Remedy for Pain: Three ‘Pills’ of Inner Refuge

~Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche 

An Excerpt from Awakening the Luminous Mind

When fear or anxiety dominates your mind, you don’t know where to go. By turning toward stillness, silence, and spaciousness, you will feel some protection. Even if you cannot fully connect, trusting that space is there is a form of protection from fear. You will begin to taste the confidence that becomes increasingly available the more direct personal experience you have with the inner refuge. The reason the inner refuge overcomes fear is that the natural state is beyond fear. It is beyond fear because the unbounded space of being is unchanging. So if you are aware of a deeper state in yourself that is unchanging, and become familiar with that deeper state, you naturally become less fearful.
The natural state of mind is beyond birth and death. At death, it is only ego that loses. We will explore this more fully later in the book, but for now we can say that being in that space is the experience of openness that is deathless, changeless. Nothing changes. So when I become more familiar with that particular aspect, when I taste this sense of changelessness, a deep confidence and peace become available. This is not a confidence produced by thinking or having a philosophical point of view. Rather, it is a direct experience that is possible by recognizing what is already here.
So with the pain body or identity, we “take the white pill” and turn toward stillness; with pain speech, we “take the red pill” and turn toward silence; and with pain mind, we “take the blue pill” and turn toward spaciousness. As we enter the experiences of stillness, silence, and spaciousness, our pain becomes the path to liberation. Each condition transforms into a path that leads to our final liberation—connection with the changeless essence.

You may think this is an oversimplification or a watered-down instruction. Does it seem too simple to be true? The dzogchen masters explain that the true nature of mind is so close we cannot see it. We all know how much we love complicated things. Whatever is harder to get we think is better. For some people, the biggest problem is always wanting something they can’t get, and because of that desire they cannot see what they already have. The simple but profound truth is that the greatest thing we have is this present moment. Therein lies the greatest richness possible. But we don’t see or experience ourselves fully in the present moment.

So whenever you feel pain, just be with it. Be a good support to your pain. Have a warm presence that is completely open and most important, nonjudgmental. Just be there hosting your pain. People in the West often have a problem with stillness, silence, and spaciousness. When you are still, then you start looking for a problem. When you are silent, others get suspicious and think there is a problem. When you are spacious, others may think you’re not very bright. A cultural shock that I experienced when I first came to the United States was the mantra “I’m busy.” Everybody says this. If you say, “I’m not busy,” then something must be wrong with you. If someone asks, “What do you do?” and you reply, “Nothing much,” that person will think, “Something has got to be wrong here. This is not normal.”

Perhaps in your first moments of turning toward stillness, silence, and spaciousness you might feel a little relief. Then you think, “I don’t know if this is really going to help.” If you continue following that voice, definitely it will not help. It is very difficult to become free of that voice. You may reason, “Sure, I can do this. I can just sit with this. But what is this going to change in my life? How is this going to take care of a real problem like my broken car?” As you listen to the silence, you may become aware of some active voices within you. The truth is, the moment you begin listening to the silence, you will feel a connection to the space. But we simply have no good sense of how space nourishes us and how open awareness supports us. We have no clue about the nourishing power of awareness itself, and so we identify with the commentary that arises, identifying with the “smart ego” that we feel is so necessary to manage and make sense of our experience.

Some of the most beautiful experiences I have with people are the moments when someone deeply connects to the silence. Within a very short time, tears come, forgiveness emerges, and strength, clarity, joy—amazing qualities—manifest. Where do these qualities come from? They freely and spontaneously emerge from recognizing the open space of being. This recognition gives birth to everything. Perhaps you are wondering why that didn’t happen before. We don’t recognize the space of being because the space was occupied; the space was obscured with your ego. If you have so many thoughts and so many voices, you have lost connection to the silence. If you experience so much agitation and movement, you have no connection to the stillness. How is something going to emerge from that space? The connection to space only comes when you acknowledge and care about the pain, which just means being open to it and hosting your experience. It is as simple as that.

From: Awakening the Luminous Mind: Tibetan Meditation for Inner Peace and Joy. 

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The real problem with Distraction

~Judith Lief

Distractions are everywhere, all the time. Little screens, middling screens, gigantic screens. Instead of Plato’s cave, we each create our own little cave and live in a world of flickering images devoid of real substance. We literally screen off our actual world, with all its ruggedness and rawness, and fit whatever is happening into a virtual world of sound, pictures, and videos we carry in our pockets. We are so easily distracted, we complain to ourselves. But what is really behind all this distractedness? It is easy to think the relentless external stimuli are the problem, but what we are surrounded by are just phenomena, nothing more. The objects of our world are just there, innocently, just being what they are. Noises are just noises, sights are just sights, objects are just objects, smartphones are just smartphones, computers are just computers, thoughts are just thoughts. That is why the Buddhist teachings talk more in terms of wandering mind than distractions. When we think in terms of distractions, we look outward and blame external conditions for our jumpiness. When we think in terms of wandering mind, we look inward for the source of our problem. We take responsibility.

Monkey Mind

The fact is that distractions won’t ever disappear. You may run away to a little cave and stay there all alone, but distractions will follow you wherever you go. You can’t get rid of distrac - tions, but through meditation practice, you can change how you react to them. It is like the story of Odysseus and the Sirens, who enticed seamen off their course and onto the reef to their deaths. To survive, Odysseus had himself tied to the mast and told his crew to seal their ears. Like the sirens, distractions pull us off course. The word “dis - traction” means to be pulled away. When you are distracted, it feels as if something outside of you has captured your attention. Distraction is also referred to as desultoriness, from the Latin root meaning “skipping around.” So another aspect of distraction is to be scatterbrained, mentally jumpy. Buddhism calls this “monkey mind.” In response, like Odysseus, we can bind ourselves to the mast of discipline by means of mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness meditation, also known as calm abiding, helps us develop a more calm and stable mind. It gives us greater focus and concentration and is an effective way of overcoming ordinary distractedness. However, in terms of the spiritual path, this pragmatic application of meditation practice is only a start. It is important to realize that in the buddhadharma, the point of working with your distractedness or wandering mind is not just to be more focused on whatever you are doing. Although that is extremely useful, it is only the first step. Getting a better handle on your mind so you are not tossed about by distractedness is just a palliative measure. Basically, we tend to like spiritual practices that are not too threatening, practices that confirm what we are doing and help us do it better. Instead of looking into our fun - damental being, we prefer to relate to meditation as a self- improvement exercise, like going to the gym and working out. We can then bask in the satisfaction of becoming more mentally and physically fit. This is great, but it does not come close to addressing the depths of what distraction is really about. When distractions come up we can deal with them, but we need to look deeper. What really fuels our distractedness? What is behind this ongoing restlessness? Embarking on the dharmic path requires that we develop the courage to look beyond our distractedness to what lies behind it. It requires us to question what distraction is really about, what we are distracting ourselves from and why. On this path we need to pare away, layer by layer, every level of distraction until we reach a kind of ground zero.

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