Category Archives: Third Noble Truth

Meta-Metta

Immense compassion springs forth spontaneously toward all sentient beings who suffer as prisoners of their illusions.
– Kalu Rinpoche

This political season is such an opportunity to actively send metta! When my students were talking about an upcoming debate last week, I challenged them to see if they could send metta (loving-kindness) to the candidate from the party they weren’t supporting.

I knew how challenging this assignment might be. When I was young and watching the Nixon-Kennedy debates on black and white television in my best friend’s living room, we threw ice at Nixon whenever he said something that drove us crazy. I’d like to say it was an act of kindness to cool his sweaty brow, but it was an act of violence plain and simple. We were lucky the TV screen didn’t break! So I understand how challenging this assignment might be. Many times over the course of the recent Bush presidency our class at Spirit Rock imagined him and his cabinet members in the center of our circle and sent them metta. What a challenge! But what an amazing practice. We’ll never know if our loving-kindness was felt by Bush, but sending it out certainly had an effect on us.

Naturally I was curious to see what my students experienced if they attempted to send metta during the debates.

One meditator said that she just couldn’t bring herself to send metta to someone who represented policies she abhorred. She didn’t want them to achieve their goals or be effective, so why would she wish them well? If she was supporting the other candidate’s success, then obviously she wanted the opposition to fail. So why would she send them good wishes?

What a great question! And it made for a very rich class. I so appreciated the opportunity to clarify what metta is and what it is not. I realize that if she, a very wise woman, was unclear about the nature of this loving-kindness we are sending then many others probably are as well. So I would like to explore the concept of metta more thoroughly, and hopefully make the purpose of sending metta to difficult people understandable and the practice more accessible.

First, sending metta is not wishing for everyone to succeed at getting everything they want. The human condition is to want. We want all manner of things all the time. Our desires are boundless. But, as we have discovered in our exploration of the Buddha’s Second Noble Truth and the causes of suffering, fulfilling our desires does not bring us the deep sense of joy we long to experience in life.

So when we wish someone happiness, we are not wishing for the fulfillment of a current desire. We are wishing them a much deeper sense of happiness, one that comes from a sense of completion, of being a valued expression of a vitally interconnected whole. We have been discussing this energetic interconnection over the past few weeks as we explored the Buddha’s Third Noble Truth. (Of course, if they are lacking in the basic needs of life, if they are going to bed hungry or have no bed to go to, for example, then out of a sense of caring connection we include that in our well wishing, and hopefully follow up with some material aid to whatever degree is possible, practicing generosity.)

But generally, we are sending a kind of meta-metta, an infinite permeable all encompassing blessing. If you missed the last few posts, please go back and read them. This sense of interconnection — the physical (subatomic particle – energy vibration) as well as spiritual truth of our being — is ever present but often overlooked in the busyness of our lives. It may be paved over with calcified constricting fear. So when we send metta to someone, we are sending this sense of a flow of loving energy to help soften that calcification and remind them that they are an intrinsic part of a complex whole, not an isolated disconnected soul struggling for survival, any more than a drop of water leaping above the rapids is alone.

Is there any person, regardless of their beliefs, behavior or desires, that we would not wish this kind of awakening? How does our withholding metta from anyone serve ourselves and our awakening? Withholding keeps us tight and constricted and feeling disconnected and at odds as well. So when we send metta to that most difficult person it is a deep awakening practice for us.

We are not sending metta to change people. We are not seeking results. We are sending metta because we are sensing in to the universal nature of loving kindness, we are accessing the boundless flow of metta, and that level of access is like being a conduit of energy. The conduit does not determine where the energy will go. When we send metta we feel the powerful flow filling us and overflowing. We allow ourselves to sense the boundless energy of being, the powerful love that can be talked about in so many ways but is fully present and accessible in every moment for those who pause and open to it.

Another meditator says that she sends metta at the end of her daily meditation practice, and she hoped that sending it out to ‘all beings’ was sufficient, because she’d really rather avoid having to think about any difficult people in the middle of a pleasant meditative experience.

I appreciate the practice of simply sending metta out to all beings, and we end our class by dedicating the merit of our practice to the benefit of all beings. I sometimes remind my students that there are probably people at this very moment sending metta out to all beings, and to remember that this includes us. We can take comfort in actively receiving that interconnected sense of well wishing.

