Sacred geometry

The Psychodynamics in Meditation (Part 1)

This retreat was jointly taught by Rob Burbea and one or more other Insight Meditation teachers. Here is the full retreat on Dharma Seed
Through the development of various skillful means, we can unlock the innately liberating dynamism at the heart of our emotional life, allowing deep healing, freedom, and the natural unfolding of our full potential.
Date12th November 2010
Retreat/SeriesNovember Solitary 2010


Through the development of various skillful means, we can unlock the innately liberating dynamism at the heart of our emotional life, allowing deep healing, freedom, and the natural unfolding of our full potential.

What I would like to go into this morning, and offer some reflections and some possibilities for working with, [is] elements of our emotional life, so elements of emotional work. I've talked about this a lot in different talks, etc., but some of the stuff today, perhaps not so much put out there, from me personally, not so much put out there before. So I just want to explore a little bit, particularly around the dynamics of our emotional life, and the dynamics of working with emotions.

I'd like to start with a kind of -- just throwing an -- I don't know what it would be called, an axiom or something, out there, and saying, actually, that our emotional life is dynamic. Our emotions are dynamic. There is a dynamism to them, okay? What that means is it's not static. Maybe that's obvious, but more than that, that our emotions arise and change dependent on lots of factors, lots of things in the mix, lots of conditions inner and outer in the mix that kind of influence and condition the way the whole process unfolds. Because there are all these conditions, emotional life, emotions, are a dependent arising -- dependent on all these conditions. They're not static.

What that means is, if I feel stuck one day, or for much longer, if I feel stuck with a certain emotion or in a certain emotion, or in a certain emotional kind of circle, what that means is, because inherently, we say, the emotional life is dynamic, what that means, the stuckness means, is that something, or some thing, some factors, are actually locking it into place. They're locking it, constraining it, and keeping it in a certain loop, in a certain stasis. It's probably that we're locked in a certain relationship or relationships -- for example, fear -- with what's going on. Probably as well/or there are assumptions and beliefs there that are helping to kind of lock this thing in place. Mostly today I'm talking about difficult emotions and working with difficult emotions, but a lot of what I talk about will also apply to lovely emotions. Assumptions and beliefs may be underpinning -- often are underpinning -- the whole thing. They're kind of supporting the whole structure to stay in place and stay relatively static.

If -- this is still part of the axiom I'm throwing out -- if the mindfulness can be there and the curiosity and the questioning can be there in a way that feels, that is kind of supple and flexible enough, then those qualities, the flexibility, the suppleness of the mindfulness and curiosity and questioning, will actually allow the dynamism of the emotion and the emotional life to re-unfold, to reignite, to express itself. That dynamic nature can express itself and be revealed. When that is the case, we're no longer stuck, and we will feel freedom. We will feel freedom. We will feel expansion.

So naturally, with this natural dynamism, natural dynamic quality, there is freedom. There is an expansion. Experience tends to open when that's the case. You could say, from one perspective, this is a natural movement of our being, the natural movement of our emotional life, you could say. It's towards an opening of the experience, a freeing, and an expansion. Aliveness and vitality will come in then to the being and the experience and the emotional life. Understandings with that emerge. As the whole thing just a little bit starts shifting, the whole thing starts moving and rolling and unfolding in a different way, and with that, understandings, wholeness, integration, healing. The more it starts moving, the more the healing can come in. Depth -- again, natural, organic, inherent. We could say part of this unfoldment is an unfoldment also into depth, depth of experience, depth of understanding. And joy, joy. That's also part of feeling alive, feeling that the dynamism is alive, is it comes with joy. Sometimes even when things are difficult.

Now, it's not always that we just look and can kind of open things a little bit and then the joy comes and all these other lovely qualities come immediately. Not at all. But in general, in general, that is the movement when the natural dynamism is unblocked, is allowed. It may not be in this sitting or even today or whatever. It may be that things start moving and they feel more difficult, or we see a whole other layer of something more difficult, but generally that's the, we could say, and use that word, inherent movement of the being, the deep movement, our deep psychic course.

So that's the axiom. I'm throwing that out there. Maybe you buy it, maybe you don't. But in a way, this talk is premised on that. Maybe it's your experience already; I don't know. Following that, we -- and there's no blame here -- we, all of us, at times, we block that dynamism. The stuff that we do, the stuff that goes on inside us, blocks that dynamism. So two questions then obviously arise out of that. How do we block this? How do we block the unfolding of what can be a beautiful process? And how can we unblock it?

