September 11, 2011, Against the Stream. Okay.
This morning I thought we’d go back to the title of this series which is Sutra Sessions. Now, sutra is a Sanskrit word, the Pali word is sutta, and it’s the word for Buddhist scriptures. But all of the Buddhist scriptures have a very particular format. They’re records of Q&A sessions with Buddha. Every sutra begins with a set-up, you know—Buddha was at this grove, or Vulture Peak Mountain, or Sravasti, or one another of these places—and depending on whether it is a Theravadan sutra or a Mahayana sutra, the set-up can be more or less elaborate. In the Mahayana sutras it’s like, “…and there are five hundred thousand arhats and sixteen hundred million bodhisattvas,” and then it goes through like five pages of naming all of the bodhisattvas, and so forth. And on such-and-such occasion so-and-so asked Buddha this question. And then Buddha replies. And some of them it goes back and forth a lot. For instance in the Diamond Sutra, which is one of the most important sutras in the Zen tradition, there’s a back and forth between Subhuti and Buddha, and they just go back and forth for 32 times or so. So it’s really a question and answer period.
Now why is this important? Because it’s only in the actual interaction between a teacher and a student that the teachings become alive. Because in this interaction, the student is coming with a question out of their experience. Like, “I don’t understand this,” or “How does this work,” or “What do you do here,” etc. And it’s not a theoretical question usually, and even if it is a theoretical question, it is coming from something in them, like curiosity, lack of clarity, whatever. But because it’s coming from an actual person’s life and practice, the teacher doesn’t have the luxury of giving pat answers. And if they do they should be shot. So, you know, it has to actually respond to that student in that situation, and it’s where the teacher’s experience or understanding or whatever comes alive as well. So this is the only place that it really comes alive, and that’s why I think they’re so important.
So we have a microphone, and you can either volunteer or you will be volunteered. [Laughter] Okay, let’s start right here.
Student: When I first started practicing about ten years ago, at that time what arose while I was sitting were sort of distinct thoughts or things I could actually recognize—thoughts and sentences, and emotions—and it feels more and more these days when I sit, it’s just sort of indistinct chatter. Some of it doesn’t even seem to have content. It just feels like—it’s actually more disturbing because it doesn’t feel content-full—it just feels sort of chaotic.
Ken: Okay, how is your body when you sit? See this is where it gets alive: you get more information here.
Student: Uh, I start out with good posture, then I lose it, and then I regain my good posture, and then I lose it and—
Ken: Ahhh. You know, this actually sounds like good news to me. [Laughter]
Okay, one of the things about meditation is that there are different levels of thought. And one way of describing this in the past is when we start practicing meditation, it’s like having a picnic, and a herd of elephants walks through. Does anybody know that experience? You know there you are sitting quietly, and any sense of attention is just completely demolished, and you sort of wake up afterwards like, “What the hell happened there!” That’s the herd of elephants. But you keep practicing, and it changes. And now it’s like a pack of dogs walks through. Like there’s a picnic but now you’re grabbing at stuff and trying to keep it from the dogs, who are just nibbling and grabbing at everything. You know you don’t go completely unconscious, but it’s a struggle. You with me? And then you keep practicing, and then it’s like having a picnic with ants. And that seems to be what you’re describing. Is that right?
Ken: Okay, so this is why it’s good news. [Laughter] Now the reason I asked you about the body at that point, because at this point it becomes really important. Because your mind’s quieting down, it’s not distracted in the same way, you’ve built some momentum and ability in your practice. And the problem is, that the more you meditate the more difficult it gets. Which is probably not what you wanted to hear, but too bad. [Laughs]
So we’re working with a higher level of attention, we’re aware of more; however, as the mind quiets down, there’s an increasing tendency to slip into dullness. And that’s—
Student: Slip into what?
