Okay, good morning, everyone. I'd like to talk this morning a little bit about samādhi. It's a word that many of you will have heard before. Some of you maybe not. It's usually translated as 'concentration,' but I hope that I can open out the sense of what it actually means a little bit, and actually open out the discussion of what it is and what's involved, etc.
So I want to talk quite generally, but also quite specifically -- both. Just because there are a lot of people here, there will be people doing different practices, very different histories, etc., what you're familiar with and what you're less familiar with, but I hope that there will be something helpful for everyone.
And so to begin just with a little introduction, and actually set a context for the whole discussion, anyway: it's possible, definitely, to conceive of the path and what is involved in the path in quite a few different ways, even if we just restrict ourselves to Buddhism. You and I are free, absolutely free, to conceive of the path however we want to. There's no one -- I, nor anyone else -- to tell you how to conceive of it. So we are free in that respect. Please don't hear anything that I'm saying as trying to force you into one opinion or anything like that. We're free. But within that freedom, what I would hope is that we can question and consider and even be aware of: what is my conception of the path, or conceptions? How do I see all this fit together? So not that you have to think this or that, but I do think questioning and considering is a necessity, it's important, and even to be conscious of what are the conceptions.
So if you move in the Insight Meditation world, or even if you hang out at Gaia House over some weeks, and you listen to different talks on the web or in this room over some weeks, for instance, and if you're just listening a little bit carefully, it should occur to you that there's quite a difference in what's being set up or communicated as the conception of the path. It's quite different. I don't know; I hope that that's occurred to you guys. [laughs] Oftentimes it doesn't, actually. People seem to think we're all kind of saying the same thing, which is, "Just accept things, and try and be aware." Now, this difference, this range, even just within the Insight Meditation world, of course, it can give rise to confusion, naturally, of course, maybe. And if you're very much into the Buddha and his teachings, if that's important to you (and it doesn't have to be, but if you are), then you may get, you may have accumulated the realization that yes, he talks about mindfulness, and he talks about mettā, and he talks about insight, and he talks about samādhi, and he talks about letting go, and he talks about generosity, and he says all these things and more are important.
But it can be a little unsure, we can be a little unsure: how does all that fit together? How does it all fit together, all these things? I do them just because it seems like that's what he said to do, and so okay, I'll do that, and they fit together just by virtue of we get them from one source, get those teachings from one source. But it's not actually clear, very often, how it all fits together. We may also see, well, they're kind of generally moving in the direction of less suffering; that's one of the things they have in common. There can be confusion about how the elements of the path fit together, quite commonly, and/or, we can kind of arrive at and stay stuck in quite a limited conception of what the path is and what practice involves. That's also very common.
One of the most common conceptions of the path that people arrive at and stay in for years and sometimes decades -- I'm actually quoting a yogi who told this to me -- "I thought for years it was just kind of 'be with your experience as it comes up, and sort of try and be in the body, and try to be kind, and try to accept.' And that's kind of it. And that is it. That's it. There's nothing more than that. That's it. Or, if there is something more, whatever needs to happen, everything that will happen or that needs to unfold, will happen naturally, will open naturally out of doing this 'being with experience as it comes up.'" Very, very common. Now, that's a conception. And that conception, however conscious or unconscious it is, that conception feels and seems quite open. The tenor of it, the ethos of it, is an openness, a sensibility of openness. It seems like an attitude of openness. But actually, it's quite limited and limiting.
We could, rather, view that as one option. It's one option. It's, if you like, one gear, as a car or a bicycle has different gears. It's one gear of practice. Very beautiful, very lovely, very fruitful, but only one gear. And if I only have that, then it's limited and limiting. So it is actually quite rare, it's quite rare to have a clear conception or overview of how all the elements of the path that we might hear about, how that fits together. And that's understandable that that's rare. Again, I'm really not trying to convince you of anything. I just want to present a way of opening things out, and some alternative ways of seeing things.
