As I try to meditate this morning, thoughts are on the rampage, thrusting and exploding everywhere in my mind; they repeatedly capture my attention. I’m swallowed up for a time. Finally, I decide to just let them be. Don’t try to stop the thoughts. Awareness falls back into sporadic observation. I’m alert enough at least to be curious about what is capturing me. In that modicum of alertness, a subtle shift happens in what I’m able to register. Ah. This is food for a question to V.
“V,” I abruptly inquire. “Please tell me about how thoughts capture my mind and attention so quickly and thoroughly. I’ve just been ravaged by them, trying to sit quietly and meditate.”
“This is a natural human condition,” she answers just as promptly as I have asked.
“Sorry for this sudden inquiry. Good morning, V, dear friend and mentor,” I apologize.
“No apology necessary. It must be vexing to feel like a victim to mental processes. Tell me what you have observed.”
“Well, I’m glad you asked. But I haven’t actually thought about it yet.”
“Go ahead then, now. Think about thinking. Observe your observation. Be clear.”
I ponder. “I guess I’m trusting that, as I describe this to you, it will become clearer. The act of focusing awareness makes it clearer.”
“No doubt it does, as you stay present.”
“When I was watching the thoughts wrangle around across the screen of my mental ‘theater’, I began to realize they weren’t outside or above me; they were right inside me—up close and very personal. I’ve heard numerous meditation teachers say, ‘look at thoughts as clouds floating across the sky.’ Well, that’s a nice maxim, but it doesn’t describe what I was experiencing. Those thoughts were right inside my head, beating on my attention—from the inside. They did an excellent job of masquerading as me. It felt like they had taken over my whole awareness.”
“Still, you were able to detach somewhat and observe them. Correct?”
“Yes. Well, I could observe them, but I wouldn’t say I could ‘detach’ from them. As soon as I relaxed, the thoughts came streaming back and submerged me. I was them again at that point. It wasn’t like I could even catch them sneaking back. They would just suddenly be there, in me and around me, using me—and I was unaware of anything else. This is not like little puffy, white clouds drifting in the blue sky. They were more like tornadoes churning between my ears.”
“That’s a good analogy. I understand. There are indeed thoughts that are like puffy little clouds, but there are also many of the like you describe. Even if they are ‘constructive’ thoughts—helping you plan events or solve problems—your mental apparatus works to impress them upon your awareness strenuously and completely; it wants your full attention. Your sentience is picked up like bits of straw in a storm. Am I right? You feel as though you are inside your thoughts more than they are inside you.”
“Exactly. You must have been human once!”
V smiles. “Yes, more than once. I can remember thoughts behaving this way. Let me help you out a little.”
“The sky-and-cloud analogy may still be useful, even with tornadoes raging. Let’s try looking it from a different perspective. Feel yourself to be the sky, instead of looking up at it from below. You are the entire environment for the clouds and tornadoes both. Look down at them or in at them, whichever. The weather is not floating above you—the way you normally see clouds. This is your misapprehension of the metaphor. The value of the sky-cloud teaching is that you can be the sky in its entirety, embracing clouds, storms, ground, indeed—and most importantly—embracing space itself.
“Be the space in which the thoughts occur. This requires concentration, for sure. Practice opening up: Open as the space and sky. Do this often, whenever you catch your mind closing you down toward thoughts. It wants you to identify with it and with the thoughts. It wants to encapsulate your awareness. The mind wants you to be totally in its world—full attention.
“At first, the more you allow presence into your experience, the more the mind will resist. It will stir up thinking as an antidote to what it sees as a threat. Presence is a ‘poison’ to its imagined ‘poise’; it is toxic to the ego. With practice, however, the mind can grow to feel less threatened. It can actually come to see presence as part of its own existence; of course, it is actually the other way around. All you can do, at the pre-awakened stage, is to practice presence. Ego won’t like it much, but ego is no longer in charge. That is another aspect of the practice—realizing that ego no longer controls you; visualize it assimilating into presence.”
I mull this over; it gives rise to yet another question. “Practicing presence sounds like I’m trying to ‘make’ it happen. You said that was impossible.”
“Yes, but there is a difference. This is practicing presence when you already know the presence. You are allowing it into your experience, recognize it where it already is—in and around you. This is the practice I speak of.”
“What if I don’t recognize the presence?”
“In that case, accept the feeling that you don’t. But know, on a deeper level, presence is subtler than feeling. Try this: Sit in stillness for a few moments and be with ‘I’m not feeling presence’. In that stillness, if you are sincere in your acceptance, you will feel a vibrant no-thingness, very quiet and calm. Then ask yourself, ‘Am I present?’ If the answer is ‘no’, experience the paradox of being something other than what you are. Then ask the question again—with deeper meaning. As the answer becomes ‘yes’, flow into the experience. Presence has found you. Say to yourself, ‘I am presence.’ This is realization.”
I know this makes sense, but I feel like challenging her. “You said presence is ‘in and around’ us, but thoughts feel like they’re ‘in and around’ me, too. In fact it often feels like I’m submerged in a sea of thought. How can I distinguish between thoughts and presence?”
“Thoughts take you away; presence brings you back. Thoughts are many; presence is only one. Thoughts are always in the past or the future; presence is forever now. Just imagine the deep magic of it. Allow presence to bring you back to your home. Be the space. Be the sky. Gradually feel yourself around the thoughts. Recognize the illusion that they are around you. Thoughts are inside your mind; your mind is inside you. You are their environment.
