Sacred geometry

Guided Meditation on the Three Characteristics

This retreat was jointly taught by Rob Burbea and one or more other Insight Meditation teachers. Here is the full retreat on Dharma Seed
Please note that these talks are from a 4 week retreat for experienced meditators. The talks and meditations can be listened to in any order or individually, but as they progressively unfold different levels of understanding of Emptiness, they will probably be more fully understood and the practices more easily developed if taken in series
Date26th January 2009
Retreat/SeriesMeditation on Emptiness 2009


In the guided meditation, we're going to introduce three approaches, kind of briefly moving through each. And it may be that you gel with different parts of the different approaches within maybe one of the three, or all of them, or two of them, you know. And that's all fine. I'm just going to go through it.

[00:28, guided meditation begins]

So, if you want to establish yourself in your meditation posture. Feeling yourself come into that sense of balance. The body reflecting this ideal balance of the heart, of the mind. Alert, wakeful, mindful, energized, and also relaxed, open, soft. And let's just spend a few minutes together, just calming, gathering, collecting the awareness in whatever way feels helpful to you, whether that's using the breath or the mettā, or more open awareness, just nourishing some calm unification of the awareness for a few minutes.

Then, bringing the awareness, bringing the mindfulness, the focus of attention, into the hands right now. And just being very present to the sensations in the hands, whatever they are right now. In the fingers, in the palms, whatever it is and however they are. Just noticing and receiving and being attentive to the sensations there.

Staying with the sensations in the hands, seeing if you can really tune into the noticing of their changing nature. Noticing their impermanence, how they perhaps flicker or throb or pulse or wave. Just tuning in above all, over and over, to that aspect of the sensations, coming and going, changing. So, we're most interested in noticing this change and tuning into change. More interested than the exact texture of the sensations. Change.

And then, bringing the awareness up and mindfulness up into the face, the whole face. And again, just noticing, paying attention to the sensations as they arise, pass, as they dance, appear, disappear, in the face, whatever they are. First tuning into the sensations, and then tuning into their changing nature. How they move, how they roll, how they come into and out of being. How they grow and decline, change in intensity.

[10:22] Let the mindfulness be relaxed. Don't pressure it too much. Relaxed mindfulness. And don't force the mind to notice, for instance, too fast a rate of change. Whatever change appears is fine. Just noticing change in whatever way it presents itself.

And letting the mindfulness explore another part of the body, another area, particular area of changing sensations, wherever it is, and whatever is there, whether it's itching, or heat, warmth, cold, pressure, tingling. Tuning into that part, and then particularly tuning into the aspect of change, of impermanence, flux.

Is it possible to open up the awareness to the whole body? The whole body in a global sense of the whole body. And again, aware of sensations, and particularly tuning into their changing nature, the dance of sensations appearing, disappearing, flickering, in the whole body. Mutating.

And then with the awareness staying at least somewhat connected to the bodily sense, the body sensations, is it possible to open out the awareness to listening, to sound, receiving sounds? But not overly interested in what the sounds are, where they come from, even their texture. Really tuning into this aspect of change, coming and going, appearing, disappearing. Allowing the change, allowing the coming and going. Over and over, tuning into change, impermanence, flux, movement.

Gently open your eyes, and looking down at your right hand, and moving the right hand gently in front of the eyes. And again, change, change in the visual field. Just moving it however you like, but noticing the change. Seeing it as change, as impermanence. Returning the hand, closing the eyes. Settling again in the whole body sense of sensations changing. And gently opening the eyes again, and keeping the gaze fixed somewhere in front of you. Is there change happening, or not? Is there some change occurring? And again, closing the eyes. Getting a sense how the awareness can focus in at one point and notice change. One point in the body, perhaps, or one area outside where the bird is singing. And how the awareness can also be spacious and receive a totality of change, of impressions.

Right now in the body sensations, in the whole body, notice some sensations feel perhaps relatively pleasant, some relatively unpleasant, and some kind of in between. Letting all that be there in the spaciousness of awareness. If there's anything at all that the mind is struggling with, anything at all unpleasant in the experience, seeing if you can feel or sense the relationship to it. There may be some aversion there, some rejection or pushing away. It may be very subtle. Or if there's something pleasant, some holding on, some grasping after. You'll probably notice this in the body. If there's aversion or grasping, the body will contract or tense in some area or in the whole of the body, and this could be very subtle. Getting a sense if there's any degree of rejection or aversion of experience that you might pick up by noticing contraction or tension in the body sense. And is it possible to relax that aversion or grasping? It's actually easier to see with aversion, but is it possible to relax it, relax the aversion, relax the relationship with experience? And can you do that again? And again, just relaxing the relationship with experience. So this requires actually developing a sensitivity to the presence of aversion or grasping, the felt contraction or tightness, in the body or in the sense of the space of awareness contracting. Feeling that and relaxing it, over and over.

