Five Elements / Five Dakinis 05

Section 1

We have two more dakinis with which to develop relationship: the air dakini and the void dakini. And many people find these last two, particularly the void dakini, more difficult, and that’s quite understandable. Because when you are doing the business with the spheres, you notice that there’s less and less substance to work with. And sometimes the sensations and feelings become more subtle. There’s less to hold onto.

Section 2

Now the element air is about movement. It’s the principle of movement. Remember that earth is solidity, water is fluidity, cohesion, fire is warmth, heat, both literally and metaphorically. Air is movement. And void is space.

One of the characteristics of air is that you only sense air when there is movement. As I said on Tuesday evening when we first gathered here, in the body air takes expression as the breath, and also the subtle energies such as prana, or chi, and so forth. Movement of those in the body. And these are only sensed when there’s actual movement. If you don’t breathe, you don’t sense any breathing. There’s always movement connected with it.

And as I mentioned when you were doing the exercise, reactive air is activity for activity’s sake. It’s keeping busy so you don’t feel anything else. Or you don’t experience anything else.

In terms of human activity, one area of air, is planning and strategy. Intellectual work. We even have a phrase for it, “He’s an airhead.” Always thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking. Doesn’t produce any substance.

Just to give you a demonstration of this, sit still for a moment. And then ask yourself the question, “What am I?” Not “Who am I?” but “What am I?” And describe to me what happens when you ask that. Anybody?

Section 3

Student: The who and what gets very murky.

Ken: Yeah. But what happens when you ask the question, “What am I?”

Student: I analyze who from what. [Unclear] human being. That is a what.

Ken: Okay. That’s the fourth thing that happens. What are the first three? Do it again. See if you can see them.

Student: I’m a little nervous.

Ken: We’re getting better. That’s the third thing. Let’s go for the first two. Yes.

Student: I’m blank.

Ken: That’s the first thing. What’s the second?

Student: You look.

Ken: Pardon?

Student: You look.

Ken: You look. Blank. Something. Then anxiety. Thinking. Well what happens in there is fear. Because when you ask the question, “What am I?” you necessarily look at nothing. When we look at nothing we panic. And move out of that into anxiety and nervousness which is the beginning of activity. And that’s the air reaction. And then we start analyzing and thinking, “What was this question really about and what am I”? etc., etc., etc. Which is nice and safe territory because now we’re not feeling anything, Particularly the initial fear.

One can say this is not the subject matter for this retreat, but it is for other retreats where we work with the question, “What am I?” And the meditation consists of learning how to stay absolutely present in the fear so you can stay in the looking. But it involves developing a level of attention so that you don’t fall out of that panic reaction into the analyzing and thinking, which is what everyobody does in the beginning.

But that is a classical air reaction on the cognitive level: something arises—in this case the experience of no-thingness—and one gets embroiled in activity—in this case intellectual analysis—in order to get out of the experience. Is that clear? Clear enough?

We do the same thing physically. As I mentioned, you know, we receive bad news, and we can’t take it in, so we end up cleaning our house, starting a new work project. Somthing to…pardon?

Student: We go shopping.

Ken: Shopping. Yes. And some people just get into their car and drive and drive and drive. Yes?

Section 4

Student: Is the difference between activity in fear and being consumed by your work the source behind the activity?

Ken: Yes. They may look very similar. But in one you’re allowing your work to completely consume you so you don’t feel, and the other is you’re engaging all this activity so you don’t feel. They may look very similar. But it’s a little different dynamic inside. And you’ll work with them differently as a consequence.

Student: It seems very subtle.

Ken: In that particular case, that’s fair enough. But there’s a big difference between someone exploding in rage for instance, and just getting really busy. And the person who’s consumed by their work is usually pretty volatile, because the work is really important now. Whereas someone who is just engaged in their work just to keep busy, they won’t usually be as volatile. You follow?

Student: Mmm-hmm.

Ken: Okay. So that’s the air reaction.

