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Showing posts from March, 2013

Happy For No Reason

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For years I’d heard that qigong was an ideal meditation for physical healing, and when I first experimented with it, I did find that the practice helped me feel more embodied and energetically attuned. Qigong is based on a Chinese system of still and moving meditation. At its heart is the understanding that this world is made of chi, an invisible field of energy, the dynamic expression of pure awareness.
When my health hit a new low in the summer of 2009, I decided to explore the practice more deeply by attending a ten-day qigong healing retreat.
During the third day, I remember sitting at the retreat while our teacher was guiding us: “Send chi to the places that are in pain,” he was saying. “Imagine what these parts of you would be like if they were totally vital and strong, energetically flowing with the rest of your body.”
As I sat visualizing flowing streams of light bathing my hurting knees, I found myself becoming doubtful, judging some of the instructions as distinctly “un-…

The Three Qualities of Awareness

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About 2,600 years ago, when Siddhartha Gautama (the soon-to-be Buddha) sat down under the bodhi tree, his resolve was to realize his true nature. Siddhartha had a profound interest in truth, and the questions “Who am I?” and “What is reality?” impelled him to look even more deeply within and shine a light on his own awareness.
As a Zen story reminds us, this kind of inquiry is not an analytic or theoretical exploration. One day a novice asks the abbot of the monastery, “What happens after we die?” The venerable old monk responds, “I don’t know.” Disappointed, the novice says, “But I thought you were a Zen monk.” “I am, but not a dead one!” The most powerful questions direct our attention to this very moment.
To practice this same sort of self-inquiry inspired by the Buddha, we can quiet the mind and ask “Who am I?” or “Who is aware right now?” or “Who is listening?” Then we can look gently back into awareness to see what is true. Ultimately, we find that there is no way for the…

The Backward Step

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Tibetan teacher Chögyam Trungpa once opened a class by drawing a V on a large white sheet of poster paper. He then asked those present what he had drawn. Most responded that it was a bird. “No,” he told them. “It’s the sky with a bird flying through it.”
How we pay attention determines our experience. When we’re in doing or controlling mode, our attention narrows and we perceive objects in the foreground—the bird, a thought, a strong feeling. In these moments we don’t perceive the sky—the background of experience, the ocean of awareness. The good news is that through practice, we can intentionally incline our minds toward not controlling and toward an open attention.
My formal introduction to what is often called “open awareness” was through dzogchen—a Tibetan Buddhist practice. Until then, I’d trained in concentration and mindfulness, always focusing on an object (or changing objects) of attention. In dzogchen, as taught by my teacher Tsoknyi Rinpoche, we repeatedly let go of whatever …

I’m Nothing, Yet I’m All I Can Think About

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Writing and speaking about the nature of awareness is a humbling process; as the third Zen patriarch said, “Words! The way is beyond language.” Whatever words are used, whatever thoughts they evoke, that’s not it! Just as we can’t see our own eyes, we can’t see awareness. What we are looking for is what is looking.Awareness is not another object or concept that our mind can grasp. We can onlybeawareness. A friend who is a Unitarian minister told me about an interfaith gathering that she attended. It opened with an inquiry: What is our agreed-upon language for referring to the divine? Shall we call it God? “No way” responded a feminist Wiccan. “What about Goddess?”A Baptist minister laughed and said, “Spirit?” Upon which an atheist replied, “Nope.” Discussion went on for a while. Finally, a Native American suggested “the great mystery” and they all agreed. Each knew that whatever his or her personal understanding, the sacred was in essence a mystery. Awareness, true nature, what we ar…