What if we work backwards as a principle? Rather than working directly from what's in front of my nose and seems to be demanding my attention because I'm suffering over it, actually just have enough space to work backwards. Where was the Buddha -- again, if you're into the Buddha and what he said -- where was he pointing to? Where is it that we're going? Just to get a sense of where that might be, what he's pointing to, and then let that understanding have its implications for right here, right now, and how I'm viewing the practice. So working backwards as a principle. Where are we going?
Now, of course, some say -- and it's quite popular -- we're going nowhere. The path goes nowhere. This is quite a popular phrase: "The path goes nowhere." What does that mean? What does it mean to say this goes nowhere? Because there are worlds of difference in what that phrase might mean, worlds of difference. Oftentimes, again, this 'going nowhere' just comes to mean, comes to funnel into a meaning of 'just be present.' "You're not going anywhere, anyway. Just be present with what's happening, what's coming up." We try and live a life of mindfulness and a life of presence, and that's what it comes to mean: trying to live a life of presence.
But that, what it's come to mean very popularly nowadays, is not at all the original meaning of the path going nowhere, not at all. That phrase had its origins in Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism when it evolved, in the Prajñāpāramitā texts, the beautiful texts, in the Vajrayāna, the tantric teachings -- it's very common there. And then in Chan, in Zen. But it means wholly different things than 'just be present,' wholly different. If one does look at kind of the totality of the Buddha's teachings, again, what does he seem to be pointing to? What is it that this whole project and all these words and all these texts, what is it that they're pointing to? It's a lot more than 'just be present,' 'just be with,' 'just be mindful.' One way you can kind of surmise very simply is he's interested in overturning or dissolving avijjā. Some of you know this word -- fundamental delusion, ignorance. That's where this whole path is heading -- a little, a lot, the whole way, whatever, but that's the direction: overturning and dissolving avijjā, delusion, which means fundamental beliefs about existence.
Oftentimes, we're not even conscious what they are. Fundamental beliefs about existence, he wants to dissolve them, overturn them. Something very radical here in its fullness. So, in that, we're liberating, if you like, a whole different sense of existence. This is, I would say, gradual. And one way, possibly -- and again, I'm just presenting one way; I'm not trying to sell you anything, really -- one way to overview that -- okay, so that's the direction, and the overview of the path then can be seen to have two wings, so to speak. This is the direction, and the travelling, the flying, has two wings. And those two wings, we could say, are insight on one hand, and on the other hand, cultivation.
Now, these are not actually two separate things. But it is helpful, or it can be helpful, to see them as two separate things: insight and cultivation. And both are necessary. Both are necessary, insight and cultivation. So what do these things mean, very, very briefly? Insight, we could say what insight means is seeing, in the loose sense of the term, seeing, understanding, relating with, seeing that frees, seeing that liberates. That's what insight is. It's a kind of way of experiencing things, any way of experiencing things, that liberates, any way of looking at things that liberates. That's what insight is. And involved in that, and also as a result, it brings an understanding of the nature of self and the nature of things, and that understanding goes deeper and deeper and deeper, and opens up deeper and deeper freedom. The question is, how? How might we do that? How might we travel that path? How might we open a deeper and deeper freedom? I'm not going to [go into it]; that would be a different talk.
So there's insight, and then there's cultivation. I said there's two wings. Cultivation. The Buddha talks about qualities that are kusala, skilful or wholesome. We're cultivating, you could say, beautiful qualities of heart. So generosity, kindness, compassion, equanimity. Insight, even, is a kind of cultivation. Mindfulness. Samādhi too. These are beautiful qualities of the heart that are cultivatable, skilful qualities. Why? Why cultivate these things? What's the point? Because one finds, in the cultivation of them, with practice, one finds that these qualities bring happiness. They actually bring happiness. A state of mettā is a happy state. A state of compassion also is a happy state. They bring peace. They bring nourishment, and deep nourishment. Generosity, mettā, samādhi, these qualities bring deep, deep nourishment to the being, and that's something that we're hungry for.
