Awakening From Belief 9a


Now let’s start with any questions from your practice experience this morning.

Student: I had a hard time getting much to happen. Yesterday I did touch on some painful stuff having to do with that, you know, ignoring and avoiding conflict. And I got there, and I’ve kind of been expecting to have some kind of feelings like that. But I would call that whole situation back up, and it’s not really…

Ken: You prepared to mess with it right now?

Student: [Laughs] Yeah.

Ken: Okay, so you take a situation, a conversation. There’s a difference of opinion. You feel strongly about something. The other person’s not backing down. What starts to happen in you?

Student: I get a real clenched feeling around my heart.

Ken: Okay, so you start to breathe right there.

Student: Stop to…?

Ken: Start.

Student: Oh.

Ken: No, don’t stop breathing! [Laughter]

Student: [Unclear] in the clenching stop—

Ken: Yes, but…

Student: I actually stop breathing.

Ken: Breathe, and keeping the situation in your awareness, you feel the pain, and you feel that contraction or clenching around your heart. You okay? What else do you notice in your body?

Student: Kind of an over-clenching, drawing in.

Ken: So there’s a contraction through the whole body. Then just breathe and experience that. What emotions are connected with this?

Student: Fear and sorrow.

Ken: Okay, so just experience the fear and the sorrow. Don’t question them, don’t analyze them—just experience them. How do you experience the fear? What is it? Describe the experience.

Student: Umm.

Ken: That’s it. On a scale of panic: petrified? “I’m out of here?” Where are you?

Student: Mmm.

Ken: Okay. So, even though there’s all that contraction going on in the body, there’s also a whole lot of mobilization going on.

Student: Yeah.

Ken: Okay. How do you experience the sorrow? Five-feet deep, well-depth, down to the center of the earth?

Student: Well-depth.

Ken: Well-depth. Okay. So you just experience it. It’s like a hole in the center of us going down. What are some of the stories, and associations, and memories? Just the ones you’re comfortable voicing out loud. There are a few, aren’t there? Okay, so you have your body, which is simultaneously contracting and mobilizing, and you feel all of those contradictory tensions in there. And you have this fear and this sorrow. Any anger?

Student: Mmm-hmm.

Ken: Mmm-hmm. So include that. Any bewilderment, or puzzlement, or amazement? Okay, so you include that. And then you have all of those stories—“I can’t understand why he’s doing this,” etc., etc. All those things, right? Now just experience them all together, all at the same time as you breathe.

So, you’ve got all of that going on, and yet there’s a place in you which is quiet. Can you connect with that? Can you relax there? Just. Okay. All right so you can relax your effort now. No juice, eh?

Student: I think that I want to get into it. You know, I have this stuff happen to me in my everyday life, and I think, “Gee, if I could work with that in meditation it would be great.” And then I get here and I sit here and invite it, and it doesn’t…

Ken: You just did it.

Student: I know but it was a more intense situation with you. You know. I mean with me just sitting there asking myself it wasn’t…

Ken: You can learn to do the same thing and that’s what is important—to learn how to be in touch with our own experience. We can all do this. I just asked you some questions.

Student: [Unclear] question.

Ken: Yes, very specific about the body and things that we all know about fear. You know, there are different kinds of fear. There’s a fear that freezes [Ken makes freezing sound]—it’s the petrifying. There’s the fear which is, “I’m out of here” [Ken makes vanishing sound]—mobilizes. So which kind of fear is it? You know, that kind of fear. Okay? Sorrow, how deep is it? [Ken makes deep sound.] That deep. You know, or maybe it’s, “Oh my God!” That deep.

So, you really explore your experience, and you notice there wasn’t any analysis or trying to figure it out why it was there. It’s just relating to what is actually there. And that’s the essence of this technique. And not fighting any of it.

Student: I thought maybe it was because I, you know, I thought I wanted to go there but I really didn’t want to, and I was ignoring it. But I didn’t feel how it felt actually, you know, a really enjoining kind of spacious feeling of the meditation.

Ken: Mmm-hmm.