So just to say what I've already said: the change, the unfoldment, the dynamic nature, and the kind of increasing and decreasing -- the getting stronger and the getting weaker -- in our emotional life, of different emotions and different aspects, that will depend on things like the qualities that are in and with the attention in the present moment. In other words, we can pay attention -- I'm going to go into this -- we can pay attention in a lot of different ways. Incredible range, incredible subtlety there. Those qualities of attention are a major factor in what unfolds for us, and what gets more, and what gets less, how it changes, how it unfolds. The qualities of attention, the meanings that we give. We're always giving meaning to our experience, even when we don't realize it, even when we think we give no meaning at all. Oftentimes we give very, very strong meanings to the presence of an emotion, etc. The meanings we give, the associations, perhaps via the story, via the past; the views that we have, the perspectives, the beliefs, etc.

The beautiful thing is that we can actually be flexible with all that stuff. We can be flexible with our views, with our associations, with the meanings, with the qualities of attention, with the views -- all of that. We actually can be flexible with that, and in exercising that flexibility, we can unlock some of that dynamism quite deeply.

Reflecting on this, I want to offer eight principles. Eight principles of working in this area to unlock the dynamism, with a lot of examples (I don't want it to be abstract). Eight principles -- that's a lot, and this may turn out to be two talks, it may turn out to be a series of talks, and if it does, I don't know when the others will come. But let's see what we get to today. Eight principles by no means is an exhaustive list either. It's just kind of what's being offered right now. But they feel important. So just to list them right off, and I'll explain what they mean, because I'm using them in quite particular ways.

(1) The first one is something I would call differentiation. I'll explain what that means.

(2) The second one is a sustaining of focus.

(3) The third one is a broadening of the mindfulness, a broadening of the awareness.

(4) The fourth one is questioning -- and particularly questioning our assumptions.

(5) The fifth one is exploring different aspects of what's going on more fully, what's being revealed more fully.

(6) The sixth one is resourcing. I'll explain in detail what I mean by this. There are different ways of resourcing.

(7) The seventh is using the story skilfully.

(8) The eighth is about flexibility and different ways of exercising our flexibility, flexibility of relationship, flexibility of view.

No idea what we'll get to today; it depends on me as much as on you, so. Let's start.

The reason I make principles, the reason we put principles out there, is because -- this is so important -- it's like, sometimes in the examples I say, "And I was working with someone, and this happened and that happened." And sometimes we can feel like, "I need someone to help me through this. I need someone to guide me through this." It can feel like with difficult emotions, I always need someone to help me. That's so important. The Saṅgha is here, teachers are here, therapists are here, etc. But at some point I want to be able to do it on my own. I want to have absorbed the principles and developed the skills and the ways of working -- so, so important. And I don't want it to remain abstract.

Okay, so some of these principles have to do with a larger principle, which has to do -- it's hard to put it into words, but it has to do with this: the energy of the attentiveness has to be greater than the energy of the emotion. Okay? The energy of the attention has to be greater than the energy of the emotion. What do I mean by that? It sounds like engineering or something. When we have a difficult emotion going on, a lot of our psychic energy is wrapped up in that. You can see it when there's a lot of turmoil: it's just going round and round, and all this stuff, and heat, and all this. But also when we're contracted, it takes a lot of energy to stay in contraction. Funnily enough, it takes a lot of energy to be really depressed. The energy has got locked deeply in there in some way.

So we have a certain amount of energy available to us as human beings, a certain amount of psychic energy, a certain amount of physical energy -- they influence each other. If most of it is wrapped up in the structure of the emotion, it's not in the attentiveness. But if it can find its way, if I can help the energy, if I can help to energize the attentiveness -- this starts happening. [motioning with hands] One side of -- what's it called? -- a lock, you know, the water thingy, that goes down, and the other one comes up. As the energy with the attentiveness gets stronger, it takes the energy that's wrapped up unhelpfully in the difficult emotion. It leeches it out, and it goes into the energy of the attention. That works together. When there's less energy in the difficult emotion, it's less of a problem. It's less afflictive. I'm less under its thumb. I'm less oppressed by it. I have more space. I have more clarity. I have more freedom, more degrees of freedom to move, etc. The whole process just starts moving more and more like that. So some of these principles are really wrapped up in helping to get more energy in the attention.

(1) This first one, I'm calling it 'differentiation.' The other week, some time ago, someone was describing to me in an interview, saying when they're practising, so easily the comparing mind comes up. So often, that's so difficult. We compare where we think we are with where we think someone else is. In that, all the criticism, and very quickly the whole thing kind of just caves in on itself, so much oppressed by this comparing mind and everything that goes with it. It happens so quickly, it's not even clear what's going on. The words shot out, and she said, "The comparing mind comes, and then I feel deflated, anguished and collapsed." Just like that. Naturally enough, you could see it happening. It just went into a kind of state of collapse. Everything just shrinks on itself. In that state, very, very difficult, our capacity to see clearly, to have space around things, to raise the energy. It's almost like a black hole, a gravitational collapse, just gone in on itself. There's a kind of defeatedness about the whole sense of experience in life, and all the energy is wrapped up like that.

