Sometimes when I sit on my perfectly folded blankets I have no idea what I’m doing. I wiggle, write hemp seeds and red wine in the margin of my journal, and exhale more in frustration than inspiration. Then eyes close. Feeling the body, list-making slows. Eyes squint open to check the iphone timer, then close. Breathe, notice, soften. I do know logically how to do this.
What are we doing here sitting on our little cushions, our special benches or laying in the grass?
Perhaps Richard was here once upon a time. He expresses an understanding that to delve into silence it helps to give the mind a map, an orientation to comfort it, to know what we’re doing and where we’re going. Then the mind allows the unfolding, revealing, absorption by the experience. The whole point of why we folded our blankets so well.
In Awakening to Your Essential Nature, the two talks provide the mind with structure. Richard explains a map of how meditation experience unfolds. The path leads us to an experience and then a life of awareness where our essential nature of joy, compassion, empathy and delight are present, even where fear and sadness exist.
Once the mind has structure, knows where it’s going, so-to-speak, it is less likely to throw in abstract thoughts to gain control. You might know some of these distracting thoughts. I better check the stove, I’m hungry, I don’t need this, I do need this because I’m broken so I better get it right, Why does enlightenment take so long – I need to get stuff done, or whatever belief we are noticing that day. These thoughts indicate where we are on the map, not to judge but to be aware and invite us further.
It seems a couple of things happen when the mind has a map. One, when the mind knows these are thoughts, recognizes thoughts are not absolute truth, some opening and softening starts to happen. Two, when we get a taste of that softening we are more apt to stay with it. We are calling it meditation and could also call it inquiry. The more we get a taste, the more we know ourselves and are drawn in to know ourselves further.
To help settle the mind and encourage us to keep going in our exploration, Richard developed a map, a physical document even. There are 37 Tatvas, or signposts, in this description of the process of meditation. Each of the steps is numbered, which would indicate linear progression, moving from gross to subtle, and indicate fine-tuning of awareness. And, as you know Richard would say, can you be with that. Where you are on the map is not a judgement but an indication your awareness at this moment. In fact, every signpost occurs and does not occur in every moment. The mind can move in very non-linear fashion. The map indicates where we are in terms of our sensitivity to our bodies and the world around us. It is a description of where you are and where you are going in your meditation practice on and off the cushion.
At some point we realize these are just descriptors of what happens by itself. Enlightenment is not forced… it occurs or doesn’t or does and then doesn’t and so on. Knowing these practices experientially up to our capacity and then logically beyond that will support us for when walls do fall away, when the sense of separation dissolve.
Another part of the talks includes the history of meditation or awakening. Which allows us to trace our own experience. The talk outlines the idea of separation and revelation from dualism to non-dualism and then explores the unfolding to welcoming everything. That’s the really short version.
The talks are part history, part orientation, part guided instruction. On retreat you will hear parts of these, if not all. We can’t always be on retreat and we can’t always remember everything. Download these to remind and support yourself in finding your way of inquiring, exploring and finding your path to vibrant living on and then off the perfectly folded blankets.
So, sitting on my blankets, which slide from perfectly folded to somewhat disheveled, “meditation” happens or, as it feels to me, delight takes over. I do know the map, at least the words, and I can feel. The mind has some orientation, at least enough to invite me to keep going, feeling, allowing the softening and opening. This is why I’m drawn to sit and why I turn to a meditation practice when I can’t sleep, when I’m tired, when I can’t think straight and even when things are working well. The orientation is why I can wait out the squirminess, the harrumphing, the sleepiness, the “I’m not good enough”, “I don’t know what I’m doing” and find the sense of quiet contentment, DELIGHT and nourishing unknowing.
In a sense, I still have no idea what I’m doing. And thanks to the teachings, sometimes I’m even okay with that.
Thank you, Richard for recording these talks, describing and inviting us on the path of meditation so we know where we are and maybe where we are going, and especially for encouraging us to make it our own.