June 2, 2011

Cultivating Mindfulness: The Spirituality of Daily Life.

Five Practical Slogans For Living The Spiritual Path.

all quotes are taken from Chogyam Trungpa’s indispensable guide to the spiritual life, “Training the Mind: And Cultivating Loving-Kindness.”

“Drive all blames into one.”


In my opinion, this particular slogan represents the essence of spirituality. It is the gateway to true empowerment, as it leads to relationship with the primordial guru, reality. So many of us arrive to spirituality as a result of powerlessness—we feel stuck; unable to relate with life honestly and efficiently. We are clumsy, stumbling over our self-conscious ideas about how things should and shouldn’t be. This ambitious attitude is an attempt to recreate the world in the ego’s image. Sitting at the center of this world is an idea about who or what we are. It is all the “I am this and I am that.” This image is contrived, so it is fragile. As a result, we become very uptight. We take everything as a threat. The ego-centric mind is constantly scanning the environment for danger. The ego keeps it’s eyes peeled for suspicious persons and behaviors; anything that might challenge it’s point of view or territory. We have become preoccupied with our own neurosis, with maintaining our O.C.D. like state of mind, because without it we think we might become a victim.

The ego-centric situation is unsustainable. Eventually, we recognize the ego’s powerlessness, which is an amazing breakthrough. This moment of clarity occurs when we realize that all of our attempts to defend our territory have done little more than create and sustain panic and hysteria. The fear based inclination to cling to those persons and situations that meet our expectations, and violently avoid those people and environments that push our buttons has created an atmosphere that is incredibly volatile. Essentially, powerlessness is the recognition that all of our attempts to create security and peace of mind have created agitation and neurosis.

This slogan, when realized through struggle, is the mark of true empowerment, because we will never again be stuck—we are empowered. This powerlessness is the primary symptom of a belief system which suggests that our dissatisfaction is a problem with external origins and therefore external solutions. So, we have been spinning our wheels trying to get everyone in line. Trying to force reality to conform to our ideas about how things should or shouldn’t be is like trying to herd cats…a hopeless task. In reality, our dissatisfaction has internal origins and therefore an internal resolution. We have been stuck or powerless, waiting for the world and it’s people to solve our problems. We were sitting on our hands waiting on others to change so that we could be happy.

Having been introduced to this slogan, we start to struggle with it. We begin looking within for the causes and conditions that give rise to our dissatisfaction. Eventually, it becomes obvious that we are creating the problems we experience by pretending that life is personal and seeking to defend ourselves from these personal attacks. The reason why this slogan is so empowering is because having realized through practice or struggle that we are creating all of our own problems two outlandish revelations take place: (1) We are no longer stuck—never again do we have to sit around in our own shit waiting for someone else to fix our problems. (2) We realize that if we are creating all of our problems, it means that we can stop. In other words, we realize that the proper use of effort or our will is not one of control or exertion, but of consent—our thoughts must conform to or reflect reality, which is the restoration of sanity. We do not need to acquire anything, but renounce the habitual tendencies that seek to create certainty and the insecurities they preserve.

Sitting at the core of all our problems is the belief in a conceptual self, the ego. In a very practical way this slogan begins to undercut this misunderstanding. As Ken Wilber, says, “The ego is a subtle effort.” This slogan turns that effort in on itself. It takes that probing intellect that, for so many years, has wasted it’s time and energy looking to exploit the faults of others, and begins to challenge the ego’s own inaccuracies and self-imposed limitations. We have discovered right effort.

Driving all blame into one does not mean that you lay down and become a door mat. Taking all blame upon yourself, even when you are not necessarily to blame, enables you to work with the situation. The blame game is a defense mechanism, a distraction. When a problem arises looking to place blame is a pointless game. It serves no purpose. It simply forces a digression. We start bickering with each other over who is to blame, all the while ignoring the original problem. For the sake a being able to move on and address the situation directly, what harm would come if we were to accept blame for something that wasn’t our fault? The only resistance to taking the blame is pride. Once again, even in a situation where you are not at fault this slogan becomes a profound practice in egolessness that is accessible and practical. Furthermore, if a group of people were to practice this slogan, they would soon realize that they are a truly creative community. They are a fresh and inspired fellowship; not a community driven by the dictates of an expired idea, but a group that is inspired by the present moment. This is a mindful or sane society.

“Be grateful to everything.”


Having realized that all of our problems are of our own making, we can now begin to develop a different attitude toward those people and situations in our lives that arouse bitterness and frustration. In our struggles with this slogan, we are let on to a huge secret. Once we retire from the blame game, it is revealed that relationship is a process of intelligence that uncovers the internal causes of our dissatisfaction. This has a revolutionary effect on our perspective. We do not necessarily discover a new person. Rather, we redefine the dynamics of relationship. This revolution takes place when we realize that relationship is forcing us to relate with that which we have chosen to ignore. So, from a subtle point of view, everything is seen as the teacher.