But that was interesting, because she did put out three words -- defeated, anguished, and collapsed. I was like, "Hold on, hold on. Is it actually possible to see that there are three different parts? You just said three different things there." In a way, they're different strands of what feels like just one big blob of difficult experience, a general collapse. It actually has different strands there. Is it possible to notice? She said it. Notice those strands there, and go back with the mindfulness and tease out with the mindfulness, differentiate the different strands. Pay attention to each one, feel each one, particularly in the body -- body, body, body; I'll keep coming back to this over and over. It's so central to unlocking the dynamism, body. Feel each one in the body, each strand. Explore each one.

This is what I mean by 'differentiation' -- realizing, actually seeing, that what looks like one emotion, one state, is actually more than one. It's more than one. There's more than one thing going on. There's more than one emotion going on. We could use words like 'discernment' or 'discrimination,' but both of them have slightly different connotations in the Dharma and otherwise. It's fine, but I think you know what I mean. 'Differentiation,' picking out clearly the strands. There's also a kind of differentiation because if I stay with one of these strands, I will also see that it doesn't stay static anyway. If I look really closely, it actually changes. Its qualities change subtly. There's also a kind of differentiation in, so to speak, one quality, over time.

So, when we do that, in a way, what I mean by 'differentiation,' there's sensitivity there. There's a real sensitivity of the attentiveness, and a kind of precision of the attentiveness. We love, as human beings, we love being sensitive. Something in us loves sensitivity. Sometimes we do a lot of stuff to dull our sensitivity. There are all kinds of tangents to this that I don't have time to go into, but sometimes we dull our sensitivity deliberately, or in ways that we're not conscious of. But basically, deep down, we love sensitivity. We love being precise in the attention as well.

As we do that, as we can bring the sensitivity, the precision, the differentiation in, the energy rises. The energy in the attentiveness rises. And as we differentiate different strands, we are less likely to feel overwhelmed by one big blob sitting on top of us. The very breaking it down, differentiating it into sub-components, sub-aspects, it's almost like, "Ah, I can look at this, and then I can look at this." It's breaking it down into smaller, less overwhelming pieces.

Another factor that comes in at that point is interest. As I bring in the sensitivity and the precision and this differentiation, the whole experience actually starts to become more interesting. Interest is a movement that's the opposite of aversion. If this is a difficult experience, we just naturally, normally, would want to get rid of it -- I just want to turn it off, turn myself off, turn the awareness off, get it out. But when there's interest, there's naturally, it's the opposite of aversion. Aversion makes things more difficult. We touched on this in the last talk. With the interest, less aversion, and the whole thing becomes easier.

If it was just, in this example, just a sense of defeatedness, just a sense of shrinking everything and a kind of collapse, then that sense of defeatedness and collapse is larger energetically, has more energy in it, than the attention, if I don't differentiate in this way. And then there will be a sinking. There will be a feeling of being sunk, of being stuck, and the whole thing feeling static. Even if, within that stasis, there's a lot of turmoil or agitation, it will basically feel like it's just looping around. Okay, so that's number one.

(2) Number two is, I would say, learning -- and that's a really key word, learning -- to sustain our focus on the experience. We could use the word 'concentration' there, and that's fine. It's just usually in the Dharma, when we talk about concentration, we immediately think of breath, and it has come to mean something specific with a lot of associations. But what would it be to gradually, over time, learn, develop my ability, to really sustain my focus on my emotional experience? And perhaps on each strand that I can identify there. Really sustain, keep the attention there, and not get distracted so much.

Again, if I can do that, and particularly the body is so helpful -- what's happening in the body with it? -- to the degree that I can do that, the energy of the attentiveness will get more and more. There's more energy that comes into the attention. Without that energy that comes in the attention, I cannot break free of the loops, the tight circles that some emotions just go round and round in. It takes energy -- it's almost like something needs to come into that little tight circle, that orbit, and just break it out of that. This sustaining the focus is another factor. I cannot do it without energy. Somehow I need to bring energy in.

When we talk about concentration, generally in the Dharma -- whether it's breath or mettā or this that I'm talking about now -- in a way, what we're concentrating is our energy. We're actually concentrating our energy. That's why when concentration gets deep you get all these manifestations in the body of a lot of pleasure and energy -- because we're concentrating, we're not frittering away our energy. We're not squandering and dissipating the energy of our being, our psychic energy, our heart energy, our mental energy. So it's a bit like -- I know nothing about electronics, but apparently there's something called a capacitor which stores energy. It's like the electric current goes, and it keeps it there, and it gets more and more strong. That's, in a way, what we're doing. We're not dissipating the currents of energy; we're letting them collect. That energy can then be used to break something out of its orbit.

