Therefore, don’t let hope and fear tie you up in knots.
Let go and forget about outlook’s razor-like edge.
Leave and forget about deep practice’s cozy cocoon.
Destroy and forget about behavior’s pretentious enmeshments.
Cast aside and forget about result’s grand expectations.
Up to this point, Jigmé Lingpa has been describing the ground, the basis for practice. Now he talks about the practice itself, which consists of the refinement of the fine art of doing nothing — absolutely nothing.
When I began meditation practice many many years ago, resting with the breath felt like I was doing nothing. And I couldn’t stand it. It wasn’t restful. I was far too agitated in my body to have any sense of resting. I didn’t see how it accomplished anything. It wasn’t productive. I quickly gave up and kept asking my teacher for something I could do. Eventually, he said, “Okay, do a hundred thousand prostrations.” And I did. That was something I could do, but I had to do that several times before I could even begin to think about resting.
In the three-year retreat, when we started direct awareness practice — mahamudra, it quickly became clear that I was going to go nowhere if I couldn’t rest deeply. And I couldn’t. I couldn’t rest at all, and I soon became completely tied up in the knots of hope and fear. It was more than frustrating. Any movement I made pulled the knots tighter. Whenever I thought I had untied a knot, I found that I had created several more. I didn’t know which way to turn, which was just as well as the knots were so tight that I couldn’t turn anyway.
In short, learning how to do nothing did not come easily.
Outlook has always made sense to me. It is a direct pointing to the utter groundlessness of experience. When you connect with this way of looking at the world, you can cut through all kinds of projections and confusion. Of course, a lot of people just do it conceptually, labeling everything as empty, which doesn’t cut anything at all. I always found that there was some relief, some release, when I remembered and returned to the direct knowing that what I was experiencing, no matter how painful or confusing, no matter how intense or banal, was just that, an experience that comes and goes. It was a like a razor that cut through the solidity of my own projections and that was a relief.
As for practice’s cozy cocoon, I’ve certainly worked with students who related to practice this way, particularly people who have trained in the janas (the four levels of attention practiced in the Theravadan tradition). I have less ability here, but there is still a certain appeal in resting deeply. Mind and body are refreshed in a way that a nap or even a good night’s sleep doesn’t do. The experience itself is usually quite pleasant, if not blissful. And you have the satisfaction of feeling that you are meditating deeply.
As for behavior, there are so many guidelines and, like it or not, they rub off on you. You may absorb them or you may reject them, but they still affect you, even if only by defining the context in which you practice. In my case, I tend to conform to expectations, whether my own (coming from the practices I aspired to) or from others (what is deemed “socially acceptable” behavior). What I noticed, over time, was that the constant conforming lead to subtle forms of suppression. My idealism and efforts to be responsive, not reactive, to others ending up freezing me from the inside out: I became an emotional iceberg.
As for result, at this point, I really don’t know what the result of practice is or what it is meant to be. The lofty descriptions in the sutras and tantras are beautiful poetry, but I can’t relate to them in my own experience, even when I regard them as metaphor. At the same time, it’s a little hard to accept T.S. Eliot’s:
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
But maybe that’s because I’m not there yet. I don’t know.
When I read these lines in Jigmé Lingpa’s poem, I’m struck by how they describe a subtle way to move in the direction of balance. I’m always going to be cutting through my own projections. That way of approaching experience has just become part of me. But I can cut too much, and that’s when I need to let go and forget about cutting.
I enjoy the experience of resting deeply in practice. Why not? But I can grow too comfortable, and that’s when I need to interrupt my “deep meditation”, forget about it and just sit there.
I know I’m unlikely to be free of that conforming habit of mine. When I notice the pattern running, I need to forget about any notion of “right conduct” or “right action” and just rest in the experience of what’s running the show.
And I still live with expectations, even though I’m not sure what they are about. When they catch me, it’s time to cast aside any sense of achievement, now or in the future, and just relate to what’s happening now.