But this one step ‘all beings’ well wishing doesn’t take the place of a full metta practice.
Traditional metta practice starts with sending loving-kindness to ourselves. Then we bring to mind an ‘easy’ person for whom we hold nothing but loving thoughts and send metta to them: May you be well, May you be at ease, and other such phrases of general well-wishing. Then we think of a ‘neutral’ person, someone we see in the course of our day but don’t really know like the bank teller or grocery clerk and send them metta. And then we think of a person for whom it may be very difficult to muster up kind thoughts at the moment. This could be someone in our personal life that is driving us crazy, but it could also be a public figure with whom we disagree about policy. And then finally we send metta to all beings.

When do we do full metta practice? For some people it is a regular part of their day, for others a more occasional group experience. But certainly, whenever we notice we are avoiding sending metta to certain people, then there’s a perfect opportunity for practice. Recognizing avoidance is a gift of awareness and an invitation to deepen our practice.

We noticed in class that a key thing about a ‘difficult person’ is the level of control they seem to have over things that affect our lives. This is a really valuable aspect to explore. I noticed that once Bush was no longer president, the challenge to send metta to him was absent. His power to harm me and those I love was gone. He was no longer ‘the difficult person’ of my metta practice. Whatever errors in judgment he might make once he was no longer in power would probably not gravely impact me the way they did when he was in the White House.

This power issue holds true also with people in our personal life, and is a valuable thing to look at. But when we send metta to them we are not wishing them success at driving us crazy! We are dropping to a deeper level than our personality-based interactions into a state of deep interconnection, where there is no distinction between us. By dropping to this level – the namaste level where ‘the god in me honors the god in you’ – we allow for the possibility of a softening of the constriction that keeps us at odds.

We ended our class by doing a metta practice to a difficult person we each brought to mind, and perhaps you might like to give it a try, imagining a person to whom it would be challenging for you to send loving kindness.

We wish them ease. We wish them healing. We wish them a release from the tight constriction of fear that holds them, that shuts them down, that shuts all of us down. We wish them the same in-depth understanding of the nature of our inter-connection that we wish for ourselves and all beings.

Since being constricted in fear is the major cause of all dis-ease and discomfort in the world, feeling threatened and reactive instead of loved and responsive, it only makes sense that we want loving release for anyone who is knotted up in fear and reactivity, anyone who sees themselves as isolated and the world as a threatening dangerous place that must be fought with violence.

Is there any person, no matter how wrong-headed or evil we believe them to be, from whom we would withhold that sense of deep connection? If everyone felt this opening and easing into the flow of the infinite energetic is-ness of being, would this not affect them in a way that would be beneficial to themselves and to all beings, including ourselves?

I leave you with a little treat: Sylvia Boorstein leading a brief metta meditation. Sylvia was my first Buddhist teacher who read my book and called it ‘jargon-free dharma.’ She is a treasure of compassionate wisdom to both Spirit Rock Meditation Center students and to the Jewish community in Santa Rosa.

What keeps us from knowing our Buddha Nature?

Central to Buddhism is the understanding that there is no place to get to, that enlightenment is not some distant place, but lives ever present within us. This sense of presence is called our Buddha Nature. It is our inherent loving-kindness, our spacious mind that knows we are each expressions of a whole rather than the separate individuals we habitually believe ourselves to be.

This Buddha Nature may be a treasure we have yet to recognize, hidden in plain sight but camouflaged by our habitual patterns of seeing. But have no doubt! It is there, shining within us, a light of incredible brilliance that, when discovered, illuminates our experience, clarifying our understanding and dissolving the tangle of fear-based roots that has kept us feeling tethered, weighed down and out of kilter.

We have been studying the Third Noble Truth that promises that we can know and even live fully from this Buddha Nature. Our practice is to make ourselves available to this Buddha Nature by being as present in this moment as we can. We relax into the moment, for it is in this ‘here, now and fully-relaxed’ state that the inherent Buddha Nature makes itself known.

It seems simple enough to do this. The instructions are clear. Yet often, sitting after sitting we come away feeling as if we have waded through a bog of mental mud! We begin to doubt if we are capable of finding clear spacious open-heartedness or even a little precious peacefulness where we can momentarily rest our weary minds. We begin to worry that we are the only person in the world who doesn’t actually have Buddha Nature.