Like I said, if the energy of attention is higher, then it won't be collapsed. It won't be stuck in that kind of depression, etc. When the energy of the attentiveness is greater than the energy of the emotion, greater than the energy of the experience, greater than the energy of the reactivity, the whole experience starts opening. Actually peace starts coming into the field of the experience. It may even replace what's going on, but it will certainly begin to come in around what's going on. Peace comes. Confidence comes. Confidence in relation to what's going on emotionally. Confidence comes. Sweetness comes. When I am not under the heel of this afflictive emotion, I can have something that's difficult and even painful, and there can be sweetness with it. That's a beautiful thing to know as a human being. It's a beautiful thing to have confidence in, to be convinced of. So the allowing of the manifestation of peace, confidence, sweetness -- that already is a dynamism coming. It already is a kind of dynamic unfolding, being allowed. And with that, more and more, it gets more dynamic; more unfolding is available.

So a big question is: how to raise the energy of the attentiveness? We said differentiation, learning to sustain focus, precision, sensitivity. Sensitivity, by the way, you could also say something like 'delicacy' of attention, a delicacy of attention. What is it to really put the attentiveness on something -- in this case, we're talking about emotions, but it could be anything -- and have the attention almost be like a feather, just so lightly touching the emotion? So sensitive, so delicate in the way it's feeling out the experience. In that, there is sensitivity, and it will raise the energy, it will bring space, it will unlock this dynamism.

(3) Other qualities, going further on the list. We said the third one, broadening the awareness, broadening the awareness of what is going on at the same time. When I first started meditation, that was actually the definition that was given to me. This was twenty-five years ago. That was actually the definition given to me of 'mindfulness.' So I was learning concentration practices, and we said, "Mindfulness means knowing what else is going on." Like the concentration is concentration at one point, on a certain element of an experience, and the mindfulness is kind of like the background, bigger picture: what else is there? There are, interestingly, many meanings, uses of the word 'mindfulness,' but that one is as valid as any other, and I found it very helpful. You could call it mindfulness, this third one. You could call it the breadth of attention.

(4) We also said questioning, which is the fourth. Someone else was saying the other day, "When there's not a crisis going on, when there's not a strong difficulty going on, and there's not much going on emotionally, it's actually very difficult for my mind to stay there, to stay interested, to not just drift off. I just lose interest." I said, "That's interesting. Why is that?" Is it boredom that's coming in? Is it that we assume that we're not worthy of attention in some way, or that the experience isn't worthy in some way? Is it somehow not good enough if there's no crisis going on?

This person actually said, reflecting on the why, "Perhaps it was that I didn't get good attention when I was very young, except when there was a problem, when there was a crisis." Maybe that's true. Maybe some of the roots here are really quite young, in the family dynamic. Also reflecting, this person, "I'm also a natural extrovert. My attention naturally goes outside; introverts' naturally goes inside." Fine -- maybe that's true. But I need to ask, I need to look deeper, in a more wide way and a more careful way: what's going on there?

When those qualities that I've already mentioned (the sustaining the focus, the differentiation, the sensitivity, the precision, etc., and this breadth), and the questioning in there, when that's there, including -- I'll throw this out as well -- including a kind of noticing of the dynamism that comes as I'm looking at something. In other words (and this goes back to the last talk), the looking itself is never a neutral factor. Looking -- and if you know your quantum physics -- looking affects. There's no such thing as a looking, as an attentiveness, that does not affect what's going on. So as I'm looking, the thing is changing, in response to what's with my looking, the quality of my looking, by virtue of my looking. If I can notice that changing -- and some of it might be quite subtle -- that's noticing a dynamic, noticing a dynamism, and that also tends to unlock some. So, how it changes as I notice what's going on. When all that's there, the energy of the attention rises, and the whole experience begins to come alive. What felt like, "Not interesting, not much going on, not worthy of my attention," begins to reveal its subtlety, its beauty, its interestingness.

So this third one, what I'm calling broadening of the awareness, broadening of mindfulness, it's really a question -- or it could be put in question form: what else is around? What else is going on? Because oftentimes, I see this so often working with people, something is going on, and it might be difficult. And I don't see, a person doesn't see, what else is around it. It's almost like the attention just gets vacuumed into the centrepiece of what feels compelling, and I don't see what else is around. This is one usage of the word 'mindfulness,' or this breadth of awareness.

Can I include in my awareness, as much as possible, the whole field of experience in me, and what is going on? Because oftentimes -- I really see this almost every day, almost every day I see it working with people -- one overlooks something, or things, usually a number of things, in the mix of what's going on that are extremely significant. We just overlook it. We don't notice it or don't consider it relevant. Very easy to overlook and not to notice. There are things going on sometimes right at the same time, wrapped up with what is going on, that either they're supporting the whole difficulty and we haven't noticed, or they're totally a treasure there -- I'll go into both of these -- totally a treasure there and we're completely oblivious of it. It's right there, wrapped up in the difficulty, in the heat of the emotion. Again, the emotion was not one thing; it's more.

