The previous talk in this series can be found here: https://hoikaha.org/sunday-online-talk-200329/
Obstacles and Antidotes
Many of us feel that our mind is way more wild and untamed than anyone else’s. We may feel that we just can’t do it – that our mind is just too discursive for meditation. Many people feel like this. In fact, this has been true for centuries.
Obstacles are a natural part of the path. In a sense, they’re good news. Experiencing an obstacle really means that we are on the path and are working with the mind. It is like gardening and feeling the result in your body – you know that you are really working.
Our minds and our lives are accustomed to a lot of speed and entertainment these days. It’s no wonder that we experience a sense of racing mind, agitation, or sunken-ness. These are all part of the path of meditation.
Thankfully, meditators of the past left us with clear signs of the obstacles they experienced and advice in how to work with them.
Laziness is the first obstacle. Laziness is an obstacle before we even get to the cushion because it keeps us from ever getting there.
Laziness has a draining quality to it; as if our life force energy is low. Sometimes it’s hard to see it coming because we feel it so often that we take it as normal. But it encroaches on our most intimate ground and it manifests as an allegiance to comfort. We may get plenty of sleep but we are completely uninspired.
My teacher, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, describes three main forms of laziness: 1) Ordinary: where the mind is sunken into itself. No energy. Can’t get to the cushion or chair, or once we’re there, we just daydream; 2) Speedy-busy: here, there is a sense that our speedy mind is a way to avoid ourselves and avoid meditation. We fill up our life so that we actually don’t have to look at ourselves or our practice; and 3) Disheartenment: we feel discouraged, deflated, or outnumbered by the obstacles that arise in our practice and we give up on ourselves – which is a form of laziness.
There are 4 antidotes to laziness: 1) suppleness, 2) effort, 3) respect, and 4) trust.
Trust is based on rightness and healthiness. You feel that meditation fits, that it works, that it’s the right thing for you to do. You have real trust in meditation and forward vision.
With respect, you see that everything is sacred. When you are a meditator, you are a dharmic person. When you are a dharmic person, the very cushion or chair you sit on is sacred, every breath you take is sacred.
The definition of sacred is that your actions are not based on trying to embellish your own ego, puff yourself up. Instead, you are willing to let go of your ego. You develop meekness, humbleness. You have given up “mine,” “my territory,” “my world,” “my privacy.” Therefore you experience sacredness and your eyes open to see that you are surrounded by gentleness.
Effort. You can’t just bliss out on faith and sacredness; you have to go beyond that, you have to exert yourself. You can’t just plop down and expect something to happen – this rarely happens in life – you always have to make some kind of effort. If you want to ski, you have to expose yourself to cold weather. You need lessons, warm clothes, & equipment but you still have to be willing to go downhill.
Effort is necessary with any discipline. Any discipline of freedom that has ever been presented to human beings requires that you expose yourself to discomfort. You have to be willing to put up with some discomfort, whether it is the discomfort of hot or of cold.
Suppleness (shinjang). Shin means “thoroughly,” and jang means “processed” or “purified;” so shinjang means “thoroughly processed” or “supple.” In the case of meditation, shinjang means experiencing virtue, the absence of ego, and the feeling of freedom that goes along with that. It’s that feeling of freedom that keeps you returning to the cushion.
The next obstacle is forgetfulness. This obstacle happens when we are practicing and we basically forget what we are doing. We lack a sense of perspective; we don’t really know why we are sitting there. It’s as if we expect something to happen to us.
The antidote to forgetfulness is a “folksy attitude” toward your mind and your practice. We simply remember the instructions. We do this by really understanding the purpose of the instructions for meditation practice. We check in with ourselves and notice if we are applying the technique, if we are being too harsh with ourselves, how our posture feels, etc.
When you put toothpaste on your toothbrush, you don’t forget what you do next; you automatically brush your teeth. You naturally develop such folksy and ordinary behavior patterns. Likewise during sitting practice, when you forget to work with the technique or the posture, your mind is brought back as an act of natural coordination. Developing a folksy attitude means you have made friends with your practice. You don’t regard it as something foreign or unusual, or something that someone made you do.
Drowsiness & Wildness
The last obstacle I’ll talk about today is Drowsiness and Wildness or too loose and too tight. Too Loose is the state of mind being sunken into itself. We are fuzzy and distant from the breath – the mind feels deadened and flat. We are too “loose” with our mindfulness. Too Tight is the opposite of too loose. The mind is jumping out of itself. We are focused “too tightly” on the breath. Now the mind bolts and jumps at whatever thought arises to distract itself.
The antidote to both too loose and too tight is awareness – sheshin. We talked about sheshin last time. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche referred to sheshin as “a light handed warning system” which is a sense of aware alertness but with a light touch.
We have to KNOW the mind is sunken in and that we are being “too loose.” Then we can apply more sharpness or alertness & life to the practice, really feeling the texture of riding the out-breath and checking in with our posture on the in-breath, etc. We need to freshen things up.
OR, we have to be aware that the mind is leaping out and that we are being “too tight.” We need to relax a bit, and allow more space & freedom into the practice.
With sheshin, you know how to ride your own mind. At first, you learn how to tame your mind. Then, having tamed your mind, you learn how to make friends with it. Having made friends with it, you learn how to make use of it. That is what is meant by riding your mind.
When you ride your horse properly, it picks up every detail of your posture, whether it’s good or bad.
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche says, “The point of equilibrium is that there is a way to train yourself very thoroughly. By working with the technique of suddenly bringing yourself back when your mind is lost, combined with the practice of awareness, your mind becomes like a well-trained horse that is suitable to ride. Such a horse is both [corrected] and treated very well, so it begins to trust its trainer. The horse doesn’t mind having a saddle on its back, and it doesn’t care whether it is [worked hard] or fed with sugar cubes. Likewise, in bringing together tight and loose, you achieve balance and friendliness toward yourself. You treat yourself well and are able to relax…Equilibrium is quite straightforward.”
He goes on to say, “In working with the antidotes, the point is not to make some sort of monumental statement. It is very individual. How you sit and how you practice depends on every mood of every hour. You have learned how to deal with yourself so you are not too tight and not too loose. It’s not that you have been prescribed a particular system or tradition to improve on yourself. Rather, if you treat yourself gently, you discover a middle way in which you do not condemn yourself or build yourself up. Within that, you have a decent relationship with yourself and a decent relationship with your world. In turn, you will also have a decent experience of the dharma.”
I’d like to encourage you to make a personal commitment to practice shamatha vipashyana meditation every day – even if for only 10 minutes. We can ALL find 10 minutes every day. And we can already feel the benefits of just sitting together in this group and connecting with Peaceful Abiding, the natural resting state of the mind: open, fresh, alert, aware, and pure (unadulterated by conditioning)
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche says, “Don’t think about it. Just do it.”