Ken: Slip into dullness. So you just get a little hazier, a little foggy. And that sounds like what’s happening to you. So meditation practice is very much like riding a bicycle. You know, on a bicycle we have left and right. Now if you notice when you’re beginning to ride a bicycle you are going like this [Ken gestures], and as you get more and more expertise and familiar with it, then you’re going like this [another gesture]. And eventually you think you’re going absolutely straight; you don’t even have to have your hands on the handlebars, the bike just goes straight. But it’s not quite true. Because if you look at it very closely there’s always a slight going back and forth. Now the gyroscopic effect of the wheels and the speed which you are going, all help to keep the bicycle straight, but it’s still going back and forth just a little bit; you may not even notice it.
So in meditation the right and the left are busyness, on the one hand, and dullness on the other. And many people when they meditate, they try to make their mind absolutely still. Well, you know, this is a bit like herding cats, or trying to get rid of the ants at the picnic. And they slip into dullness, and then they try to make the mind absolutely clear so they’re going like this. [Ken tenses] And it gets very, very tiring and frustrating, and so forth.
So what I encourage people to do is just correct the imbalance. Don’t try to be in balance; just get really good at noticing and correcting the imbalance. So there you are, you’re sitting, and you notice, “Oh, I slipped out of the posture.” That’s usually a sign of dullness of some form. So reset the posture. And in resetting the posture, you’ll become clearer just by doing that, and then you go back to resting.
Now if you start thinking a lot, that’s a sign of busyness, and it’s reflected in our body almost always as some kind of tension. So when we find we’re busy and thinking a lot, then it’s good to just relax a little bit. But what you’re probably going to find in your meditation is that you’re sitting, and sometimes you will sit straighter, because that counteracts the dullness. Then sometime you’ll sit a little bit—and they won’t be big movements, they won’t be like this! This! [Ken demonstrates] They will be just little movements. And now you’re making these little adjustments as if you were riding a bicycle. And sometimes, “Oh, okay a little more attention on the breath. Make the mind a little brighter.” Okay? And okay, “Just let things go a little bit more just don’t try so hard.” That’s the relaxation which lowers the tension, and so rather than trying to make our minds or ourselves a certain way and hold it, just get very good at making these little adjustments and see how that goes.
Okay, any other question, follow-up?
Is there a question right here? And then you had a question? Okay.
Student: I don’t know how much of a question it is; maybe it might be more of a gripe or a complaint.
Ken: Oh I’m all for gripes! [Laughter]
Student: It may be this way in the East, but I know in the West that with our capitalist society, that it’s become…I guess…I mean you have to make a living, so I’ve found over the years that I’ve been practicing it’s hard to—I don’t know, I guess I’m a little confused—I’m wondering if it’s sufficient to have the types of teacher relationships that I’ve had with people at places? I love Against the Stream, and it’s you know, it’s a big, big part of my practice.
Student: But sometimes it feels there’s a void in between the teacher-student relationship. You’re allowed to ask questions in the environment, but you only have a certain amount of time, and at the end, people are trying to get home to their families, so you’re encouraged to almost…I’ve seen that some teachers do private practices where they charge money; it’s kind of a therapy session afterwards, and it’s kind of this—it’s…I don’t know what it is to me—but it just seems kind of unfair to the student, or maybe in the past there’s been a stronger relationship in the East with student-teacher, and in the West we just haven’t cultivated that? I don’t know.
Ken: Boy, did you ever ask the wrong person! [Laughter]
Student: Or the right person! [Laughter]
Student: I can’t wait to listen.
Student: I said I can’t wait to listen.
Ken: Yeah, you see I was the person who invented that private practice model. [Laughter] And a lot of other teachers have used it, because it actually makes it possible for a teacher to live in this dog-eat-dog capitalist world in, you know, in a way. And I did for two reasons [Ken laughs]. One: I taught a retreat, a 10-day retreat at a center where I was very well known. And there were about 25 to 30 people at this retreat, and it was on a donation basis, and everybody agreed that it was one of the best retreats that had been taught that year at that center. Do you know how much I walked away with from that retreat? Guess.
Student: Five hundred dollars.
Ken: Yeah. For a 10-day retreat. I’d do better working at McDonalds! You know, totally unsustainable!
