could dispense some pills and there we go, there's some equanimity. Now, there are pills you can get ... [laughter] on a Friday night in some towns around here. But probably they lean more towards indifference than equanimity. Or a little trick. But what I really want to say: this is a weekend, and we have to see a much bigger context here, much, much bigger context.
I'm going to say something that might strike some people as a little odd. It's funny and I've never really said it at the beginning of a retreat before, but I feel, I'm beginning to feel it's really worth saying. So these teachings, the teachings that I'm going to go into this weekend, have their root and their context in the Buddha's teachings. That's just how it is. And that's not at all to say that anyone has to become a Buddhist. I don't care at all about that, not one little scrap about that. But the root of them is in the Buddha's teachings, in the Dharma. And the Buddha taught a path that actually involves our whole life. The totality of our existence, every aspect of our life is included in the path. And that path is for the relief of suffering, but very much, for the Buddha, concerned with a complete relieving of suffering, complete freedom from suffering. And in a way, this path is directed to a totally radical awakening, a completely radical re-understanding of the whole nature of existence and reality and our place in it. Totally turning everything upside down. That involves understanding, you know, quite -- in the heart, understanding, a non-intuitive understanding of things like emptiness, etc., and if we have time we'll go into that a little bit. But just to say, the deepest equanimity actually comes from that. It comes from that awakening. It comes from realization of emptiness, etc., from that radical kind of turning upside down. In a way, I think it's important to put our efforts in that context, just to know that that's the case.
Now, as human beings, it's interesting. It's everyone's right, it's my right, it's your right, it's our right as human beings, to ask as much or as little as we want from the path. It's no one's business, not mine, not anyone else's, not the Buddha's to tell any of you or me or anyone here how much to ask for. I can ask for everything. I can ask for a lot. I can ask for very little. And in a way that's to be respected. No one can interfere with that. Whatever one wants, that's to be respected. But it's part of this context to also say, when we say, "Oh, I need some equanimity," to say, well, if I ask a little of the path, I'll get a little from the path. And if I ask a lot, I can get a lot. All of it's to be respected. But I just feel it's important to kind of set that context or see the context. A retreat, even a weekend, will be hard at times. There will be little patches or moments when it's difficult. And maybe I say something on this retreat, or another teacher on another retreat, that we don't understand. In a way, just to set it in its context is important. So it's okay if it's hard at times. And it's okay if there's something we don't understand at times. But equanimity, as one of the beautiful factors on the path, is available to us as part of the path if we want it.
Now ... I kind of don't know where that landed. I'm actually not sure. My sense is it probably landed in different places with different people, which is also fine, of course. Some people have a real priority that they want awakening. They're very clear about that. Maybe it's from the beginning of the path. Maybe it's later on. But for some people that's really, really clear. Not for everyone. I'm really, really aware not everyone, and as I said, it's totally fine. But for some people that's very clear. In a way, this sense of priority is not a kind of separate issue too much. I want to go into this a little bit. Equanimity comes almost, to some degree, easily and naturally when there's a priority of awakening. It's an interesting thing. If something in the being has just landed in a place where I'm very clear, in my heart of hearts, in the depth of my heart what I want, and that's awakening, that's liberation, that's to understand fully, it's almost like everything else begins to just fall into its place. It's sort of relativized. And a kind of simplicity and equanimity comes into the life very naturally in terms of large-scale choices and large-scale kind of decisions and views in our life. Now, that may be the case for some people, and for many people it's not going to be the case, and it may be something that develops.