Student: So it didn’t feel like my usual pattern or expectation of ignoring because it was more skillful means of how to draw it out, I guess.

Ken: As I said this morning, when you’re doing this practice let the feeling open to you.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Well, a way to train for this is to get up in the morning, go to your garden and sit beside a closed flower. Then you sit there till the flower opens. Okay? Very good.


Other questions? Now everybody’s scared. June?

June: To sort of continue where Charlotte was, let’s say that you’re not on the cushion, but you’re in that conversation with somebody. And you notice yourself feeling a certain way and sitting there with the feeling. How do you stay in the conversation or not, or engage or not? Or it’s, like, I don’t know what to do at that place. It’s like I see myself, you know, feeling something that whatever it is, anxious, angry, whatever and really feeling it and being aware of it. And then where are you with the conversation?

Ken: Well that’s the challenge isn’t it? This is why we do formal meditation, because it’s a practice. And then the other half is, how do we meet these situations in our life. Now, there’s the mind of the body, the mind of emotion, and the mind of awareness. The mind of the body is always awake. We say the body never lies—it’s always awake—it always knows what’s going on. However, the mind of emotion can and does override the body because that’s where all the habituated conditioning is stored. The mind of emotion rides change. It’s in all the changes, but it’s where the reactive processes are actually stored. And then there’s the mind of awareness, which operates at a still higher level, and thus can bring attention to the mind of emotion and free up the locked patterns of emotion. So keeping those three clear, or being aware of those three is very helpful. If you want to be aware in the world when you start to slip into reactivity, and most of us can feel that beginning, go to the body.

Student: Hmm.

Student: Can you say that again?

Ken: Go to the body. [Laughter] Again? When you feel reactivity beginning to operate in you—and you feel it usually as a kind of imbalance—you know, something’s beginning to take over—go to the body. Now those of us who are from a good WASP culture, we know nothing about this of course. [Laughter]

Students: [Unclear]

Ken: Had a Jewish girlfriend once, she just looked at me said, “Oh you can’t help it, you’re a WASP.” [Laughter]



Student: I’m a little confused, so I don’t know how clear this question’s going to be, but it seems that, you know, we’re constantly trying to avoid suffering. And I keep coming back to that. And so then I try to feel the emotion from the suffering. But being somebody that feels like I need to keep myself on a positive note because I can get taken away, and get taken down, I feel like I’m waking it up.

Ken: Yep.

Student: Waking up depression or looking at all the negative things, or I mean that I understand developing attention to stay…to be able to stay in the suffering.

Ken: Oh no, it’s not about just staying present in the suffering. Let me go back to June’s question here. So you go to the body—it applies to yours as well—you go to the body. Now, there are other forms of reactivity—anybody lose their self in elation and glee? Lose attention in the body? Do crazy things that you wonder, like, “Why did I do that?” Then it’s the other direction.

Student: So you are saying depression is a reactive…?

Ken: Depression, elation…anybody get caught up in somebody else’s stuff? Well, that’s sympathy gone amok. You know, there any detached manipulators in here? Those are the…

Student: What does that look like? [Laughter]

Ken: Of course, then there’s the denying innocent one. [Laughter]

Student: I really don’t know—

Ken: I understand. So…

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Well, Prospero in The Tempest was your archetypal detached manipulator. You know, just makes things happen, rearranges the world to fit his or her way. The denying one is your classy, ditzy blonde, “Oh, I don’t understand why they give me all these rings and jewelry but it’s really nice of them.” These are all bent versions of equanimity. There’s another whole story we could go into there but we won’t.

Now, go to your body. What’s your body saying? What’s your body experiencing? And you use that direct attention into the body—it grounds you. And from there, you have a basis in which to begin to experience emotional reaction without being completely consumed by it.

So, by going into the body first you establish a base of attention. Then you can start experiencing the reactive process itself—in Charlotte’s case the fear and the sorrow. And then all of the stories and associations, which usually have nothing to do with the situation.