This is absolutely normal. There are so many ways our habitual mind sabotages our intention to access our Buddha Nature. We know that habits die hard. I remember when my mother finally quit smoking after her doctor told her she had emphysema. She told me that it wasn’t the addiction that was so difficult; it was her inability to imagine who she would be without a cigarette in her hand. In her mind, smoking made her more sophisticated, intelligent and glamorous. Without that little burning stick in hand, who would she be? After she quit, she was still just as vital, beautiful and exciting as she had ever been. And once the smoke cleared, she could see that that cigarette did not define her and had instead been hindering her from full enjoyment of life. But for so many years she had been too afraid to let go, to find that out; and that fear fostered the self-destructive behavior that killed her.

My mother’s experience illustrates how we cling more tightly than ever to our habits if they are entwined with our self-image. So if, for example, we like to think we are practical and not susceptible to any woo-woo nonsense, then we create a strong resistance even to something that offers us the possibility of a happier life.

This is not to say we should abandon good judgment and fall for every feel-good scheme that gets marketed to us! Quite the opposite! Instead, we need to become aware of our OWN inner wisdom. When we are disconnected from it, if we are honest we can feel that disconnect. During a period many years ago when I was ‘too busy’ to meditate or even to give myself much-needed alone time, I remember saying to a co-worker, “I feel totally separate from myself.”

This was a potentially pivotal moments in my life. Had I heeded the words coming out of my mouth instead of just finding them amusing, I might have saved myself and those I love a lot of subsequent suffering. (Often the wisest words are words we say ourselves, and just as often we don’t listen to them. It really pays to notice what advice we are giving others. It’s often for us as well.)

But I didn’t pay attention to my words of caution. Instead I continued my grueling schedule and ended up getting a serious chronic illness that incapacitated me, forcing me to leave my career, cutting our family income in half. Had I heeded my own words, I might have been able to make a milder and less painful course correction.

I began to meditate again, and since there was little else I could do, I meditated as if I were on what turned out to be a nine month retreat. I had been so out of balance and then so ill that that level of intensity felt necessary. In this way, I came home to my own inner wisdom, my own Buddha Nature, not just in rare moments, but as a steady guiding light in my life. Eventually that inner wisdom diffused in such a way that I understood it was not some separate inner guru replete with personality, but simply a shift of perception, from a sense of separation to a sense of connection.

These habits of mind we all have are deeply rooted in this disorienting belief that we are separate and isolated beings encased in envelopes of skin. I say ‘disorienting’ because at some level we know it is not true, so we have angst and restlessness, as we look all over for the things in the world that will make us feel connected. When everything fails to satisfy this deep longing, we feel steeped in fear that expresses itself in all manner of negative emotions and results in suffering, for ourselves and those around us.

As we meditate, we practice developing the mental muscles of setting clear intention to be present with whatever arises in our experience. We practice relaxing our muscles and letting our bones support our bodies. And we develop a sense of compassion so that we can meet our distracted minds with kindness rather than our habitual harangue. With steady practice we begin to find more spaciousness, and more clarity to notice habitual mental and emotional patterns. With compassionate curious attention, these patterns soften and may even dissolve.

The briefest glimpse into this spaciousness can be sufficient to begin the unraveling of these old fear-based habits. Buddha Nature is timeless, and therefore, once known, once perceived, is always available. Years ago there was a popular activity of staring at a visual puzzle, where an image was hidden within a complex pattern. People would stare and stare at this puzzle. Some would become frustrated and give up. Some would see it quickly. With others it took time, but by relaxing and keeping their vision refreshed, they finally saw it. But everyone who saw it couldn’t later un-see it. The image would always be there. This is also true of Buddha Nature. Once you know it, you can never un-know it. You may ignore it, but you will never again be unable to sense it if you open to it.

Since we are creatures of habit, we can set the intention to develop new healthy mental habits – habits of noticing, habits of being aware of sensation, habits of compassionately observing our mind at work. This is a very effective way to prepare ourselves for whatever shift in consciousness that might arise out of repeatedly making ourselves available.

Allowing for the possibility, making ourselves available – these are good ways of thinking about how this shift of awareness happens. They remind us that this is an opening to what already is, rather than a search for something hidden elsewhere. It’s more like tuning our instrument to play harmoniously. Perhaps we are currently strung too tight and so are playing a sharp instead of a natural. Or perhaps we’re strung too loose, sluggish in our energy, foggy in our thinking, sleepy in our meditation, so we need to focus on refining, clarifying and brightening our concentration. This is not done by hunkering down, gritting our teeth or bracing ourselves, but through opening to the energy that is ever-present. We can draw it into our being, feel its strength and healing power, and let it rise up to express itself through us.