We're interested in how it feels when there's aversion or grasping in relationship to experience, and how it feels when that aversion or grasping is relaxed, how that feels. One just keeps relaxing the relationship with experience. Finding some more holding and relaxing that. Another way of conceiving this is that practising letting be, that that's the emphasis, practising letting experience be, which is another way of saying letting go, letting go in relationship to experience, letting experience be, in this moment, and in this moment, and in this moment, emphasizing letting be. We could say, we could look at it as emphasizing an allowing, an allowing of sensations and experience. What is it right now to really emphasize, above everything else, to emphasize a sense of allowing, allowing the experience? Really make that the focus, allowing.

[30:12] Moving on to the third approach. Aware of the sensations in the body, is it possible to see that they're coming and going by themselves? Arising, staying, passing, changing, by themselves. And get a sense that the awareness can focus in one small area, if it wants to, or open up in a very spacious way, if it wants to. And these sensations are just happening, they're just happening by themselves. The sounds are just happening, and the sensations are just happening. Can you see this? Can you get a sense of this? Sounds and sensations, experiences just kind of floating there, appearing and disappearing. Is it possible to gently encourage this way of seeing? It's all just happening, and it's not-self. It doesn't belong to me. It's not me, not mine. Relaxed, open mindfulness, allowing things to be, to appear, to disappear, by themselves. So the pleasant, the unpleasant, in the body, in experience, just arising, staying, passing, by itself. It's just happening. I don't need to claim ownership, to see it as me, to identify, to regard it as mine. Just let it be, not me, not mine. Don't force this; it's almost like an allowing, letting things be, and letting them be loosened from the grip of ownership naturally.

Is it possible to see a thought that arises as just happening, just like the sounds? Not-self, just like a sound, appearing and disappearing.

Taking the right hand, and slowly, in small increments of movement, moving it upwards, just feeling the sensations in the hand and the arm, and just feeling these sensations are just happening, just arising in awareness and disappearing. Not-self. Raising the arm, the hand, right to about the level of the face. Palm right in front of the head, just feeling the sensations in the body. Now, very suddenly open your eyes. Who sees? Who sees? Closing the eyes again, returning the hand.

[42:57, guided meditation ends]

Okay. So three approaches, basically, moving quite quickly through them: (1) The first is to really, really focus in on change, on impermanence. (2) The second is being aware of the relationship with experience and, particularly, trying to relax that relationship over and over, relaxing that relationship. It's easier to notice aversion than it is to notice grasping, but both can be noticed and relaxed, over and over. And that one you can also see as emphasizing allowing. (3) And the third one is learning to see things as not-self, not me, not mine, not belonging to me, just happening, just happening.

Okay. This can be applied in the walking, too, of course. And everything there you can do to the body sensations in walking, definitely. You can also do it with sounds while you're walking, and with the visual sense while you're walking. So all of this applies. Some of it will be easier with different senses than others. I'll talk about this tonight, but play and experiment with it today. Really, really play with it, and toy with it, and experiment with all of them. And you may well find that one is your favourite, or two is your favourite, or you might like them all. And that's fine. It's really fine for people to have favourites. But play with them, and see if you can get a sense of them. And remember what I said at some point earlier: I'd say at least 50 per cent of the time is still focusing on samādhi or mettā practice, so you don't want to be doing this all the time, okay? Does that roughly make sense? Yeah? You feel you've got enough to play with?

I'm going to talk more tonight, and there'll be question and answers tomorrow. But are there any questions right now about this that feel like I can't really move forward with it?

Q1: learning to see things without identification

Yogi: [?]

Rob: The third one is learning to see, or seeing if it's possible to see things without a sense of identification -- not me, not mine, not ownership. So just letting them have a sense, just letting yourself have a sense of them just happening. They're just happening. Things are just happening.

Q2: welcoming things and welcoming aversion

Yogi: I've been using the phrase 'welcoming aversion.'

