Can’t see for looking…

You know that feeling when a number of small factors come together and something starts forming in the mind? The beginnings of a new understanding or spark of interest in a particular direction. I’ve had that over the past few days.

First a friend wrote me an email mentioning the 4 types of practitioners. You know; the one who’s mind naturally inclines to samatha, calm and one-pointedness. Jhana is fairly accessible for them. Or the one who’s mind is active, thinks a lot but regularly has moments of clear seeing (vipassana) or ‘aha’ moments. Then there’s the mind that does both (lucky thing!). Or the one that does neither (ooch).

So despite occasionally feeling like I’m the last one generally I think of myself as in the second camp; awareness and aha moments rather than concentration and bliss.

The second thing was waking up this morning after a dream remembering something Sayadaw U Tejaniya said to me in a meditation interview a couple of months ago. I’d asked him a question about my practice and he’d answered it. Then he said “next time I’m not going to give you the answer, you have to come up with it yourself.”

And the third thing I’ve been noticing lately but it’s being going on for most of my life as far as I can tell is a habit of asking people for help. “Mum, I can’t find it” was a frequent cry when I was a kid. “Well, look properly” she would say in a tone of exasperation, often snatching up the school bag/swimming gear/gym shoes from somewhere I’d already looked. “It’s right in front of your nose.”

Now it’s my long suffering partner who I ask for help in all sorts of ways but particularly techie things that I think I can’t do. Actually, sometimes I can figure it out but I’m lazy and I want the answer sooner rather than later.

So despite my on-going awareness practice or perhaps because of it I’m realising I need to ‘look properly’ and think through things more for myself in a deeper way. I don’t think this means doing more, being more active. More by standing still longer. Not moving into action prematurely or into distraction.

Mostly it’s about more awareness and more interest. Being more curious about whatever it is I’m experiencing. Not discursively but recognising with a mind that is simple and not making assumptions. In this way it’s possible to recognise more subtle levels of assumptions and views – and there are always more! Another way of putting it: knowing where the mind is coming from – its point of view. It’s like knowing the inside of your skin. How do you know that?

I’m doing it already at times or there wouldn’t be the aha moments of knowing, of recognition and understanding. But more is needed. Not more trying or more effort. Just more recognition of the moments when awareness is present. And more remembering the importance of Right View, which allows curiosity to flower into wisdom.


Yesterday I was at a funeral. I wasn’t close to the person, we’d met briefly on a handful of occasions but I decided to go anyway because of the connection with his family. He had been a Catholic so the service was a Requiem Mass in a modern church with high ceilings and naturalistic figures of various saints in the stained glass windows.

I was brought up Catholic and my relationship with Catholicism has changed in the 32 years I’ve been a practising Buddhist. It has softened and mellowed from the outrage of my teenage years when it seemed God and my Dad were of one authoritarian mind! There is now more interest in seeing connection than the rejection that came from working out what a Buddhist was and how it was different to what I’d grown up with.

One thing I’d reacted against quite strongly was that the church service was always the same. Every week going to hear the same words, verses, standing up in places, kneeling in others! Occasionally getting to sit down (and sneak a look at whatever book I’d brought along with me to while away the 45 minutes of boredom).

Buddhist ritual hasn’t changed much either in the 32 years I’ve been doing it. What has changed is the mind participating in it. There are qualities of sensitivity, openness and being present, moment by moment in the aware mind. Not looking to the ‘object’ of experience for satisfaction so much but paying attention to the quality of the mind that is aware.

There is also an appreciation now that one of the strengths of ritual is repetition, of knowing phrases really well and having an understanding of their significance that grows over years of evoking certain moods.

I recognised a lot of the verses yesterday. Some I could go along with (confession, peace, community) and some I couldn’t (sin, heaven, angels – there was a lot about angels!). I knew all the hymns and felt moments of real joy in singing them despite the pitch that is always too high in churches for anyone over the age of 15 unless they are trained opera singers!

Despite not ‘agreeing’ with the words there is something about tunes, harmonies, rituals and gestures familiar from many years of observing and participating as a child. They are part of my history and my ‘identity’. I don’t mean identity as a fixed, static thing that defines ‘me’ but something lighter and ‘truer’.

As I listened and sat and stood and sang yesterday there was a background awareness of my mind. I noticed thoughts and feelings and various snippets of memory. There was a thought about whether or not I still identified with my catholic roots and a sort of pause in the mind wondering if that was a good thing or not.

These ‘mind moments’ had the flavour of familiarity, they were parts of the story of me – but without ‘me’. Without identifying with them they were free floating fragments of memories, perceptions and feelings that re-vitalised in that moment sparked off through being in the Church and hearing the Mass.

We all have a story (many stories) and as practitioners we’re taught not to buy into it. To let go of the story and be with the direct experience. What I was aware of in these moments was both the fabric of the story that has been lived through and is remembered to some degree and also the fragmentary and conditioned nature of those moments in the present. Identity without identification.autumn-940401_640

I couldn’t identify or not identify as an ex-catholic. There was an individualised ‘stream of experience being known by the mind and ‘identification’ was part of that. Identification itself was not ‘real’ or ‘true’ but another mind moment being known in awareness.

In itself – just another moment of practice. Noticed because of the habit of watching the mind. And not inappropriate while witnessing the ultimate in non-identification, the death and dissolution of the body.

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