But there's another level about priorities that I want to mention. And it kind of doesn't sound like a big deal. It really doesn't sound like a big deal and it's hard to sort of -- I don't know how to say it to draw attention to how significant it might be. But any difficult situation we have in life, any difficulty that we come up against -- and we do every day; every day something breaks, we have some situation, whatever it is; our living situation, there may be a difficulty with our living situation; with our health; in our relationships; in our work; money difficulties -- when something goes wrong, what is the priority for us? So again, I don't usually say this kind of stuff on the opening talk, and I appreciate some of you may be tired, etc., but I want to kind of set a context and go about things a little bit, in some ways, backwards today. What often is our priority? Often our priority -- and it's very normal and very human and understandable -- is that we want to fix the situation. "I'm not sure where I'm going to live. I need a place to live. I need to fix my money situation. I need to fix whatever it is." And of course that's important as human beings. But something else is possible if we have a shift of priority, and the priority becomes listening to that whisper of the Buddha, listening to that whisper 2,500 -- older, even before the Buddha -- 2,500 years old, whispering: it's possible to be free here. It's possible to be freer. It's possible to suffer less. It's possible to be at peace.
And somehow in the complexity, in the difficulty of our life, and what feels like the pressure and "this situation needs to get sorted," and da-da-da-da-da, something gets shifted in priority. It's very normal -- in fact, so normal that I find it actually difficult to say it in a way that kind of draws enough attention to it. So normal for that to shift. We say, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know that. Why are you saying this? I know that. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know it's possible to be free -- after I've sorted this out." Now, this is so normal, it happens all the time. Not all the time; most of the time, perhaps, for us. What is the priority in the moment, and actually is it possible that we're practising not only this big shift of priority (which may be there or may not be for some people), but in a moment of difficulty, in a moment when things fall apart, in a moment where we feel challenged and pressured, there's a shift? There's a shift in priority. And yeah, we address the situation, and yeah, we look for a place to live, and yeah, we whatever-it-is. But there's a shift in what's the most important thing.
[29:35] Now, that's a practice. It's a practice. Sometimes we may be able to do that, and sometimes we forget, etc., but it's a practice. Interestingly, to shift priority actually takes faith. It means that that whisper from the Buddha, and other teachers, of course, other traditions, that we kind of believe that at some level. It resonates with something in the heart. When there's faith, we can make a shift in priority. You see? Faith rests on experience of the path. It rests on our other practice. It rests on an intuitive sense, that we just intuit there's another possibility. It rests, interestingly, on letting go of fear. So our faith and our faith in the path rests on letting go of fear. And it rests on other path factors. The way the path works is everything kind of feeds in together. This thing that seems to have nothing to do with this thing -- mindfulness and, I don't know, joy, or whatever it is -- they all kind of feed together, feeding our faith, which feeds our ability to shift priorities, which feeds our equanimity.
So that might sound like, "Okay, I get that as an idea." Possibility of being on retreat is to experiment with that, to experiment with these little shifts in priority, and hopefully to take that experiment into our life. To use the time here as an experiment in that sense.
Now, of course, again, with a large group of people, it's interesting and I think important to reflect and kind of look inside and consider the intentions we bring to retreat time. Obviously with so many people there are different intentions here. I mean, if we had time, we could go through and kind of, "What are you looking for? What are you looking for?" And some of you, very naturally, very normally, are coming with very specific intentions. There's this difficulty or this situation that's going on right now and I just want to find some balance with that. Very understandable, very normal. And others, again, the intentionality in coming on retreat is much more general. Both lovely, but it's much more general in the sense of it's just part of my path and it's another retreat, another chance to be at Gaia House, it's part of my unfolding, etc. And all of that is great. What's actually important is to connect with one's own intentions that are meaningful to you. So again, it's not for me to tell you or anyone else to tell you what intentions are meaningful to you right now. But in a way to hold those dearly and to connect with the meaningfulness of those intentions for yourself. It's your path. Your path is not my path. It's not anyone else's path. And for that, it needs us to make the path really meaningful for ourselves. We do that sometimes through quite specific intentions and sometimes just through general intentions, but really through caring about our intentions.
So one of the things about intentionality is that it's impermanent. So we can be here and be very clear in our intentions, or even very moved by our intentions, which is very lovely and very honouring of our intentions. And then a little time goes by -- you will see, if you haven't seen already, that the intentions are impermanent and we forget them, we get lost in them, and the intentionality goes somewhere else: I just kind of want to get through the sitting, or I just kind of want to get through the day, or get through this endless talk of this teacher nattering on. [laughs] Or I just kind of want to be a bit more comfortable. Or I just would like the day, things to be a bit more convenient. All of this is very human, very normal.
