17 Sep 2012

Teaching: Alan draws parallels between settling the mind and mindfulness of breathing. 

In settling the mind, in principle, being present with all mental arisings sufficient for the mind to undo its knots and heal itself. Don’t be the agent of thoughts! Sustain flow of mindfulness without distraction, without grasping. In reality, we grasp, and there are knots we cannot seem to undo on our own. In such instances, we may benefit from the counsel of spiritual friends and putting them into practice. The mind’s ability to heal itself remains the substantial cause. 

In mindfulness of breathing, being present with the space of the body, truly letting the breath settle in its natural rhythm without preference, should be sufficient for the prana system to sort itself out. Don’t be the agent of the breath! We must release rumination at every out breath. In reality, we may encounter blockages which are not releasing themselves. Similarly, we may benefit from the help of spiritual friends. In the end, the body and mind have capacities to heal themselves if we get out of the way.
Meditation: mindfulness of breathing. Let the healing agent awareness illuminate the space of the body. Settle the respiration in its natural rhythm. Relax deeply with every out breath, neither retaining nor expelling the breath. Utterly release rumination with each out breath. Release all concerns about the past and future, and let the present suffice. Let awareness come to stillness. When the breath is long, know that it is long. When the breath is short, know that it is short.

In post-meditation, maintain an ongoing flow of mindfulness of breathing to keep rumination from throwing the whole system out of balance.

Meditation starts at 28:26

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So this morning I’d like to elaborate a little bit more on a theme I have mentioned earlier, so just to strike the point more deeply, the profound complementarity between the practice of settling the mind in its natural state and mindfulness of breathing.

In principle, when we engage in the shamatha practice of settling the mind in its natural state, bringing that quality of awareness to whatever comes up — emotions, desires, mental afflictions , whatever comes up — just by being present, in principle, that should be enough to allow all the knots, all the tightness, all the afflictions, all the misery and the causes of misery that manifest there to release themselves, to unknot themselves, like, it’s often said, like a snake that’s tied itself into knots just unraveling itself, like that. In principle that should be enough, and you could start in principle, what I’m saying, hypothetically, you could start with a very, very disturbed mind, disturbed maybe from outside abuse, from internal mental afflictions, like the perfect storm of having a lot of internal mental afflictions and having a really tough life — perfect storm to really just give maximum hedonic and genuine unhappiness, right? You could have that, and in principle, you could just by bringing that quality of clear, luminous awareness, your best approximation of substrate consciousness to that, you would simply watch the drama and finally, in the old classic Greek sense of the term, the comedy of your mind healing itself, a comedy because it turns out well; it’s not a tragedy, right? Comedy means a happy ending. In principle, you would simply watch your mind; you would watch the extraordinary capacity of your mind to heal itself manifesting from session to session to session. And in many sessions, it would be like watching a lava field or a range of volcanoes, seeing eruptions of memories here and eruptions of emotions here and desires here, and anger’s here, and so forth, and just watching the mind erupting, erupting, erupting, but overall cooling, cooling, cooling, as it untangles itself and then finally comes to a state of quiescence, calm — calm not, absolutely not because you’ve suppressed it, you’ve tamped it down. It’s calm because all of its internal knots have been unraveled, and the mind is really settled in its own ground sanity, its natural sanity of the substrate consciousness, which then shows the symptoms of bliss, luminosity and non-conceptuality, the three basic symptoms of a mind that’s in a state of balance. And that’s not even liberation, right? We’re not even talking about liberation; this is just sane mind.