So, you develop this ability and you become familiar with that process. And then you’re having a conversation with someone, and you can sense yourself getting a little on edge [Ken snaps fingers]—go to your body. And you’ll be quite surprised what you’re gonna find there. And you go, “Wow!” and maybe it is like the body’s ready to charge at this person, “Oh. I’m angry.” Or “I gotta get out of here.” And your body’s right—this is a dangerous situation. You go, “Oh, okay.” Then you can start experiencing your emotional reactions. You may find that they’re quite different from the story that you’ve been telling yourself and the stories that we use to manipulate everything to conform to our conditioning. Emotion always trumps reason. You know, you can always rationalize anything. That’s why I say go to the body. You stand in the body. Right there, you’re going to be more present.

And if you can experience your emotions and not act on them, then you have a chance of seeing what’s going on. It can be very useful once you notice that little feeling on edge, you’re grounded in the body, just to ask yourself what’s going on here? That’s going to key your own investigation, and again I encourage you not to analyze. The understanding that we develop or uncover in Buddhist practice is a direct knowing—it’s a direct knowing. It is not a deductive knowing, which is always a product of the intellect—you can’t trust it.

Uchiyama Roshi talks about a bird sitting on her nest. And the bird sits on the eggs, and every now and then she gets up, turns all the eggs over with her beak, sits down again. Amazing. Now, this raises a question in science: how does she know when to turn the eggs over? What kind of biological clock mechanism is there? Well, after a few investigations they discovered there was no biological clock—she just gets too hot. [Laughter] So she turns the eggs over—now she’s cool. The result is that the eggs are evenly warmed and they hatch properly. That’s the kind of sensitivity that we develop here. You’re so in touch with your own experience, so totally in touch with your own experience, that by responding to that you actually respond to what is appropriate in the world. Follow?

Student: Yeah.

Ken: Does that answer your question?

Student: I don’t know, sort of.

Ken: Okay.



Student: I understand [unclear] emotion but I’m not sure why we’re bringing the stories into it. Is that [unclear] emotion?

Ken: When the stories start running, do you feel the emotion?

Student: Yeah.

Ken: Do you? When you’re at a meeting and you’re in control of the meeting—it’s your meeting—and somebody does something annoying, or irritating, or out of line, you can just do whatever you want—you say, you know, “shut up” or “stop that,” or what have you, right? But if you’re not in control of the meeting, and somebody does something, you have to sit there and feel your anger—you follow? The stories are ways that we get away from feeling. You know, we got thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking. In many cases I’ve worked with, people say, “Well, this person did this, and then they did this, and then they did this, and they’re always doing this,” etc. And I say, “Okay, just stop the stories. What are you feeling right now?” “Angry. And you know, ”And then they did this, and then they did that, and they’re always doing this.“ And I say, ”That’s the story again. What are you feeling right now?“ ”Angry.“ ”Okay, then just feel the anger.“ You take them into the body. When they stop being caught up in the stories, they begin to feel what’s going on.

So, the first step is to ground in the body and feel the story, feel the emotions. But we could still believe the stories. So, you bring in all of the stories and the memories and the associations and you begin to experience them—not as facts but as stories. And we have lots of stories about ourselves. You know, ”Nobody loves me, everybody hates me. I’m going into the garden and eat worms.“ You know, that’s a story. Now, is it true? Feels true doesn’t it—but it’s not true. But that’s a story we run. And so the point of including all of the stories, and memories, and associations is to experience them for what they actually are: stories, memories, and associations. And that can be very difficult, because in many cases we’re deeply invested in some of those stories—very deeply invested. That’s our identity. You know, that’s who we think we are. That relates to your situation, Paul, you know, ”This is what I am.“ But it’s not—it’s a story. So being able to experience the stories as stories is a vital piece in becoming free of the reactive process.

That help?

Student: Mmm-hmm.

Ken: Okay.



