A teaching by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche on how to take the fresh and open mind you’ve experienced into the rest of your life.
One of the effects of meditation is that you become more open-minded, and this gives rise to an interest in working with others. In that way, meditation practice can transform your lifestyle and your relationships with other people. Then, mindfulness practice becomes a reference point in dealing with the rest of the world. So we should look further at how to relate with the experience of everyday life.
Sometimes we talk about the “post-meditation” experience, which refers to our experience after we meditate. We could say that it extends to our experience of our work life and our home life—the boardroom and the kitchen sink—when that experience is influenced by mindfulness.
Beyond that, by applying mindfulness in post-meditation, or mindfulness in action, you begin to transcend or break down the boundary between meditating and not meditating. The benefits of meditation also begin to help you in your daily life. Daily problems and the pain of daily life may often feel almost poisonous. However, meditative awareness can help you to convert that poison into medicine, the medicine of cheerfulness. You begin to develop the ability to transform difficulties into delight, something delightfully workable. This transformation comes from appreciating your life, including its irritations and challenges.
Daily problems and the pain of daily life may often feel almost poisonous. However, meditative awareness can help you to convert that poison into medicine, the medicine of cheerfulness.
However, purely working on the mindfulness-in-action situation alone is also not enough without the formal practice of meditation. This may seem somewhat doctrinaire or arbitrary, but I have found that it’s the case. When the practice of meditation has a footing in your life and becomes a regular practice, a regular discipline, the contrast between sanity and neurosis in daily life becomes clear and precise.
So working with both the formal practice of meditation and the post-meditation practice seems to be the only way to dismantle the fundamental core of ego’s game. One of the main things that I would like to encourage is our confidence that we can actually do this ourselves. We can’t simply rely upon prescriptions. But the one prescription, the one choiceless choice, is the need for the sitting practice of meditation. That is essential, absolutely.
The practice of mindfulness meditation is beginning from the beginning, using body, breath, and mind as the mediums for our practice. These are the only mediums that are available to us in this world, on this planet.
One purpose of meditation is to develop a feeling of stillness and solidity in one’s practice. In order to become more open, one needs to establish the ground from which one will open. From the simplicity of mindfulness we begin to develop clear seeing, and we begin to make a transition to insight meditation. We are attempting to prepare ourselves for a path that is dedicated to working with other people as well as ourselves.
The first step in that direction is to work with our awareness in post-meditation, our everyday awareness or mindfulness in action, as well as in the formal practice of meditation. This term, post-meditation, is used to remind us that meditation is a reference point in everyday life. The sitting practice of meditation is the starting point for developing mindfulness. It establishes a reference point for awareness of yourself as well as a general awareness of your environment and your experience as a whole.
When the practice of meditation has a footing in your life and becomes a regular practice, a regular discipline, the contrast between sanity and neurosis in daily life becomes clear and precise.
From the general pattern of basic awareness in your practice, you step out and expand yourself into everyday life, using the mindfulness you develop in meditation as the starting point for mindfulness throughout life. Meditation is the source or the basic inspiration, and from there, slowly, mindfulness and awareness begin to emerge in your life as a whole.
At some point you may begin to realize that there is very little difference between sitting and not sitting. The idea is that the practitioner of meditation should eventually develop a fuzzy boundary between meditation and post-meditation. In that way, there is continuity, which is the continuity of mindfulness, or the precision of one’s practice, throughout one’s life.
The basic post-meditation practice is to cultivate glimpses of awareness in everyday life. The approach of post-meditation, or mindfulness in action, is not so much trying to re-create the meditative state of awareness in everyday life, but it is reflecting back on the awareness you experience in mindfulness meditation. You might wonder how to reflect back and what you reflect back on. It’s rather vague at the beginning. One has to try it and see what happens.
The recollection of awareness throughout the day is an unconditional experience. By that we mean that it’s a sudden glimpse of something that doesn’t have a description. It’s not a certain, particular experience that you remember, but simply remembering to be aware, so this practice is called the practice of recollection. Awareness does exist, and the memory or the recollection of that awareness acts as a reminder. From that memory a jerk takes place, a very short glimpse, in a microsecond.
When you have that glimpse, you might want to hold on to it or possess it and try to inquisitively investigate it. Holding on is not advisable, because then you might try to create artificial awareness based on reinforcing a watcher or self-consciousness—which is not what we’re trying to encourage. This experience of recollection can’t be captured. We can’t even sustain it. In fact, you should disown it.
Touch and Go
We could use the phrase “touch and go” to describe the cultivation of mindfulness and awareness. Mindfulness in this case is being mindful of the sense of being. The touch part is that you are in contact, you’re touching the experience of being there, actually being there, and then you let go. This approach applies to awareness of your breath in the practice of meditation, and it also applies to awareness in your day-to-day living situation.
In the practice of meditation, touch and go works with how we directly feel our experience. The idea of touch is that you feel a quality of existence; you feel that you are who you are. When you sit down to meditate in a chair or on a cushion, you feel that you are sitting on your seat and that you actually exist. You are there, you are sitting, you are there, you are sitting. That’s the touch part. The go part is that you are there, and then you don’t hang on to it. You don’t sustain your sense of being, but you let go of it.
You’re not trying to document your awareness. You are trying to practice it.
So, first there is recollection; then you disown this glimpse; and then you just continue whatever you are doing—cooking or brushing your teeth or driving your car. You don’t have to be startled or unsettled by the glimpse.