In this list of eight principles, they overlap, so it's not strictly that they're separate. So especially in this third one, especially wanting to be interested in the reactions and the responses to the emotion. That's so, so crucial. What are the reactions and the responses that are in response to this emotion being there? There is always a reaction, if not multiple reactions. There's always a relationship with what's going on. Always. There has to be; it's the nature of consciousness. You cannot have a thing going on without a relationship to it. There's always something going on. There's always something there in the realm of reactions, responses. Sometimes it might be incredibly subtle, really, really subtle, but it's always there.

Could be on the level of thoughts, beliefs, assumptions. Could be in the body. And again, the body is so important -- really emphasize that. It could be in terms of projections. Again, I project this thing: "This has been here since I was da-da-da, this will be here da-da-da." There's a projection of the thing into the past and into the future. It's a movement of thought. It's a movement of assumption, a movement of belief perhaps. But that is part of the response, the reaction, and it will have an effect. It cannot not have an effect.

So I need, I really need, to see what's there in the larger field of my experience. Some of it's not so obvious at first. And I also need to really see the effects that they have, those other factors. I really need to see. If I do that, I can begin to see what is perpetuating this. What is perpetuating this difficult emotion? That begins to reveal itself in this. Just very quick, it could be in the realm of assumptions and beliefs. Particularly could be in the realm of self-views, views about myself. And could be in the realm of reaction energetics, you could say, what we talked about last time in the talk on vedanā, the relationship with resistance, aversion, etc. Those three are not separate.

So once I begin to do that, as I begin to do that, I can actually then begin questioning more deeply and more forcefully and more helpfully, and particularly questioning a lot of these assumptions. I don't want to be locked into my assumptions. It's really not helpful to be locked into my assumptions. Because that locking into assumptions will decrease the dynamism, and there will be a stuckness. Very often, something comes up, and it just seems obvious to us: "It's this! I know what it is. I know what it is. It's this." Maybe I'm not even thinking I know what it is, or I'm not even thinking it's this, but there's a sort of attitude that we know and we're not questioning the assumptions. I'm really talking about practice; I'm aware that it might sound abstract so far, but I really want to talk about practice. All this is a practice. It will only be of value at all to the degree that we bring it into practice. Apart from that, it's completely meaningless. Any talk has only a value to the extent that we practise what's in it.

A little while ago someone came in for an interview and reported, amongst lots of other stuff, said, "There's a lot of ranting going on in the meditation." I asked, "Well, what do you mean?" "Well, there's a lot of angry voice going on, a lot of telling people what they should do." So that's interesting. Immediately the sense is, "This is a problem. This shouldn't be here." Typically, typical Dharma response would be -- one of the typical; there are many options, but one of them would be, "Okay, that sounds like a hindrance is going on. It sounds like there's aversion going on. That's the second hindrance. Maybe there's some restlessness involved with it as well. Can you see it as a hindrance?" This would be the typical. "Can you see it as a hindrance? And can you see that the hindrance is giving rise to papañca, and we're really getting involved in the stories? 'This person should do that, and they should do this, and wait till I get home and tell the other one about da-da-da.'" It's gone to the level of papañca now. It's not just the hindrance. It's hooked into the papañca.

So what really helps in this more typical mode is to really see it, know: "This is a hindrance. I know that. This is a hindrance," and see it that way. Then I can have a chance, I can disbelieve it. I can choose to unhook some of the believing power which makes it more of a problem, and go to the body. How does this feel in the body, this ranting, this agitation? I can then drop some of the content, etc.

Okay, so that's typical. That's one way. But sometimes, especially for an experienced practitioner, we just assume, "Oh, that's a hindrance. That's this," or whatever. Maybe that doesn't allow a fuller investigation of some of the more psychological aspects of what's going on. In this case, I just asked this person a question. If you were practising on your own, you could ask yourself a question. What would the question be? In this case, I happened to ask, "Do you feel that you're taking your voice in your life? Do you feel that you're allowing your voice? Is your voice allowed? Are you free to express yourself? Are you feeling heard in your life?" This is a different approach. "Are you feeling heard?"

It may be that there are some important insights and important openings here that come through that, actually asking. It may be that if we just stay, for instance, at the level of sensations -- "Okay, it's aversion. How do I feel it in the body? It's restlessness. I feel it in the body. It's just that hindrance" -- that actually doesn't lead to a sort of fully rounded and psychologically so deep understanding.

I remember many years ago, I lived in the States, and I was involved in a very complex relationship with a person of authority, over a long period of time. It was an enormously helpful relationship for me, and I really grew a lot in it. It had a lot of stuff -- as time went on, I began to realize -- a lot of stuff that was not healthy in it. One of the aspects was that I had lost my voice, in many respects. I had lost my voice in relationship to this person of authority. At some point, I sort of woke up to what was not healthy, and I ended that form of the relationship, the relationship with that person.