Section 5

The response to air is about effective action. That’s why in the verses—go to them, page 9—the last two: I find one thing to do and then another and then another and am soon torn to bits in doing that does nothing. That’s the air reaction.

And then the next two lines or the two lines at the end of the next verse: Like a sword, effective action cuts through all problems, what needs to be done and the doing are one. So there’s an experience of non-separation and what needs to happen just happens.

So what happens in the full sequence of the air reaction, is it often begins to manifest as a kind of nervousness or anxiety. Underneath that nervousness and anxiety there’s a feeling that there’s nothing to stand on. So it it feels like one’s falling, falling from a great height. And what you fear is destruction, or annihilation.

Now there’s a huge sense of openness in there; that’s the emptiness aspect. And there’s also complete panic. To get away from that, you look for something to do. It doesn’t matter what. Anything to do. So you start doing that and you start doing something else. And now you just get completely caught up in a whirlwind of activity. And you get so active that you’re torn apart, just as if you are in the middle of a tornado. Your arms and legs go flying off in different directions. And of course that brings about a certain anxiety. So you go through the cycle again.

Section 6

Anxiety attacks are very, very good examples of air reactions. What happens in an anxiety attack is something causes some anxiety and the person notices that anxiety. And they feel like, “I don’t know what to do with this. I have nothing to stand on.” And they think there’s some danger there. And so they start reacting to the feeling of anxiety. Which, of course, then they notice that and they start reacting to that, and it just spirals and spirals until they’re completely consumed by anxiety.

When I first started my private practice, which was way back in the early 90’s, a psychotherapist came to me because she said she wanted to practice meditation, and because she was very subject to anxiety attacks. And so we worked on just straightforward resting in the breath meditation. And there was very steady improvement because mindfulness practice is one of the most straightforward remedies for anxiety attacks. And it works very very effectively.

And about six months later she came in and was reporting on the situation in her life. And she said, “I felt a little bit of anxiety, almost a little bit of panic, but I let that go and I just went on and took care of the situation.” And I said, “Hold for a sec, would you? You came to me six months ago because you were concerned with anxiety.” And she looked at me, “Oh you’re right. That’s not a problem any more.”

So the way mindfulness cuts through this is exactly the air transformation. Rather than trying to get out of the experience of anxiety, you just experience it. So it’s a little fluttery and a little uneasy when you experience it. But without any fuel, it dissipates relatively quickly. And it’s done. In other words, that is the effective action which cuts through the frenetic activity. It’s a very simple example but there’s quite a bit of research now that shows this works in a wide variety of cases.

Section 7

Another place that we frequently encounter air reactions both in ourselves and in other people is when people’s role or function in a situation—whether it’s a job or a family or a group, doesn’t make any difference—is not clear. When people are confronted with a loss of identity they will often react in air, just doing something so that they can form an identity about feeling busy.

Until very recently, one of my coaching clients, always kept her desk very very cluttered. Even though she was a senior executive in this company and had been for many many years, and her position was extremely secure. And when I asked her why is your desk always so cluttered. She’s a very very capable person. She said I keep it that way because that way whenever I look at my desk, I know there’s something to do. If the desk were clear then I wouldn’t know what to do. Classic air. But she’s changed a little bit. Now she keeps her desk more or less tidy. That’s good.

So any time people feel threatened about their role or function, they will often do make-work kind of stuff. Because it gives them something to say: “This is what I’m doing.” You see this in the organizational environment all the time. You see it in other settings as well.

Section 8

So before we go any further, any questions about air? Yes.

Student: What if a person has a lot of things to do. I mean, when I see this description I don’t do things to keep busy but I’m a busy person. So but it seems so legitimate. I mean, these are things that have to be done. My thinking is you just have to stop being interested in so many things or get more help or hire somebody to do things. I don’t see it as busy because I don’t know what my role is.

Ken: Well, maybe. Have all of these things to do. Why?

Student: Because they have to be done.

Ken: That’s the reason that’s usually given.

