I had another experience of impermanence this weekend. I was anticipating a weekend at home, but then I found out on Thursday afternoon that I might be needed to stand in for the first half of the Insight weekend three which was taking place at Samye Ling.
This was confirmed after lunch on Friday, with the tutors stuck on Holy Isle for another day. I looked at my notes, the manual and of course the relevant extracts of the book ‘From mindfulness to Insight’ in order to plan the courses sessions.
They weren’t the most easy of sessions, ‘Working with Pride and Equanimity’, ‘Working with Ignorance’ and ‘Resting in Awareness’ being among them. Still, I prepared, met the group on the Friday night, who welcomed me very kindly and then taught the sessions on the Saturday. I benefitted enormously myself and hope that there was some benefit to the participants.
In the insight training we explore two aspects.
The first aspect is sensitising ourselves to the subtle subliminal activity within the mind, so that we can recognise it and respond skilfully when it happens. The pride (by this we mean arrogance and conceit) and ignorance sessions fell into this category.
We explored in detail the process of the arising of pride. How it felt in the body. The types of thoughts that arise and the stories that we tell ourselves when experiencing pride. How it is often covering a habitual pattern of lack of self-worth and so very painful to experience. We explored how the balm of equanimity can help us be with the experience of prise, as we recite phrases such as:
Just like me, everyone else wants to be happy and free from suffering;
Just like me, everyone wants to feel safe and loved;
Just like me, everyone gets confused and makes mistakes; and
Just like me, everyone is subject to myriad causes and conditions which have brought them to this moment.
The last phrase is a particularly important expression of equanimity. All of us are her and now, as we are, each with our own ramshackle collection of habitual patterns, due to causes and conditions that have unfolded throughout our lives, the vast majority of them beyond our control. This is the same for everyone else.
We believe our success is due to us being better, but in truth we have been blessed with fortunate causes and conditions. We believe our failure is due to us being useless, but in truth we have been subject to less fortunate causes and conditions. This is the same for everyone else.
From this perspective we are all the same and pride and lack of self-worth can be recognised for what they are, concepts that we have bought into and made solid and real.
This brings us to the second aspect of insight training, in which we simply rest and learn to ‘do’ less and less and to ‘be’ more and more. With practice, this can create gaps within the activity of the mind that enable us to observe habitual patterns unfolding and refrain from engaging with them. The act of refraining then creates the space for something more skilful to unfold, something more in tune with the reality of equanimity, compassion and wisdom. If we observe and refrain, this happens by itself.
At one point during the insight day we practices rested in the midst of our experience. Simply being present and – as best we could – impartially observing our unfolding experience. Allowing the thoughts, emotions and sensations to come and to go, of their own volition. Refraining – as best we could – from engaging, from buying into, from becoming caught up in thinking. After doing this for a while, we switched our focus to resting within the gaps between the thoughts, emotions and sensations and to resting within the space within which the thoughts, emotions and sensations were unfolding. We call this process moving from resting in the midst of our experience to resting in awareness.
It takes sustained practice. It takes disciplined training in mindfulness, compassion and insight. This training helps us to avoid the obstacle of fabricating the space. Enabling us to be present, to practice skilfully with the obstacles and when the mind eventually settles, enables us to rest authentically, without fabricating.
In a time of big change in my life, the constancy of the awareness within which the change is happening is reassuring. As I said, I benefitted greatly from the insight day.
This benefit has been reinforced by the audio book I have almost finished listening to: ‘In love with the world’ by Tibetan Buddhist Lama Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. Jacky recommended it to me, but then also one of the participants on the weekend course also spoke of it. It tells of the period of change in Mingyur Rinpoche’s life, from leaving the protection of his monastery to going on a wandering retreat as a solitary yogi in India. From a Buddhist perspective it tells of his near death and of how he practiced through it. I found reading it absolutely reassuring.
I recommend it to anyone who is struggling with change.
And as the last word of the audio book is spoken, I will return to the start.
Insight training is the perfect way to deepen your practice. Find out more here.