(3:29) In principle, but of course in real life, the practice often winds up being more complicated than that, and we get caught. We know how to practice. We know what we should be doing, and that is whatever comes up, simply sustain that flow of mindfulness without distraction, without grasping — what part of that you don’t you understand? You know, just don’t be carried away by thoughts and simply have no preference for any of them, for or against, that’s all. I mean, that’s pretty simple, isn’t it? And so we know exactly; we’re bright enough. We know exactly what should be doing, and we know exactly that we’re not doing it, right? We are being carried away, and we do prefer, and it’s at that point when we encounter these snags, where we know what we need to do is just let it be and let go of the grasping. We know what we need to do, and we can’t do it. That’s exactly when it’s time to come out of the session and either read some really helpful dharma teachings, like Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, and so forth, or meet — I like this term — spiritual friend, a spiritual friend. His Holiness Dalai Lama may be your spiritual friend. He’s definitely a spiritual friend. Your spiritual friend may be a great lama, a great yogi like Chatral Rinpoche, right? Your spiritual friend may be your psychotherapist or psychiatrist. If the person is truly wise and compassionate, why not? They’re professionally trained to help you work through psychological problems. Your spiritual friend could be your spouse or simply a good friend who is loving, affectionate, accepts you as you are and is really happy to help you. So I like that generic term, from His Holiness the Dalai Lama to a wide range of people, but someone to help you get unhooked, to release those areas where you simply cannot release, you’ve not been able to release, and then “with a little bit of help from your friends,” oh boy. The Beatles came through with so many good slogans, right? Man, I mean, “with a little help from your friends,” and “let it be.” I mean, come on. I think they were onto something, right?

(5:40) And then there are occasions — again, meanwhile, back in this world in the 21st century, where counseling, advice isn’t quite strong enough. The depth of the psychological distress is so strong that it’s very hard for it to get in and very hard for one to be able to practice what is being taught, in which case, then psychopharmaceutical drugs may be very helpful — antipsychotics, Ritalin for ADHD and of course, I’m not a professional in that area at all, but there’s certainly a wide variety of drugs to choose from for antidepressants, anti-anxiety, and so forth and so on, and so if those are needed, then let them be taken, right?

Now why would one take — I’m offering what I think is a sane approach to realizing profound sanity — why would one resort to drugs when chemical imbalances in the brain are not the true source of psychological distress? The materialists would have us believe that they’re entirely the cause, and they’re entirely wrong. The evidence does not support that view. I’ve checked with some of the finest psychiatrists in the world, and they say no, it’s not true. Depression, for example, is not principally caused by chemical imbalances in the brain; it’s not true. ADHD and anxiety and on and on and on it goes — psychological problems are not primarily caused by brain disorders. The materialists would like to just drum that into our heads that it is so, and I regard that as either delusional or psychopathic or sociopathic, one of the two. So what’s the proper role for such drugs? They’re to help you be able to derive the benefit from wise counsel, compassionate counsel from the psychotherapist, the psychiatrist, the lama, the spiritual friend, and so forth, so you actually can get benefit, because if your mind is so distressed that you can’t derive benefit, you can’t practice, then anything will help. Bring in the drugs. Okay, bring them in, so that you can get off them and truly be able to benefit from the therapy, from the counseling, and so forth, and then what’s that for? To come back home so that you, when you come back to settling the mind, your mind really can heal itself. So to my mind that’s a sane strategy.

(8:31) In the best of all possible worlds, you would completely heal your mind simply by settling the mind in its natural state, but in the actual world we need some spiritual friends, and in the actual world, in some cases, some psychopharmaceutical drugs may be helpful.

(8:47) But now, the drugs, so that we can get off the drugs, so we can have the counseling and the counseling so we can get off the counseling, and so that we can come right back home and see the one source of true healing, because everything else is simply cooperative conditions. And here’s the substantial cause, here’s the core, here’s what actually heals — it’s your own mind. It’s the purity, the luminosity of your own mind; that’s what heals you, and the psychotherapists, the spiritual friends, the lamas, the gurus and all of that, they’re cooperative conditions, and the drugs are cooperative conditions at least to knock down the barriers so that you can actually get benefit from counseling. So to my mind that’s sane. And you see this finally is all about empowering the individual, not in some macho, macho way, but empowering you to let you take refuge, let you really know from your own experience your mind is fundamentally sane, its ground is sane, and take refuge in that natural purity of your own mind. Ultimately of course in Buddhism we’ll call that Buddha nature. That’s empowering, empowering to you as an individual, like, oh-ho, I’m so strong? No, empowering to your Buddha nature, that you really know where to look for refuge, right?