Sometimes there is some slight recollection that is hardly noticeable. Some awareness happens, but you may think it is just your imagination. You think that probably nothing is happening at all. It doesn’t really matter whether something is happening or not. You’re not trying to document your awareness. You are trying to practice it.
The practice of recollection may seem like an insignificant thing to do. You might wonder what it does for you. In our lives, the chain reaction of our mental processes and the network of our habitual reactions often create a whirlpool of confusion. We are not just subject to or living in this whirlpool at this moment; we are also manufacturing confusion for the future. We keep generating a chain reaction of confusion because we think that it provides us with security for the next minute, the next month, the next year. We want to make sure that there is something to hang on to.
Generally people enjoy living in the world of confusion because it is much more entertaining.
It’s quite amazing that we manage to manufacture our own future confusion using our present experiences of hanging on to neurosis. With our present actions and attitudes we create the seeds that blossom in the future. The present situation is inescapable. You are somewhat settled or habituated to it, so you don’t want to do something different in the future. You don’t want to have to change gears.
Generally people enjoy living in the world of confusion because it is much more entertaining. Even suffering itself is entertaining in a strange way. Therefore, we create further neurotic security over and over again on that ground. Although we may complain and we suffer, we also feel quite satisfied with our lives. We’ve chosen our own self-existence.
The Practice of Recollection
The practice of recollecting awareness throughout the day is the main way that we can prevent ourselves from sowing these further seeds of habitual cause and effect. In the present moment we can disrupt these chain reactions. The memory or recollection of awareness creates a gap, because awareness cuts through the continuity of our struggle to survive. The practice of recollecting our awareness shortens the life of that fixation. That seems to be one of the basic but powerful points of meditation practice.
You can’t fail at practicing meditation. You would have to give up your mind, and you can’t do that.
With meditation we don’t reject the present situation. Beyond that, application of awareness is the way to sabotage confusion’s hold on the future. Awareness is a simple matter. It just happens. You don’t have to analyze it, justify it, or try to understand it. In the midst of enormous chaos, recollection is a simple action. There may be problems, but you can simplify the situation rather than focusing on the problems. Natural gaps in our experience are there all the time.
Our post-meditation experiences will be clouded with all kinds of ups and downs. Sometimes there is a sense of enormous excitement. You feel that you are actually making some progress, whatever that is! Sometimes you feel that you are regressing and that everything is going wrong. And then there are neutral periods where nothing happens and things are somewhat flat. Those signs of progress or regression are just temporary meditative experiences, which occur both in the practice of meditation and in our daily awareness practice.
Sometimes people worry that their practice is actually regressing, but that never happens. Sometimes, if you push yourself too hard, your ambition will begin to slow down the speed of your journey. But as long as meditation is not conjuring up something imaginary, there aren’t any problems with regression. You can’t fail at practicing meditation. You would have to give up your mind, and you can’t do that. Meditation practice is a haunting experience. Once you begin, you can’t give up. The more you try to give up, the more spontaneous openness comes to you. It’s a very powerful thing.
Often, having practiced mindfulness for a while, people describe temporary meditative experiences of pleasure or joy, emptiness, and clarity, which is sometimes called luminosity. It’s as though light is finally being cast on your life. These three experiences—emptiness, clarity, and joy—are not regarded as extraordinary signs of progress. They are simply experiences or phases in your practice. When these experiences arise, you just go on practicing and cultivating the continual practice of awareness. What you work on is checking your basic awareness, cultivating that jerk of awareness.
By applying mindfulness in post-meditation, or mindfulness in action, you begin to transcend or break down the boundary between meditating and not meditating.
You don’t have to have complete comprehension of what awareness is all about in order to experience a glimpse of awareness. It may feel like a very primitive glimpse, but that’s why it’s workable in some sense. In fact, recollection is almost a memory of bewilderment, which brings a jerk of awareness and puts you back to square one each time it happens. You don’t work on awareness like collecting a paycheck and putting the money in the bank. Rather, you have the awareness, and then you disown it.
If one is open to these glimpses and to the possibility that they might recur, they come much more frequently. The effort of the discipline here is not so much direct or deliberate effort but rather that you are accommodating possibilities of recollection. This effort doesn’t save you from the chaos of a given day. It is a much more long-term approach.
The recollection of awareness throughout our lives is the preparation for beginning to help others. Initially we are purely working on ourselves in order to develop mindfulness and awareness. When you have developed some stability within yourself, there are possibilities of working with other people and dealing with many situations. Our ability to help other people is largely based on our ability to sabotage the self-centered background of our own lives, through the development of mindfulness and awareness. When our orientation is less self-centered, wisdom and skillful means, or skillful action, will begin to appear.
You might think that terms such as wisdom or skillful means sound either very advanced or quite abstract, but they are completely present, immediate possibilities, not something that might happen to you one day in the future. Wisdom and skillful action are possible even at this point. It’s not truth as a myth of the future, but the truth of the living situation.
From Mindfulness in Action: Making Friends with Yourself through Meditation and Everyday Awareness, by Chögyam Trungpa. Compiled and edited by Carolyn Rose Gimian. Available from Shambhala Publications in April. This article was originally published as “Meditation in Action” in the March 2015 issue of Shambhala Sun (the former name of Lion’s Roar).