As we open, allowing for the natural shift to a more fluid connected state that is always available, we can see that in this state the old habits of fear that we thought were serving to protect us serve no purpose. Their efforts only exacerbated negative situations, escalated arguments and confrontations, and cut us off from healthy interaction.

The idea of retiring our emotional weaponry sounds nice, but what if we are feeling stuck in fear? What if we are fearful of the ideas presented here? First, let’s remember that none of this is new news but draws from the well of universal wisdom that is at the core of all world religions and spiritual traditions. And, if religion scares us, we can find the same wisdom in the latest scientific findings.

Secondly, it’s valuable to recognize that all of these habits of mind are striving for our survival as best they can. They are trying to protect us from a perceived harm. So it is just another fear-based habit of mind to feel threatened by the habits themselves. It is more useful to see them as misguided allies.

I have occasionally referred to working with the various aspects or voices we discover as we really listen to our thinking mind. I have found in my own experience the value of inquiring into the specific desires and concerns of these aspects, and then compassionately negotiating a way for the aspects needs to be met without undermining my well being.

You may recall the story of my inner aspect ‘Slug’ and his resistance to exercise. He loved bed. Bed was for him a big mommy hug, and he missed his mommy. Well, of course, I missed my mommy too as she had died a few years before this encounter. But I knew my mother wouldn’t want me lollygagging in bed anymore than my own inner wisdom did, so I found a yoga class with a teacher about my mother’s age and who, at the end of class, as we students were lying on the floor in shivasana pose, would come to each of us with a blanket and tuck us in. Well, of course Slug LOVED this yoga class. And that’s how I was able to negotiate getting some much-needed exercise.

But as useful as it can be to work with aspects of self in this inter-personal way, giving them cute nicknames and personalities to encourage compassion in our dealings, there are many other ways to view these complex inter-workings of our mind.

These habits of mind are caught up in a view that is totally relative. Through the lens of these habits steeped in fear, we see things from an embedded perspective, like a journalist embedded in a military operation. We see a very intense, very personal, but very one-sided view of things. And it is so intense — this living a life — that we completely buy into it being the whole truth. But all the while we are stuck in this perspective that is vested in maintaining this singular point of view, as if we have pledged allegiance to it and must defend it, or are employed as its public relations representative.

We are not! We are free agents! We are free to walk about and observe with fresh eyes and see for ourselves what is true and what is not. How much of what we hold to be true have we really questioned or examined?

I was so taken years ago when I heard about a listening project in the Southern US, where trained volunteers visited homes and simply listened to the inhabitants express their views of the world. They were trained to notice when they made statements that seemed rote, as if accepted long ago and not examined since. And they knew how to probe, encouraging deeper self-reflection, so that on their own the interviewees began to see the flaws in their own arguments, and through further exploration, using their own good sense, they found they didn’t buy into the pre-packaged hateful things they had so readily spouted just an hour before. In this way the listening project did not promote another view; it just provided the space for exploration.

And this is what we do. We provide space and a willingness to notice and question our standing operating procedures, our pre-packaged beliefs, our previously unquestioned inheritance of values and ideas. We see where we may be holding two opposing beliefs at the same time and have never stopped to question them. No one else can do this inner work for us. We may be inspired by what others say, but the experience of questioning is an ongoing inside job.

For some this idea might at first feel very threatening. Our inherited beliefs may seem comforting, something to hang onto in a dangerous world. They may seem like the one way we do feel connected to something. And it may be true that at core they do offer that entrance to a sense of connection, but unexamined, accepted as truth without exploration, they are about as powerful as a baby’s security blanket.

Opening to the possibility that these habits of mind — these negative emotions, judgments and discomforting thoughts — are not personal but universal, helps us to feel safe in our exploration. Understanding that most of us look at the world from a particular mindset — not from our deepest and truest nature — helps us to let go of the need to defend our position.

How refreshing and relaxing it is to realize that these habits of mind are not traits that define us, but common patterns that course through us, shaping our thoughts and our behavior. These patterns are like the readily visible patterns in that visual puzzle mentioned earlier, before we see the image that is hidden in plain sight.