(10:09) So what we do in this materialistic era? Something that I think is sociopathic, psychotic and demented. I think what I’ve just said was really sane, and now let’s just turn that on its head. Let us assume or let — smother the notion that if you have any capacity to heal yourself on your own by yourself, never mind that. In fact, if you show any ability that your own mind can heal itself, like simply believing, placing your trust in your doctor, your therapist, and so forth, your faith, your trust, your confidence, and that actually does help to heal you, well, let’s deny that, and let’s call that the placebo effect, which is some dumb-ass little tablet that has no efficacy at all. So it’s the lamest — I just feel outraged here — it’s the lamest label to give to that which is actually the power of your own mind to heal itself and even heal the body, and without, rather than acknowledging that, that you as an individual, each one of you, has an extraordinary capacity just by the power of belief, of desire, of faith, of confidence, of hope, you have an extraordinary capacity to heal your body and mind, just let it be unleashed, you might even actually cultivate it, when that crops up in the medical profession, what do they call it? Placebo effect. What’s a placebo? A something that has no causal efficacy at all; it’s just the nearest material thing around, and so we call it a placebo effect. I think that’s not only wrong, that’s just flat-out delusional, and it of course directs the attention away from the actual one true source of healing, off to some dumb-ass sugar tablet! Oh, that’s outrageous.

So when there’s a glimmer of hope, they snuff it out and say that’s a placebo effect. Oh, how savage! So, okay, well, we have no capacity to heal ourselves. If we’re screwed up psychologically, we have no ability of our own, and if we have anything, we’ll just call it placebo effect. Okay, where do we go? To the therapist, to the therapist — $100 an hour to $150 an hour — oh, by the way, your insurance won’t pay for it, and, oh, that’s if you have insurance. So what are you going to get? You’re going to get drugs. In America, I mean, I think it’s one of the least civilized places on the planet when it comes to healthcare, in some respects, not in terms of the quality of the medicine, but the system is just [broken]. You say what’s wrong with that; I thought this was a civilized country, like, we take care of the weak; that’s what civilized people do. Europe is pretty good at that, but they’re socialist, right? Ai yi yi! Whew. Pathological debates going on these days.

So in America, a person with psychological distress first of all has to go to their primary health care provider and often without even consulting a psychiatrist, the person will say, oh, you have depression? I know just what for you and then prescribe a drug. In other words, the primary refuge is a drug. In other words, they’ve turned it entirely on top of its head. After all, you’re just a brain, and your psychological distress is simply brain disorders, so never mind the psychiatrist, this person who is professionally trained, or the psychotherapist, professionally trained to deal with psychological problems. We’ll just skip them and go right to feeding the insatiable appetite of the pharmaceutical industry.

(14:01) I find that absolutely tragic, that it’s got it all wrong absolutely. It took everything and turned it on its head. So the primary refuge is drugs, secondary is counseling, and third doesn’t even exist, and we’ll call it placebo effect. That makes me very sad.

