“Stop all doing and be still. Let the fire of stillness burn everything and reveal That which is Openness.” – Adyashanti
This past summer I very much enjoyed reading Sam Harris’ book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.
A helpful Redditor extracted and posted all of the meditation instructions from the book, including the following simple eight-point instructions on “How to Meditate.”
- Sit comfortably , with your spine erect, either in a chair or cross-legged on a cushion.
- Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and feel the points of contact between your body and the chair or the floor. Notice the sensations associated with sitting— feelings of pressure, warmth, tingling, vibration, etc.
- Gradually become aware of the process of breathing. Pay attention to wherever you feel the breath most distinctly— either at your nostrils or in the rising and falling of your abdomen.
- Allow your attention to rest in the mere sensation of breathing. (You don’t have to control your breath. Just let it come and go naturally.)
- Every time your mind wanders in thought, gently return it to the breath.
- As you focus on the process of breathing, you will also perceive sounds, bodily sensations, or emotions. Simply observe these phenomena as they appear in consciousness and then return to the breath.
- The moment you notice that you have been lost in thought, observe the present thought itself as an object of consciousness. Then return your attention to the breath— or to any sounds or sensations arising in the next moment.
- Continue in this way until you can merely witness all objects of consciousness— sights, sounds, sensations, emotions, even thoughts themselves— as they arise, change, and pass away.
Those who are new to this practice generally find it useful to hear instructions of this kind spoken aloud during the course of a meditation session.
You can make use of two excellent guided meditations (one shorter, one longer) over at SamHarris.org.
She came on my radar sometime in the past two years and although I haven’t read any of her books (yet), I have casually engaged with the free materials available on her website. And I have been listening to her podcasts and watching videos.
Fundamentally, to paraphrase what I hear Katie saying over and over in different ways is: ‘Did you ever notice that it’s not the world that causes your suffering? It’s your thoughts about the world. And that distinction means the end of suffering.’
And to quote her directly: “I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment. That joy is in everyone, always.”
Katie’s approach when she sits and talks with people is to directly engage with where they are at, with their specific thoughts, feelings and beliefs. I imagine it’s much like it is said that the Buddha taught: in direct response to specific suffering. As she guides individuals through the simple steps of The Work, its beauty and wisdom are revealed in the application of that inquiry. And she invites anyone to try it. To look clearly at what is going on in your direct experience, and to consider alternative interpretations.
So, since there isn’t an overall doctrine (in fact The Work functions to question ALL beliefs), I have struggled a little with what would be most useful to re-blog here. But while listening to a podcasted interview today, my mind was blown when Katie explained how she uses her method of inquiry to explore the most essential question: ‘Who am I?’ So I thought, why not go right to the deep end, I’ll write and re-blog about what excites me!
What she explores (very briefly at 30:50 minutes) that got me excited is: ‘Am I my name?’ If you’re already familiar with teachings on the selflessness of persons and phenomena — what is called ’emptiness’ in Buddhist traditions — you might really enjoy this fresh and direct approach.
If you want to play along at home, and engage in a little inquiry into your true nature, here are the four questions of The Work for you to apply to that one fundamental belief: I am [insert your name].
1. Is it true?
2. Can I absolutely know that it is true?
3. How do I react — what happens — when I believe that thought?
4. Who would I be without the thought?
The best way of engaging here is to be still and ask your heart. Sometimes you might take time to sit in meditation with the questions, and you might also gently inquire throughout your day whenever you notice the thought comes up.
There are other steps to engage fully with the process, such as filling in the Judge-Your-Neighbour-Worksheet and Finding the Turnarounds. If your interest is piqued, I recommend exploring the podcasts and videos where Katie works directly with people. That way you get a taste for how The Work works and how to work it (couldn’t help myself there). And you might see your own suffering and gain wisdom from hearing other people question their beliefs.
Everything you need to Do The Work is available for free.
I listen to a lot of spiritual teachings by podcast. For me, it’s a great way to pass time while driving long distances or working out at the gym.
While searching up talks by Adyashanti, I recently discovered and enjoyed a fantastic discussion of Adya’s book Emptiness Dancing, presented by Lisa Natoli. Lisa is author of Gorgeous for God, and teaches in the tradition of A Course in Miracles.
In this hour-long podcast, Lisa reads from Adya’s book and gives commentary and her perspective on awakening. It’s a beautiful thing to see the truth of Ramana Maharshi‘s teaching: ‘you already are that which you seek,’ revealed in the paths of different spiritual traditions.
