“so much space in the mind, that anything that isn’t working right, I can eventually figure out a way to be free of it. I just gained that confidence from that very first retreat.
The amount of openness that was in the mind had the capacity to settle or understand whatever unhappiness was there. There was nothing in my whole experience that was fixed and had to continue the way it was, which meant that my unhappiness wasn’t fixed. Whatever got built up there could also be taken down.
It’s like the first time you move into a new apartment, everything’s empty, and then you bring in the furniture piece by piece. Whatever furniture we brought in, can also be taken out. Well I think largely, whatever conditioning we’ve grown up with, it all came in piece by piece. And whatever has been done and planted there, can also be removed. It’s through the capacity for spaciousness and emptiness that we come to know that.
... we’re all familiar with the 5 senses: seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling & touching. But the Buddha talked about a 6th sense, which is the mind. And the objects of the mind are basically our thoughts & our feelings. So in Buddhist meditation, thoughts & feelings are taken up as just another sense object, just like sight, smell, taste, sound & touch are.
And the wonderful thing about the quality of mindfulness is that it has this ability to pay attention to those mental experiences in exactly the same way as we can pay attention to physical experiences, like sound etc.
When I came to meditation, I was so wrapped up in the world of thinking that I didn’t think it was possible to step out of it. But mindfulness is outside of the thought process, and can observe thoughts, just like it can observe a sound or a breath. So it gives an incredible power when the workings of the mind themselves can be observed just like other sense phenomena.
So the implication for meditators is we spend a lot of our time thinking about our life as happening with these concepts of the past: What’s happening to my career? Family? How did I get into the situation? Where does all this sadness come from? But what’s radical about mindfulness practice is it’s only about the present moment, and seeing well what’s creating the suffering or the peace or ease, right now?
Emptiness is kind of an off-putting word. When you think that you’re going to draw people to meditation practice by talking about emptiness – I don’t think so. I think a lot of people have ideas of not just ego death, but also coming into something that is vacant, a loss of meaning, connected with some kind of despair.
But that isn’t the way that it feels when you actually start to sense what it is pointing to. What is pointed to is an absence of fixedness. It’s empty of anything that’s fixed or solid.
And what that opens us to is number one, a great sense of space, openness, freedom – freedom to move around, and also, as you get more into the moment, and out of the stories about the past & future, it opens to the great beauty of what we’re witnessing. Obviously, when we first come into practice, there often is a lot of emotional conditioning to open to and come to understand and work through, but it opens us to the beauty of the wonderful qualities of heart & mind, of loving-kindness, of compassion, the wisdom that’s possible, balance of mind, equilibrium, not to mention the beauty of nature and the physical world.”
Metta Hour with Sharon SalzbergEp. 90 – Guy Armstrong