Saturday, September 4, 2010

Four Steps to Freedom

The following steps are based on the Uttara Tantra in Buddhism, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and the Fourth Way teachings of the Sufis through Gurdjieff. I have removed any special terminology from those systems to make the process easier to understand. The process of enlightenment does not need to slow, difficult, or stressful. It can be easy, rapid, and peaceful, though we may have some challenging karmas to work through that may make the process more difficult, slower, and stressful than it has to be. Chanting to Amida Buddha and visualizing the "hreeh" symbol at the base of the spine, feeling the grace and fire coming from the Amida family through Pandaravasini, and yielding to the process can accelerate the burning away of those karmas from the subconscious mind. Mastering breathing also helps this healing process.

STEP ONE: Concentration on an external object

Choose a pleasant object to look at. Place your attention on the object and hold your attention there. Let go of any mind wandering and just look. If you notice distracting thoughts, merely label them, "thinking", and return back to looking at the object. Do not stare too hard, because you will introduce strain. Have the soft eyes of Bodhisattva, the look which we naturally give to a smiling infant. If you are honest with yourself, you will notice that your concentration is imperfect, that the mind constantly pulls your attention away from your task. Noticing this is a good thing. Whenever you wander, simply return back to the object of your attention.

Even at this level of practice, you can realize something about the nature of the self, your true identity. Is it your thinking mind? If it is, then why does your own mind pull you away from your own intention to stay focused on the object? It will feel like something different than yourself when you feel it struggling to think while you are sincerely intent on just holding attention on the object. The mind is obviously related to who and what we are, but it will not feel like our core identity. Most people identify with their minds and you are feeling something deeper than the mind, attention itself, operating.

Patanjali recommends doing this exercise until you feel "absorption in the object". You will feel one with the object. This naturally happens when the mind has become completely silent. It is a degree of freedom from sorrow to be able to do this.

For the sake of this series of exercises, when you can keep stable attention on the object for five minutes, then you can proceed to the next exercise. You will most likely experience all kinds of shifts in your experience with this practice. You might see the object shift into the fourth dimension, shimmer with light, and suddenly disappear. Your ordinary thinking mind will attempt to rationalize these shifts as some kind of optical illusion or cellular fatigue. While this might be happening as well, when we use penetrating awareness to look into the nature of matter, we will notice many things. Much of what we see is a construction. Different eyes see the world in very different ways. Different animals have different ranges of color awareness and motion awareness. An eagle can spot its prey from very high in the sky. Bulls cannot see red. Many humans are color blind (most not noticing that they see any different from anyone else for a very long time). Which way of seeing sees the real world?

STEP TWO: Doubling attention

Still looking at the same external object, feel attention like an arrow. Look at the object and then feel like you are looking backwards to feel the source of the arrow of attention. One side is on the object. The other side is in our brain. Notice the thoughts, emotions, sensations, and reactions going on inside the brain. Then go back to the object. Shuttle back and forth, not too rapidly, but fast enough so that you are spending about 15 seconds with each focus. After a while, see if you can be aware, simultaneously, of the internal bundle of thoughts, emotions, sensations, and reactions on one side and the object of attention on the other side.

Most humans do not live in this double awareness. They are either caught up with what is happening inside or outside. If your attention is mainly inside, dominated by internal experience, then you are an introvert. If you attention is mainly outside, then you are in extrovert. Many effective business people are extroverts, very attentive to external events, news, prices, transactions, maps, and details, but they do not always know how they think and feel. They are impatient with introspection, looking within, to see what is real there. Many psychotherapists are introspective, very sensitive to what is going on inside of themselves, sometimes very wrapped up and lost in those internal contents. To be aware of both simultaneously is necessary to see how karma works, how sense organ and sense object cause a sense experience, how there is a pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral sensation, how our mind interprets the experience, how our emotions react to the experience, a reactive impulse to do comes from the experience, and how our bodies carry it out. Karmas are stored as little bundles of conditioning in our subconscious mind and get triggered by external experiences, and sometimes even internal experiences start to react to internal experiences, causing a chain reaction of thoughts that carry us away. When we meditate more deeply and fully, we can notice how these karmas stored in the subconscious mind is not merely passive land mines waiting to be triggered, but are actively attracting their fulfillment through inspiring us to choose one thing over another, and causing synchronicities to happen to bring experiences to us.

