Being Prayer-Transforming Consciousness

Good News of Buddhist Practice
By Mary Rees

Nutshell Publications

Copyright © 2006 Mary Rees
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 0-9760036-7-8

Contents

FOREWORD.............................................................................xiii
 
PREFACE..............................................................................xvii
 
Introduction.........................................................................1
 
ONE Coming Home Through Our Senses...................................................7
 
TWO Knowing the Mind.................................................................21
 
THREE Freeing the Mind...............................................................33
 
FOUR Shaping the Mind................................................................49
 
FIVE Birthing Embodied Being.........................................................59
 
EPILOGUE.............................................................................67
 
APPENDICES 
A. Prayers of Intention..............................................................71
B. Satipatthana Sutta Summary and Bibliography.......................................83
C. Recommended Reading by Category...................................................92
 
ENDNOTES.............................................................................105
 
ALPHABETICAL BIBLIOGRAPHY............................................................115
 


Excerpt One

Coming Home Through Our Senses

Just to be is a blessing, Just to live is holy. --Abraham Heschel

I am sitting in the middle of a difficult experience -- between two seemingly impossible circumstances, beyond any hope of resolving issues myself. Sometimes I'm burning in anger or puffed up and righteous, other times collapsed into inconsolable grief. Every cell in my body passes through the same range of experience, from rigid contractions to puddles of uselessness.

The environment mirrors my struggle. Cold Canadian fronts are clashing with warm moist air from the Gulf. The wind is blowing fiercely from alternating directions. Temperatures shift. Trees bend one way and then the other. Clouds race and swirl.

All these competing sensations come to focus in my belly -- as fear and dread.

Doing all there really is to do, I let myself open mentally and physically to the whole of the turbulence, surrendering to what is. Looking up, I see that despite these strong currents, the billowing dark and white clouds, the sky remains blue, its clarity apparent through all else.

But then something else catches my attention: large birds, hawks, to keep from being battered by the competing forces, are cruising with wings held still, spiraling higher and higher within the updrafts created by the colliding fronts. They are not struggling, not avoiding, escaping, or collapsing, not even just coping, but are, instead, apparently delighting in the experience!

The tension in my body releases; fear and dread, the angst in my belly, turn to joy. In the midst of distress, actually in openness to it, in this present moment, anxiety becomes exhilaration.

I am free. -- Personal retreat experience, October 2001

* * *

Momentary freedom is this simple. And any moment of freedom can turn everything around, casting all of life's experiences in a new light. Escape from times of struggle is not the final goal of spiritual practice, nor is momentary freedom. However, every taste of the great potentiality conditions the next, creating the possibility of further experiential insights. With each opening comes not only freedom from suffering but also greater ability to live responsibly and heartfully, rather than reactively. Each such opening creates the likelihood of more moments of opportunity and awakening. This experience of freedom is simple, yet deeply profound. It is a living example of the opportunity that may be available to us at any moment, the space from which a wise and compassionate heart can naturally arise. To learn to intentionally make small surrenders without compromising personal integrity is the way to transform human consciousness, to come to realize what is true and real, to live every moment as prayer.

Transformational experiences are always at hand, requiring only a reorientation, a surrendering of ego control in any moment, letting go of a solid sense of self and of identification with experience as I, me, or mine. We let go, without collapsing. We learn to hold the discomfort of even small and immediate losses. We come to awareness and acceptance of the changing nature of things.

The initial experience of holding and surrender may feel like suffering as the ordinary mind struggles for resolution, but the ability to stay open to our entire experience with mindful awareness and not allow the ego to preemptively dissipate the discomfort results not only in the ending of suffering, but also the arising of ease of being, vitality, joy, and greater freedom to love!

These are moments of realization, of knowing, and of being the kingdom now. Though we cannot produce mystical states or unitive experiences on command, we can intentionally foster circumstances that open us to contact with gifts of grace and to the great unity and connectedness that already exist. We do this through our choices, even in simple daily occurrences and momentary events. We learn to create a holding, an open-hearted acceptance of all experience, rather than escaping or contracting. We learn to be fully present to what is -- surrendering to life just as it is.

Surrendering is quite different from collapsing or giving up. In fact, in giving up, the gestational holding does not occur. With adequate holding, faith and trust remain and flourish. Fear evaporates. Our personal and limited agendas come undone. We open and soften. We create space for something new -- or very old, for that which is most true.