One of the reasons consumerism is so rampant in our culture, in the global culture, one of the reasons we trash the planet without thinking about it -- one of the reasons -- is because we do not have enough nourishment inside, so we're looking in the wrong places for nourishment, and we kind of are so desperate that we don't care what we trash in the process of trying to get nourished. So nourishment is huge. Comes from these beautiful qualities -- the deep nourishment comes. And also, when these qualities are strong in the being, it's much easier to let go. Much easier to let go of the psychological stuff, the emotional stuff, the material stuff, the identity stuff. When there's a lot of mettā, letting go is much easier, for example.
These qualities that are cultivatable, the Buddha recommended cultivating, they also very wonderfully allow our seeing to be deeper. That's also another reason why, why the Buddha says cultivate them. When those qualities are strong, we actually see deeper. The seeing, the understanding, goes deeper. And in the practice of cultivating them, we move in and out of different states, inevitably: the quality's strong, it's weak, it's not there, the opposite is there, it gets stronger again. And we begin to understand something about perception. And that's the most important thing. It's the most important thing in the whole path, understanding something about the nature of perception. And that's one of the most important reasons why cultivation is important. So there are lots of reasons.
We could say that insight is seeing in different skilful ways. And we could say that cultivation is being in different skilful or wholesome ways. Seeing in different skilful ways, being in different skilful ways. Insight and cultivation. As I said, they're not separate. Once I start seeing in skilful ways, it changes the way I 'be.' In that moment, I 'be' different. I feel different. The state of mind is different. And when I 'be' in a different way, I see in a different way. When I 'be' with lots of mettā, I see with lots of mettā, and the world looks very different: it looks soft, radiant, beautiful, not separate. So 'see' and 'be' are not so separate. And tracing back to what we said before, this 'being with' that so often becomes the kind of be-all and end-all of practice for many people, this 'being with' is then just one relatively skilful way of being and way of seeing. It's one relatively skilful way of being and seeing.
Samādhi, we said, is one of the qualities that the Buddha emphasized cultivating. And what does it mean? I said it's usually translated as 'concentration,' but if we again use this principle: where are we going? When the Buddha talks about samādhi, what's he actually talking about? When he describes states of samādhi, he's really describing a whole spectrum of kind of deepening consciousness. And that range of states, if you like, or that direction, what it has in common is -- there are a few factors it has in common, or rather states of samādhi have in common, this direction of samādhi has in common. One is that it involves the whole body. It involves the whole body. The whole body is involved. It also involves a kind of unification of the sense of the body, in the sense of the wholeness, and the mind. Mind and body -- it's not like mind is up here, and body is down here; there's a sense of the mind occupying the whole space of the body. This is a common feature of samādhi deepening.
Harmonization, if I can use that word -- the energies, if you like, of this body and mind feel harmonized. They come into alignment. And there's some kind of sense of well-being, some kind of sense of well-being pervading that whole body space. So this is an experience, or this is a whole range of possible experiences. It doesn't have to be very dramatic. But the experience of the body in states of samādhi is not so much an experience of bones and fingers and nerves and what we all know very well about the anatomy and the physiology of the body. It's an experience, if I can use the word, of the energy body. This feels, this space here that I call my body, begins to feel like a field of energy. It's a field of energy, if you like. It's that -- and I don't mean to make a big deal out of such a concept -- that comes into kind of wholeness and alignment and harmonization and some degree of well-being.
So this is just to say, this is what the Buddha is talking about when he talks about samādhi. This is where we're going. So can that, if you like, inform what I might be doing now as practice? This is where I'm going. What information, if you like, does that set up for my direction? How does it direct me? (1) One possibility -- to run, very broadly, three possibilities -- one is, and this is perhaps the most common when people think about samādhi or concentration: put the mind somewhere on one point. Very often it's the nostrils or the tip of the nose, or just the upper lip, or somewhere just inside the nostrils, or down in the abdomen somewhere, or on something like the mettā phrases (may you be well, may you be peaceful). Put the mind somewhere, and try and keep it there. Try and keep it there, and return over and over. It will slip away, and you return over and over.