It takes a few minutes for Lisa to settle in on the topic, as she casually chats with her dog and sorts out a few distractions in this recording, which she made on the fly while traveling in Australia. But her presentation is straight-up and authentic, and it’s worth waiting for her to hit her stride.
If you are on a computer you can listen here (link will not appear on your mobile device):
Or you can download the podcast for free from iTunes (it’s the first podcast in the list ‘Adyashanti/Lisa Natoli Audio’).
(audio stream embedded and available via Talk Shoe)
“All About Nothing is a Dutch movie which invites you to transcend the daily rat race by taking a radically different view on life. This ancient Indian philosophy is called non-duality and has been embraced by the likes of Albert Einstein, Eckhart Tolle, Jim Carrey, Ramana Maharshi and Byron Katie. When this insight strikes, your whole life can change drastically… while nothing has to change.”
I met someone yesterday who’s into BASE jumping and wingsuits. If you haven’t seen wingsuits, head over to youtube and search it up and be thrilled.
It put me in mind of meditations in which one imagines falling from a cliff in order to cause the inherently existing (and therefore non-existing) “I/ME/MINE” to arise. And, it put me in mind of fearlessness.
Then on my social media feed this morning, this…playful fearlessness! French bulldog puppy takes first leap off of couch. Whee!
Just look at ‘how easy it is the second time around!’
A buddhist teacher once told me, while describing samsara, that the most diabolical prison would be one in which the inmates were completely unaware they were in prison. Then not even the thought to escape would cross the prisoners’ minds. Whether the prisoner experienced relatively good conditions or terrible conditions, being completely unaware that she is held, she would simply accept and manage those conditions without even considering that she had an alternative — to leave the prison.
In a dream I had the other night, a puppy is drowning, its small body sinking under the surface. I lift it with both hands and it’s very heavy. At first I can’t get enough leverage from the lake bottom and my arms are not strong enough. But after the first time I’ve touched his small body, I realize he is seriously in trouble and I will myself to get a proper footing and lift with all my strength. This time the puppy surfaces, choking, limp and heavy. I put him down on the beachfront and he proceeds to throw up all of his internal organs. He does it neatly, in one heave. Everything from inside the dog comes out tucked into a bag of fur that now hangs from the dog’s mouth. It’s not just the contents of his stomach, it’s all the internal organs, all tissues, all blood. And I realize he is empty. I feel fear that he will die, but instead, the sac filled with his innards falls away from his mouth to the ground. He licks a little blood from his mouth and wanders off in the direction, presumably, of home. At the time, I was filled with the fear that he would die. Now I realize he was a dream dog and can never die.
In some circles of buddhist dream interpretation, water is associated with attachment. Dreams of your house flooding, feelings of grief as heavy and wet, puppies drowning: all symbolic of attachment.
What do you understand attachment to be? When you hear buddhists talk about giving up attachments, do you feel some pressure to quit what you might consider to be your bad habits? Do you think attachment is about your compulsive habits? For example, your attachment to chocolate, to wine, to cigarettes, to sex, to gossip? Does ‘letting go’ suggest to you some way to be a better you? A superior version of you that is not blown by the winds of craving. A you that experiences everything evenly, peacefully, serenely — free from nagging desires.
Attachment also lives much closer to the bone. Yes, you will live a lighter, happier life, the more you let go of your attachment to ‘good’ or ‘bad’ compulsive habits. And this freedom is worth striving for. Discipline, wisdom, effort in this direction is worth it.
But the root ties that bind you to suffering are more subtle, more difficult to see. For example, we are attached to our thoughts. We believe the content. Even if we step back and question it sometimes — ‘am I going crazy?’ — we never really let go of our belief that through our thoughts we can find a ground to stand on. That our thoughts represent some concrete phenomena.
Thoughts never stop arising in our minds continuously, day and night. This steady narrative is for the most part what we are referring to when we say ‘reality.’ What is your reality? Other than your direct sense perceptions, it’s your thoughts, isn’t it?
But what is the ‘reality’ beyond your thought-story about reality? What is there beyond our thoughts of this world? What is the world other than our thoughts about it? Although I write these as questions, it’s not best considered a theoretical topic for discussion, it’s not about creating a philosophy.
More thinking is not the way out of this prison.
To cross over and borrow wisdom from another liberation movement, I give you Audre Lorde:
“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”
Freedom from the suffering of your thought prison is a matter of internal exploration. It is experiential. Only a direct experience will be of any use. Being told that your thoughts are a prison that bind you is one thing, seeing for yourself the walls of that prison, and planning an escape, is quite another.