We experience it as uneasiness or restlessness or slight anxiety, anxiety building. It’s slight, almost pre-panic panic. When you’re not completely hooked yet, but it’s there. There’s like a pre-thought level of just moving away from that restlessness. We do it with our actions, with our words, with our minds—continually, all the time. Moving away.
I’ll give an example of actions although there’s hundreds of them, you know. Let’s give a meditator’s example. Any of you who have sat for a little while at home, you know that it’s just a common thing that you sit down and you say that you’re going to sit there for fifteen minutes, half an hour, forty-five minutes, an hour or something, and then you keep popping up, popping up. And then you sit down and calm down, and then there’s this agitation —Oh, I forgot to turn off the stove... I need to jot something down. There’s this restlessness that keeps causing you to pop up.
Even if you don’t really pop off the cushion, because maybe someone is sitting with you that day and you’re embarrassed to do so [laughter], or you’re really heavy on yourself so you don’t let yourself do it; nevertheless (I know this very well, so I’d be surprised if you don’t), you keep coming up with reasons to be somewhere else.
Maybe you just keep following the instruction, following the technique, you keep letting those thoughts dissolve into space, and you don’t follow after them. You cut the momentum. But then more pop up. There is this fundamental restlessness. It can be everything from wanting to fill up the space... and when you’re not sitting, this is happening all the time.
Trungpa Rinpoche used to praise boredom in sitting. He said that you have to sit to the point where you’re just bored. You’ve worn out all the entertainment value and you’re just bored. And you have to go through the restlessness of boredom. Because boredom is just another word for this fundamental restlessness--it’s hot, you want to get out of there. And he said you have to sit through with as much loving kindness towards yourself and compassion, relaxation, anything that enables you to kindly and gently and continually stay present. Learning to stay with the boredom. Until, at some point, it shifts to what he called cool boredom, which is that it doesn’t make you want to jump up anymore or fill up the space.
We fill up the space by working, by eating, by addictions of all kinds, by all kinds of activities. And if you don’t believe me, just start paying attention to this tonight when you leave, or even sitting here, or tomorrow during your day, or for every day for the rest of your life. You will notice just a few examples now and then. [Laughter] Then with your speech, it’s the same thing. Yackity, yackity, yack. Filling up the space.
How often have you finally gotten some time in your day to have a little peace of mind (you might say, Well, that never happens, but...), but how often has that happened when it stretched a little longer than was comfortable and you made a phone call? You just, somehow, wanted to not be there with that fundamental restlessness. So you make a phone call. Or, how often are you with somebody and they’re not talking very much, and then you just start talking more and more and more and more and more. Like silence becomes very threatening and awkward, and you begin to feel every hair on your head and you begin to feel where arms are and everything’s itching, suddenly you’re scratching all over, and wiggling and moving.
This is a description of this underlying karmic wind that you’re always wanting to move away from. And the shenpa is very much in there, someplace. There’s not always shenpa involved in this. But the momentum of moving away usually involves shenpa of some kind. You get hooked by something because it represents comfort for you —making the phone call, avoiding the boredom, avoiding the restlessness, avoiding this uneasy, underlying uneasiness.
And then mind. I talked about activities and speech —and I’m just giving very few examples— but also mind. If all else fails and we’re sitting in meditation and we’re going to sit for a long, long time —like, anywhere from three hours to the whole day or maybe we’re doing a week long sitting, or something like this, extended. You go through stages and layers and layers of trying to entertain yourself away from just being there. And it’s all at the level of your mind.
You talk about your physical ailments and you plan and you worry and you obsess and it goes on and on and on, entertaining yourself with your mind. We entertain ourselves with anger, with fear, with grief —All kinds of thoughts are better than nothing— is our motto. The bodhichitta practices, and actually all meditation practices, are about learning to stay still and going through what I always refer to as the detox period of finally connecting. Sometimes it feels like stillness and peace, but if that happens it will also alternate with this restlessness and this unease.
As someone who spends a lot of time in retreat and around a lot of people who spend a lot of time in retreat, I can say everybody gets into this. It often really hooks you, your fear of this and your wishing to go away, and you’re in retreat and there is no entertainment —there are no phones, no computers, there’s no television— you’re not talking to anyone, you’re alone in your cabin, and you wish you weren’t. And where’s all that beauty in nature? You really enjoyed it for one day, maybe even a week, but after a while, it begins to feel like a sensory deprivation chamber, and it’s very, very unnerving.