Within that, you can make the attention very small, very small at the tip, very small at one point. So this is one very popular way of trying to cultivate samādhi, and it's probably the most often taught. For some, it works well. For some people, it works well. It works well in the sense that it does evolve towards what the Buddha was talking about when he said samādhi, the sense of the whole body integrated and feeling quite well and harmonized in the energy. For some people, it works that way. Partly it works because when we return the mind over and over, if you like, we're not dissipating energy -- the mind thinking about tomorrow, worrying about this or that, going back to yesterday, etc.; it's firing off, dragged off in all these directions, and it squanders, it dissipates energy, so energy doesn't get the chance to gather in the body, in the mind.
When it does gather, through bringing the mind back and back to one point and staying there a little bit, the energy gathers, and this begins to feel different. This space, this energy body, begins to feel different, and begins to harmonize in that way. So that's partly why samādhi comes out of that. But focus is not the point. Focus is not the point. Focus, in that way of working, is a significant element in what moves towards the point, which is samādhi. So we have to be careful. If that's the way you're working, with the mind returning again and again to one small point, or the phrases, you have to be careful, because -- I'll say it again -- samādhi means more than focus. Samādhi means more than focus. We're way more interested than just in focus, way more interested.
Somehow, samādhi needs to include the whole body. Somehow that's what we want to cultivate, where we want to go towards. Because as a teacher, what I hear so often, and it's actually really painful to hear, and people are communicating a degree of pain, how often focus becomes the be-all and the end-all of the practice, especially for beginners, people who are in, say, the first few years of practice. Trying to focus, and that's what they're trying to do, focus, focus, focus, and it just becomes the most important thing. So if we talk about working backwards and say, how do you want to make meditation feel dry and tight and joyless and miserable? Let's work backwards from that. Make focus your priority. [laughter] Make it the thing that you're emphasizing more than anything else. And then, on top of that, measure yourself and the practice in terms of how well you're focusing. It will be miserable. It will be tight and joyless and juiceless. "How steady is the mind? Am I distracted? How many thoughts are there? Have I got rid of thoughts yet?"
So this is really, really important. Can I see that a lot more is involved in where we're going, but is even involved right now if that's even the practice that I'm trying to do, of bringing back to one point? Much, much more is involved than focus. A whole bunch of other factors are being cultivated at the same time as bringing the mind back, which are actually more important, more important than the focus. When I've lost focus and I realize where the mind is, that realizing where the mind is, knowing what is in the mind, that's one of the possible definitions of mindfulness. In that moment, there's mindfulness being cultivated, and I'm not with the primary object, but I recognize the mind is off. Brilliant. Mindfulness is being cultivated. And I bring the mind back, and it goes, and I notice, and I bring it back. That bringing back cultivates the muscle, the power of the mind, to bring back. That's huge, and that's more important, as important as focus.
And patience is cultivated. And that's way more important than focus. If I had a chance to give you a pill, one that would give you focus and one that would give you patience, I would give you the one that gave you patience. Serve you much better in the long run in your life. Hopefully kindness is cultivated, because each time I'm off there's the opportunity for the habits of judgment to come. I can see that. Can I soften those habits of self-judgment, and actually bring in, cultivate the habit of kindness? That's way more important than focus, way more important.
So I can begin to see these other factors. There's a whole range of factors being cultivated, not just focus, even if I'm doing that kind of practice, and they are way more important. But I need to open the vision. Every time I sit down, maybe even during the practice, I open it up again, remind myself: what is being cultivated here? It's not just focus. Every time, maybe, I sit down, I open to a bigger picture of what's going on, a bigger vision of what this practice is, this particular practice of returning.
What often happens is people are given that practice at the beginning of their years of meditating, and try it, and it's difficult. And they sort of give up over a few years. They kind of give up trying to be with the breath, and they opt more for a sort of being with whatever is prominent, mostly. A little bit with the breath, but because it's difficult and it's just frustrating, it goes to a practice of sort of just being with whatever's prominent.
So if that's the kind of practice that one's doing, then the question is, how might it deepen? And I don't mean by 'deepen' just the focus; I mean the whole sense of where are we going when the Buddha talks about samādhi, what's the directionality here. How am I to deepen? So just a few, very briefly, a few things that might help.