When engaged in this practice, the third eye may start to glow and life may start to feel like a dream or an illusion. You may have lucid dreams or remember the future. A certain energy is doubling in the brain and causing new circuits to form and evolve. You may find that just by putting attention at the third eye that you automatically double your attention. The mind may become more silent too. Sometimes our level of tension increases, because we normally avoid feeling our emotions for a sustained time. We use the outer world as a distraction so that we do not have to feel our emotions deeply.

If we are very sensitive, we can notice that the entire chain reaction that loops between the inner world and the outer world has no self. There is no me in the thoughts, emotions, sensations, and reactions that are happening. There is no me in the body either. It is clear that something like a self is related to all this, some kind of identity that is related to all this stuff that is going on. But you do not find it in anything that is examined. Noticing there is no self in thoughts, emotions, sensations, reactions, memories, and external experiences, or in anything that we look at, releases "identification" with all these things. It produces another level of freedom and inner peace. We feel more impartial inside. Internal and external phenomena, both, become more objectified and are taken less personally.

How long a person wants to stay in this doubled awareness state can differ. If you are learning a lot from all this, then just continue. When you are able to go through a day where you maintain relative stability with doubling awareness, when you feel your daily life differently as a result, or when you notice that you are awake in some way and that people look like wind up robots running reactive programs that are repeating more than they realize, then you can pass on to the next exercise.

It is recommended by the Sufis not to hang out too long in doubled attention, because there is an ego tension that can actually get a little stronger if we are not careful. The illusion of self is only partly dissolved. We can also reinforce the feeling of self and get stuck in it more, since more attention is going inside now.

STEP THREE: Noticing the space surrounding the objects

As you shuttle between the internal subjective contents of thought, emotion, sensation, and body reaction and the external object, notice the space between the two. It is, in a sense, between the eye and the object. It is mainly empty space. It probably also has some air in the space too, but it is hard to notice air. This empty space is filled with awareness. If we are aware of the empty space, then it is at least filled with our awareness. Notice how this awareness filled space really contains the external object and contains the subjective contents. It is larger than the contents. There is a curious sensation that is felt when we touch this space. It is naturally silent of thought, even if thoughts are running amok inside. It is like a mirror that reflects everything without getting caught up in what is reflected. It is like a movie screen that peacefully reflects both happy and tragic scenes without getting caught in either. On this level, you have in some sense tripled your attention. Notice how this changes your experience. When you have done this for a few days (or longer if you are learning a lot doing so), then proceed to the next and last exercise.

STEP FOUR: Dropping duality

There has been an illusion that none of the three previous exercises has challenged. The illusion may have softened or it may have gotten stronger. But in the last exercise, after noticing that our mind is not self, our thoughts, emotions, sensations, and reactions are not self, and nothing we look at is self, we challenge, hopefully, the last trace of self illusion. This is the feeling that there is a "looker". We imagine that there is something looking at something, that behind awareness is some seer, some observer, some silent witness. The mind will feel a need to attach a noun, a reference, to the verb "looking". X is looking at Y. We create a feeling sensation of a looker who is using awareness to see something else. This looker does not exist. We are the seeing itself. We are pure awareness. Our thinking mind creates this feeling of a self standing behind pure seeing. If you put attention to this feeling of a self, you will notice that it is an illusion. It is just more content to awareness. It can and does dissolve in awareness. The self that we normally identify with does not abide, but comes and goes with the thoughts, emotions, and sensations that compose it. When we fall asleep, it disappears. When we dream, another self seems to act out in our dreams, and when we awake up this self vanishes. When we are in nondreaming sleep, both the dream self and the waking self vanish. Yet there is a part of us that is always aware, even aware of being unconscious, even simply aware in nondreaming sleep. We are normally not aware of this awareness. We can be aware of awareness as awareness. What is needed is to let go of this reference point, let go of the feeling of a looker behind the looking. To see that this self does not exist. We are one with pure awareness and when there is no thought at all this is simply obvious. Without thinking, the illusion of the looker cannot be maintained. We usually go unconscious when the looker disappears and do not notice that the looker is both an illusion and is not always present. When we watch a sunrise in nature, we sometimes feel one with all of nature. The looker is usually gone in those moments or is at least more subtle and transparent.

There are levels even beyond the "pure seeing identity". If we hang out a long time in being pure seeing, then then it becomes a feeling of warm presence. The Tantric Buddhists call this "luminous emptiness". When we are in this state, we are beyond sorrow. When we are here, we can truly say, "I AM". It then no longer references a bundle of thoughts, emotions, and sensations or a mental construction.

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