(14:25) Okay, a parallel: Settling the mind in its natural state, mindfulness of breathing, that’s where we’re going. Bringing that same quality of awareness — attentive, clear, relaxed, mindfully present, not caught up in rumination — bringing this to the space of the body and bringing it to this rhythm of the breath, the rhythm of the prana, the rhythm so profoundly related to the nervous system, which is so profoundly related to the mind and all mental states and mental processes. That same quality of awareness that you have in settling the mind in its natural state you bring to the space of the body, and within that space, just like the space of the mind, within that space, there arrive these upheavals, these fluctuations of the inflow of the breath and the outflow of the breath. If one releases all distraction and all grasping with respect to the sensations of the respiration arising within the space of the body, attends to them, and I’ll say this — without breathing; that is, is don’t be the agent; don’t be the agent at all. You know what that’s like — settling the mind in its natural state. Settle the mind in its natural state, and don’t think anything. And meanwhile, a flood of thoughts may be coming up, don’t think any of them. Just allow them to arise, allow them to pass, but don’t get into the drama; don’t cognitively fuse with the thoughts, emotions and so forth. So let emotions arise and thoughts and memories, but don’t think them. Don’t get in there and try to do it. Likewise, exactly the same spirit, as the breath is flowing in and flowing out, don’t breathe; don’t breathe. Just allow the body to breathe, allow the breath to flow in, to flow out. Be simply present but without closely holding it, without identifying, without even having an iota of control or even preference, and let it be. Let the flow of the breath be utterly as it is. And as your whole awareness settles into this, and it’s imperative in this, absolutely imperative, that you release rumination.

(17:05) If you have kind of a high tolerance for blah, blah, blah (psychobabble), and that’s not a slur against psychology or psychiatry at all. Just psychobabble is rumination; it’s the babbling of the mind, right? It’s just blah, blah, blah. It’s like, have you ever met a person who has an opinion about everything and cannot stop sharing it? And, like, would you just — sometimes you just want to say, would you please, sometimes, just shut up, you know? Really, your opinions are not even that interesting, and have you noticed how often you repeat yourself? Do you never stop talking? Can you just chill? And we find this obnoxious, opinionated psychobabble-mouth is actually our own minds. What an awful neighbor! I think we should have divorce. I’ll start divorce proceedings right now. Just be present with the body. It’s not listening anyway. If you’re talking to it, the body’s not listening back. It’s just a nonconceptual space of somatic sensation, and so let it do all the talking. And whenever rumination comes up, I’ve got an idea (breathing out), just a nice ongoing gentle gust of breeze with every out-breath. Whatever you have to say, keep it to yourself (breathes in and out).

(18:43) Every in-breath, very gentle arousal of just awareness itself but not encouraging the breath to come in. It will do much better without you. So let the breath flow in, whether it’s shallow, it’s deep, utterly release, and continue to find the body releasing, relaxing, melting, unwinding with every out-breath. As you’re more and more tuned with that whole space, you’ll find, oh, there’s an area of tightness that I just let go. Oh, there’s another one I let go. Oh, another one. Oh, this keeps on going on and on and on.

As you truly let your respiration settle in its own natural rhythm, then you may find that just like settling your mind in its natural state, that the cycle of the respiration goes through its own eruptions, just like when you’re settling the mind, eruptions of emotions and memories and angers and desires and so forth, these volcanoes spewing forth lava, and you just observe them and let them be and let them flow and then chill, relax. Similarly, you may find on occasion the breath takes on one type of breath — sometimes a great big breath may come up, and then w-h-h-h-e-w, and other times a gentle ripple, and other times this, and another time this. Frankly, it’s not true you’ve seen one breath, you’ve seen them all. You’ve seen one breath, you’ve seen one breath, because the next one you really actually don’t know what’s coming out, unless you’re controlling it, and that’s what makes mindfulness of breathing boring. If you want mindfulness of breathing to be boring, tedious, heavy and uninspiring, let the flow of rumination carry on and control your breath. Man, it is that boring. I mean, that’s boring within two minutes, let alone 24.