So the practice is learning to relax into the space of nothing happening. In our lives, this is a big motivation. And shenpa springs, definitely, from this karmic wind which we keep... See, you can begin to unwind that karmic wind, but it’s extremely strong. And I use the term unwind, but what I mean is our habitual way of relating, which is moving away with our actions and our speech and our mind, just makes that uneasiness stronger and stronger and stronger.
This underlying sense of threat when nothing is happening gets stronger and stronger, and we fear it more and more and more. The bodhichitta practices, and actually all practices, are about learning to stay with nothing happening, just with a sense of silence, of space, and definitely with uneasiness, with anxiety, and so forth. And we find our way to do so without it being overwhelming. Then something can begin to shift —which Trungpa Rinpoche referred to as cool boredom. The very same nothing happening feels like home-free, feels like freedom, feels like deep, profound, unshakable relaxation, feels like spaciousness— space in our mind, space to sense of workability of our lives.
But we have habituated ourselves to always move away from that nothing happening, and therefore this fear-based karmic momentum which is always driving you to do something —to move, to act— always in the next moment, never present is very, very strong. We’re really talking about cutting suffering at the root. And the root is that you learn to stay present. And in doing so, you’re going to have to contact the unpleasantness, the short-term unpleasantness, of uneasiness, restlessness, feeling of uneasiness, shakiness. Trungpa Rinpoche used the phrase the genuine heart of sadness.
Learning to stay with the tenderness of that moment. When you feel the hardness of fear, or hardness of anger, or hardness of aversion, realize that that is a place which is a hard covering over the tenderness or the warmth of the bodhichitta, of the bodhi heart. So it’s there in the hardest of places, it’s always there. Learning to stay present —that’s what I said at the end of the talk last week— it’s like being willing to endure the short term pain of an injection in order to be free of the disease altogether. Definitely, we have to go through something.
But, think of it differently, think of it as resting with bodhichitta, or shaky tenderness was another way Trungpa Rinpoche referred to it —it’s a shaky, tender place. He gave it a name which had a kind of heart quality to it, instead of calling it anxiety or fear, he called it shaky tenderness. You see? It helps actually to rephrase these things in your mind in a positive slant on something that doesn’t feel all that good. So, here [in verse twenty-five] we have the phrase that we do not wish our own true good, which is to say we’re stuck in habituation.
We think happiness is going to come from always leaving that place, that tender, shaky place that we call boredom or fear or anxiety, or whatever we call it, and filling up the space with entertainment, with fun, with movement, with action. And maybe it’s not even fun, but at least at least it fills up the space with worrying, with churning ourselves up, working ourselves up with anger, and so forth.
If we work with our shenpa, we are working with cutting the momentum of this habituation, which is to say, cutting the momentum of karma, cutting the momentum of samsara— to use the Buddhist terms.
Verse twenty-six says more about this. And it’s interesting that in verse twenty-five, the bodhichitta is called the state of mind; and in verse twenty-six it’s called an attitude— a jewel of mind. This is really important. We’re talking about training our minds. And in Buddhism, the mind and heart are one thing. Training the mind, training the heart to connect with openness and spaciousness with warmth and love and compassion by doing exercises, like bodhichitta practices such as we did at the beginning of the class, learning to stay present with that shaky tenderness and connect with the bodhichitta. Do you see? Learning to stay present.
It’s highly praised here and says that you can’t really ever express that something which is such a fresh alternative to how we usually do it. This is what we’re talking about: bodhichitta is a fresh alternative. It’s like a fresh take, a fresh state of mind from the habituated, stale, always do it the same way take and conditioned reflex action —knee jerk action. Always looking for any way to fill up the space, move away from nothing happening.
The basic instruction, in terms of cutting this habituation, or dissolving it, or interrupting —I like to use the word interrupting the habituation— is to notice the shenpa, notice when you’re hooked; then through meditation practice, or whatever helps, to interrupt the momentum so that you don’t go on and on and on creating your own suffering; and then touch the soft spot that’s available to you when you interrupt the momentum of the shenpa