But what's happened in those moments -- "I just want to be a bit more secure" -- what's happened in those moments is the intention has just slipped a little bit from its more beautiful and deep kind of rootedness into something not so helpful. This is going to happen. This does happen. It has happened, it does happen, it will happen. And it's totally okay. The thing about intentions is they are impermanent. To expect that to happen. And in a way, to just keep checking in with the intention. What am I intending in this moment? What do I want from this time? What am I doing? What am I trying to do? What am I moving towards? Do I know as a human being what I'm moving towards at any time? Because I'm always moving towards something. That's the interesting thing about consciousness, it's always moving towards something. No moving towards, no consciousness. Do I know what that is? Can I just check in with it and revive my more deep aspirations and intentions at times if I need to?
So just a few general and kind of practical things about being here. The word 'surrender' is a really good word. We're here for a weekend together, and you'll see -- if it hasn't been put up already -- there's a schedule, a meditation schedule and a kind of schedule for the day. A fairly full day tomorrow. Is it possible to kind of just surrender to being here and, in a way, surrender to the schedule, and surrender to the simplicity of that? In surrendering to the simplicity, already there's a kind of equanimity there. Don't have to, "Should I go to the sitting or should I not? Should I go? Should I not? Should I do the walking now? Should I have a cup of tea? Walking? Tea? Walking? Tea?" [laughter] It's okay. It's simple. Be simple. Surrender.
As you know, these retreats, like almost all retreats at Gaia House, are silent. So there's an atmosphere of silence that we kind of enter into together and we support together. We nourish that atmosphere of silence together. If you're new, this might feel really weird: here are sixty-whatever people in a room, and very strange, here we all are sitting a few feet from each other and not talking to each other, or even at the table. It's an odd social situation. It's possible and the invitation of silence is actually that we can feel into and become sensitive to a whole other level of connectedness and interconnection in the silence and through the silence. It doesn't need actually our speaking. We can talk at the end of the retreat; there will be time for that. But actually just the possibility of opening out into feeling another kind of connectivity with each other, another kind of heart connection with each other. I feel that's very important. So the silence does not mean a kind of blinkering of everyone else. Can the heart actually open to the collective here, the community here?
Silence helps bring clarity to the being. It allows things to settle so clarity can come. If we're talking about equanimity, equanimity needs clarity. At a kind of much more deep level and almost like a mystical level, there's a way that silence -- which starts as this kind of agreement not to talk -- can kind of, as we open to it, as we give it our attention, open the attention to it, there's a way that it can embrace everything. Everything is held in silence. Everything right now -- the sound of the voice, just coming and going out of the silence, back into the silence. That quality of silence holds everything. So there's a reason that we have retreats, there are reasons we have retreats in silence. And if it feels awkward to you, just a suggestion to actually open to the quality of silence. Let that hold you. Let that hold all experience, because actually it can hold everything, everything.
Just on a practical level, the noble silence that we're keeping involves mobile phones. So nowadays it's quite common for people to -- it's almost like a part of the anatomy, you know, your hand, your mobile phone. And is it possible to just turn it off and put it in the bottom of the rucksack, case, whatever it is? Really to feed, to nourish this spirit of silence that we're entering into together. That includes texting, which doesn't make a sound, of course, but it's not in that spirit of silence. Now, some of you, and I'm actually aware, I had a look at the forms, one or two of you have semi-emergency situations going on with people who are not well, etc., so it's fine if you need to check your mobiles. But please, to just, as I said, surrender to the beauty of silence. See if something can be kind of discovered in the silence.