Student: Well some of them have to be done others are elective, it’s true.

Ken: Mmm-hmm.

Student: Yeah. I mean, a person doesn’t have to exercise.

Ken: I’d put that pretty close to the have to list, myself but—

Student: The house does have to be cleaned. Of course like I have some help doing—

Ken: Then it would be an interesting exercise for you to make a list of all the things that you do. And then go through. And rather than rate it has to be done/doesn’t have to be done, rate it on a scale of 1 to 5. And then take a look at it.

Student: Which is…what is 1 and what is 5.

Ken: We’ll, you know you can take it either way but we’ll say 1 is top: absolutely has to be done and 5 is doesn’t matter whether it’s done at all.

Student: I see what you mean, has to or optional.

Ken: Yeah, just give them all a rating like that. You may find that an interesting exercise. Be warned. This may change your life.

Student: Okay.

Section 9

Student: It can be very frightening when you work. Once a month I have to report to a board of directors. And I have…what I…the way that I’ve tried to manage it is to have my secretary every day list every single thing I do so that when I come there I don’t panic and I don’t feel threatened. I just whip out this list and…

Ken: Well, this is very interesting. And this is a wonderful example of air reacting. Because your way of defining your effectiveness to the Board is telling them all the things you’ve been doing. Okay?

Now maybe that works for your Board. There are a lot of Boards that that wouldn’t work at all. They’re not the least interested in what you are actually doing,. They’re only interested in what results you’ve generated. And so if you took that list in, then they might say well that’s fine, that’s very nice. We see that you’re busy. What have you got done?

Student: What changes.

Ken: Yeah. What changes. You know, where are we on this initiative and where are we on that one and so forth. Other Boards may just want to know how much time you’re putting in at the office and not be concerned with what you’re getting done or what results…you know.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: But that’s a classic air thing. You know, you might take a look at that and say, “Okay, I’m doing all these things, but what if I just went to the Board, and said, ’Here’s where we are in this project. Here’s where we are on this project, and these ones have been taken care of.” And what was maybe an hour’s report comes down to a 15 minute report. Would that be frightening to you? [Pause] You don’t have to answer.

Student: I’m not sure I can. [Chuckling]

Ken: Okay. But you get my point, do you? Okay.

Section 10

All right. Any other questions about air, Bill?

Bill: I’m not sure if I’m getting this mixed in with fire. One of the things I always think about is, there’s this aspect that seems to want to create. There’s this constant bubbling up of thinking of activities and it seems to be creative impulse that runs through it.

And I’ve often thought of the air [unclear] person as a kind of an artist, a person who is creative. And one hand I wonder sometimes if there’s a compulsiveness about it, and other times, I wonder where the line is where it’s just this need to create. I’m thinking of artist friends who this is their passion what they do. And yet they’re always beset by theses anxieties and these fears and their work’s not selling and all this that goes along with it.

Ken: Yeah. And even when it is selling, the wrong people are buying it.

Bill: Or appreciating [unclear].

Ken: Yeah. Generally speaking we tend to associate the creative impulse, creative passion with fire. There’s that kind of energy. But there’s a connection here with air because then there comes the manner of execution. How is it actually done. And that kind of planning and thinking through is more in their kind of activity. When you get into the compulsive quality you’re definitely talking about an air activity because people are doing this in order not to feel something else. So there’s that.

And I should say even though we’re talking about the elements as distinct, it’s a bit like talking about the colors of the spectrum as distinct. We have red and orange and yellow and green and blue and violet. And we can talk about those six colors and they each have their different properties and so forth. But there’s acutally a whole spectrum there. So in the same way with these elements it refers to a spectrum so there aren’t these sharp divisions. But we talk about them and train you in them so that you get clear about them. The same way this is yellow; this is green. But as you gain more versatility then you’ll be able to appreciate well, this is some of that quality and some of this quality. And this just increases the richness of one’s experience. Okay?

Bill: Thank you.

Section 11

Ken: Any other questions befor we move—

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Yes. Please.