And then what really clenched it was when I met with a group of people who said they were interested in me establishing a center, and we met for an afternoon, and I asked them what their commitment was, you know, what they were willing to commit to a center, and it was astonishingly clear, that their expectation was I would put all the work into establishing a center and teaching it, and they would come when they chose! [Laughter] You talk about balance! This is not balanced, so I did something else.
Now, it’s a very real question, what you’re bringing up here, and there are a couple of very important points. One is, it’s really important to have this kind of interaction, where you can actually talk about stuff. And it’s got to work on both sides. I mean money doesn’t fall out of the sky for you; it doesn’t fall out of the sky for me either. So what do we do? And there have been different mechanisms for this throughout the course of history. And the Eastern models, which were largely based on agrarian societies—in Tibet, which is my training, they were preindustrial societies. I mean, a large portion of Tibet was—they were nomads. We don’t have nomads over here, haven’t had them for quite a while. And also the structure was very, very different. And Tibetan Buddhism is somewhat different from Chinese and Thai, the Theravadan tradition. But what you encounter in the Tibetan tradition is much worse. If you wanted to study with me in the Tibetan tradition, you gave me everything that you owned, and then I took responsibility for you, completely. You know, would that work for you? [Laughter]
Student: Complete responsibility?
Ken: Well, yes, but then I would take care of you. I would give you a place to stay and food to eat.
Student: I’m in! [Laughter]
Ken: And you have to do everything I tell you. You in? [Laughter]
You know, that worked in an agrarian society, and under many, many examples of that. My teacher said that at three different points of his life he gave his teacher everything that he owned. You know, well this doesn’t work in our society because we aren’t land-based; we don’t have this land which just generates wealth naturally. It’s very different, and so I’m not recommending that. I’m just giving you that as an example. We haven’t developed, or we’re in the beginning stages of developing the models by which teaching and practice can take place. And, it is much more challenging in this society than it is in an agrarian society, and the reason is, is because the society is much wealthier and we have a higher standard of living. And this was beautifully pointed out to me by a friend of mine, who’s a research doctor.
You know you’ve heard all of this business about the health care costs just keep rising and rising, well there’s an economic reason for this. This is probably more, this is way too much information I know, but you asked so you’re going to get it.
There was an economist who wrote a paper fifty years ago about why health care costs are going to keep rising, and it applies to Buddhist practice, and a lot of other professions, too. And the way he explained it is that in Mozart’s day, you had four people playing a violin quartet. Okay. Say it took an hour for them to play this piece of music. And you had—I’m going to use a different example from what he did—but you have four people who, you know, they make nails, okay. Just routine job, but don’t forget this is right at the beginning of the Industrial Era so they didn’t have many machines. So how many nails could they make in an hour these four people? Well, let’s say they could make—let’s be really generous, they’re really fast—they make a thousand. Okay? So you have four people who can play one violin quartet in an hour, and you have four people who can make a thousand nails in an hour. Let’s transpose this now two hundred, over two hundred-fifty years later. How long does it take those four people to play the violin quartet? One hour. How many nails can those four people make today?
Student: A lot!
Ken: Yeah. You know with the right machine they make, probably a million or something like that. I mean just unbelievably more. So what has that done to the price of nails? [Student gestures] That’s right, driven them down. You know people are going to listen to this so you gotta speak, you can’t use sign language. [Laughter]
Okay, the consequence of that is that the cost of that violin quartet goes up. As the productivity in our society goes up, those elements in our society where productivity cannot be raised—and meditation is one of them [laughter]—the relative cost of them just keeps going up. So, I understand completely that it costs money to practice! It costs more money for us to practice than it did when we were all, you know, herding cattle and growing grain. It costs a lot more money. You can calculate how much it would cost a doctor or an attorney to go on a one-week retreat. It’s a really large sum of money. And we are wealthier, we have a higher standard of living, but things just cost more. So when we talk about renunciation and giving things up, you know, we’re giving up a lot more to practice. And so we have to be really, really clear about this. Is this this important in our lives? Now for me, yeah it is. I mean yeah I could be a lot wealthier if I’d done something else, but I don’t think my life would be the same. And that’s very important to me. So you’re quite right, there are tensions here, and rather than gripe—but I understand that very well—think, “Okay, this means I have to figure out what’s really important to me, because I have limited resources, and do I put them here or do I put them there?”