(20:35) Whereas insofar as you really release the rumination, you maintain a quiet mind, like a nice, clean kitchen, just, you know, no cockroaches. You truly release even the subtle level. It’s really quiet in here, and then you’re utterly letting that respiration flow of its own accord. Then watch the permutations, the fluctuations, the eruptions, the calming, the various manifestations from one breath to the next, always different, every breath different, until eventually, over time, without preference, without control, without an agenda, it is true that gradually the breath will go into that very subtle, short breath, sinusoidal pattern, very subtle breathing, very rhythmic. But don’t prefer it. Just like in settling the mind in its natural state, it’s really nice when it’s quiet in the mind, peaceful, none of that rubbish, junk coming up. That memory again? How many times do I have to remember that? And that desire again, and that resentment again, and, whoa! You know, it’s natural to prefer quiet, peace and quiet in the space of your mind. Don’t. Not for settling the mind, because then you’re just suppressing all the stuff that needs to work itself out, resolve and heal itself — you’re just suppressing it. Likewise with the breathing, don’t prefer. Quite a number of you have had some really good sessions in mindfulness of breathing, and you know how the breath flows things. Oh, I want to do that again. I want to do that again. When’s it going to come? Not coming yet. It’s still not coming. Okay, maybe next session. That one stunk. But, okay, maybe the next one. Aw, crap, it still isn’t happening. I want those prana flows. I liked it. I had it once. It was good. Come on back! Come on. Hey! I’m waiting. It doesn’t work that way. Now we come back to let it be.

(22:46) Now it’s the whole prana system. The whole prana system is working itself out. It’s settling itself in its own natural state, just like your mind settles itself in its natural state when you allow it. So let your whole prana system settle in its natural state and in its own way, and whatever comes up, just be without preference with respect to the type of breath that’s flowing up and totally be with preference in terms of the quality of awareness you bring to it, and that is attend to it without distraction, without being carried away by rumination, without even tolerating the second channel of the commentary, the blah, blah, blah of the psychobabble. Release it with every out-breath and without grasping, utterly being present with it, just letting the body breathe itself, balance itself, heal itself. Now having said that, in the best of all possible worlds, you would just do that, and the body would totally un-kink all of its kinks, unblock all of its blockages and prana, totally sort itself out, and within a very short time, your body would go into total free- flow, and then the pranas would come into the central channel, and you would achieve shamatha, and that would be all there would be to it, right?

(24:05) And meanwhile, back here in our world, some of us have been subject to physical injury that might leave some kind of a either literal or metaphorical scar tissue of blockages, okay? Whether it’s from some injury in the past, could be an illness in the past, or it could be internally generated, because of course it’s not only the pranas influences the mind, the mind influences the prana. And so in these cases, when we are doing the practice of settling the respiration in its natural state, when we’re doing the practice, then there may be blockages, where we know what we are supposed to do in the body; we’re supposed to totally relax into it, but we’re not. There’s still a tightness that congeals again and again around the breath, or just tightnesses, constrictions, and knots in the body that, as much as we’d like to, we know we should be releasing them, they’re not releasing, in which case, chiropractic treatment, physiotherapy, yoga, tai chi, qui gong — that’s only the short list. But then we get help from our spiritual friends, whether it’s a chiropractor, whether it’s a yoga teacher, qui gong teacher, whoever it may be, help from our spiritual friends to help us to get through those snags, so that we come back to the practice and let the body heal itself.

So once again, we find in this — I don’t know; I feel a lot of disgust. This indoctrination in materialism, if your body feels bad, what should you do? Well, take a painkiller, stupid! Just take a painkiller, and take lots of painkillers. In other words, shoot the messenger. Just like so many of the drugs for depression and so forth, shoot the messenger. We don’t want those symptoms! The hell with the causes; let’s just shoot the messenger. Suppress it; muffle it; gag it! You’ll never get better. You’ll never get healed, but man, are we going to make a lot of money. Oh, and by the way, most of the benefit you’re getting is placebo effect. Oh, well, yeah, placebo effect — hold that in mind — placebo effect, one more physical substance. Well, as with the mind, so with the body. What’s more popular than painkillers, including alcohol and other kinds of drugs that heal nothing whatsoever; they just suppress the symptom, kill the messenger, so you’ll never, ever heal. And you’ll be impoverished, while those who are making the drugs are laughing all the way to the bank. Makes me very sad. It’s really sociopathic, or, if not sociopathic, then it’s just flat-out demented. But we don’t have to go with the flow, don’t have to go with the flow — the sludge of modernity going down the sewer. We don’t have to go with that flow, you know? We really have options.