A little while later, not that long later, I was with a meditation teacher, and talking, and saying something similar to what happened with this person: there was a lot of sort of ranting at this person, and my immediate view was, "Well, this is a problem. It's thought. In meditation, I'm not supposed to think. I'm supposed to get rid of that and get as calm as I can." She said, "Maybe you need to learn to listen to yourself and listen to what you have to say. Actually start listening to the content of that." That was really -- it was a completely unexpected response that she gave me: "Actually listen to the content. You're getting your voice back." And it was really true, because I had a lot to say, a lot of insight, a lot of breaking free of a lot of the structures of the kind of teaching, etc., that I'd been given. It was through my own internal kind of ranting and voice that that became free. In a way, one is reaccessing one's own power, one's own freedom of exploration, etc.

So not always assuming it's a hindrance or a kilesa, it's the movement of something unskilful like greed, aversion, or ignorance. Is there a movement of being here? Is there a need, a desire, that's actually helpful, that's helpful to acknowledge, to feel, to allow -- that might not only be helpful, but necessary? This is complex. Sometimes there really is, in those examples. There really is. And there was for me. Other times, what's happened is almost the opposite. A person feels this ranting and a kind of demanding. And sometimes people can get stuck for years demanding this or that of the world, demanding that they be given this or that, demanding that X or Y gets done for them -- and not questioning that. So sometimes we don't give this movement enough space, enough exploration, and sometimes we give it too much voice, too much authority. A person can be stuck in that, resistant to seeing it in any other way. Complex. All this is complex. Needs investigation.

A different example, but along these same lines. We're still in the questioning with the mindfulness, with the differentiation, with the sensitivity. It allows questioning and the questioning of assumptions. A small example: a few weeks ago, I was feeling quite low energy physically. I'd been a little bit ill and not slept very well, had got very little sleep. With that lowness of physical energy, there was a lowness of the emotional energy. With that, there was a kind of a feeling like sadness. It was sort of like sadness around. I was with it, and I was exploring it, and it was like, "What's this about? What am I sad about? Is it that I'm sad about something? Is it sadness? What is it?" Because the truth is, sometimes we feel something like sadness, and sometimes it's about something, and sometimes it's not about something. It's just not about anything. Emotions, we said right at the beginning, are dependent. They're dependent arisings. They depend on a lot of different things. They depend on our body energy, as well, as one of the factors. When the body energy is low, the emotional energy is low, and emotions like sadness or irritability or depression -- it's the perfect soil for them. If I'm not careful, it can get blown up into something that it's really not about.

An emotion is a dependent arising. If I judge it for being there -- "This irritability, this depression, this sadness shouldn't be there" -- then I'm starting to build something. If I immediately just come in and say, "Must be about something," and just stick it, "Ooh, let's look," find an issue, stick it on the issue -- is that really real? Sometimes it is, sometimes it's not. But that's just kind of artificial and creating of papañca, and actually dukkha. There will be some suffering there.

So I was with it, and feeling very tired, not well physically, etc., and then this curious feeling around. It was quite subtle. I said, "I'll go for a bike ride." I went for a bike ride, and at some point -- it was a beautiful day. It was really, really one of those still, sunny, gorgeous days, late afternoon, before the clocks had changed. And I got off in a lane. There's a lovely place near here where I sometimes just get off my bike, and I sometimes walk when I feel a bit more contemplative, and I walk with my bike. The light was so beautiful, and there was such a quietness there in the lane. I was the only person around. Such a sense of peace began to come. Just such a sense of peace imbuing everything. The heart felt really touched, and there was a real sense of blessing there, blessing. This thing that was sort of sadness actually was morphing. It was morphing. It was opening and unfolding. Its dynamism was unfolding, and actually turning into something different. No denial there, no disconnection. I was perfectly prepared to see, "Maybe there's something I'm sad about." With the process, investigating it, bringing the sensitivity, open. It was honest, it was alive, it was open.

Things are dynamic; things are dependent arisings -- especially emotions. Then the things can unfold, and oftentimes what happens (to repeat what I've already said) when things unfold, when the dynamism is unblocked, is sometimes, oftentimes, it will move towards more tenderness. More beautiful qualities of heart and perception and ways of seeing our existence begin to manifest in the unblocking of what has become stuck. Beautiful qualities of heart and perception, and the very seeing of existence. That's exactly what happened in this instance. It's quite a small example. It wasn't that amazing or anything, but it was very beautiful and in quite a subtle way. Not that big a deal. The thing that came for me was a sense of walking in the lane and this thing just morphing, and then looking around me and everything, and then feeling like I was walking in this space of -- really hard to describe -- somehow the sense of being very inseparable, inseparably partaking, very deeply drinking, being part of very deeply, a kind of endless blessing, the endless blessedness of existence. There was a real tenderness in that. It wasn't really that big a deal, really -- I just throw it out as an example.