You’re smiling; say more.
Student: It’s just a hard decision to make. I’ve made it several times and recently I had to give up—I was doing the therapy with one of my teachers and I had to give it up. I couldn’t afford it anymore and I can’t even pay dana any more, and I just had to—I was going to go on the metta retreat with Against the Stream and I had to cancel. Like…
Ken: Oh, this is very frustrating!
Student: So my whole…but it’s a big question. It’s like do I…I mean do I really…I really have to sit down and say am I going to be able to survive if I don’t focus more on saving money and working. Because that’s why I’m not going on the retreat because I have a lot of work that week, so I’m like, “Well guess I can’t go on the retreat.” And it’s a really hard decision to make, because I went on an 11-day retreat with Spirit Rock in Joshua Tree earlier this year and it changed my life, so…
Ken: So this is very important to you, yeah. And so you’re in the phase of how you’re working out your life so you can do what’s really important, and that’s wonderful. But is it easy? No, it’s not. But this is where our practice takes hold; and I think it’s wonderful that, “Okay, this really means something to me.” And now we have to figure out, “Okay, I got all this work to do. That produces X amount of dollars. I’d like to do this retreat. That means I can’t do this.” You’re a freelancer of some kind?
Ken: Oh yeah so it gets…I can relate, because, you know, when you’re a freelancer, your time in retreat is right out of your income. Big time. You know, it’s not like you’re on salary.
Student: No one’s paying me, too.
Ken: No, no nobody’s paying you. Yeah, I can relate, you know, because I do business consulting. It’s the same for me; if I do that, then I don’t get any of that money. So, you know, you work it out, and you’ve got to focus on what are those aspects of the freelance work that you do that really produces, and is this retreat of sufficient import that you’re going to forego say that $10,000 gig or something like that, and those are real decisions.
Student: So it’s not a matter of East or West or, you know, a thousand years ago or now. It’s…there have been different levels of how much people are willing to give up, and we’re starting to work through those in our society. I mean it may have been even more…you might have had to give up more a thousand years ago in Tibet, then it’s not relative.
Ken: Again it depends. Well, the first part of what you said there, yes, I don’t think it is East and West. The East developed certain models, and by and large, teachers and monasteries, and teaching institutions were funded by the aristocracy. I mean with really, really large land grants and funding, you know, building and things like that.
Ken: Yeah, that’s how they were funded. And because the people who had a lot of wealth valued the teachings, but their relationship with society was such that they wanted to make these teachings available, so they just funded teachers, and funded institutions, and funded monasteries, and that’s what made it possible for many other people to come and just donate whatever they could. But that’s really how it was funded for centuries. And that’s absolutely how it was funded in Tibet, except there’s one other thing there is that the monasteries became very large landholders, as they were in medieval Europe. So they had a huge amount of income coming from the serfs that farmed their land, so they were feudal estates.
We haven’t developed that, but it’s happening. There’s a center back East called the Garrison Institute, which was bought and refurbished by—it’s an old Catholic monastery, actually it’s a seminary—which was bought relatively cheaply from the Catholic Church. Relatively cheaply like a few million dollars! And these people have created a foundation, in which people who have lots of money make donations to that foundation, and it puts on programs and they try to make the programs self-sustaining so that the actual whole thing can hold together. But it’s very much a case of people with large resources themselves valuing the teachings setting up an institution, which can then provide teachings to a much larger number of people at a moderate cost. It’s exactly the same kind of thing.
Here, as solo practitioner or freelance person, yeah, you’ve got to make some really hard decisions, “Do I do this retreat? Or do I go on a vacation? Because I’m losing money either way. Or do I….” Or somebody calls up and says, “Here’s this.”