(27:25) So let’s emphasize, once again coming back. The body-mind system, this extraordinary system, has an absolutely exceptional, inconceivable capacity to heal itself, and we need to learn how to get out of the way. Are painkillers on occasion very helpful? Definitely yes, right? So that you can get off those and then be able to rely upon your physiotherapist, yoga teacher and so forth. Is that helpful? Yes, definitely. So eventually you don’t need your yoga teacher or your physiotherapist or any of that. You bow to them on the way out and say thank you so much, and now I can rely on the one true source of healing and take ultimate refuge there. It’s your Buddha nature. Fundamentally, it’s not your body, it’s not tissue; it’s not neurons or prana. It’s always coming back to the same — Buddha nature. It’s your one ultimate true refuge, and everybody else, including the person who’s speaking right now, we’re just cooperative conditions, that’s all. Oh, yeah. Let’s practice.


Let this healing agent of your own awareness descend into the space of the body, right down to the ground. Let this luminous awareness pervade the whole field of the body, illuminating those areas that feel tight, constricted, and gently, gently attend to them as you breathe in, and as you breathe out, to the best of your ability let go.

(31:10) And apart from this gentle undulation of the breath, let your body be still. And if you are sitting upright, see that you’ve adopted a posture of vigilance, such that your posture in no way inhibits the free in-and-out flow of the breath.

(33:13) Then turn to this ever-increasingly subtle challenge of settling your respiration in its natural rhythm, every cycle unique, unprecedented. The key is the out-breath. With every out-breath, relax more and more and more deeply in the body, including the release of all the tension in the face, the muscles around the eyes, the eyes themselves.

(35:24) With every out-breath, utterly release the breath, finding that gentle, slender middle way of avoiding the extremes of holding onto the breath, retaining the breath, and the extreme of expelling the breath. With utter relaxation, total surrender, simply release the breath, and you’ll be able to do this if and only if in the same breath, namely the out-breath, you utterly release rumination, the wandering thoughts. Let your mind be still and clear.

(37:40) Make a special point, with every cycle of the respiration, to be especially quiet and attentive when you come to the end of the out-breath, that you continue releasing all the way to the end. And if there’s a pause, let there be a pause. And remain there in utter stillness, without holding the breath out and without pulling it in. Let the breath flow in in its own sweet time in its own sweet way.

(40:16) And now for the remaining minutes of this session, allow yourself the freedom, give yourself a gift of releasing all concern about whatever’s gone by in the past and whatever may come in the future. Let the present suffice. Let your awareness come to rest in stillness, nonconceptually, quietly, non-discursively noting when the in-breath is long that it is long, when the out-breath is long that it is long. And then on those occasions when the in-breath is short, noting that it is short, where the out-breath is short, noting that it is short. Keep it simple. And let’s continue practicing now in silence.

Teachings after meditation:

(53:00) So the baseline of rumination, let alone when the rumination erupts into mental afflictions, this is what really throws off the whole nervous system, throws everything out of balance — the mind out of balance, the nervous system out of balance. And so to help protect yourself from that, like armor, then throughout the course of the day, maintaining that peripheral awareness of the in-and-out flow of the breath. At the very least, see that you’re not fouling it up. So whether or not you’re marching towards enlightenment, at least don’t march in the opposite direction. So mindfully breathing, letting it flows of its own accord. So just throughout the whole course of the day, let alone the time you’re on your cushion, let your whole time here just be ongoing flow of healing. Then the time’s well spent. Enjoy your day.

Transcribed by Rafael Carlos Giusti

Revised by Marti Hanna on 2-14-15

Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti

Posted by Alma Ayon



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