Student: I’m trying to decide what a normal person would look like. You know and it seems I go through all these things. And you could be visibly the same, doing the same things, writing with intensity, being busy, but it seems to be intent…in the intent, in the sense of…if you’re evasive, if you’re trying to avoid, that’s bad. [Unclear] element reaction chains, well these are negative ones.

Ken: That’s right.

Student: And I assume there are companion positive ones.

Ken: The companion…the positive ones are the responses.

Student: Right.

Ken: Okay. So instead of busyness for busyness’ sake, which is an instance of non-presence, you know, presence, then you just act effectively. And of course, when you act effectively, the situation is gone. And which is why a lot of people spin work out needlessly, because they are able to hold a situation constant that way. But all they’re doing is serving a sense of self. If you actually solve the problem, then you wouldn’t know who you are going to be. Who you’ll be after that. Do yourself out of a job. So you say what would a normal person look like. Well there’s no such thing as a normal person.

Student: I understand that. But a person who’s gone through all of these exercises and they’ve done all their work, etc. They look very, very busy [unclear].

Ken: Maybe.

Student: Intense…Let’s say…you have to be…I don’t know about rigid…but rigid and firm at times…you know, all of these things.

Ken: But you’ll find that there is a difference. Let’s go through them quickly. A person who is responsive in earth will be firm and stable. But you won’t experience rigidity. That is, just sticking to a position for the sake of sticking to the position. Because they don’t have that defensiveness. A person who is very good at earth will be someone you can utterly rely on, but there will almost always be a little give in that. Just as the way the different between concrete and actual earth. There is a little give in the earth which you don’t get in concrete, which is just rigid.

The same with a person who’s doing water. Rather than being hard to pin down, things will just flow around.

A fire person, rather than burning people up, will energize him or herself and the people around. That’s what a good leader does.

And an air person, rather than just being busy in order to stay busy, will be doing things that actually get things done. Moving things forward.

This makes sense to you?

Student: Sure.

Ken: Okay.

Section 12

Any last questions before we go to the meditation? Okay.

So why don’t you sit and let your mind, body go quiet.

[Long pause]

As before, feel or imagine that your body, and everything you experience around you, appears the way a rainbow appears, vivid and clear, but not substantial.

And you imagine the green dakini in front of you, the dakini of Air. When you look at her, you can see this is a woman who makes things happen. Things just happen around her. Her every movement has a function and a purpose. And as soon as that function and purpose been realized, there is no extra activity. So she is extremely economical in her movements. But everything that needs to happen, just happens.

She’s clad in green. Air is associated with summer, when everything is in motion. When you look into her eyes you see very clearly that she does what she intends to do. And you also see that she knows exactly what needs to happen inside you. And when you enter into this transformation, that is going happen. So again, the right word may be awe, may be a little intimidation. But note what arises in you when you look into this woman’s eyes and see how very effective she can be.

When you are ready, you make your gesture. Inviting the process of transformation. And she steps forward raising her left hand, and from a flask made of emerald she pours liquid light into your body, which comes down to the center of your head, down to the level of your throat. And as the liquid light pools there, shining brightly, you become aware of all of the ways in your life you keep yourself busy and occupied to keep yourself busy and occupied.

And as you feel that busyness and the voice inside you saying all of these things have to be done you have to stay constantly in motion, all of this is necessary. And if you ever stop there’s even more to do after that, you notice underneath this some anxiety. Nervousness. “Who would I be if I didn’t do all of this? What would my life look like?” And when you entertain those questions, you uncover a fear. “Oh. I wouldn’t be who I am now.”

So to change would involve the destruction of who you are now. And it feels like you’re just falling. There’s nothing to stand on. And that’s terrifying. You have nothing to stand on, you’re just falling. There’s no definition to you at all. So you look for something to do. You find something to do and you start doing it. And that relieves a bit of your fear. So you find something else. And soon you’re caught up in a whole whirlwind of activity, staying as busy as you can, so you have an idea of who you are.