“Presence is the prototype for all sensation. It is eminently subtle; thinking is coarse and dense by comparison. Presence will help you with this. Another synonym for it is ‘faith’—your old familiar friend from that magical bus ride in Mexico. Invite this friend to help you, to fill your awareness.
“Practice continuously. Keep repeating your practice and it will become easier and more natural. Then you will see thoughts as they really are—short-lived eruptions in the field of consciousness, little tornadoes in the grass. They stir you up if you are immersed in them, but they are nothing to be bothered about if you are the wide, grand sky; they are simply phenomena, ranging about below upon the landscape. Your awareness—your access to consciousness—is much greater than they are. Be at peace.”
I swallow hard. “I will follow your advice. But I don’t think I’m through yet with the challenges of thinking.”
“I don’t think you are either. But be encouraged. Your realization of presence is growing steadily. Your encounter with raging thoughts this morning is evidence that the mind senses a threat and a big change coming.”
I sit silently, feeling presence—knowing it’s there like the sky. I am that sky. I am presence. I feel the peace and recall that this peace is also a channel for creativity. Then a realization comes. “V, you know, I often look at your advice, or the advice of other teachers, as though it is an effort to follow and practice. But just now I see how wrong I’ve been. It’s a fear I’ve allowed to creep in.”
“Yes. These fears are very subtle sometimes. They slide in under your skin without announcing themselves as what they are. Your only option is just to notice.”
I nod and reply, “Here’s what I was feeling: When you said ‘practice’, my mind went straight to the difficulties I would have, to keep doing this ‘continuously’—like it would be a struggle to keep my mind so focused. However, then I realized it was just my mind generating that. There is no struggle in the true practice you’re talking about. It’s just that old ‘allowing’ again. It’s ‘beginning again’, continuously fresh in the presence. Right now I do see how easy it can be. Presence does all the work for us, just like faith. All we have to do is get out of the way and let it be.”
V smiles luminously. “I’m pleased you have allowed yourself to sense this. Keep allowing. And now, another little meditation is coming to me,” she says. “It is a simple blessing to the world. Please sit or stand erect. This will only take a few minutes. Put your hands out in front of you, slightly cupped with palms open and facing each other. Lower them to the dantien or hara center an inch or so below your navel. Relax thoroughly.
“Put your fingertips and thumbs near together around the empty space. Imagine a blue ball materialize there. See it turn into the Earth globe—a beautiful, blue and white ball, floating freely, gently rotating in your hands. Sense the oceans and continents on its surface. Feel the precious thin layer of atmosphere softly surrounding it all, holding all the air we breathe. The air swims in a precarious flux between the vacuum of space and mass of the planet. Gravity and the Void have reached an agreement in this space: It allows us all to breathe.
“So breathe! Take in a bit of the atmosphere deeply into your lungs. Draw it in slowly, consciously, and hold it for a moment. Some of the molecules inside you now may have been high in the sky yesterday. Perhaps they were on the peak of a tall mountain, or skimming across the surface of the wide-open ocean. Some of them have been a thousand miles away, being exhaled by a person you will never meet. Yet there is an intimate bond—intimate breathing.
“Sense the abundant life, teaming within the atmosphere of this little sphere in your hands; it is spread around the globe and inside the oceans. It is a very thin layer of life. But it is ever so active and complex, rising and falling, coming and going, being born and dying. Such diversity and richness, throughout all the kingdoms of nature, is held gently within your embrace.
“Feel the ground and mass—the Earth itself; enter it in your imagination. Probe down into the soil, the bedrock, the hard rock, and the molten streams, down to the very center. Draw up and out to the surface the electricity of the Earth. See it cover the globe, invigorating the land and the air and sky. This electricity is the energy of Life.
“The energy portals on the palms of your hands are on opposite sides of the globe. Gradually, smoothly, activate these two hand centers. Use your imagination for this. See or feel a warm glow of impersonal-yet-compassionate energy—presence—in your palms. Now move your hands apart a few inches, still holding the spherical shape. Increase the energy and beam it from both hands at once into the atmosphere, the forests, into the oceans and the center of the Earth.
“Setting focused intent, offer this blessing: Say, ‘I give healing. I give appreciation. I give awakening to the Earth and to all beings within it. I give Life. I give the Life of Source to the Earth.’ Watch the energy flow from your palms into the orb and around it. Vision it absorbing into every point and plane and creature. Hold the peace for this for a full cycle of breathing—in and out slowly. Smile.
“Now put your fingers back together and gently lift the Earth up through the seven energy fields of your body, pausing briefly at each one, to add its particular blessing. Finally, lift the orb high above your head and release it into the sky, into the soul of us all. Hold this way for a time, with your hands and arms in the vesica mudra around your head. Now open your hands and bring your arms out wide, horizontal with palms up. Feel and receive with gratitude the blessing you have given to the Earth; you have given it to yourself. Feel it raining down all around. Welcome in the Life to your being. Welcome Source.”
ⓒ 2014 Robert Lee Potter
CLICK HERE and you will find all the chapters posted from Life of Source. I will be updating each week with new chapters till we reach the end of the book. It will then be available for download from this site. Stay Tuned…