If I take away some of these assumptions, and I let the thing have its dynamism, I let it unfold, I question, I probe, I'm not locking it into place, generally the dukkha gets less. The exploration of our life, the journey of our life, the sensitivities of our life, of our being, they further themselves, they unfold, they get deeper. We discover new sensitivities, new unfoldments, new dimensions of the being, new territories. Sometimes that's big and dramatic and amazing, and a person is like, "Wow!" And I'll give some examples. And sometimes, like this example, it's not -- you know, I have plenty of experience -- it wasn't that big a deal, but it was beautiful and, in some particular way, it was quite new. I thought, "Oh, that was a little bit new as an unfoldment."

It's a lot of stuff, isn't it? I won't finish it in one talk, okay? I'll just do the next one. I'll finish number four, and I'll do number five, and we'll call it a day. What time did I start, for heaven's sake? 11:20, okay. Is that okay? One more? Or have you really had enough? It's okay? All right.

So let's finish number four, because it's about questioning. I said another area to question is the self-view. Oftentimes this whole thing is being compacted into place by the self-view: "I am like this. This is how I am." Or, "This is here because I'm da-da-da-da-da" -- fill it in; usually it's not very flattering. Oftentimes that's hidden. The self-view is hidden. Even the thought that "this is here because I'm da-da-da-da-da" is hidden. "It's here because it's my fault, because I'm like this." That view is hidden. Or, "The fact that this is here means I'm something or other." So knowing what the self-view is that's operating and really questioning it: is it really true? Is it really true?

Oftentimes I notice with people, they'll discover something in their inner mindfulness, in their inquiry. For instance, "This is here, and there's fear underneath it." And then, for instance, they don't keep going with the questioning. A person doesn't keep going, and it's just like, "Oh, it's fear. Okay. There's fear." And they don't ask, "Why is there fear? Does this fear need to be here? What's it about?" So keeping the questioning probing. Is there an end to the questioning? When the questioning ends, the dynamism ends. Something will lock, generally.

(5) Number five is really by virtue of an example, and it's really a summary of what's come up till now. But I will say something about -- putting it into words, number five is exploring the aspects of what's going on that were revealed by the mindfulness, and exploring them more fully. I will explain this by an example. Notice particularly -- a lot of this is very particular, so there's quite a lot of really specific stuff. It's quite a complex example, really specific stuff. I really want to draw out the specificity -- and particularly, again, how relevant the body is in the investigation, how relevant the body is to unlock the dynamism. Because sometimes what happens is we see a pattern. We know it's going on. "Oh, this is such a pattern. I know it. I've seen it before, maybe. I know this is going on." I can even know its roots in my personal story. I know its history. I can look back at my family, my early childhood. I know where it's come from. I see the pattern. I'm aware of it. I see its roots in the story. It's not enough sometimes.

Recently, or some time ago, someone was in an interview, and was just starting a new romance, quite unexpected and very delightful for her in lots of ways. Particularly in the sense of -- not so much "I want this"; there's like a grasping sometimes that can come in in the romantic relationship. Not that that wasn't there, but that wasn't so strong. What was more there was a kind of acknowledgment of how heart-opening this was, this new, initial period of a romance. How the qualities of heart were really opening.

And at the same time as there was some degree of opening, she was really conscious that she wasn't letting herself feel the fullness of that opening, the loveliness of it, the pleasure of it, the excitement of it fully. A lot of stuff -- it was kind of clamped around, she was locking it quite tightly, in some respects. She said [it was] because she was on the lookout, expecting something bad to happen, expecting bad stuff to happen. She said, "It's kind of like when something good happens, the universe has this way of balancing it out by bringing some bad stuff." And then we were exploring that, and she said, "Because, you know, my mum did have really bad stuff happen, and really bad stuff happened very suddenly. We, as children, saw her go through that, felt all the trauma of that for her, and absorbed it. We absorbed it from her." Okay. Yes. There's really some truth in that; there really is some truth in that.

But I asked her, "What's emotionally underneath that? What's emotionally underneath?" It didn't take a lot of looking. "Fear and anxiety are there underneath. Fear and anxiety are there." I kept pushing with the questions: "What is that fear and anxiety doing? What's it serving?" So what I want to highlight here is the process of questioning, the specificity, the probing, and the ways of probing. What's emotionally underneath? Fear and anxiety. What's it doing? What's it serving? That question, on reflection and being with it, she began to realize there was a belief operating. There's a belief operating. What's the belief? The belief was, "If I'm on the lookout for something terrible when I feel good, I'll pre-empt it, and it won't be as bad as it would have otherwise. I'll be more protected." Again, a person can recognize that and very easily just move on. So I said, "Can you speak that out? Speak it clearly into the space. Say it, drop it, put it out there into the space. Say it very clear. Let it hang in the space" -- in this case, the space between us, but it could be the inner space. Say it clearly, think it clearly, see it clearly, let it hang there. Listen to it clearly. So that's another part in terms of specificity.