(1.1) One we've already said is open up the conception of what that practice is. It's much more. Many more qualities are being cultivated. The samādhi comes, this loveliness to whatever degree, or just the well-being, the harmonization, comes from the mix of positive qualities. Does not come just from focus. The samādhi comes when all those qualities -- the kindness, the openness, the patience, and the steadiness, sure -- when all those qualities are gathered. It comes from the mix, not just from the focus. So open up the vision of the practice.
(1.2) The second thing that might be helpful in deepening is to emphasize quality rather than quantity. What do I mean by that? I mean that this breath that's happening now, if what you're doing is breath, or this phrase in the mettā practice, this moment of this breath, for instance, this in-breath, can the attention be really alive, really alive and bright? "This is the only one that matters." Because very easily, we prioritize quantity: "How many breaths can I be with in a row? How long can I stay steady?", and the aliveness, the brightness, the energy of this moment, actually we're not emphasizing it so much. What if we flip that and actually just really emphasize quality? This moment of this breath, now, really alive, really full. And let the quantity take care of itself out of that.
(1.3) A third thing that might be helpful is -- how to say this? -- as meditation deepens, any meditation, whatever the practice is, one factor it has in common as it deepens is it grows more subtle. So deepening has to do with deepening in subtlety more than anything else, perhaps. And so sometimes when people are working with the breath they are, without realizing it, not deliberately, often, but they're keeping the breath quite gross. So they may not have a problem with their breathing, or blocked nostrils, but when they go to meditate, they engage a heavier breath, so that the person next to them can actually hear them. Or the mettā phrases are just sort of being hammered out very loud. It might be more fruitful to just, very gently, not force the breath to become subtle, but allow it to become subtle, to become quite gentle, maybe shorter, maybe smoother, etc. Very, very gently, you're inclining in that direction. Because the subtlety is part of the samādhi. Keeping the breath gross, it will -- what would you say? -- stagnate things, really.
And a fourth possibility. So we said opening the vision of what's involved, we said quality instead of quantity, and we said allowing, just gently encouraging things to become more subtle when it feels like that's possible. (1.4) A fourth possibility is even if you're at one point -- so we're still talking about being at one point at the nostrils or abdomen or whatever it is -- including the whole body in the awareness. So we can talk about foreground and background. It's like if you look at an object in this room, the sight can have that object as a foreground, but it can have the awareness of the whole room, etc., as a background. So even if you're very much at one point, it can be really, really helpful to have a background awareness of the whole body, for many different reasons. It stops it getting too tight, and we can feel the body, and the tightness and the tension creep into the body, and then relax it. Really, really helpful. That's a fourth possibility.
Okay. But that was all under the general sort of heading of coming back to one thing or one small point, if you like. There are other possibilities, if we open out -- directions that are possible, avenues that are possible. (2) And a second one that many people find really helpful is actually making the whole body primary, the awareness of the whole body, making it primary right from the beginning. Not just a point in the body, but the whole body. Not just as background awareness, but primary right from the beginning. The thing that I'm paying attention to is this whole body. Now, I mean something a little bit specific, and maybe different than what some of you are familiar with here. So I wonder if we could even try a little something now. If you just comfortably get into a meditation posture.
[32:06, brief guided meditation begins]
This is just a couple of minutes, but I just want to ... Now, is it possible to relax the body, first of all? So let the body be relaxed. Actually, maybe just scan through the body from the face down, and just relax it. Relax the different areas just as much as you can. Allow the body to relax.
Now, in this upright posture, it's relaxed but upright, and there's a tone in the body. There's a tone that's keeping it upright. Can you feel that tone now? There's a directionality in the body that keeps it upright. Can you feel the uprightness of the body? So it runs up the body, and it runs perhaps out the legs from the belly.
Can you open the awareness so that it's stretched even a little bit bigger than the physical body? So what we're paying attention to now is a field. There's a field of awareness, and you're stretching that. Opening that awareness, stretching it. And, if I say, can you be aware of what the energy of that whole space feels like, the tone of it, the texture, the vibration? Open it. Fill it with awareness. Fill it with presence.
