For a Friend

Cloud in the Gap, at Clear LakeHere are the instructions I give myself, when I sit:

Follow the singular location of self, from the breath in through the breath out, and from the breath out through the breath in.

By “the singular location of self”, I mean the sense of where I am in my body, of where the awareness I identify as my self is located.

In order to follow the singular location of self, I have to appreciate spontaneous activity that comes forward in any one of four fields, and respond appropriately:

Appreciate the action of the body, and relax. Appreciate the action of the senses, and calm down. Appreciate the action of the mind, and open up. Appreciate the action of consciousness, and let go.

If I appreciate the action of consciousness and let go, then the singular location of self is simply the location where consciousness takes place.

When I sit, I can feel the singular location generate stretch in the ligaments from the sacrum to the sit-bones, and in the ligaments from the sacrum to the pelvic tuberosities (where the hamstrings attach). If the stretch in these ligaments is even, activity is generated in the legs that returns the stretch to ligaments in the front of the abdomen and to ligaments behind the sacrum and lower spine. If the stretch in these ligaments is even, activity is generated that extends the stretch throughout the body, right to the surface of the skin.

With an even stretch throughout the body, the location where consciousness takes place can become the source of action of the body.

Even as the source of action of the body shifts from habit and volition to location, the effort remains the same:

Follow the singular location of self, from the breath in through the breath out, and from the breath out through the breath in.

One Reply to “For a Friend”

  1. I received notes on For a Friend from Karan Vasudeva, author of Adventures at the Vipassana Enlightenment Factory:

    “If I had any criticism, it would be that someone who just chanced upon it may have trouble grasping the full import — to be honest I can’t claim I really understand everything you’re saying, either. Maybe you want it this way? If that’s the case, there’s nothing to add or subtract here. Otherwise, maybe it would help to link to at least one other post in your blog that explains one of the concepts here? Of course your book covers it all, but still by itself this feels a little too disjoint.”

    I replied:

    “You are exactly right about the disjointed nature of my instructions. It’s that way for me, too. I have to write what I can, and be satisfied with that.

    There are some elements in the posts prior to this one that I think are important, and those posts are included prior to this essay in the book (A Natural Mindfuless). The description I make of the third jhana in “The Early Record”, taking Gautama’s colored lotuses that never break the surface of the water to be a feeling for the legs, the arms, and the head around the place of occurrence of consciousness, that’s important to me. The description of relaxation of the body and calming of the senses in “Shunryu Suzuki’s ‘Whole-Body Zazen’”, that I have a need for, at some point.

    In this essay, the assertion that I make that an even stretch in the fascia and ligaments is connected with the free occurrence of consciousness in the body, that’s a major piece of the puzzle for me. It’s a big incentive for me to sit, just to confirm this for myself. So far something seems to come around consistently toward the close of my forty-minute sittings, usually right after I give up and return to where I am with the movement of breath–it’s kind of startling.

    My peace of mind, I think, depends on my ability to allow the spontaneous location of consciousness to become the source of my activity. Nothing else rests my mind in the same way.

    I begin to see the four applications of mindfulness as a rhythm, and a lack of self in the experience of that rhythm.”

    Karan responded:

    “Your personal ‘incentive for sitting’ — seeing how the even stretch influences your experience of the free occurrence of consciousness in the body — is making me think I should direct my own practice similarly: with curiosity around specific aspects of the experience.”

    My heart-felt thanks to Karan, for his feedback and his cogent remarks.

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