[39:55] So an encouragement as well towards simplicity, to just be here, just be here. And if you want to take a little time and just walk around tonight, walk around the grounds, it's a beautiful, still evening, and just land here, appreciate that you're here. Tomorrow you can find some time to go for a walk and be in nature. Those things, too, feed equanimity. Now, Gavin -- was it Gavin that gave the opening talk? Gavin, one of the managers who gave the opening talk, talked about sīla, about the five ethical precepts, and just a very brief reminder to really all agree to abide by them and commit to them. Something's happening when we do that together, when this many people do that together. What happens, one of the things that happens, is a climate, an environment of trust is allowed, opens up. A person can be here in this space and really just let go, open, explore, open to the exploration, trust, because they don't need to watch their back and "will it be okay?", don't need to guard oneself. So it's really a gift to oneself and to each other to abide by those five precepts.
Okay. On this retreat, meditatively I'm going to introduce two practices. They're kind of related. There's a bit of overlap. But I'm going to introduce two practices, two kind of approaches. And as I said, I'm also going to kind of try and fill in a bit of the bigger picture and some of the principles and the context involved. One of the practices that I'm going to introduce tomorrow is actually around acceptance and kind of letting be. I'll go into that tomorrow because it's a little bit subtle. But this aspect of letting be as an approach to equanimity, we have to see that in the context of the whole path. So the path doesn't just involve letting be, letting be, letting be. It actually involves cultivating, developing lots of stuff. I'll talk about that. Tonight what I want to introduce is a little bit of a certain way of meditating with a kind of focus on change and impermanence. What I'll do is I'll go into that as a guided meditation now a little bit.
You've been sitting for a while, so please stay in the room, but if you want to stretch your body, that might be a good idea. Actually everyone probably just standing up and, if you want, shaking out the left leg. And shaking out the right leg. Giving it a good shake. Shaking out both legs. [laughter] Twisting to the left, and let your arms swing. Don't do anything that doesn't feel comfortable for the body. Please respect your body. Coming to midpoint. Reaching up with the right hand as far as you can, the left hand, the right hand, the left hand, reaching, reaching. Both hands up. If it's okay for your back, leaning back, arching the back backwards just as much as okay. Stretching, opening the chest. And then, if it's okay, bending forwards as far as you can, bending over. Coming to upright again. If it's okay, some slow head rolls. Rotating the head in one direction, and in the other direction. Raising the shoulders to the ears and dropping them, shoulders to the ears and dropping them once more. Shaking out the arms. And a few more twists each way. Okay. Coming to a standstill. And sitting for meditation.
[46:07, guided meditation begins]
So just establishing yourself and settling into a meditation posture that feels comfortable. So there's uprightness and alertness reflected in the posture through that uprightness. The spine erect but not rigid. But also allowing a quality of relaxation, of softness to come into the posture. Just settling into the body, and that balance, that dignity of that balance -- uprightness, wakefulness, relaxation, softness, sense of openness if possible at all, especially in the chest area, softness and openness.
Taking a moment or two to feel into the simple sensations of the backside, the buttocks connecting, contacting the chair, the cushion, the bench. So very, very simple. What does that actually feel like right now, just however it is? Very simple sensations. And then tuning in, feeling into the sensations of contact of the feet or the legs on the floor. Very simple. Just putting the attention in that area and feeling whatever is there. How do the hands feel right now? Just tuning in, feeling. Perhaps some tingling or pins and needles, or cold or warm. Just feeling there, sensing there, an alive presence of attention. Very simple attention. And seeing if you can get a sense right now of the whole body sitting here. The whole body. Just how it feels right now to sit, how it feels to inhabit the body with awareness right now. Feeling the totality of the body, the global sense of the whole body, the experience of that body.
Now, within that sense of the body, seeing if it's possible to bring the attention, in a very relaxed way, very delicate attention, to the sort of central line of the body. So from somewhere a little below the navel, the belly button, sort of central strip all the way up from there right up into the head. And just aware of that central line and feeling in there, quite delicate, just tuning in. So you may notice that, in that sort of strip of the body, there is a kind of fluctuation going on, or there are areas of pressure, or feel a bit blocked perhaps in the head or the throat, or tight, or open, or warm. Just allowing it to be whatever it is. The mind wanders, but just returning to that central line of the body. It doesn't have to be too thin -- it can be a couple of inches thick. Just open, tuning into whatever you feel there. Seeing if you can notice the changes in the pattern of sensations. There's change going on there. Fluctuating, ebbing, flowing, rising, falling. Just allowing it to change and delicately being aware of that change.