And then again, in that all of that activity you notice that anxiety. And you see that you are doing all of this to maintain some sense of who you are. You wouldn’t know who you are if you didn’t. And now you’re faced with your own destruction and that feeling of falling, falling. So again you start off doing another whole round of activity. You spiral around this again and again.

And all this is completely clear to you. And the light from the throat center shines and illuminates all of these reactions so that they too become clearer and more vivid and eventually become light themselves. When that happens, you feel a shift. And you see that most of this activity isn’t necessary. Certainly not necessary to maintain some sense with who you are. There’s this to be done, it can be done that way. There’s that to be done, it can be done that way. So you see how to be effective. What needs to be done; what doesn’t need to be done. And this new understanding, or knowing, is symbolized as a sword at your throat. Sword which cuts through confusion. And is the symbol for effective action.

And as you consider the different aspects of your life, you now see very clearly what needs to be done and how to do it, and what doesn’t need to be done and how to let it go. You become truly effective in everything you do. And like the earth dakini, no wasted movement. No meaningless activity.

Now light shines from your heart, illuminating the totality of your experience, inviting the dakinis of effective action, the air dakinis, from every quarter of your experience, every quarter of the world. And they throng around you, pouring in their elixer, and dissolving into you. So you are completely filled with their energy. And the dakini you originally imagined in front also dissolves into you. And everything becomes light and you rest in the light.

Then you form the attention to return here. When you are ready come into this room. And the light and that sense of effective action, effective pristine awareness, comes with you.

Section 13

Okay. Questions. What’s your sense of this. Doable? Randy.

Randy: I felt a simultaneous attraction [unclear] to the dissolution aspect [unclear]. And absolutely there’s fear, [unclear] simultaneous sense of victory. Yeah!

Ken: You like all of that stuff?

Randy: I want to disperse into nothing. I hate it and I love it at the same time. [unclear] terror.

Ken: Well. Pardon? You want to be torn to bits by the whirlwind of your own activity? It’s not exactly the same as becoming nothing.

Randy: No.

Ken: No. I can understand the attraction of becoming nothing. Sort of think that if you become nothing then cease to have any problems. It doesn’t work that way, but that’s the attraction. Actually your problems only just begin when you become nothing. You know why?

Randy: [Unclear]

Ken: Pardon?

Randy: I have no idea.

Ken: Because when you become nothing there is nothing to be but an ongoing response to the pain of the world. That’s when the bodhisattva activity actually starts. Follow?

So when it says in the Heart Sutra, They rest in the perfection of wisdom. It’s a complete lie! My perverse way of looking at things.

Section 14

Okay. Other questions. Yes.

Student: Well, in your book, it seems that the goal would be to do just what is required, nothing more, nothing less [unclear]. But if you have two employees and one did just what was required, nothing more, nothing less. And you had another employee that did all that was required and then found other ways that they could expand their job, who would you value the most?

Ken: [Quiet laugh] I think it’s a false comparison. Because you have may have defined the job to both of them in the same terms. But we all know that the definition of the job and the actual job are two very different things. That’s why it’s a false comparison.

Student: So you’re saying—

Ken: Just because you defined it that doesn’t mean—

Student: But that person might think they were doing just what was required.

Ken: They might. Yes. But that isn’t actually just what is required.

Student: Yeah.

Ken: Okay? It’s a very clever argument.

Student: No. It’s just that I’ve seen this before. In fact if you describe someone as doing just what is required you’d say “Oh, I don’t want that person.”

Ken: I understand. But that’s an objective sense, you know like, okay, this is what’s required by the job. But very often what’s required by the job and what is actually required are totally different.

Student: So you’re saying, do what is actually required.

Ken: Yes. That’s very different.

Section 15

Other questions. Is this clear, the meditation process? Can you connect with it? Are there any aspects of it which are elusive for you? Yes.