Then, because I've done that, I'm able to see more clearly the next probing: what response comes from the being when you see that, when you hear that, when you let that hang there in the space? You've heard yourself say that, you've heard that that's there. Let it hang there. What's the heart's response? What's the being's response to it? There's another questioning, another thread of the inquiry, another sensitivity of the mindfulness. The first thing that came for her when she looked was sadness. Then, again, can you feel that sadness? It's not just, "Oh, I know sadness is here." Can you feel it? Can you go into it, hold it, be with it, explore it? It is sad. There is sadness in that, that one is cramping one's joy, one is cutting off from one's flow, one is closing down in a certain sense. That's sad, undeniably that's sad. She was with that, and I asked, "What else is there in the being's response to this?" Then it was, "No, I won't. I won't have this reaction. I won't clamp down like that." It was a kind of rebelliousness in response to her reaction.

But very important, again: can you feel that in the body? Really feel this "no, I won't" in the body. Very easy, very easy to just kind of acknowledge it as, "Oh, there's a thought of 'no, I won't' or whatever." So first -- and in this case, it was first -- just a thought. "It's just a thought: no, I won't." Really trying to keep her in the body, stay with that, explore it. She then began to notice -- she was sitting in an armchair, and maybe I pointed it out; I can't remember -- noticing her hands had become fists with the "no, I won't." A small thing, but there's some bodily reflection of the thought "no, I won't." I need to feel that, acknowledge it, feel the fist. The fist lightly kind of slammed on the armchair side, whatever it's called, hand rest.

Can I let that bodily feeling fill out? This is really important. Can I let that kind of response -- it's a response of reclaiming my power and my strength. Can I let it fill out and fill the space of the body and the space of the being? Give it space. Can I give it space? Can you give it space? Then what happened, in this instance? All this is very normal. If I follow, if I pick up the threads, if I'm alive to it, if there's that sensitivity in the questioning, what happens then? Not just the hands, but goes right there into the belly, right into the belly, and then the whole body.

What came with that? A palpable feeling of strength in that moment, real strength. So it'd gone from this sense of cramped constriction, sadness, etc., the sadness of all that. The whole thing was unlocking its dynamism, was morphing right there in the moment. Strength, an experience of strength, an experience of spaciousness, an experience of openness, an experience of happiness. All there together as a new mix. Again, going back to the first principle: can I then differentiate those qualities? Really feel, really feel. But that whole mix -- strength, spaciousness, openness, happiness -- that's a whole different sense come. A whole different perception and view of things opened and was accessible in the being with that new mix.

Really feeling that in the body allows it to go deeper, allows it to go deeper and get integrated more deeply in the body, and allows it to become -- that new feeling, that new sense of being, that new sense of perception of me and my life -- allows that to become more accessible in the future, as a different way of being. It allows it to become something new that's open for me. It's a new territory, a new space that's open for me to walk into and inhabit. A different way of being. That was, for her, unexpected, very unexpected, very new, unknown. It was exciting. It was a real discovery.

I'll just pick out one more thread of that before I end. In that new mix, the body sense felt very different. It's really, again, body, body, body. It's so important. Can you feel your way into really inhabiting that new body sense? The whole body feels very different. When the body feels different, the self feels different. Okay? Self also is a dependent arising. One of the things that the sense of self is dependent on is how the body feels. When we feel cramped, and the emotions are cramped because I'm afraid of enjoying the beauty of this opening because the universe will balance it out, and the whole thing gets cramped, etc., the body gets cramped and the sense of self gets cramped. Cramped and locked into certain orbits, and tight, etc. If I can really feel and really allow and really tune into and experience this different body sense, then that will bring with it a different sense of self. My very self feels different. It's like I'm a new personality. Stronger, in this case. More open, in this case.

Then that begs a question: who am I? Who am I when this is here, this that's unfamiliar? Who am I now? It's very different than the 'I' that I'm used to. A very different experience of myself. Can I inhabit that new sense of self -- that, we could say, wider, more expansive sense of self? In a way, in a very real way, that's a truer sense of self. It's a more authentic sense of self. I'm not necessarily saying that's the end of the path at all, or that's a final, ultimate truth. I'm not saying that. But again, especially Dharma practitioners, it might be very easy to dismiss, too quick to dismiss, "Oh, it's just another sense of self. I shouldn't identify with self-views. It's just another identity. Don't identify with this." But maybe there's something there to actually really fully inhabit and put on like we put on clothes. Inhabit that identity for a while, feel that fill out. There might be a lot of healing there, a lot of the healing of the unfolding of the expansion of the dynamism.

Okay, so let's call that Part 1, and either on this retreat or some other time we'll do some other stuff. Okay, let's have a bit of quiet together.

Sacred geometry
Sacred geometry