The transformation may actually be easiest to do in our most difficult situations, when the only thing we can do is surrender. Through challenging or desperate circumstances, we can come to understand how to release our habits of mind, our viewpoints, our positions or agendas. We learn and practice skillful means and then, in even the most ordinary daily events, we make surrender and ease of being a way of life.

Transforming consciousness may seem like a bold, even impossible, thing to do, maybe even New Age, but the topic has been responsibly addressed by many respectable sources. It may also seem a difficult thing to talk about, but this is not really the case if we accept the limitations of the medium of language. Language can only point to the truth of our experience. The words and concepts themselves are not the truth, nor do they become the truth. All we can really understand is what we know in this moment through our direct experience, not through what we have been told, what we have read, or what we think.

I've been told, for example, many things about God. Some of the statements have been very useful, especially in desperate or fearful times, but my experience of God is what I trust most, though it seldom unfolds as I expect. The experience is vital and alive, in no way static. I no longer go where I want to go, carelessly or anxiously choosing my path. Instead, I am drawn into ways I never expected, many times consciously making choices, but with my heart/mind or an intuitive knowing, rather than with the logical mind. The result has been a journey into greater joy, fulfillment, and adventure than I could have ever conceived of or found through predetermined or linear processes. I always take what I've learned to my spiritual guides, Christian, Buddhist, and secular, to let them challenge my understanding, but the experience is my truest and most reliable resource.

The pointing out done through language and the teaching of various traditions, including this writing, are valuable in that they provide culturally specific ways to come to understanding. They create opportunities to share and foster an experiential grasp of what is true. But it is important not to confuse the pointing with the actual experience.

The experience we open to is the knowing that arises beyond or beneath our gift of language through our direct experience, as an interconnected, constantly changing organism, from physical sensations or states of mind and heart, qualities arising from within our immediate experience, information from all our senses, including the mind -- the heart/mind.

The understanding of heart/mind as consciousness is bigger than what we usually consider mind to be. Besides the usual teachings and definitions of mind, it includes qualities of mind and heart, emotions, feeling tones, sensual and kinesthetic information, processes, and our relationship to all of these. The meaning of consciousness can even expand further to include spaciousness or emptiness, the context from which everything arises.

What we don't experience directly, that is, what is separated to some degree or another from our direct experience, is conceptual. Though our ability to conceptualize is an indispensable skill, it is at least one step removed from our direct experience and therefore only hypothetically true.

In fact, everything we know is mediated by mind, so everything could be considered conceptual, even physical experience. Nevertheless, the experiences of body are a more direct and reliable resource for accessing reality; language and abstract thinking are helpful but not so reliable. Abstractions help us understand, but can also create greater and greater levels of separation from direct experience.

In a way, our sense information can actually provide a road map for our unfolding. When there is disagreement between the thinking mind and the instinctual or bodily self, the instinctual is more reliable for knowing what is true, though not necessarily more reliable for knowing how to respond. Through mindful attention to sense data, conceptual layers and habitual responses begin to fall away, getting us to direct experience free of our assumptions and conditioning.

A primary gift of Buddhist practices is to help us mature into trusting this expanded understanding and experience of mind or of consciousness, especially when it opens to aspects of experience that have otherwise been trumped by language, keeping us out of touch with immediate experience. In theistic terms, this means that we can have a direct experience of Mystery or of God, an experience involving the whole self, not just a mental event.

In working with heart/mind, it is helpful to think of consciousness as having two primary aspects and also as being a mediating experience of the two. Though delineation of the two aspects is helpful in discussion, the separation is not ultimately true. What may be most true is the mutually inclusive mediating space accessed when we learn to accept things as they are and when we are able to hold the tension of apparent dichotomies.

These two views of mind and mediating space are the underlying concepts and the subject of exploration in this book. An overview of these concepts as I will use them follows.

Some approaches within Buddhist philosophy of what appear at first to be a delineated view of mind and reality include: conditioned-unconditioned, conventional-ultimate, relative-absolute, and the teachings of dependent arising (or dependent co-arising) and emptiness. In Christian terms we might use: branches-vine, or ego mind-God mind, though those terms bring into play a discussion I'm not prepared to address in detail here: without the vine there are no branches, but without branches is there no vine? The answer in the Christian tradition might posit that the context, the vine, the unconditioned, exists without the opposite of the pair, but without the other it wouldn't be manifested. In Buddhism it is understood that they are not separate. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. Everything is contained by emptiness, and emptiness manifests in all conditioned things.

