When we begin meditation, we first start to work with the breath and we see the mind wandering. This is actually our first insight, which is called “seeing the waterfall.” You ask your mind to “please stay on the breath,” but of course it doesn’t! It seems like such a little thing to say on the breath. But instead, it plans and worries and fantasizes and makes the grocery list. Then you notice you’re not breathing and you bring it back to the breath for a few breaths and then it’s off again on some new or old fantasy … and you notice. This is when we begin to be aware of our inner dialog. This is “seeing the water fall”. Meditation is train the mind in the midst of all this chatter.
Jack Kornfield says that beginning to work with the breath is like training a puppy. You pick the puppy up and put it on a piece of paper, set it down and say “stay, stay”. Does it stay? Like the mind, not much chance of that. It gets up, it goes around, you pick it up, you put it on the paper again, “stay, stay” over and over and after a while the puppy starts to figure it out. Well, we’re slower than puppies in that regard. But it’s possible. It’s the very returning of the puppy to the paper, it’s actually the coming back when we know that we’re away, gathering our attention and saying over and over again “Thinking”, bringing the body and the mind together in this moment over and over that starts to train us.
Now one other thing that the image is helpful for is for those of us who have trained a puppy before…is it a great idea to beat the puppy? Similarly for us, we might see judgmental thoughts come, like “I can’t do it”, and “This isn’t working right.” We find the mind’s habit of judging and beating. It doesn’t help at all to beat the puppy or ourselves. You just pick the puppy up gently and bring it back to the next breath; “stay, stay” or rather “thinking, thinking”, and try it again for a couple of breaths. That’s all. It’s that simple. And gradually you begin to connect with the breath.
I read an article today by Thich Nhat Hahn called The Fullness of Emptiness. He talked of the wave which is often unaware that it is part of the ocean, lost in its identity and separateness. Later in the article he gives this beautiful talk about the interbeingness of all. He said, “One autumn day I was in a park, absorbed in the contemplation of a very small but beautiful leaf in the shape of a heart. Its color was almost red, and it was barely hanging on the branch, nearly ready to fall down. I spent a long time with it, and I asked the leaf a lot of questions. I found out the leaf had been a mother to the tree. Usually we think that the tree is the mother and the leaves are just children, but as I looked at the leaf I saw that the leaf is also a mother to the tree. The sap that the roots take up is only water and minerals, not good enough to nourish the tree, so the tree distributes that sap to the leaves. The leaves take the responsibility of transforming that rough sap into refined sap and, with the help of the sun and gas, sending it back in order to nourish the tree. Therefore, the leaves are also the mother to the tree. And since the leaf is linked to the tree by a stem, the communication between them is easy to see.
“We do not have a stem linking us to our mother anymore, but when we were in her womb we had a very long stem, an umbilical cord. The oxygen and the nourishment we needed came to us through that stem. Unfortunately, on the day we call our birthday, it was cut and we received the illusion that we are independent. That is a mistake. We continue to rely on our mother for a very long time, and we have several other mothers as well. The Earth is our mother. We have a great many stems linking us to our mother Earth. There is a stem linking us with the cloud. If there is no cloud, there is no water for us to drink. We are made of at least seventy percent water; the stem between the cloud and us is really there. This is also the case with the river, the forest, the logger, and the farmer. There are hundreds of thousands of stems linking us to everything in the cosmos, and therefore we can be. Do you see the link between you and me? If you are not there, I am not here; that is certain. If you do not see it yet, look more deeply and I am sure you will see. This is not philosophy. You really have to see…You have to see life. You shouldn’t say, life of the leaf, but life in the leaf, and life in the tree. My life is just Life, and you can see it in me and in the tree. That day there was a wind blowing and, after a while, I saw the leaf leave the branch and float down to the soil, dancing joyfully, because as it floated it saw itself already there in the tree. It was so happy. I bowed my head, and I knew that we have a lot to learn from the leaf because it was not afraid—it knew that nothing can be born and nothing can die.”
Our first meditation study group meets tomorrow at 5:30. We will talk about how to slow down and enjoy the ride!
Bhikkhu Bodhi was asked once what the medium is by which karma is carried from moment to moment, and what is it that creates this continuity? He said “It is a stream of consciousness, a continuum of moments of consciousness. As each moment of consciousness perishes, it passes its entire accumulated storage of impressions, experiences, potential, memories, and karmic deposits on to the succeeding moment of consciousness… Craving and behind that, ignorance, maintain the continuity of consciousness from life to life. When death takes place, ignorance and craving renew the process of conditioned existence. The stream of consciousness preserves and transmits all the wholesome and unwholesome karmas generated by that being, not only in the immediately terminating lifetime but from beginningless time. All the karmas whose force has yet to be expended will be transmitted.”