So this awareness will keep shrinking; keep stretching it out. Stretch it out so it's a bit bigger than the physical body. And it's a whole space that is then filled with bright awareness, sensitivity. So the secret is in the stretching, and in the aliveness, the brightness of the awareness. Can you feel there's a kind of energy to the whole space? Maybe different energies in the whole space. Different vibrations, tones, textures.
So let's just keep staying with that. Just try one more thing. So stay with this. Keep stretching it. It will keep shrinking. Don't worry. Just keep stretching it out again till it's a bit bigger than the full body, and fill it again with bright awareness, really inhabiting, being present in the whole space and the feeling of the whole space. Now, within that, staying with that, can you feel how the breath makes the whole space feel? How does the breath, in and out, ripple through the whole space? What's its effect on the energy of the whole space?
Some people feel the whole space actually expanding a little bit and contracting a little bit, expanding with the in-breath, contracting with the out-breath. How does that feel, the energy of it? Expanding, contracting. Whole body alive. Or some people feel with the in-breath there's a kind of energizing of the whole body. The whole body is energized a little bit with the in-breath. And with the out-breath, there's a quality of relaxation. You can feel that energetically in the whole space.
So here we're paying attention to the whole space and this feeling of, if you like, energy. Let's just try one more thing. So same, whole space. You may want to forget about your breath even. Let the breath go. But be with that whole space, that whole energy field. And can you, in some way or another, imagine a line of energy, if you like -- so it may be visual; may just be kinaesthetic imagination -- a line of energy from deep in your belly, or maybe even your perineum, up the centre of the body, right up the centre of the body, into the head, through the neck into the head, maybe even out the top of the body? How does that feel, just imagining that there? And the tone of the body is around that, the energy of the body is around that. How does that feel?
Maybe you want to add to that, and add two lines of energy, imagining two lines of energy, from deep in the belly out through the legs, down the legs. They don't have to bend at the knees; they could go onwards at the knees, if your knees are bent. Then you have these three lines of energy that you're imagining, and noticing how the whole energy body feels. How does it feel?
[39:30, brief guided meditation ends]
Okay. So you can come out of your deep state now. [laughs] Do you get a little bit of sense of how that might be fruitful? Yeah? In this way of going about things, we may or may not include the breath. Can include the breath, if it's helpful, include this sense of the whole energy space expanding and contracting, include the sense of energization with the in-breath and relaxation with the out-breath. These are energetic qualities. So maybe it's helpful sometimes to include the breath, and if not, no problem -- you're just with the whole space; that's what the focus is, if you like. Or include the mettā, whatever.
But what we're dealing with here and playing with really is, if you like, the resonances, the energy quality of this whole space, the feel of energy, or how the breath or the mettā affects the feeling of energy. That's what we're playing with. So it's different -- how many people have eaten the raisin? [laughter] Yeah? It's a different thing than mindfulness of the body with the raisin. Or if I stub my toe, and I bring mindfulness to the sensations of stubbing my toe, it's a slightly different kind of mindfulness of the body that we're talking about here. One, what I'm talking about now, is actually a more energetic quality. In this way of working, with this is my field and this is what I'm playing with, anything goes. Anything goes. You can do whatever you want. You can use your imagination or not. You can work with the breath or not. Anything goes. All we're interested in is this whole body energy field, and just encouraging it to feel relatively nice, maybe even pleasant. Just some degree of well-being. We're taking care of this field in whatever way you like. As pleasant, as much well-being as possible. That's it. That's what we're doing. And within that, anything goes.
So a bit like someone improvising at a potter's wheel. You know, the foot controls the pace, the speed of the rotation of the wheel, and the hands are responding to shaping something, but maybe they don't quite know what they're making, and they're improvising -- little shaping here and there. We're shaping this field into a state of relative well-being, loveliness even. Yeah? Anything goes. So that's the second possibility when we talk about samādhi.