We struggle with this slogan as we are unable to shake the feeling that all of our problems are a result of our own karma or creation. But there remains a momentum or residue that seeks to blame others. We are continually forced to move beyond this tendency. Eventually, we breakthrough the blame game. Having moved through the smoke screen, we begin to see people from an entirely different angle. We want to work with our situation. Being able to relate to our current circumstances with precision and efficiency requires kindness, discipline, patience, and perseverance. However, all of these virtuous qualities are discovered in what we ordinarily refer to as negative relationships. Kindness, discipline, patience, and perseverance are found in relationship with indigent, challenging, obnoxious, and agonizing situations. The Dalai Lama once said, “You cannot consider a beggar an obstacle to practicing generosity.” Well, nor can you consider an obnoxious person to be an obstacle to practicing patience or challenging circumstances to be a barrier to cultivating discipline. The spiritual path redefines what we call negative. In the past, anything that did not contribute to the growth and development of ego’s empire was considered either insignificant or adverse. Now, anything that undermines the ego’s agenda is seen as precious or indispensable. We begin to see everyone and everything as a teacher. That is to say, we have tapped into a cosmic form of intelligence that is constantly reminding us that life is the path. This realization marks an incredible plateau.

We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that all of our problems have internal origins, and that the sanctity of relationship is contingent upon our ability to allow relationship to reveal these origins. Without others there would be no possibility of awakening, because there would be no possibility of insight. Relationship reveals confusion, and the observation of confusion is insight. We should truly be grateful for everyone or everything, and by grateful, I mean that we should appreciate their presence. Listen to them, and as the next slogan will suggest, to the deeper presence within. If we are grateful for something we will take care of it. So, if we are grateful for those people and situations in our lives that challenge us to go deeper and rediscover our principal self, we will listen to their message.

This slogan could also be read as, “See nothing as insignificant.” Life is the path, so everything is intelligent. There are no accidents. If it has arisen, we must relate with it. Nothing can be discounted as insignificant or coincidental—life is always on time and appropriate. That is not to say that it has some message or lesson for you to learn. Life doesn’t have a point—it is the point! In other words, the point of listening is not to see what you can get out of it, but simply to hear. This slogan challenges us to open up and participate in this intelligence by setting aside the self-centered system of measurement that quantifies everything on the basis of how it affects the ego.

“Of the two witnesses, hold the principal one.”

At this point, we run the risk of falling into the other extreme. We have moved beyond the blame game. No longer buying into the idea that others are the cause of our problems eliminates a vital reference point from the ego’s point of view. This can be a very disorienting experience. So, this slogan emerges as a new struggle. This slogan provides resistance when we swing to the other extreme and a sense of dependency begins to emerge. A relationship established upon a sense of dependency is insane and unhealthy, because it ignores the unquestionable and immediate nature of basic experience.

This slogan might as well say, “To Thy Own Self Be True.” We are not helpless automatons. We need not slip into the self-conscious game of turning every decision into a public relations campaign. Often times we start trying to “figure out” our course of action by trying to figure out what others think we should do. We get tangled up in our own thoughts as we entertain an inbred conversation with a hallucination between our ears. We think, “I bet he is thinking, that she’s thinking I’m an idiot.” In the process we misplace freedom and spontaneity, and are left feeling lifeless. In reality, we have no idea what the other person is thinking, but the internal dialog does have their imagined mouth filled with words. Where are these words coming from? Who actually thinks the stuff that we think others are thinking?

This self-conscious dialog is really the friction between the formed conceptual mind or the ego and the principal witness. So, this phrase suggests that we always side with your authentic self. This does not mean do whatever you like. It means, get out of your head and back into your body. Recover the authentic self by trusting basic intelligence. That first instinct is not something you can go with; it is you. It is the experience of experience, and it is clear and precise; never vague or in need of elaboration or justification. This slogan is saying stop second guessing yourself. When intuition arises sit with it or hold the principal witness. Allow intuition to express itself, free of the secondary witness’s oppressive dictates. This is how we learn to trust ourselves. This is recovering your capacity to rest in basic awareness.

“If you can practice even when distracted, you are well trained.”


Having reconnected with the body or basic awareness, we must seek to cultivate this relationship. This means that we must better understand the nature of the obstacles we face as we seek to familiarize ourselves with, and trust in, this fundamental form of intelligence.

The self-conscious gossip that is fueled by, and is a projection of, insecurity is still going to be there. As you go through your day, aspects of your environment are still going to remind you of these insecurities. So the question becomes, “How do we use distractions as objects of practice or how do we take all obstacles to the path?”

Simply put: There is no such thing as a distraction! All too often people say “I think too much to meditate.” Not realizing that they were aware of their thoughts, aware of the fact that they were thinking, they walk away from the practice believing they were poor meditators. However, they were actually practicing nicely. The awareness that notices the thoughts or any other distraction is the principal witness, and resting in this witness is connected to the previous slogan. This slogan is about realizing that from the principal witness’s point of view, there are no distractions. On the spiritual path nothing is to be discarded!