But let me tell you a story of a friend of mine who was very helpful to me the first few years I was here in L.A. He was a paralegal and he worked for one of the major law firms in Century City. They always thought of themselves as the biggest, and meanest, and baddest. So they really knew how to beat up clients, I mean things like that, they were very successful. And this is in the late ’80s, early ’90s. Late ’80s, yeah right around there. And he had a friend in Hawaii who called him up and said, “You know, I’d really like you to come and visit me.” And so he made arrangements to go on vacation to Hawaii, but a couple of days before he was to go on the vacation his law firm said, “Look there’s this big case coming up, so could you delay your vacation because we really need your help.” So he said, “Oh, okay.” So he delayed that vacation, didn’t go, and then got caught up in things. Then he got another note from his friend saying, “Well actually I’m HIV-positive, so it would be really nice to see you.” And so again he scheduled his vacation and his attorney and law firm again a day or two before he was to leave said, “You know there’s this big case, you know, can you change your plans?” So he said, “Oh okay, I’ll do that.”
And a few months later he got another note from his friend saying—oh, and the case was always settled after a couple of days, both cases. And then the same thing happened when his friend said, “You know like I’m really sick now, and I’d really like to see you.” And he was feeling really badly. And so again he made arrangements to go and again, as he’s going to the airport he gets a phone call from the law firm which says, “Is there anything you can do? We’ve just got this big case coming in and we really need you to do the research.” So he turned around and went back. And the case settled three or four days later, didn’t go to trial. Then he got a note saying that his friend had died.
Student: His friend had…?
Ken: His friend had died. So he went to the airport, was on the plane, he gets a phone call from his firm saying, “This big case has come. Can you change your plans?” and he says, “No.” And he went and he attended his friend’s funeral in Hawaii, and the case settled two days later.
So it’s very easy to get caught up in the work world and miss what’s really important in our lives. It’s really easy. And he really remembers that very, very vividly, and that’s one of the reasons he just stepped completely out of it, he never wanted to get caught in that kind of thinking again!
So, your concerns, the challenges you face are really legitimate. Do we have it all worked out? No. It is going to inevitably be a more professional model than it was because, you remember, there are a lot of people I guess may not be aware of it. You see back in the days of monasteries, if you were ill you went to the monastery and there was a monk there who specialized in medicine, and he was the doctor. And if you had legal problems you went to the monastery, and there was a monk there who specialized in canon law and the king’s law and he would help you figure that out. And if you had wealth or something like that you were expected to make a donation and if you didn’t, then they were available.
But as we went through, you know, through the Renaissance, and then through the Industrial and other revolutions that we’ve gone through, each of those professions left the monastery. You know, those monks who were good at medicine became doctors, and those who were good at keeping track of things became accountants, and those who were good at figuring out all these legal tangles became lawyers. And now we’ve had the counselors leave, and they’ve become therapists; and now we have people who have a certain amount of spiritual understanding and experience being available as not therapists but as spiritual guides. In the Catholic Church they’re known as spiritual directors. But those are actually becoming professions now in a way that they weren’t a hundred years ago, so we’re going through these changes.
Student: So it’s even happening outside of the Buddhist community, happens in the Catholic Churches and stuff?
Ken: Oh, in the Catholic Churches, look at what’s happened with yoga—I mean the model for yoga is totally different—look at what’s happened to the martial arts. You know, martial arts, you couldn’t even get a lot of the training because they were family secrets, like they were trademarks. And so the only way that you could get certain kinds of martial art training was to join that family, and that was it. So you really had to give up a lot. So, yeah, and it’s way beyond Buddhism—it’s everywhere.
Student: Well thank you for explaining it a little better.
Ken: Okay. Well, you’re very welcome.
Now, you had a question, totally different topic I imagine.
Student: I think so. I am dealing with like hatred and intolerance, and it comes up when I’m sitting and I think, “Okay, well I’ll try to just be present for it, and maybe be curious,” and while compassion kind of eludes me, like just sort of a radical curiosity I guess, I’ve heard. But it’s very overwhelming; it’s like for exterior stuff that happens, you know, and so then I’m attached to that hatred, and it’s again, I shouldn’t, and then I shouldn’t for the shouldn’t.