Student: I don’t know how to start my story. From my interview with you, I realized that I had an identity that I needed to express. And I began exploring that, and I discovered that same identity I’ve had all my life. Very easy to see that. I had an older sister who was sick. My parents—my mother was a nurse, my father was a doctor—they taught me how to take care of her. Then I was a single mother with three children. Then they grew up and went away, and then the old people got old and needed care taking. So I learned early on to be the do-gooder. And I identified everything with this being that do-gooder. And I manipulated my world righteously as a do-gooder. I protected myself as a do-gooder; I was in control because I was a do-gooder. You couldn’t argue with me because I knew that I was right because I was the do-gooder.

Ken: [Laughs] Yes.

Student: Okay, so then I realized that. And at this point it just makes me sick because it has permeated my—

Ken: Mmm-hmm.

Student: And there’s nothing underneath that.

Ken: Very good, very good. You’ve taken an important step in reclaiming your life.

Student: Yeah.

Ken: Yeah. In what I was talking about yesterday, we see how pervasive the pattern is. And when see the pattern, you see it everywhere. That’s why one of the sections of the book is titled Patterns, Patterns Everywhere and Not a Moment’s Peace. An old paraphrase of the Ancient Mariner. And as you say, there is nothing under it—perhaps. Describe your experience of that nothing. Hm?

Student: It’s just there.

Ken: Mmm-hmm.

Student: Between here and there is nausea.

Ken: Ah, yes. [Laughter] But we’re focusing on—

Student: Here it’s okay—

Ken: We’re just focusing on the nothing right now. I’ll let you sort through the nausea because there will be a few months of that, probably, but let’s go to that nothing. Okay? Right there. Describe it.

Student: Physical sensation and lots of energy…like very intense…because of all the attention…I feel focused on it.

Ken: Mmm-hmm. What if you relax into it, rest in it?

Student: It’s like my body opens up.

Ken: Mmm-hmm. Now describe the experience.

Student: Opening.

Ken: Is it empty like empty space?

Student: No, it’s empty like energy.

Ken: Mmm-hmm. Is it only nothing?

Student: No.

Ken: What is there?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: What knows it?

Student: Say again.

Ken: What knows it?

Student: Nothing.

Ken: Nothing knows it, but it’s known right?

Student: Yeah.

Ken: Good. That’s your true nature. That’s what you really are. That wasn’t so bad, was it?

Student: No, I just don’t want to start playing games from here.

Ken: [Laughs] Oh, that’s the trick. Yeah, okay.



Student: I’d like to piggyback on [Ken laughs] all of that because what I suddenly came up against was that my attention was this hyper-vigilant experience. And once I recognized that I could not get out of it, is that every time I put my awareness into that space—

Ken: Yeah.

Student: A super-vigilant experience.

Ken: Yeah, so you’re hitting the actual operation of the pattern.

Student: Yeah.

Ken: Yeah and now you just rest in that experience—it’s not particularly comfortable, but that’s how you are all the time.

Student: Yeah.

Ken: Yes.

Student: I wrestled with my experience so it didn’t matter that I was resting in attention…

Ken: Yeah.

Student: [Unclear] super tense.

Ken: Sixteen eyes in all directions, right? Yeah.

Student: Yeah.

Ken: Yeah, good.


Okay, we’re going to stop here with the questions, okay.

Now, this afternoon I want to do an exercise with you which is, again, an interaction exercise. You’re going to get all the rules up front once more. The purpose of this exercise—and we’ll do two takes of it, it’s not a long one—is to experience how reaction in another person triggers a reaction in us. It’s okay; it’s very controlled.

Student: I’m just thinking how well I know this. [Laughter]

Ken: Well, we know it by its affect on us; we don’t know it by its experience.

Student: Oh.

Ken: And also how, in the moment, to step out of reacting to another person’s reactivity—that may be useful in our lives. [Laughter]

So, I want you to pair up again.

This is based on the six realms. How many are familiar with the six realms? Lots of people, good. One way to describe them is that each of the realms is the world, projected by a reactive emotion. When you’re angry, you see the world in terms of opposition. Doesn’t matter whether it’s your wife, your husband, your child, parent, whatever—when you’re angry, they’re the enemy. That’s it. You see the world in terms of opposition. It takes over your worldview completely. You forget this is your child: they’re the enemy. You forget this is your spouse: they’re the enemy. It may be only for a moment but it can have significant consequences.