Student: If you’re not really stable. Like if you have grounded yourself in that very first reaction chain, I think that by the time you get to the air one, even if you have effective action, you’re wiggling. You know, like you…I’m going through some of that with [unclear] in my job. I feel, you know, mentally very acute, you know, I’m doing lots of actions, but I get scared because I’m always out of the box, usually. I’m in the box but then out of the box. And I don’t feel that stability of the earth yet.

Ken: Yeah. Now, what you’re raising here is very important. All of the elements are important. And you’re sensing in your work an imbalance in the elements. There isn’t enough earth. Where you know the structure and know the rules of the game, so to speak. And what the priorities are etc., etc.

Student: Yeah, I can do really great air and fire. But I’m shaky on the air.

Ken: Yeah. And so that’s an area in which to put attention. Some people are very good at earth. They set up wonderful structures and everything, you know, wonderful systems. But they are totally out of touch with what people are feeling, which has more to do with water.

Some people can be very very good with how people are feeling, how things need to move. But they can’t set up any structure. We’re talking about in organizational context, but it equally applies in other areas of our lives. Some people are very good at thinking, but they’re not very good at feeling. You know you have the Meyers-Briggs thing. Other people are very good at providing support for others but they aren’t very good at solving problems. So there are all of these different areas.

Student: Do all of…is there a hierarchical connection or is it just a—

Ken: In the way that we’re working with the elements right now, we’re working on a horizontal. They are all important. There is another way of working with the elements, which is hierarchical and that has it’s own uses. But really for this retreat I’m not going to get into the vertical dimension. But you’re alluding to it in that you know if there’s no ground, then everything you do is like building on sand. So you can establish a hierarchy that way. But I think it’s fine, your sensing, “No, I’m not clear in this area.” So that would be an area to put more attention. Okay?

Section 16

Any questions about the meditation? All clear? Anything else before…Michael?

Michael: Relating back to Monica’s question, sometimes I find it hard to connect with the fear part of my cycle bringing in an actual experience.

Ken: Yes.

Michael: [Unclear] bringing in practical thing of how best to do that.

Ken: Okay. As I’ve said before, it can be very helpful taking an actual situation in your life where you have this kind of reaction, and using that to identify the different components of the reaction chain. Just as we are doing these completely artificial exercises today with our bodies so that we could identify the reaction components. That’s important.

So the kind of thing that will trigger an air reaction is something which threatens your identity or your role in a situation in some way. That very often wlll trigger an air reaction. So can you think of anything like that? And or another way is to observe somewhere in your life where you just got really really busy. And then take a look at, how did you get that busy. And in particular, what are you avoiding by being busy. Does this help?

Student: Mmm-hmm.

Ken: All too well. Okay. Yes?

Section 17

Student: : Before you gave us a sort of stabilizing statement for the fire element. You know to say to someone.

Ken: Oh.

Student: “This is a difficult situtation; don’t worry we’ll see this through together.” So is there a similar statement for air?

Ken: Yep. You will find all of these statments in the bible, I mean the book! [Laughter] They’re on page—

Student: [Unclear] teenage daughter?

Ken: No. You’ll find them all on page 224. So for air: You know what has to be done and you know you can do it.

Student: So can you repeat that?

Ken: You know what has to be done and you know you can do it. [Unclear] I’ve said that to a lot of people.

Student: It’s interesting in hearing you say, “I know what to do.”

Ken: Yeah. Is that what I say in there?

Student: ’Cause you’re talking to someone.

Ken: Talking to someone, I know you can do it. Either way it works. And often I find myself saying that even when I don’t know what has to be done. But I can tell they know. They actually do know what has to be done. So I just look at them: You know what needs to be done. And you know you can do it. Very often they will say, “Yeah I know, but I don’t want to.” Now we have another discussion.

So you’ll find all of them right there. Okay.

Okay , let’s do the Heart Sutra prayers.

Creative Commons LicenseThis transcript by Ken McLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. This transcript has been edited to make it more readable. There may be minor differences between the audio file and the transcript.