As a result, I have been reflecting on my own Buddhist journey. Where am I after twenty years of exploring? I wanted to share just one part of how I am answering that question: it involves a structure of practice which comes from the practice lineage. What I want to share is my realization of how natural this structure really is. Instead of feeling that it is a form that I "should" do or aspire toward, I have more recently felt how this structure naturally emerges from the energetic experience of deepening practice.
Practice begins with connecting to the ground. For me, this has become vivid through learning Qi-gong. Embodiment is the basis for all experience. As Michael Eigen says, we are "sensitive selves". We can be undone by sensitivity, or, we can find ways to refine our sense channels learning about the way inside and outside mix through our ongoing interaction with the world. Learning about how energy moves through the body, how it is gathered, refined, stored, and exchanged, is exciting. Qi gong links to what are called the internal (martial) arts and the realization of our energetic bodies is an inspiring path that opens many new doors. POINT 1 Grounding or Base means exploring EMBODIMENT
The next step in practice involves concentration. Attention is a tool. It has many forms and possibilities. But, the most important basic way to use attention is to learn to withdraw it from all the myriad distractions of the external world and turn it inward to begin to investigate your own experience. In the beginning attention is captured by all that is around us. Until we learn to move attention inward, we are alienated from the deeper levels of our own experience. However, once you are both grounded and able to freely shift your attention to your own inner experience, you can begin to experience the play of experience, of the complex mixing of inner and outer, self and other, subject and object. POINT 2 Attention is the tool that allows us to explore our own EMBODIMENT in INTERACTION with experience of the world.
The next step, and it is a big one, involves some kind of devotional practice. I have done many kinds of mantra practice each related to different significant Tibetan figures who embody qualities such as wisdom, compassion, or emptiness. In this kind of practice there is gradual diminishing of the ego's belief in its own hegemony and in the concreteness of the stories it weaves.
I like to tell this story from my own experience. In the early years of my practice I thought my relationship to my teacher and the dharma could be pictured as being drawn out of my house into a wide open landscape where I could see the sky and feel the vastness of nature. Then, I would go back into my house, the comfortable familiarity of my ego, which is where I spend the bulk of my time living. That is, going out into reality is an option, something I do when I feel a bit of courage. My real reality is my professional life, my personal life, my memories and desires. Spiritual reality is a kind of extra.
Big surprise ahead. I vividly remember when I realized that this whole metaphor is really the view of the ego. What does a non-ego view look like? I can tell you what it feels like. It feels like instead of going in and out of your house, one day the walls and roof of the house just collapse and there you are, exposed to everything, to sky, sun, rain, wind, earth, lightening, thunder, and rainbow. You realize that going in and out is the game of the ego, that the real situation is without barrier or boundary or differentiation. This leads to a kind of panic, which is the residue of ego's habit, but also, to a sense of unspeakable ease and belonging to the world. This creates quite a powerful feeling of tension in the body and mind. Hence, the need to be able to be grounded and attentive.
The ground shifts beneath us. Instead of being grounded in the ego, you start to take refuge in the Dharma, in your direct perception, in the emptiness of experience.
I still remember one teacher saying to me: You still believe in the magic show!
That single sentence cut right through me. I can still feel the space open when I remember it.
That is why we practice.
A profound ease and peace spontaneously emerges as well as very deep compassion for the pain and suffering, for the tantrums of the ego when we remember "the space between two thoughts".
The devotional practices exist to remind us of the truth-- that the house of the ego is not really solid and real. You cannot take refuge in the ego. We must hold our selves, stories, memories and desires very lightly, and trust a very different source of energy, which is the heart of the mystery of life and creation itself. No story there, just very powerful direct experience which needs no proof. It is self evident when you touch it or it touches you or you become it, what you always already are.
POINT 3 Embodiment, plus attention, plus ability to follow how energy emerges and "speaks" reveals deeper structures of reality, and gives rise to non conceptual realizations like emptiness, Bodhichitta, and wisdom.
Finally, there is the possibility of just resting in this natural state. The non meditation of deep awareness which is uninterrupted by ego clinging, aversion, or indifference/doubt. On the one hand, it is clear to me now that the ground and wisdom are not separate. If you could rest in the ground itself you would already experience the pinnacle of wisdom. There is no real path. The path is just the necessary fiction some of us need to travel to find the ground or the basis or to stabilize the view. The path does not involve any sort of construction. It is, rather, the process of refining the ego until it becomes almost transparent so there is no barrier to the direct experience of life itself.
Anam Thubten emphasizes that there is too much spiritual gibberish in many peoples practice. I hope I am not adding to the noise. Mike Eigen told me some time ago that because I love words it might be hard for me to tune into wordless dimensions that are crucial parts of growth and being. Everything I've just said is an attempt to "mark" a spot of wordless being that no longer feels distant or out of reach to me.
I have recently formulated my desire as "to become more intimate with life itself". I can feel now how this is possible every moment of each day. What gets in the way? I've been fortunate to meet teachers like Stephen Levine, Namkhai Norbu, Tharchin Rinpoche, and Yeshe Wangmo. Each in their own way has opened this space of awareness.
Bion, too, was working with this space. He clearly says that desire obstructs the awareness of being. Whether it is in our personal life, family life, professional life, it seems more clear to me now that we have to allows times and spaces to surrender the project of "getting to know" so that we can experience "just being".
I'm starting to understand the advice of the great master Tulku Urygen who said "leave the moment just as it is". If one can allow such spaciousness, one can taste and feel and "know" an amazing belonging to life itself.
One of the most beautiful experiences is when you can share such experiences with another. But then one must let go and see what the next moment brings. Everything belongs.
So, to summarize, you have a structure of the interdependence of ground (embodiment) concentration (attention) devotion (Bodhichitta) and wisdom (direct presence). All this opens to a new a ground, life itself, constantly speaking, the blue mountains constantly walking, maybe even dancing.