Was it Robert Frost?

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say ’twill end in ice.

From what I’ve seen of human desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But I have seen enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And will suffice.

Wonderful, and you can see there are different flavors. You have the hot hells and the cold hells. Well, the hot hells describe hot anger [Ken makes explosion sound]. The cold hells describe hatred. Icy hatred. When you hate something you’re frozen inside. And to move out of that hatred feels like your skin is cracking. It’s exactly how cold hells are described in the texts—one has to learn how to read these texts, you know.

Hungry ghost realm. This is the realm projected by greed—”There just isn’t enough out there. There isn’t enough.“ It doesn’t matter how much you’ve got, there isn’t enough out there. And even if you’ve got a lot you can’t enjoy it because it’s never enough. There’s always that feeling there isn’t enough. So you’ve got to take, you gotta grab and get whatever you can.

Animal realm. Now, this is usually translated as stupidity, but it’s a little more subtle than that. I heard a delightful talk, a conference on Buddhism and psychoanalysis by, I think, it was Brian Wilson [James H. Austin, M.D.] the person who wrote Zen and the Brain. And his talk was not well received, but I thought it was one of the best. He analyzed…he discussed how the word self is used in contemporary psychology. And he went through nine different ways it’s used. You know, he ended up with a big mess of course.

But the way he started it off, he says, ”You know, I was talking with my dog the other day, and I said, ’What is your true nature?’“ He practices Zen you see. ”And my dog looked at me very intently. And I thought, ‘Oh, communication. Good.’ So I decided to go a little bit further. ‘What is your true nature?’ And he looked at me even more intently and he barked. And I thought, ’We’re getting there.’ So I said, ‘What is your true nature?’ Then he jumped on his feet, barked, and ran to his feeding bowl.“ [Laughter]

Now, this describes the animal world. Animals are very good at what they have been conditioned or evolved through evolution to do. Then they just do it very, very well. I was in the San Diego Zoo once watching the orangutans. And there they have a rope, you know, thirty feet down. And these apes go up that rope hand over hand—you never see a muscle flex—it is so incredibly smooth. Can you imagine climbing that? It’s extraordinary. But they hang up in trees all the time so they have it.

But anything outside that conditioning—it’s another story. You know, so there’s the cat hissing at his reflection in a mirror, you know [Ken makes hissing sound], or the dog scratching at the door, you know, pushing at the door. ”It’ll open I’ll just keep doing this enough, it’ll open.“ And we see this all the time.

So, what the animal realm is describing is the kind of automatic functioning used for survival—that’s what the animal realm is. And occasionally we fall into that.

Student: In every new situation…

Ken: Well, not everybody. The human realm is about satisfying desire. Now, it’s fundamentally different from the hungry ghost realm. They’re based on the same dynamic—that’s the three poisons—there’s attraction operating in both of them. But the hungry ghosts never experience any satisfaction, so there’s this bottomless pit of need which gives rise to the greed. In the human realm, and you can debate whether it’s worse or not, you experience satisfaction, [Ken lowers his voice dramatically] and you want more. So you end up working, and you work really hard. You end up working so hard to get more that you never get to experience more. But you do have that sense of satisfaction, whenever you get it, ”Ah, that felt good!“ and so now I want more of it. So it’s this endless cycle of desire and satisfaction.

Titan Realm. The titan realm is very closely related to the hungry ghost realm, and both are based of a sense of deficiency. The hungry ghost sees the deficiency out in the world; the titan sees the deficiency in themselves, so they’re always trying to be more, always trying to be the best. That’s why they’re intensely competitive. And so you always see the world in terms of who’s got the most and how do I get there?

And then there’s the god’s realm. The god’s realm is about people who have arrived. You know, and there’s a change. It’s no longer about striving to get more—it’s about maintaining your position. And there’s a feeling of superiority…superiority because you’ve done the right thing—you got there. If everybody else just understood how the world worked they would have the same thing—it’s their fault.

