A student writes:
Could you offer any help about how to tap into the ‘unhindered’ quality of sensitivity in our current experience? I personally find this a challenge as I don’t notice that I am experiencing things fresh in every moment. It feels like the opposite! My experience feels like it is very hindered and stuck, so I wonder how to get even glimpses of this quality of unhindered-ness?
Lama Shenpen responds:
Well, you have the experience of deciding to focus on the outbreath and letting go into space and maybe you feel stuck so that you have the idea that nothing is happening and so on. Then you find your mind has wandered off somewhere. I am sure you are familiar with all of this.
So how did it happen that your mind wandered off? Was that the same mind as the one that had decided to focus on the breath? Was it a past mind that has now gone? Or is it still here? Has the past lingered on and is now in the present? If it isn’t here now, then how did something new take over from it? Was it already there waiting to come, or did it just sort of appear out of nowhere? Did it push the past thought out or had it already gone? If it just came out of nowhere how long did it stay? If it didn’t stay, where did it go? Or was it never actually there?
Maybe it was fresh and unhindered? It was not there long enough not to be fresh and there was nothing there to hinder the next thought appearing. Instead of just trying to focus on the breath letting go into space – how about learning to enjoy how thoughts are spontaneous and unhindered – amazing in fact!!
It’s difficult to link into sensitivity as unhindered and fresh when we experienced ongoing physical pain or tension. The sensations of the body seem stuck and unchanging rather than free and fresh. It’s not easy to loosen that up. Would your advice be to see what in our experience is changing and more fresh, like coming and going of thoughts, rather than try and find freshness and movement within the stuckness of sensation?
You are right about how difficult it is to loosen up that feeling of being stuck in the sensations of the body. That is because of how we think of our body and how we think of it as somehow something that we are stuck inside as if we were also something. So there are these two things trying to somehow exist and relate to each other – two separate things – one trapped inside the other – and a longing to be free. What frees is Right View and Right View is profound and difficult to realise. However, we can approach in stages and keep spiralling around with ever deepening glimpses.
The feeling of being stuck is due to our habitual view about time and existing through time, but the sensitivity is that sense of being stuck. We don’t lose that inseparable quality of sensitivity and responsiveness that knows it doesn’t have to be like this and wants liberation.
Liberation is unhindered and not stuck – it is free to respond in any way it wishes – so it’s happy. That is what is meant by unhindered – anything can happen without any problem – you can sense what to do – you are not just a passive observer from the outside but you are that very sensitivity and responsiveness of spontaneous activity.
You won’t find that sensitivity by focusing on pain as if it were something in itself. It is inseparable from the open, empty, ungraspable, endless spaciousness of experience – and from the awareness that pervades it – we can never get outside of our awareness – it is just aware and illuminating – it knows and it responds just as our heart responds. In fact our heart is Openness, Clarity and Sensitivity itself and our whole world is an expression of that.
So yes, difficult sensations in the body demonstrate just how stuck we feel when we solidify our experience with a conceptual framework (prapancha) and wrong assumptions about the nature of our selves and the world of our experience.
Those wrong assumptions and ways of thinking block our natural free flowing sensitivity and it is very hard then to let go. However it’s worth noticing that the wish to be unstuck is always there and that is urging us on to Awakening – it is our Buddha Nature.
There is the suffering of feeling stuck and the suffering of longing to be free and the actual sensation that doesn’t even last a moment, but somehow we can’t quite shake off the belief that it is the same sensation as before and it is lasting an unendurably long period of time, which is taking the sensation to be something that it is not and owning it as ours.
We are also somehow the one in the past that is gone who is still suffering from the sensation of the past that is gone. Even though it’s gone, there is only now – the intensity of now – free and unhindered and then there is the thought: ‘I am suffering, and I have been suffering and it’s going to be there in the future and look I believed that in the past and it proved right so I am stuck’. It is actually the thinking that is the suffering – the attachment to the thinking – not the sensation itself – it never lasts long enough to be a problem.
That is how samsara works I’m afraid. We need the help of the whole Mandala of Awakening to keep our spirits up over the long journey, the apparently long journey ahead (or apparently ahead) to Awakening.
Lama Shenpen Hookham
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Sensitivity, along with Openness and Clarity are the three inseparable facets of our True Nature/Buddha Nature. They are initially explored as separate themes in Lama Shenpen’s Living the Awakened Heart Training, to allow us to first familiarise ourselves with these qualities as they appear in our everyday experience.
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