When you notice that your mind has drifted off in practice, you are right back on target. The essence of the previous slogan, “Of the two witnesses, hold the principal one,” is you can’t get away from yourself, “not even for a minute.” Even the ego is an expression of basic awareness, which is a terrifying thought from the ego’s point of view. In fact, it is death. When we realize that there are no distractions—that nothing is disconnected from the path, because nothing exists apart from basic awareness—the necessary separation between body and mind or self and other dissolves, and the ego has no ground to stand on.

We struggle with this slogan as we go back and forth between trust and distrust. Certain situations seem dangerous. So, we provide resistance…we try to control them. Eventually, we begin to realize that everything is connected with basic sanity. When we get caught up in distraction, self-conscious gossip, or cling to the secondary witness life seems overwhelming, almost like there is always some imminent threat. We might get the feeling that we have to stop meditating right now otherwise we might explode. However, when we move beyond the subjective commentary or the content of thought, we move beyond the notion of distraction, and reconnect with somatic thought—the thinking body. Thought is revealed to be an expression of sanity—open, precise, and fluid. When we reconnect with the true nature of thought it ceases to be a distraction, because it ceases to be a personified image. It is revealed to be empty or in a constant state of revolution, and not some solid thing standing in defiance of reality.

Basic awareness is connected with the feminine principle of receptivity–it is the listener. Active listening is “holding the principal witness.” Distraction falls away as thought ceases to be censored. Thought, in its original form, is revealed to be the expressivity of the suppressed psyche. It is the unlived experiences of the sub-conscious mind living themselves out. This connected with the masculine principal of skillful means. The body knows best the path to liberation, as it clearly remembers the oppressive path to incarceration installed by the self-conscious mind.

In the experience of the principle witness nothing is misunderstood. Intuition is sharp. This is freedom from choice. Everything is clear. We need not even bother with choosing. There is nothing to figure out. What is appropriate is right here-right now, regardless of neurotic or socially unacceptable it is. When we are comfortable with intuition making its own decisions all of our tension and clumsiness falls away. Life is revealed to be effortless.

“Whichever of the two occurs, be patient.”


Having moved beyond the secondary witness, that is, the personification of subjective chatter, even if only for a moment, the illusion of a solid-separate self is shattered. There has been a direct experience of the primary presence which is beyond the ego-centric experience. This is sort of firsthand knowledge cannot be unknown. It has been revealed that control is an illusion, as the controller was realized to be nothing more than the shadow side of thought. Patience is a radical acceptance of the fact that the situation is completely out of control.

We come to terms with this slogan as we grapple with the fact that the body does not work on the ego’s timetable. Intuition arises without our invitation, and any attempt to suppress it only creates more tension that serves as a constant reminder of this violent state of ignore-ance. So, in cultivating spontaneity or the capacity to allow intuition to express itself, we must practice patience.

Patience is one of those words that usually gets bastardized. Generally speaking, when we say patient, we really mean tolerant. Tolerance has the connotation of bearing with an intolerable situation, like we are white knuckling life. On the other hand, true patience is a state of mind that is free from the conditions that establish such qualities as, tolerable and intolerable or now and later. It is the absence of a self-imposed time table. In patience, the value of an object is not determined by how it affects the subject, because patience is a spacious state of mind free of the subject/object dynamic. Patience is essentially a state of mind where the governing dynamics are established by nature, and not some centralized idea. Since the indestructible power of nature is establishing the path, control is seen to as nothing more than an exercise in futility, which questions the integrity of the one who is in control or the ego. Patience is both a practice in selflessness, and the realization of selflessness.

We struggle with this slogan as we challenge the effort that establishes our ideas about how things should and shouldn’t be. First of all, we recognize that it is the secondary witness that is responsible for generating the conditions that establish dissatisfaction. The ego is the metric system that establishes qualities like tolerable and intolerable. Next, we recover a sense of gratitude for the situation which has uncovered this misunderstanding. Then, we reconnect with the principal witness or that spacious state of mind that is observing the hypothetical worlds of should and shouldn’t. We cultivate this awareness by simply realizing that thought, which when misunderstood causes all of these distinctions, is in reality, nothing more than an example of basic awareness. When we identify with our insecurities or the secondary witness all of the details that define should and shouldn’t be appear to be distractions. But when we move beyond the subjective gossip and into the principal witness or basic awareness distractions cease to be. In short, thought is of “one substance” with awareness. We have reconnected with that spacious state of mind by moving beyond all the clutter. The clutter is not tossed out or destroyed. All of the clutter or distractions are realized to be non-distractions. Now, having discovered patience we rest in the presence of the present moment as active participants and not dictators. Patience is an open participation that is free of acceptance and rejection.

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