Insight meditation is the practice of noticing these patterns of mind, actively observing in a spacious way. If we notice when we are getting caught up in them and pause to breathe more spaciousness into our noticing, and then look with fresh eyes in a more relaxed way, we can begin to see something else emerging.

These relative mindsets we have believed to be our true selves all these many years, do not define us any more than my mother’s cigarette defined her. As we make that distinction and begin to see that we are not these habits of mind, then we can open ourselves more easily to the possibility of allowing them to pass through our current experience without feeling we have to rise up and do battle with them. In time we see that bringing spaciousness into our relationship with them gives us the ability to see them more clearly, to see all the thoughts, emotions and image associations that give us deeper understanding. Eventually, with that shift into seeing from our inherent Buddha Nature perspective, these habits lose their sense of purpose. With their need to protect us gone, they can dissolve quite naturally.

So what keeps us from knowing our Buddha Nature? Believing that our habits of mind –our endless thought stream, and our ocean of emotion — define us. As we let go of our clinging to this sense of separate self we become available for the revelation of the absolute reality of oneness with all that is that patiently waits within us. This is our Buddha Nature.

Third Noble Truth: The Good News

All this suffering! Is there any end to it? The Good News it is that through insight, through seeing how we make ourselves suffer, we also begin to expand into seeing the optional nature of this self-inflicted suffering. The Third Noble Truth is simply that there is an end to suffering, according to the Buddha. It’s the good news. The oppressive tangle of our suffering can be seen for what it is, and it can, through insight and compassion, be made more spacious so that we can find joy in simply being with whatever arises.

Yes, we are still confronted with tar-babies, and maybe we still get entangled in the sticky tar from time to time; but through the regular practice of meditation, we are learning to notice when this is happening.

When we notice, we remember to stop struggling and simply be with our experience, as uncomfortable as it may be. Through the practice of meditation and the development of spacious awareness we find our center, our inner access to a sense of equilibrium and ease.

When we were reviewing the First Noble Truth in class a while back, I read from Wes Nisker’s article in Inquiring Mind magazine about what he called ‘Firsters’ and ‘Thirdsters.’ He claims to be a Firster. For him, having The First Noble Truth’s reminder that there is suffering in life is not just a first step to awakening, but a gift that keeps on giving, sufficient for a lifetime’s practice. He doesn’t have much patience for those ‘Thirdsters’ as he calls those who want to be remade into enlightened beings.

Because of the interpretation so many of us put on the Third Noble Truth, it can become a tarbaby in itself. We are attracted to its promise, and may feel compelled to see it as some distant goal of happiness and enlightenment. We get caught up in it and it just becomes another way for us to suffer. We want it. We want it so badly. And we want it now. The wanting is an ache we cannot satisfy. Succumbing to the dazzling promise of the Third Noble Truth can actually keep us from ever experiencing it.

The Third Noble Truth is not about some future version of us, someone who will be so much more calm, peaceful, kind, compassionate and enlightened. The Third Noble Truth is about the promise held within each moment.

Each moment holds the gift of sight. Okay, most moments we may ignore it. But the gift lives fully in each moment, whether noticed or not. This moment for example, as you sit here listening or reading this talk, you have the capacity to be fully present, to sense in to your body, to notice what is true in your experience right now – pain, beauty, emotion, thought – and in that noticing is spaciousness.

The Third Noble Truth is not a destination; it is an ongoing ever-present totally accessible present. When we make it a destination, one more vacation we have to save up for, make time for, one more thing on our to do list or our bucket list, then we have lost touch with its true nature. It becomes a fairy tale, a Shangri La, a Wonderland or an Enchanted Isle.

It is none of these.

The Third Noble Truth is about what is inherent in each of us: our Buddha Nature. This naturally arising way of being in the world is not in some cave on a mountain top in the Himalayas that is beyond our reach. It is always present.

We expend a lot of energy ignoring it, discounting it, pooh-poohing it, but it is there. Here. Now. Always. It is a light that shines within us, one that we may keep carefully shuttered, but from time to time we are able to see things more clearly by the light through the cracks of our shutters. We get a glimpse of insight, an intuitive hit or a moment of clarity. Learning to trust what is revealed by the little light we allow, we begin to notice the light more. “This little light of mine, I’m gonna’ let it shine.” Such a great song! It’s impossible to sing it without the heart feeling full. When we sing it, we are setting an intention that resonates deep within us. When we act out of that intention to allow what is naturally arising within us to express itself by showing compassion to ourselves and others, by trusting what the light reveals to be true and stepping out of the shadows, then the shutters begin to open even more.