So, these are the six realms. Does anybody recognize any of these? Okay, just make sure I’m not speaking Greek here or Arabic.



Student: Where is fear?

Ken: Fear is the basis of all of these, so fear is a deeper-level emotion. You know, fear’s technical definition: fear is the last reactive mechanism of a pattern.

Student: Not the first?

Ken: No, it’s the last. It’s the deepest one, so whether you look it as the first or the last is depending on your perspective.

Now, in this exercise one of you is going to be in the realm and the other is just going to be there. And person A who’s in the realm is going to say to person B a sentence which captures the realm, or actually two sentences. For the hell realm the sentence is, ”You’re against me. I’m against you.“ And I want you to say these sentences in a flat monotone. You don’t have to put a lot of emotional energy into it because the point of the exercise is, when you hear someone say, ”You’re against me,“ to feel what comes up in you. So if the person’s saying, ”You’re against me!“ that’s going to decrease your ability to observe. When you hear those words, just observe what happens to you.

I was doing this at a training in New York. It was divided up in the same way, but I didn’t go into the business of the six realms. I just did the exercise and sat down. The first pair that I was working with, the person looked at his partner and he said, ”You’re against me,“ and she went, ”No I’m not.“ [Laughter] And that’s exactly what happens. Okay, so that’s what I want you to feel. ”You’re against me.“ And then same the person’s going to say, ”I’m against you.“ Now, one is the projection outwards, and the other is the statement inwards. And there’s a slightly different reaction but I want you to observe both of them.

Student: The fact that she and I were [unclear] I would say, ”I’m against you.“ She would say, ”You’re against me.“

Ken: No, you’re going to say…

Student: Both.

Ken: You say both. And then after you’ve gone through all six, then we’ll reverse the roles. Okay. And you’re going to find that each of the realms has a little different flavor and elicits something different.


Hungry ghost realm; always have trouble with this one. ”I’m taking everything.“ Or yes, you could say, ”It’s all mine.“ And the other sentence is, ”It’s all yours.“ You can feel the neediness in those lines right?

Student: ”It’s all yours.“ It’s all you?

Ken: Yes because they see it—it’s all yours—there’s nothing for me—or if you want, ”Everything belongs to you.“

Student: For both of them?

Ken: Yeah, either.

For the animal realm: ”I’m just trying to survive.“ ”You’re just trying to survive.“ Human realm: ”I’m just having fun.“ And again, ”You’re just having fun.“ Titan realm: ”I’m better than you.“ ”You’re better than me.“ God realm: ”I’m right and that’s just how it is.“ ”You’re right, that’s just how it is.“


Okay, everybody clear? Now we do this, because it doesn’t take very long, but with each sentence just observe what happens in you. These are not violent, you know, death-grip type reactions. And you’ll find probably that some of these elicit more in you than others because we all have our various predispositions. But just go through and then reverse roles and go through them again.

Student: The person who’s not acting, making the statements, is in their own mind getting into the realm [unclear]?

Ken: You’re just observing what each statement elicits in you.

Student: Oh, that’s all?

Ken: That’s all.

Student: We’re not…okay.

Ken: Now, the example I gave is when this person said, ”You’re against me.“ And they said, ”No, I’m not.“ She’d immediately taken on the projection. And so, him being in the hell realm had triggered her to go into the hell realm, and now they were in a fight. ”You’re against me.“ ”No, I’m not.“ ”Yes you are.“ ”No, I’m not.” Any fans of Monty Python here? Okay, anybody seen the one about argument?

Students: Yeah.

Student: No, I haven’t.

Ken: Yes.

I didn’t have an argument.
Yes you did.
No I didn’t.
It wasn’t the argument I wanted.
Doesn’t matter. That’s the argument you had. Five pounds. Please leave.


It’s wonderful. You know what the secret of Monty Python’s humor is?

Student: The six realms?

Ken: John Cleese does this wonderfully. Monty Python’s humor is all based on playing out what is going on inside all the time—it’s right out there. And some people love it—those dark souls—and other people hate it because it’s putting them in touch with what’s going on inside. Okay, so pair up.

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.