During the spring I attended a course with Loch Kelly on what he calls “awake awareness.” I met Loch during a retreat last year with Mingyur Rinpoche, when he mentioned the course to me. In truth, I wasn’t terrifically open at the time.
Loch’s background is in the Mahamudra and Dzogchen teachings, largely, though he speaks with more of an Advaita/Vedanta vernacular, and he’s been authorized to teach by both Mingyur and Adyashanti. What Loch offers is akin to pointing-out instructions, but without any required preliminary training. As someone who has done those trainings in relatively traditional Theravadan settings, it’s a big shift to practice in a satsang-style environment. But the conditions arose such that I was curious and open, and so I signed up.
At first glance, one of the most jarring differences in practice style is the (seeming) emphasis of speech over silence. After my first 6-hour class with Loch, I immediately went to a session with Adyashanti for another 2.5 hours, and by the end I felt like my head was going to explode. It was difficult for me to sustain that level of, I don’t even know how to describe it…perhaps that level of active and engaged inquiry. After the last class, it all felt a bit more natural and this body-mind wasn’t suffering from over-stimulation as much. I would suppose it was, on the one hand, a matter of becoming accustomed to a different practice style and on the other, a putting into effect the tools that Loch was sharing with us. Because practice in the Buddhist tradition so often is done in silence, I found it both challenging and rewarding to explore this “residing in being”–a term I welcome as meditating, in the sense of the word I tend to use, which is not dependent on particular conditions, a daily life practice–in the midst of so much talking, even from a place of talking.
As a related aside, I’d like to consider how we respond to the unfamiliar in our spiritual practice. So often if it’s a different form or language, we may be dismissive, or worse. Undoubtedly, when resistance arises, it’s a clear sign that there’s something worth exploring there. Whatever it is that’s causing the resistance may or may not offer content that is instructive in and of itself–that’s not the point, but if we can stay with the resistance we will probably learn something important. I remember when I was first introduced to Adyashanti, I wasn’t really up on the nondual Advaita scene, and I was in a meditation center in Burma when this other American yogi shows up with a bunch of Adya talks and videos. A few of the English-speaking yogis had been coordinating taped Dhamma talks every few days, since we only met with the teacher once a week or so. Until that time, we’d mostly listened to teachers from the Insight Meditation Society, the Vipassana Teacher’s Council, people who had perhaps studied with Sayadaw U Tejaniya, whom I somehow thought were automatically teaching something compatible. (Not necessarily so, of course!) So when the Adya tapes started showing up, and then didn’t go away, I was a little resentful. And I had a physical reaction to this man–specifically, “What a glossy, money-hungry, disgrace to Buddhism!” At the same time, I was thinking, “There’s definitely a lot of wisdom here, I mean, I like what he’s saying I just wish his voice were different and he didn’t look like that and there weren’t all those sheep in the auditorium cooing and cawing over him.” I’ve always been leery of cult of personality. Big surprise. So this Adya aversion took a long time to wear off, but it did. And I did my best to work with it in the meantime.
Given my proclivity for choiceless awareness, I generally don’t respond well to guided meditations either. But when I attended an event with Reggie Ray in the fall, I was surprised how much I appreciated his emphasis on somatic experience and the energy body. I found it very grounding and complementary to a formless practice approach. Similarly, by the time I made my way to Loch’s class, I was quite open to the exercises that he presented us. An example was his interpretation of Ramana Maharshi’s “cave of the heart” meditation–where he led us into that space and suggested that the effect of being there would be akin to deep sleep. When someone says, this is what your experience is going to be like–unless I suspend disbelief I will just go into total shutdown mode. And the reality is, the body was reacting, and contracting, as a result of ideas I have about what meditation is and a disbelief that anyone can know what my experience would be like. So while other people emerged from this exercise (which was one of our longer periods of “silence”–close to 10 minutes, though punctuated with Loch’s voice), with adjectives like “blissful” and “peaceful”, I felt on the contrary, contraction–closing. But at the same time, I felt a softening and a deep healing. And what was incredible was that during the exercise, I was truly able to focus on the heart center, to localize awareness. This is something that I really resist–this kind of concentration (especially if someone is telling me to), because it seems unnatural. I found Loch’s course to be really helpful in demonstrating just how much I actually use focusing techniques, although generally in a rather loose way, to ground my practice.
As a final exercise for each of our classes, we did partner inquiry. What this entailed was pairing up with another student and asking a series of koan-like questions (e.g., “Where is the hearer?” or “Tell me about that which is aware?”), and we then repeated the questions three or four times to each other, resulting in a different answer almost every time. Our objective was to speak from a place of pre-conceptual wakefulness. No easy thing to do. I’ve often thought language was virtually 100% dependent on thought. But it’s definitely possible to speak from this place of no-thought. As you engage in the exercise, you can observe the mind searching for familiar avenues of problem-solving at the same time as you can observe, feel, and be that which isn’t seeking at all. And that is where an answer emerges from. From both places really. There are of course no right or wrong answers and most were provided with one word alone. Clearly, the questions we asked by their very nature helped cultivate this state of mind, whereas everyday conversation might be a bit more challenging. Like the talking meditation that we engaged in at Shwe Oo Min (and perhaps our writing online) or Gregory Kramer’s insight dialogue, partner inquiry provides supportive conditions to explore interpersonal communication as a form of spiritual practice. It is an extremely valuable teaching and one for which I depend wholeheartedly on Dhamma friends. So thank you!
What I learn through these exercises is that the silence of non-resistance, of open-hearted interest, awakeness–whether it’s in the midst of activity or not–is unchanging and always accessible. Clearly, there are many ways for us to cultivate a mind and heart that operates from awareness and wisdom (as my teacher Sayadaw U Tejaniya would say–I propose not different from awake awareness).
With gratitude and wonder, I honor all the teachers that have come into my life so effortlessly.
Incidentally, Adya has since become a favorite…