The light shows us the lay of the land, reveals the tar-babies for what they are before we get suckered into entangling with them.

We can remind ourselves that the Third Noble Truth is not a distant promise but a constant presence shining its light within us, patiently waiting for us to open the shutters of our hearts and minds.

Here is a chant from the Heart Sutra:

Gate, gate
paragate
parasamgate
bohdi svaha.

It translates loosely as:
Gone, gone,
gone beyond,
gone beyond the beyond,
into awakened mind. Aha!

Chant this for a while, staying fully present in your body with all your senses or just the rising and falling of your breath. Be present with whatever arises, without expectation.

This present is not an intellectual maze you must master, but a simple, even subtle, shift of attention from the belief that we are the thoughts we think, the labels we’ve accepted, or the emotions we feel. This is a shift into expansive ease and open awareness of the spacious nature of being.

We access the present moment through the portal of sensation. Simply sensation. Simply being.

During meditation over the past months, we have been allowing for this subtle shift from thinking in labels, compartmentalizing ourselves and the world around us, to accessing an infinite spaciousness as we experience pure sensation without tagging any particular sensation with the label ‘itchy foot’ or ‘achy back’, for example. Instead, we sense in to the energy field of being, the being that isn’t demarcated by the ‘edge’ of skin.

The Third Noble Truth is not a promise of some heavenly pain-free existence, but an invitation to discover the unlimited nature of our being, the compassionate ease of feeling one with nature, one with all beings; knowing it, not as knowledge we learn from books — although science now supports it — but knowing it deeply, from personal experience.

The last time we were studying the Four Noble Truths, my post on the Third Noble Truth was a sharing of something I wrote many years ago, an exercise called The Dance of the Seven Veils. The Third Noble Truth invites us to discover who we are under all the veils we wear.

Fix-it? Forget it!

We were discussing the Second Noble Truth, and how we can each notice the way we create suffering for ourselves through clinging, grasping and pushing away our experience instead of holding it in an open compassionate embrace. A meditator said that she was noticing this, but that she hoped that the Third Noble Truth was going to offer the next step: How to fix what we notice.

I said that the noticing is all there is. Now this may have been a tad disingenuous because of course the Buddha offers the Eightfold Path (The Fourth Noble Truth.) I suppose it could be regarded as a fix, but I see it more as a circle of light with which we surround ourselves in this practice. Each aspect of the Eightfold Path is a guidepost shedding light that helps us see where we have strayed too far from the core of consciousness and compassion. But the Eightfold Path itself does not fix anything; it simply brightens our way so we can notice. The noticing itself is the one and only step in this process.

The minute we try to fix whatever arises in our thoughts, we are caught up in the stickiness of suffering. Our ‘noticing’ is fault-finding and once we have found a fault, like a fissure in a tooth, we want it ‘taken care of.’ We want it drilled, filled and made perfect.

This is a reasonable response, a naturally arising thought from our creative brain activity. But in this regard, when it comes to releasing from tight constriction into a spaciousness of mind, you can see that this fault-finding fix-it methodology is more likely to shut us down, make us feel defensive and constrict us, rather than open us to feel more and trust in the process. Thus our desire to fix ‘the problem’ undermines the process.

The only tool that is up to the task is this ‘noticing.’ At first our noticing might be rather coarse, full of judgment and attitude, like “Oh there I go again with my big mouth,” or “Yup, I see how angry I get at the least little thing that person does.” Even this has some consciousness to it, some willingness to acknowledge what is happening, or why things are happening as they are, even if we are harsher than we need to be. If this is where we are, we can acknowledge that this is considerably more skillful than not noticing we’ve said something offensive or not noticing our own anger or what seems to trip our trigger.

The next step is not to ‘fix’ what we have noticed, but to refine the quality of our noticing.

Noticing is polished to a rich sheen through meditation practice, both concentration practice and metta practice. This is why we practice and why it is ongoing. The practice is the way we keep our tool of noticing polished.

At first we might think that meditation is a place we go, a retreat we take to get a breather from the hectic life we lead. And if it offers this, that’s lovely, but it is not the purpose of meditation. The core purpose is to develop and refine the ability to see with clarity and compassion whatever arises in this moment.