Student: And then ad infinitum, yeah it’s like infinite regress. And then, so I’m just wondering…so I have these like words to help me, like okay, “radical curiosity,” or like “relax,” but I’m just wondering maybe sometimes those words get a little stale. [Ken laughs] And they lose the meaning, and it’s still…and now I’m just like, “Wow this is intolerable.” And it’s very sustained. So anyway…
Ken: Okay, is it okay if we engage this a little bit here?
Student: I don’t know what that means, but sure, I guess. [Laughter]
Ken: Okay, so can you bring up the feeling of intolerance or hatred?
Student: Can I…I don’t…umm?
Ken: Can you bring it up?
Student: Like at just in a moment’s notice?
Ken: Yeah. Can you recall it?
Student: Can I recall it? Yeah.
Ken: Okay, so just recall it, and tell me what happens in your body.
Student: Umm. It’s like a black ball right here.
Ken: Okay, what physical sensations?
Student: It’s hot.
Ken: Hot, okay.
Student: It’s tense. It’s…
Ken: What’s the ball made of?
Student: Like fire, and like black tar.
Ken: Okay. It’s right here—solar plexus?
Ken: Okay. Now in this exchange we just go as far as you want.
Ken: You tell me, okay? Okay now my sense is you’re already feeling something else.
Student: Than the anger?
Student: Just…probably yeah.
Ken: Like…if I’m reading you correctly it’s hurt and pain.
Ken: Is that fair?
Ken: You know, you don’t have to explain what it’s about.
Ken: We don’t need to do that, okay?
Ken: Okay. But it’s there; so on the one hand there’s this hatred which is—and intolerance—which is a hardening.
Ken: Right. And on the other hand there’s a hurt and pain, but you can only experience that because you are softening.
Ken: Okay? So you’ll have this hardening and the softening going on at the same time, and it’s probably a little confusing.
Student: Yeah. [Laughing]
Ken: Okay. Now, that’s always the case.
Ken: Wherever we are angry there’s that hardening and that heat and fire. But wherever there’s that anger there’s also the hurt, where we feel weak, and vulnerable, and at threat, and hurt, and so forth. Now I’m going to ask you to do something that may be a little challenging. Okay? And I want you to do this at this point only at the level of the body.
Ken: Okay? I want you to feel the hardening and the softening at the same time. So just take a couple of moments.
Ken: And there will be parts of you that harden like this, and burn, and then parts of you that soften and feel hurt.
Student: Now? Okay.
Ken: So just do that and take half a dozen breaths just feeling that. [Pause]
Okay, that’s really good. What was that like?
Student: Umm, like I’m shaking kind of.
Student: Like I’m…like I could like convulse kind of.
Student: Like convulsing almost sort of feeling.
Ken: Yeah, there’s a lot of energy there isn’t it? Okay. Was it tolerable?
Student: Yeah, I mean it’s a little bizarre ’cause everyone’s watching me, so…
Ken: Well actually they were probably all doing it themselves.
Student: Okay, okay.
Ken: Because they tend to do that. [Laughter] I was watching you—
Ken: But they, they… [Laughter]
Student: Yeah, I mean I feel like perhaps if I would have like shaked, like vibrated, my body would have shook a little more, had I not maybe contained it a little—
Ken: Right, right.
Student: Because I knew I was…I’m holding a microphone.
Ken: Didn’t want it to go flying across the room.
Ken: Yeah, okay. Yes and that may be because usually when there’s that kind of hardness and that kind of pain, there’s something in us that’s trying to come out.
Ken: Okay. And when we go with the hardness we just shut everything down, and it doesn’t feel very good.
Ken: And when we go with the softness, it feels overwhelming, and that doesn’t feel very good. Okay. But in exactly the same way that I was suggesting before, there’s that busyness and dullness—
Ken: You include both of these. And don’t try to be balanced but you just keep including both.
Ken: And so sometimes the body is shaking, but it allows whatever is at the core, to start to come out. Don’t try to do this necessarily all at once.