(3) A third possibility is actually even wider. Samādhi comes when there's deep letting go. Deep release of clinging or craving will result in this. Again, in terms of the energy body, and this is something you can check out for yourself, when there is deep letting go of craving and clinging, this energy body begins to feel more open, more lovely, more harmonized, more unknotted, and then it's very close to a state of samādhi. That's why insight brings samādhi, because insight is the business of letting go, seeing that brings liberation, seeing that frees, like we said. So deep letting go is actually a way that can open up a kind of samādhi. And there are different ways that this can happen too.
So one very popular one is actually with a very open awareness. So just now we did kind of this big, a little bit bigger than the body, but you can go way bigger than that, be aware of body sensations and aware of sounds, too, for instance, and the attention is very wide, like bigger than the building, out there, really wide attention. Centred in the body, centred here, but very wide. And within that, what one is doing, if you like, is just letting go, letting be. Phenomena are coming and going, sounds and body sensations, and this and that, and thoughts, and one's job is just let 'em come, let 'em go. Let everything come, arise, and be. That's what one is doing in this wider field of attention.
And what will happen is, eventually, it will calm and open out, and the body will begin to feel very light, very open, very harmonized. And there's a whole range of what's possible there. But this is samādhi. This is a kind of samādhi. There, the steadiness is on the space. It's not on this or that phenomenon in the space; it's on the space itself. That's what's staying steady. The space is like a backdrop within which different things come and go. Or it's on the way of looking at phenomena, or the way of relating to them. So I might be looking at them and releasing clinging, looking at them, releasing clinging, and the focus is on the way of looking. Or looking at them, seeing impermanence, looking at them, seeing impermanence.
So rather than necessarily the focus being on an object, the focus is on what is the mind doing in relation to this, and getting it to let go in certain ways. It may be on one object. Maybe I'm sitting with a heartache, a sadness, a grief. Maybe I'm sitting with a pain in my hip. But I'm looking in a certain way at that pain. I'm relating in a very particular way to that grief, to that sadness, to that depression, and that's my focus, although it includes one object. Okay? Different possibilities. You can see -- this samādhi, where are we going? There's actually quite a range of possibilities to make it workable.
So just some general things to say, as well, to end a little bit. To recap what I said at the beginning: we can think about meditation, you can certainly think about one spiritual path, if that's a word you use, in loads of different ways, and we are free to do that, absolutely free. It can be very common, though, for people to conceive of their meditation or their spiritual practice as it's important that it has no goals, that it's free of wanting, and that it's free of doing. No goals, no desire, no doing; that does not belong in spiritual practice; we don't want goals, desires, and doing to contaminate our spiritual practice. So that's quite a common view.
But -- and I go back to this thing about the path going nowhere -- that path going nowhere does not mean, it does not mean don't try, don't do. Or at least originally, that was absolutely not the meaning: don't try, don't do. If I keep it at that, something is not being understood, perhaps, that's a potentially much deeper understanding. No goals, no desire, no doing -- if that's my conception of practice and the path, and spiritual practice and meditation, and sometimes people want to say, "Because then there's no duality, because doing and desire and goals bring in a duality." One problem with that, and it's quite a glaring one, is that if I have that conception, I'm actually introducing an enormous duality between my practice and my life, because my life does involve goals, and it does involve desire, and it does involve doing. It has to. What kind of life would not? It has to. It involves big goals, beautiful goals, beautiful aspirations: I want to bring something forth into the world that feels really important. And it involves tiny goals like going to the toilet and making sure you get it in the right place.
Life involves goals. It involves desire. It involves doing. And if I set up something different, despite the kind of jargon of 'non-duality,' I've actually ended up making a huge duality between what I call my spiritual practice and the rest of my life. So maybe there's something to investigate here. What is the relationship with doing? What's getting involved for me with this whole idea of doing? What assumptions, what energies are involved in doing, in effort, in goals? There's stuff to investigate here. There's a lot to investigate here. And if you like, maybe that's one of the benefits of something like working towards samādhi or moving in that direction, is we get to investigate what is my relationship, or what is possible -- that's a better way of putting it -- what is possible in the relationship with doing, in the relationship with effort, in the relationship with desire and goals. Because we can learn, through investigation, we can learn wisdom in relationship to doing, desire, and goals, and we learn freedom in relationship to that, develop that; how to have all that without the self or the self-worth being measured in relationship to it.
