January 2019 meeting

This time we listened to part of the audio version of Pema Chodrön's self-guided retreat - 'Noble Heart'. The theme was Bodhicitta -  enlightenment through compassion.We listened to session 2 - comprising 4 short guided practices on cultivating 'unlimited friendliness'.

The first practice was 'mindfulness awareness', beginning with an instruction on posture (relaxed and upright) and a focus on relaxing with the out-breath. The instruction was no struggle, being with the breath, coming back over and over again. As thoughts arise, acknowledging these in a non-judgemental way, saying 'thinking' to oneself and coming back to the breath, relaxing with the out-breath. If thoughts and emotions become solid, taking the attitude these are clouds in a vast sky which can just dissolve back. This is a practice of relaxing the body and the mind, simply being present with the immediacy of one's experience.The idea of 'touch and go' means lightly to touch the breath or thoughts - and let them go. It's about seeing the transparency of thoughts. And simply returning to the out-breath.

Pema Chodrön describes mindfulness awareness practice as the 'ground' for causing the seed of compassion within us to grow. Rather than our habitual way of being frozen by our habitual thoughts, emotions, habits, she talks of the 'evolution of consciousness' whereby the human species learns to develop a much more fluid way of being and thinking, connecting with our true nature. Unlimited friendliness is about softening, lightening up, opening the mind and heart. Its about getting to know how we limit ourselves through our patterns - with compassion - to taming and train the mind. So this practice she calls the means by which we can begin to have an experience of the spaciousness of our minds. Let it evolve.

The second practice involved special emphasis on gentleness - for example, lightening up from harshness, using humour. The mind relaxes outward with the breath. When labelling thinking, if the tone of voice is harsh, then the tone can be softened and lightened; if there's struggle, relax. Bringing a sense of gentleness with the out-breath - because the breath is always moving, changing, then dissolving. The idea is cultivating unlimited friendliness to whatever arises. Maitri - unlimited friendliness - is described by Pema Chodrön as creating an atmosphere conducive to growth - the capacity to love and care for each other will grow. Without warmth and basic friendliness things tend to dry up and shrivel.

The third practice emphasised the quality of discipline because the practice is a technique whereby growth can occur, bringing out the clarity of our minds. So as well as gentleness, discipline is necessary so we do out best, so that drowsiness, restlessness, wild mind, as well as calm mind, can be opened to and seen clearly with unlimited friendliness and precision of mind. We have an object of meditation, the out-breath, but we always come back. 'Just come back' is the main instruction. 'Be faithful to the technique' says Pema Chodrön and 'as best as you can is good enough'. Part of the training is finding the balance between not too tight and not too loose, without judgement.

The last practice stressed the non-grasping, open mind that finds its ability to let go and discover its true nature. Relaxing our mind outward with the out-breath. When thoughts arise, acknowledging them, touching them, and letting them go. Relaxing the grip on thoughts and emotions, and letting them go. Pema Chodrön says this can seem impossible but to remember we are just training our minds, our whole being, to let go and connect with what is limitless within us. 'Just relax with the out-breath ... relax your obsession with the thoughts'.

So there is gentle mind, disciplined mind, non-grasping mind - qualities of our being and of bodhicitta.

We closed here.