Ken: Because the sense that I have is there may be something a little deep. But when you practice rather than, you know, being curious, which is good, or trying to be a certain way, just open to exactly what you’re experiencing, and use your meditation practice to stay with it, and when you notice that you’re hardening against it, ease off because that doesn’t help.
And when you notice that you’re getting lost in it, ease off, because that doesn’t help.
Ken: And you just kind of feel your way with this.
Ken: Yeah and you are going to be doing that a lot. [Laughter] Because there’s all of this stuff in us that we haven’t experienced, and when anything outside resonates with it, all of these very powerful feelings are coming up.
It’s interesting what you say about that ball of anger being like this black burning thing. Because that’s exactly how the hell realms are described in Buddhism.
Student: Yeah. It’s deep.
Ken: You have this thing inside of you, which is burning you from the inside out.
Ken: You know. Does this help?
Student: It does, thank you.
Ken: Yeah, so you make it really alive that way, and just what you experience. And you can see we didn’t have any shoulds or shouldn’ts in here.
Ken: They’re not helpful. Okay.
Student: All right, I appreciate that, thanks.
Ken: All right.
One here, and then we will come back to you, okay. I think that we just have time.
Student: You might have already answered my question, but it has to do with attachment, and so I won’t unpack my whole story. But I’m wanting to change careers, and I am really attached to that—wanting to change careers. And I bring it into my sit, but I’m trying to figure out how to get it from my cushion just into my daily experience. Because when I bring that kind of, you know, I’m really attached to what I want, you know, and what I think it’s going to give me and I can bring it to the cushion, I can get some softening around it, but…
Ken: What are you trying to work with here? I mean what are you trying to get rid of? It sounds like you’re trying to get rid of something.
Student: I have a job that I’m really grateful for, but I want to be doing something else, and I don’t have time to work towards it as much as I want, so what comes up for me is, I’m never going to get that thing…
Ken: Ah, okay.
Student: You know, it’s just this whole story that comes up, and it’s creating a lot of suffering for me.
Ken: Yeah, okay, one thing that I want you to do: go to my web site, which is unfetteredmind.org. HYPERLINK I can give you a card so you don’t have to remember.
Student: That sounds good. Okay. [Laughter]
Ken: The easiest way to find this is to go under the Resources tab—
Ken: And you will find an item there called Master List which just lists all the content on the site, which is way more than you want to know.
Ken: And do you remember where it is Art? That will be in Making Things Happen.
Ken: Yes, that’s right, yeah.
Art: Workshops or classes.
Ken: Yeah, it will be under classes or retreats.
Student: Okay so it’s a podcast.
Ken: It’s a podcast, and it’s called Making Things Happen.
Ken: Okay. So it’s a workshop that I did three or four years ago, which was just about how to make something happen. Now, the first thing I’m going to say to you is don’t try to get rid of this attachment!
Ken: No, I mean this is where you’re alive. This is what you want to do. Why would you want to get rid of that?
Student: Well it’s the suffering I think that I want to get rid of.
Ken: Oh that’s totally different!
Student: Yeah, yeah, it’s more of the suffering that the attachment is producing.
Ken: Yeah, But don’t get rid of the attachment, I mean this is—
Ken: You know attachment’s got such a bad name, and I think it’s a really bad translation, because there’s a lot of confusion about it, but then I can get on my high horse and go on forever about that.
Student: I think it’s more the suffering because what happens is there’s so much suffering that I become—I feel paralyzed.
Ken: Yeah, but look at what you’re saying here.
Ken: That suffering is an expression of your longing.
Ken: Why would you want to get rid of that?
Student: I don’t. I think it’s more the…let’s see if I can try to—it’s creating so much tension in me that I feel paralyzed, and then I become very inefficient and unproductive—
Student: In getting what I want.
Ken: And you know why?
Student: So it’s very…to me it’s a very pragmatic kind of thing that is happening that I don’t know how to solve with my meditation practice.
Ken: Yeah, right, well you’re not going to solve it with your meditation practice.
Ken: But you know, that’s—meditation practice is going to give you the capabilities to solve it, but you’re not going to solve it with your meditation practice. That’s an important distinction.