You can think of the knife-sharpener or the silverware polisher performing a vital service. This is a good way to think of meditation because it takes away the allure of thinking it is about having a mind-blowing experience. It takes away comparing one meditation with another. It is just the practice of being as fully present as we can be in this moment with as much compassion as we can manage right now.

It is just polishing our ability to notice what arises. There is no bad or good meditation, only this taking the time to do the task, to do the practice. If it creates inner peace, sparks creativity, etc. all to the good. The knife sharpener at his grinder and the silver polisher with her felt cloth also may experience this quieting down of the mind. And all the while the knives get sharpened, the forks get polished and the food is well cut and served. Just so, with meditation practice insight, we polish and refine our ability to notice what is arising in this moment and to hold it with acceptance, wisdom and compassion.

And through this practice we can see how the quality of our noticing shifts from, “Oh God, there I go again” to something along the lines of, “Ah, thinking. Noticing a tightness in my jaw when that thought arises. The emotion that arises with it is a sort of_____. Hmmm, the associative images that are arising are ______. Making space in my field of awareness for this to simply arise and fall away.

This kind of inner process could be called a dispassionate curiosity. Although the subject is personal, we are willing to allow for the possibility that it is inherently human, that we –though unique and individual in our own ways – are dealing with a universal stream and we are constantly testing the waters. It is not our job to fix the water, but to become more skillful in navigating in it. We can only do this through noticing the nature of the tides, the undercurrents, the weather, etc. We tune in. We notice. We notice everything.

So through our regular daily practice of meditation this quality of noticing gets polished up into a tool of self-exploration and expansion, rather than a weapon of harsh judgment that cuts us to the quick and leaves us to find a hole to hide in while we lick our self-inflicted wounds.

As you give yourself this gift of meditation, trust that whatever noticing you experience is sufficient for now. Yes, with regular practice, over time the noticing will become more insightful, but judging your state of noticing now as lacking is just another sticky dukkha delivery system, just another tarbaby to get caught up in. So trust the process, trust that as long as we live there is the polishing.

Let your light shine.

The Dance of the Seven Veils


We have looked at the first and second Noble Truths: that there is suffering and that the cause of suffering is grasping, clinging and pushing away. The Third Noble Truth is that this suffering can end.

The following is something I wrote many years ago, before studying Buddhism, but it speaks to the same possibility.

The Dance of the Seven Veils, An Exercise in Letting Go

The first veil is the you that is defined by material possessions. These possessions reflect your taste, your financial status and your values. To the degree that these define you, they confine you.
Let them go.

The second veil is the you that is defined by your achievements, your failures, your badges of honor and your battle scars. The title you hold, the awards you have won, the degrees you have earned, the good deeds you have done, the guilt you bear, the pain you have suffered. To the degree that these define you, they confine you.
Let them go.

The third veil is the you that is defined by your relationships with others. Your roles as son or daughter, sister or brother, father or mother, husband or wife, friend, lover, student, employee, employer, citizen. To the degree that these roles define you, they confine you.
Let them go.

The fourth veil is the you that is defined by your beliefs. Your religion, your political affiliations, your judgments, the angers and resentments that shape your judgments, your assumptions about other people. To the degree that these define you, they confine you. Let them go.

The fifth veil is the you that is defined by your physical, emotional and psychological traits. These are what you were born with: your gender, your race, the fundamental aspects of your personality. To the degree that these define you, they confine you.
Let them go.

The sixth veil is the you that is defined by your body’s very existence. It is your perception of your skin as an encapsulation and barrier. To the degree that this defines you, it confines you.
Let it go.

The seventh veil is the you that is defined by mind. It is the you that maintains resistance, through fear, in order to exist as a separate consciousness. To the degree that this defines you, it confines you. Let it go.

Now who are you? Beyond the barriers of all your veils of identity, beyond the veils that create shadow, mask and distortion, suddenly all is clear. Who are you? You are One. One with all that is, a manifest expression of the joy of oneness, undefined thus unconfined, free, expansive, beyond the beyond. Yet completely here and now, always in this moment.

Now as you dress in your veils, lovingly drape yourself with these manifest expressions of self, full of richness, full of clues. But never again will you mistake them for you. The authentic you, merged with the all that is, with God beyond personification, you that is light energy source and receptor, transmitter and receiver. You that is released from the limits of fear and knows the infinite power of love. Behold your true self. One with all that is.

© 1992 Stephanie Noble