The moment everything stops
This week we work through Verse 22 and its commentary in Reflections on Silver River, Ken McLeod’s translation of Tokmé Zongpo’s ancient text, Thirty-seven Practices of a Bodhisattva.
Here’s Verse 22:
Whatever arises in experience is your own mind.
Mind itself is free of any conceptual limitations.
Know that and don’t entertain
Subject-object fixations–this is the practice of a bodhisattva.
Commentary by Matthew:
After I read this week’s verse, I texted my friend Roxana and asked her how in the heck I was supposed to write a newsletter about the experience of the non-dual state. I received her response and read it in her charming Eastern European accent, “Suggestion: the times you were practicing to look and talk from your body.”
The practice of returning attention to the body and speaking from there is one way of not entertaining subject-object fixations. To stop separating subject and object in our experience, we practice placing the mind on what is reliable (ie. physical sensations) and speak with that in awareness.
Over years of practice bringing attention to my body and breath over and over again, I’ve started to develop confidence in knowing what Paul calls, the difference between experiential and conceptual understanding. Or, what is actually happening versus what is arising in my own mind.
The instructions for the practice Roxana was referring to, in a bit more detail, go as follows:
- Turn your attention inward and connect with what’s going on in your body.
- Speak with an awareness of what’s going on internally.
I started this practice a while ago during formal meditation. It was much easier for me to do it in a still, silent place rather than the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Later I added and applied the second part to everyday situations.
The practice helps to bring an authenticity and intentionality to the things I say and do. One of the things I noticed when doing this practice was how listening to my thoughts and bringing my attention to the flux of sensations in my body would often leave me still and speechless. Not deer-in-the-headlights speechless, more like recognized-in-a- crowd-and-everyone-is-cheering speechless.
Sometimes I found it relaxing and comforting to look at my body for tension, and at my thoughts and feelings as they came and went, just noticing what was going on. At other times, I found it painful, bewildering, or overwhelmingly dull. But over time, space opened up and I was able to bring more of my life into the practice.
Work meetings and chats with my wife were the first everyday situations I tried to apply the technique.
During difficult conversations with my wife, I started to notice how shifting into my body created a feeling of spaciousness and increased my fidelity of perception. As monitoring my own subconscious gossip got easier, verbalizing the yammering in my head became less important than being present and listening deeply to her.
At work, I’m occasionally clearer these days on the subtle internal movements of thought and emotion that happen during conversations. Specifically, I’ve noticed that when I manage to shift into being present in my body, my strongly held opinions and perspectives weaken. The feeling is like the opposite of claustrophobia. And it helps me notice whatever mood I happen to be in, or a stance I’ve taken without realizing it.
I’ve also started to see how in both the personal and business situations, the perceived limits of what I think I know or believe, really only exist in the echo-chamber of my mind.
For example, when quietly and closely observing feeling like I’m going to die, or thoughts that this or that will never change during difficult conversations with my wife, they eventually fizzle out and stop. After such conversations, from what she’s shared with me, and in my own experience, we have each experienced a deeper connection to ourselves and to each other.
When trying to solve a problem at work, instead of blurting out things that I feel utterly compelled to say, I try to look at my internal experience in the moment. This helps me to both better hear my colleagues’ feedback, and to watch any reactive judgments silently play themselves out. Some effects of this practice have been more effective collaboration, better team decision making, and discovering unexpected creative solutions.
When I establish an internal connection to my bodily sensations, thoughts and feelings, it opens up what feels like limitless options. With those options comes a sense of grounded freedom from the habitual, ingrained patterns of thought, speech and action that my unconscious mind has created out of self preservation over the years. And that feels awesome. From this place, it’s possible to bring a conscious, relaxed, and joyful intention to the things I say and do, and to better connect with others authentically.