Rob: 'Welcoming' ... Sure, I mean, then what you're actually doing is, because we could welcome the thing itself, or we can also welcome the aversion. So aversion is also an experience. You're going a bit of a stage further, which is fine if you want to. But be aware, you can -- I could have a pain in my knee, and I could welcome the pain. I could have a pain in my knee and some aversion, and I could welcome the aversion. Do you understand? It's subtle, but play with them both.

Okay? Have fun with this. [laughs] Enjoy it, play with it.

Q3: joy and fear in not-self practice; relaxing the relationship to fear; inclining towards joy, spaciousness, loveliness; reconditioning the mind

Yogi: I'm experiencing some sort of joy ...

Rob: Joy?

Yogi: In the feelings of emptiness. But then some fear, and then some joy, then some fear. It's kind of alternating.

Rob: Good, yes, I will talk about this tonight. In fact, maybe I should say something now as it's coming up. Very, very common, extremely common.

Yogi: It's a bit like there's ... You feel this sense of not-self. But then the sense of self gets hold of it. Lets go, then it gets hold of it, kind of thing.

Rob: Well, yeah, you'll get used to all this. That's the important thing to say. What happens is -- this is very important. What happens is, as we let go, the consciousness moves into a kind of, or opens into unfamiliar territory, basically -- less sense of self or less sense of solidity, more spacious. Can do, at times. And that's unfamiliar, and we don't have so many bearings there. It can be that a sense of fear comes up. Now, the fear might come up very strongly. I'm not saying it will, but occasionally it might for someone. If that's the case, if it's like suddenly fear is really predominating, then one has to actually go to the fear itself and work with the fear. You know, actually work with the fear, open. You and I have talked about working with it: open to the fear, be with it, feel the sensations, allow it.

Yogi: I was doing the second one, just because it happened just now. So I went in to relax my relationship.

Rob: To the fear?

Yogi: Yeah.

Rob: Yeah, good, good, very good, okay. So that's working with the fear directly. Other times, what you'll notice, and this will probably -- well, it may come up to some degree with everyone. What you'll notice is that fear arises, but it's actually not totally dominant. And you get this kind of effect, a little bit like what Faith was saying: there's kind of some joy around, and there's kind of some fear around. It's a little bit like with Rose's question yesterday with physical pain. Given the choice, the human being, you know, most human beings have some degree of joy or spaciousness or loveliness, and some degree of fear, and what do we choose? We go into, we get sucked into the fear. We get sucked into the unpleasant. So if the fear isn't that strong, you can kind of step back and see that you have two things going on. Oftentimes people actually don't notice the relative loveliness of the space that's opening up. They just get, consciousness might be a bit afraid of it, and get sucked into the fear.

So one really helpful thing is actually inclining to the quality of, it may be peace or spaciousness or joy, like you said, or warmth, or something in there that's lovely in the space, and tuning into enjoying that a little bit, letting yourself enjoy it. And that kind of reassures the being at a very deep level. So you don't need to go into the fear if the fear isn't that strong. Do you understand? And it's a kind of an acquired taste. Eventually you can let go more and more, and it's like you know that this is a place you can trust and actually has a lot of sense of well-being in it. I didn't say that very well. Does that make sense, what I just said to people?

Yogi: I think it becomes more familiar. The unfamiliar slowly becomes more familiar.

Rob: It certainly becomes more familiar, but part of what helps that is exactly this joy that you were feeling, and tuning into that. Or for another person, it might be a relative degree of peace, or calm, or openness, or spaciousness, or something that's lovely in the space that's opening up helps reassure the being at a very deep level. Is this making sense? Yes?

It's a little bit, like I say sometimes, you run a hot bath, a really hot bath, and you're not sure if it's too hot. So you put your toe in, and that's okay. And then you put your foot in, and that's okay. And then you put your calf in, and that's okay, and your leg. And eventually, you can kind of totally let go, until it's just, "Ahhh." You can totally let go into that space.

Yogi 2: So is that like, you realize you have a choice, and you're actually reconditioning that experience?

Rob: Yes. You're reconditioning the mind in relationship to that, and you're beginning to condition the experience itself, yeah, over time. Yeah, absolutely, yeah. Okay.

So play with it. Really, really regard it all as an [experiment]. You have a lot to play with now. And play with it, and just get a feel for this. I'll talk about it tonight. There'll be more questions tomorrow. And enjoy, enjoy the experimentation with it, and at least half the time developing these, deepening the samādhi and the mettā practice. Okay?

Sacred geometry
Sacred geometry