I will mostly use the terms ground consciousness and ordinary mind in referring to these two views of mind because I find them less culturally loaded than others. I will also introduce the phrase mediating space. Using these terms has proven valuable, because I work in secular settings and among people from varied traditions.

A few words or names specifically referring to what I am calling ground consciousness, in addition to those mentioned above (unconditioned, ultimate, emptiness, vine, and God mind), include fullness, potentiality, deathlessness, silence, stillness, void, rigpa, Mystery, Great Completion, or even God (if not a false image of God and if not limited to or less than immediate experience). Ground consciousness is really all-inclusive. It does not refer to something like a bottom line, but to a multidimensional field, boundaryless and timeless, that has a quality of aliveness, of vibrancy and vitality. Nothing is separate from it; everything arises from within it.

Ordinary mind, on the other hand, is part of and emanates from within ground consciousness and could be thought of as ego, ego mind, personality, linear mind, or conditioned mind. It includes all our ordinary human experiences and our conditioned relationships to these experiences, which may appear constant, but are actually in continuous flux and in continuous flow within and as a part of the ground consciousness. Ordinary mind is the primary consciousness we use to navigate in the world.

Between and including ground consciousness and ordinary mind is mediating space. Mediating space can be any time or place that rests neither on one side or the other of any dichotomy. It is timeless moments between everything past and everything future, the time or space between the vastness of the universe and the ground of earth, even the meeting of light and gravity.

Being between and within concrete and mystical, mediating space fits one interpretation of the Christian spiritual developmental stage of illumination, a stage of connection and fullness, but also emptiness. Its qualities are both sweet and tender and include simultaneous awareness and contentment combined with longing. Mediating space may also be considered to be experiences of liminal space referred to by the popular Christian teacher Richard Rohr.

In summary, consciousness, including ordinary mind, ground consciousness, and meditating space, can be understood as being much bigger than what we normally think of as mind. Consciousness, according to the definition I am using, includes mechanisms of mind, brain, and body, and also all our experience and concepts. It includes sensual consciousness, that is, direct experience from all sense doors, including the mind as thought, but is not limited to these. It refers also to the context of things, the field from which all arises.

To come to the self-knowledge that Catholic saints and Christian mystics frequently speak of involves experiential familiarity with all aspects of consciousness, with both sides of these two ways of viewing mind, ordinary mind and ground consciousness, conditioned and unconditioned, as well as the mediating space. It includes all aspects of our limitations and of our vastness. This kind of understanding cannot come merely through reading; it requires mindfulness and investigation. Many exploratory road maps exist in teachings of the Buddhist path, some short and immediate, others gradual, as in the Christian understanding of the roads to Damascus and Emmaus.

In these discussions and in experiential investigations of transformational process, it is important neither to demonize the ego nor to understand it as isolated and separate. The ego has been extremely helpful in getting us through life to this point. It is the way we make sense of this worldly experience within a space/time continuum. More importantly, it is a great gift, the rare and human opportunity to flourish into fullness, the potentiality for manifesting the deepest reality in ordinary life.

* * *

I offer here in three chapters some ways you might make such transformations, moving from direct and immediate to those that are more gradual and then to more and more intensive. I have included some basic practices in each chapter to ground and enhance your exploration. As you will see as you work with the resources offered in the bibliographies, the quantity of material available for working with heart qualities or wholesome mind states is immense.

Though some practices offered here are intended for explicitly working with heart qualities or wholesome mind states, most are tools to bring us back again and again to simple truth, to the beauty of knowing what is true and being free, to realization, to seeing and being the kingdom now. This is space in which we can get out of our own way and open to a natural radiance of heart. Ideally and ultimately, the simplest practices, the basic practices, are all that we really need; they are the place to start and the place to end.

In chapter 2 we look at knowing the heart/mind. We come to a direct experience of the fullness, breadth, and depth of consciousness, particularly to the insubstantiality of existence, as we understand it. This experience of mind or consciousness and self as basically lacking in substantiality or solidity is congruent with current scientific indications that the smallest particles of matter are unfindable.

The idea of lack of substantiality may seem threatening or nihilistic. However, when we look closely at mind, we find that what we ordinarily think of as mind is ego or linear mind and is based on our identification with experience as I, me, or mine. Experientially, we can find more inclusive and more profound aspects of consciousness. When we get past the initial fear that this new perspective engenders, we begin to see the vast potential we may have been missing -- and a great optimism arises.

(Continues...)


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