Now I'm going to introduce a phrase which you can repeat softly, silently, gently to yourself: may I be at peace with the flow of experience. So just for right now, still tuning in just to that central line of the body, aware of the changing patterns of sensation, tuning into that change. And just quietly, silently, softly and gently repeating to yourself: may I be at peace with the flow of experience. Or, if you prefer, may I be at peace with changing experience. Tuning into change.
So this phrase is not really a wishful thinking or affirmation or even a mantra. It's a kind of lens, it's an orientation through which you are relating to experience in the moment. Very simple level of present moment experience in the body, the felt sense of simple experience in the here and now. So tuning into change, tuning into the flow, tuning into the impermanence with the attention. "May I be at peace with the flow of experience. May I be at peace with changing experience," whichever you prefer.
If there's some other area of the body that's really calling your attention because of discomfort or whatever, allowing yourself to focus on that area instead, but with the same lens, with the same orientation, tuning into the change there, the flow, the fluctuation, the impermanence. "May I be at peace with the flow of experience, with changing experience."
Or, if you like, opening up the attention to include the whole body, a fuller sense of the whole body, a global awareness of the whole body. But the same tuning into change, to patterning, to fluctuation, and the same phrase, the same orientation.
So as much as you can, being rooted, being anchored in the bodily sense, the simple bodily sense, either along that central line or the whole body or some other area of the body. Anchored in the bodily sense. But of course the mind wanders, the attention wanders. Very normal. That wandering of the mind, wandering of the attention, can that also be included as part of changing experience, as part of the flow in experience? So it's not a problem there. Just including that as part of the patterning of experience. May I be at peace with the flow of experience. Seeing the change. The mind is attentive and then not attentive, and then attentive again. It's all changing, flowing.
There may be waves of tiredness passing through, again fluctuating, changing, part of the patterning of change. Tuning into that change. At peace with changing experience. Just gently repeating the phrase to yourself and orienting towards change. Perhaps restlessness arises. Just feeling: how does that feel in the body, that sense of restlessness? And again noticing the change, tuning into the change, the fluctuation. Or boredom.
Staying anchored in the body sense, connected to the sensations in the body just as much as you can, rooted in that. And then also opening up the awareness to sound. So the awareness receiving sound, receiving silence, and the same lens, orientation, tuning into change, impermanence. May I be at peace with changing experience, with the flow of experience. Seeing if the attention can be relaxed but alive, relaxed and alive, bright.
[1:10:36, guided meditation ends]
Okay. So that may have felt somewhat new to, I don't know, many of you perhaps; I'm not sure. Or maybe more familiar to others. Just to review: keeping it quite physical. So really tuning into the body sense. There's a reason we're doing all this. A lot of emotions are reflected in the body, usually between here and here somewhere [central line]. Can be other places too. I'll go into this tomorrow, but there's a reason why this central strip is actually quite important to give the attention to, and the kind of holdings and tightenings and contractions and openings, etc., that happen there. To give an attention to that is quite important. So you can tune in just there, between there and there, and you're just looking at the experience. It's almost like you've got lenses on that are only interested in change, just seeing change everywhere. And this phrase, "May I be at peace with the flow of experience," or, if you prefer, "May I be at peace with changing experience," is part of that orientation. It's part of what's orienting you towards the simple experience in the present moment, the felt sense in the present moment. It's a way of viewing and relating to experience in the present moment.
