#1“Most beginners start with the idea that meditation is supposed to be peaceful. If they feel peaceful, they conclude that they are doing things right. Soon enough a disturbing thought or emotion erupts, and this is identified as a problem. We do not like disturbances. We start off with this dualistic preference. We want smooth ocean waters with no waves. When the waves come, we say we cannot meditate; or we assume that the presence of the waves means we are not meditating correctly. But the waves keep coming anyway, always. It is how we perceive them that changes. We can relate to these waves as threatening monsters and try to push them away. We can apply certain mental techniques to subdue them; or we can pretend not to notice them or try to deny their presence. But there is no liberation in trying to get rid of the waves; and actually, if you examine the mind that is trying to get rid of the waves, you will discover that it’s stuck on the problem. It is making a mountain out of a molehill. We can also tell ourselves intellectually, These waves are essentially empty. We can play with the ideas and concepts of emptiness and use intellectual logic to convince ourselves that the wave is not really a monster. But our hearts still feel the threat, and react to protect ourselves from it. This describes the first stage of working with the mind.
#2In the next stage, we are introduced to resting the mind in the spacious, nonconceptual aspect of mind that transcends the limited self. The waves might still be terrifying, but we begin to glimpse the boundless expanse of water beneath the surface, and this gives us more confidence to let them be. We do not yet see them as just waves, but our perspective has become so much bigger than the waves. Our personal stories of fear and loss, of rejection and self-recrimination are there – but they do not pervade every bit of space in our heads. Our fixed minds have loosened up a little; and once we recognize that our own version of reality exists within a vast impersonal experience of reality, these same stories do not disturb us as much. We might begin to think, Oh there’s a wave forming on the surface of my mind. Or, There’s a monster in my head. Okay, no problem. We can acknowledge the problem without reacting to it. We see it, but we do not feel it as much as we did earlier. The understanding of emptiness is dropping from the intellectual head to the experiential, feeling heart. The ratio is shifting: The more we rest in recognition of the spacious empty mind, and the more we embody the wisdom of emptiness, the less impact the disturbances have. The wave is there, but now it is just a tiny movement in the vastness of the ocean. But at this point, we still get stuck on the surface with the waves, and lose touch with the ocean beneath.
#3In the third stage, the wave no longer appears as a problem. It’s still a wave – big or small – but we don’t get stuck in it. We have become comfortable resting within the ocean itself.
The ocean does not become calm and still. That is not the nature of the ocean. But now we have become so familiar with the full expanse of the ocean that even the biggest waves no longer bother us. This is how we can now experience our thoughts and emotions – even those we have spent our lives trying to be free of. Every movement of the mind, and every emotional reaction, is still just a small wave on the vast surface of the awakened mind.
Although the mind is always free, it remains imprisoned in constraints of its own making. Concentrating on a sense object can protect the mind from feeling overpowered by the waves. For example, focusing the mind on a flower, or on watching the smoke from a stick of incense, can protect the mind from obsessing on marital discord, or on a business scheme. This type of focus may provide temporary relief. Still, it does not allow us to experience freedom. When we connect to our own awareness, then we can accommodate whatever arises: the big waves of loved ones dying and relationships ending, and the ripples of crashed computers and delayed flights. No wave stays the same shape: all crests fall. Let it be. Let it pass. Become bigger than the thought, bigger than the emotion. Everything is always in flux; by letting it be we simply allow for inherent movement. We can notice preference and desire, but chasing after them blocks the flow of change. Awareness contains impermanence, not the other way around. But they have this in common: Our liberation comes from recognition.
Let it be makes it possible to see that our true nature is free from problems, distress, and suffering – and that it always has been. When we stop trying to make the surface calm – and accept that the very nature of ocean is change – we begin to experience this inner freedom.
But this is not freedom from distress and anxiety. It is freedom that can be experienced with stress and anxiety. We are liberated from suffering by correctly perceiving reality; this means that we have the insight and experience to know that our minds are so much vaster than we generally think they are. We are not the size and shape of our worries. To recognize reality as-it-is makes recognition and liberation simultaneous."
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, Helen Tworkov. “In Love with the World. A Monk’s Journey through the Bardos of Living and Dying.” Spiegel & Grau, 2019. A well-written, practical book for serious meditators.