Ken: Okay. So, you want this to happen tomorrow, don’t you?
Student: Yes, actually today would be good. Now.
Ken: What today would be good. Oh, okay.
Student: Right now.
Ken: Oh I’m sorry I forgot my magic wand. Come back next month and I’ll try to remember it. [Laughter] Okay, now there are actually quite a few good books on this subject. I’m not sure—one good book is What Color is your Parachute, which you might pick up because it’s helped a lot of people make career changes. But I would suggest you listen to that podcast because there are some very practical things about how to make something happen. But the one thing I am going to say is, every day do one thing that moves you in the direction you want. It doesn’t have to be a big thing; it can be a very small thing. It may be a phone call, and you’re going to talk with someone. Maybe it’s looking up and getting some information from a website. Whatever. But every day you do one thing.
Student: So can I ask you, because every day I do lots of things but what happens is it’s never—in my mind, I think it’s a lack of faith in my own ability. I actually do lots of things every day…
Student: …but it’s never enough to get what I want. So it’s kind of like, if I was just doing more, that’s why it’s not—so that’s where the suffering kind of comes in. It’s this bar, this kind of bar that I continue to raise, and so how do you move through that using you know just being…I guess just bringing equanimity to what I am doing right now and letting it be enough. I guess is what I am trying to.
Ken: Yeah, and see that is very different from working with attachment isn’t it?
Ken: Yeah so through this discussion you’re getting a clearer idea, you know. And here’s what’s possibly going to happen here. You’re going to keep working at this stuff. And it’s really great that you’re doing stuff on a regular basis. So what you may do is move to allotting say an hour a day or whatever in which, ”This is where I focus on my next career. I have this job that’s providing me with the resources to be able to do this. But I’m going to spend an hour a day working on where I want to get to.” And then at a certain point you go, “Okay, now this is rolling along I actually need to spend say two hours a day, or an hour and a half a day.” And then you finally go, “Oh,” and you reach this point, “If I am really going to move into this, now I have to let go of my job!” Okay, “I don’t have enough to live on right now to do that, so I’m going to work for six months and save a whole bunch of money, so that…because it’s gonna take me”—I don’t know what you’re doing so I am just going to pull numbers out of the air—“it’s gonna take me at least three months of really working hard before this can generate any income, or maybe it’s going to take a year before it generates any income, so I need to build up the resources so that I can work on it for that year.”
Ken: “To the point that it’s generating income.” But you see what you’re doing is putting the things in place which are going to allow you to make the shift.
Ken: Does that help?
Student: Yeah, that helps a lot. Yeah, thank you.
Ken: You’re very welcome.
Ken: Okay, quick question right at the back here. Back to you.
Student: Mine was kind of in relation to her; you were kind of giving her a model for working with anger and frustration.
Student: Is it kind of the same model for sadness and loneliness, and the softer side? Because you were referring to one as hard and one as soft.
Student: If you are struggling with the soft stuff is it—
Ken: Yes, that’s a very good point. Where there’s sadness there’s always anger, you know. So find the anger and then include both. With loneliness, there’s either a feeling of connection or a longing for connection. Because you don’t feel lonely unless you want connection, so there’s something you feel very connected to. So include both of those. And with everything that’s throwing us out of balance in our lives, there’s always the other pole, and the way to work with that is, find that other pole and then include the experience of both, and start with the body because it stops you going off into all kinds of stories. Okay?
Student: Thank you.
Ken: You’re welcome. Okay. So you’ve wasted another perfectly good hour and a half [laughter]. Let’s close with the dedication here.
Student: Car Talk?
Ken: Pardon? You recognize it? [Laughter] See I really need someone to do this with, and then we could have a great time [laughter]. There’s a person up in Portland that I sometimes teach with, and we did a couple of retreats, and it was Mutt and Jeff, except one person wrote us an email afterwards and said, “The Buddhadharma should be taken seriously.” [Laughter] So, we do in our own way. Okay.
Goodness comes from this work we have done
Let me not hold it just in me
Let it spread to all that is known
And awaken good through out the world.
|This 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.|