Then that opens up a much wider freedom in my life and in my practice. I don't need to keep avoiding things that involve doing and desire and goals, either in my practice or in my life -- I back away from creative projects, artistic projects; I even back away from service environments where it might be that I might get measured or something; I back away from offering what I might be called upon to offer in the world because it might trigger those things that are uninvestigated about doing and desire and goals, and the pain that's involved in that.
So if I investigate, I don't have to avoid. It's free. The whole area is freed up. I don't have to just hope that I can do stuff like that in a way that seems like it's just happening: the poem writes itself, the painting paints itself. I don't have to have that happen. Or just kind of bemoaning the arising of self, "Oh, the self, the self, the ego." The universe may be doing through me. Maybe that's a beautiful way of thinking about it: the universe is doing through me, but it's doing through me whether I feel like I'm doing or not, and that frees me to do and to not do. Still the universe is doing through me. Careful where we get tight in the view.
So if samādhi, in the broader sense that we're talking about today, if that's part of the directionality, if that's included in my vision of practice, there will be difficulties. Of course there will be. Just as there will be difficulties with, you know, a big artistic project or a big service thing that you're doing or whatever. Of course there will be difficulties. And part of the beauty of practice is learning to work with difficulties, learning to meet them and work skilfully with them. So in regard to samādhi and meditation practice, there are certain sort of classical difficulties, and I think Yanai is going to talk tomorrow morning about the hindrances, the classical set of difficulties. But there are lots of difficulties, lots -- other kinds of emotional difficulties, other kinds of obstacles that come. Lots to say about this. But the whole thing really is an art, this business of samādhi in the sense that I'm talking about it. It really is an art. And can we get that sense for the art of it, like that potter with the wheel and the artfulness of that? And, you know, to ask, to ask us, to come to the interviews and ask: "This is happening. How do I nuance this? How can I respond to that?" It's part of the art to apprentice, if you like.
So I'll say one last thing, actually, because it's connected to that. If we take as our meaning of the word samādhi not this English word, 'concentration,' not that, because that's not -- if you read the Buddha, it's not really what he meant. If we take more, as I said, this more open state, involving the whole body, involving a degree of unification and well-being to whatever degree (it doesn't have to be, you know, completely amazing; just some degree of that), if we take that as the meaning of the samādhi, then something's important to realize: that, or that direction, that avenue, that deepening of that, is much, much, much more dependent on openness of heart than we might realize. And again, I say, it's not just about focus. It's not just about withdrawing the senses, walking around with the eyes down. It might be skilful at times. It's much more about openness of heart. As a key ingredient in the opening of samādhi, that's much more significant than the focus.
Why? Why is openness of heart so significant in samādhi? Because when the heart is open, the energy, if we talk about the energy body again, the energy body is what? It's already then soft. It's already then unknotted to a degree. It's already open. It's already flowing. The energy there is flowing. There's already some alignment. It's not far from samādhi, already from the openness of heart. So what does that imply? It implies it's really important to nourish openness of heart, maybe more than so-called focus. So what would that mean in terms of being on retreat? What is it that nourishes the heart? Are you feeling connected with the community together, practising together? Is the heart open to gratitude and appreciation? Are you connecting with nature? Is there some sense of love and inspiration and beauty? These things, feeding the sense of beauty, inspiration, gratitude, togetherness, connectedness, these nourish deeply. They open the heart. And that's way more significant than we often realize.
So there's -- art is too strong a word; there's an artfulness to being on retreat, especially being on solitary retreat like you guys are. There's an artfulness. It's quite individual, and it varies over time. So experiment. What is it that nourishes, that opens the heart, that actually has its place then in cultivating and supporting samādhi? Experiment. Feel. Where am I? How do I feel? What do I need? Can I notice? Can I respond? And it includes everything, everything. So it's the potter's wheel, but even bigger, even bigger. I'm feeling and responding. Open the eyes, open the heart to the beauty that's around, because that's significant. The heart is sometimes the most significant piece.
Okay. Let's have just a few quiet moments together to end.