So as I said during the meditation, it's not a kind of wishful thinking: "Oh, I wish I was at peace with the flow of experience." It's not quite that. Or it's not a kind of affirmation: "I am at peace," you know. It's not a mantra. Interestingly, though, to repeat a phrase can be very calming, and I don't know, maybe some of you noticed -- it won't happen for everyone, but -- sometimes just the word 'peace' is quite a powerful word. Did anyone notice that? No? Okay. [laughs] Really, no one? Don't be shy. Okay. It may be -- I'll throw this out now. It may be that in the course of saying "may I be at peace," the word 'peace' actually begins to have some resonance to it. It's almost as if the being responds to that, and one actually feels peaceful. So that may happen in the course of doing this. I would say, actually, if it does, great. It's fine. Just kind of feel that peacefulness. Might be either you're shy or it's early days; that's fine. Is this making sense as a practice? Does it make sense? Any questions about it? This is the first practice. You may not like it. And I hope you like the other one if you don't like this one. [laughter] But you may not like that either! In which case I encourage equanimity ... [laughter] I want it to make sense. This is about practice, and I want you to understand what to do. Okay?
So you can focus in on this narrow strip sometimes. You can open it out to include the whole body. If you've got an area of the body that's causing you problems because of an illness or just difficulty sitting or whatever, you can focus in on that. Same deal: tune into the fluctuation, the change, the patterning, coming, going, ebbing, flowing, etc., and just use this gentle repeating of the phrase to kind of set the relationship with that or to move towards a relationship with that. So (1) central strip, (2) whole body if you want, (3) area of the body, or (4) wider still and include sound. So sound is very good because it's just arising, passing, and changing, etc. Then you've got a more spacious awareness. But don't lose a general sense of being anchored in the body.
And as I said in the guided meditation, of course the mind's going to -- you're going to lose attention. Of course it is. Of course you're going to sit there thinking, "This is really boring." Of course that's going to happen. There's going to be restlessness. There's going to be tiredness coming through. There's going to be doubt: "Is this really meditation? Does he know what he's talking about?" Whatever. That's all -- it's all fine. That's part of the patterning of experience, and as such, same deal -- look at it with the same lens. Any questions about the instructions?
Yogi: [inaudible] following the breath. Is that okay?
Rob: That's fine. The question was -- Jason's saying he ended up following the breath. It is Jason, isn't it? Yeah. I'm just short-sighted. Yes, that's fine. Look, if you don't like these meditations, it's fine just to go back to your ordinary meditations. But if you get involved with the breath, what I would really encourage is if you can try to tune into the change in it. You know, the breath comes in, and sometimes it feels good, and sometimes it feels not so good and blocked and not blocked, etc. There's a kind of patterning along this central line with the breath. You're tuning into the change there. So that's what you're kind of -- right now, we're only interested in change, and then may I be at peace with that change. You understand? So it's fine if it's that. You might want to sometimes open it out and experiment with the sound and stuff too.
Yogi 2: [inaudible]
Rob: Yeah, the words -- I'll write them up, actually. "May ..." I keep having to check them. [laughs] "May I be at peace with the flow of experience," or "May I be at peace with changing experience." So there's nothing holy about these words; if you want a slightly different phrase that's fine. But the general sense is being okay with the change that's going on. Okay? But "May I be at peace with the flow of experience," "May I be at peace with changing experience." Anything else? So we'll keep this throughout the retreat as one of the options. Later tomorrow morning I'll introduce the other one. Then you'll have two to play with. Okay?
Okay. So one last thing before bed. It's just an encouragement to slow down. So our time is quite short -- it's a weekend. And nowhere to really hurry on this retreat. We can come with quite a lot of momentum, very normal. And just an encouragement to slow down and just to move slowly. It will really help the cultivation of the sensitivity of awareness that we're after. So I wish you a very lovely retreat and also a very good night's sleep. I feel like I'm forgetting something ...
Yogi 3: A hot drink?
Rob: A hot drink! [laughter] You're welcome to have a hot drink, of course, before bed. You're welcome to hang out. It's only 9:24. You're welcome to hang out, enjoy the silence, enjoy being here, you know, practise a little bit more. For some of you this will be a new kind of meditation. You're welcome to come back in and try some more of it. But do sleep well tonight. Have a good rest. In the morning, the wake-up bell is at 6:30 and the first sitting is at 7. Okay? Okay. So rest well and I'll see you tomorrow.