Settled in to meditate yesterday, when the blowfly first announced his presence. Now you need to appreciate, this was no ordinary blowfly. This one took noise amplification to a whole new level, plus he had mastered the art of the stop, the quiet pause and the noisy re-start. You probably know what I mean…
Anyway, the challenge was there. Leave the meditation and move the fly on, or manage him through the meditation? Being a “serious” meditator, there is not much choice really. It would be a shame job to deal with the fly, so the fly stayed and the inner process began. But then, a small miracle – a great insight ensued.
So this week, the insights on dealing with distractions in meditation and life, courtesy of “blowfly meditation”, but first
Thought for the day
“When Buddhahood is attained,
Then how will this awareness become?”
“It is wisdom purified of the mind’s conceptions.”
Then he was asked,
“Does wisdom have mindfulness or not?”
“What are you saying?
Mindfulness is the intellect of sentient beings.
Wisdom is free from intellect.”
In meditation, when faced with a distraction, there are 2 basic choices. One is to turn away from it, the other is to turn towards it. Let us examine what this means…
Turning away from distractions
One does this when one decides the distraction is not to one’s liking. The distraction is either too unpleasant, even possibly in some circumstances too pleasant!, or too scary.
Whatever the aversion to the distraction, this meditative choice is then to move one’s attention from the distraction and place it somewhere else. This commonly involves focussing the attention on one particular thing.
The focal point could be the breath, a mantra, an image; all manner of things. Or it could be one’s own inner silence; it could involve focussing upon what is effectively our own inner refuge, that place of inner comfort and ease that is always there, always available; our own inner peace.
The key point here is turning away from a distraction works well and it is an active intervention; it is a deliberate act and it does take some energy and effort.
So the blowfly is there and in response we either focus our attention on something like our breath or our inner refuge. Effectively, we basically ignore the blowfly and remain undisturbed.
Turning towards distractions
Many of us will be familiar with this concept courtesy of some knowledge and maybe some experience with mindfulness. In the practice of mindfulness we aim to learn how to notice whatever is coming to our attention and not react. No commentary, no sense of like or dislike, we just let things be as they are.
The key point here is turning towards a distraction in this way does work well, and while it is still a deliberate act, it is a more passive intervention than turning away, and it does take less energy and effort.
So with this approach, the blowfly is there, we notice him, we do not react, we accommodate to his presence and remain undisturbed.
The blowfly insight
So here is the thing. Our perspective significantly influences how we do or do not respond to things like blowflies.
To explain, our mind has 2 aspects – the Active Mind with all its thoughts and emotions, and the Still Mind that is beyond all that.
When our perspective comes from the Active Mind, we have a strong sense of this is me – my thoughts, my emotions, my possessions, my experiences – and by contrast, there is you and all that other stuff out there.
Me and the rest of the world.
A duality. And that ego-centric sense of needing to protect me, gather as much pleasure for me as possible, and avoid as much pain as possible.
So the blowfly is separate from me and a threat to my peace of mind.
He needs to be dealt with, albeit in the most skilful way possible – getting rid of him, or turning away from him OR turning towards him; just deal with him!
When our perspective comes from the Still Mind, there is a strong sense of unity – a oneness. There is no fixed sense of me and others; we are all intimately inter-connected. So in essence, there is no threat from something “out there” like a blowfly; there is not even a sense of a “someone” who can be hurt.
Maybe this sounds a bit esoteric, but this is the truth of who we really are. We may seem to be these independent individuals prone to pleasure and pain; that illusion is very strong. But in the heart of meditation, we can experience this other reality, this reality that is actually the truth of who we really are.
So back to the blowfly meditation.
If one perceives the blowfly from the perspective of the Active Mind, then the blowfly is unpleasant, and/or it needs to be defended against.
And understand this, whether we turn our mind away from it or towards it, in essence we reinforce the false sense of our own self that is dualistic, ego-centric and needs protection and craves pleasure.
By contrast, if one perceives the blowfly from the perspective of the Still Mind, then it is neither unpleasant nor does it need to be defended against.
It simply is.
It simply is a part of the experience we are having at that particular time, in that particular place.
But curiously, from the perspective of the Still Mind, whether we turn our mind away from the blowfly or towards it, whether we decide to get up and move the fly on gently, or even decide to drop the meditation and come back later; from the perspective of the Still Mind it will be possible to act without reinforcing the false sense of our own self that is dualistic, ego-centric and needs protection and craves pleasure.
This maybe worth contemplating…
The domain of the Active Mind includes relaxation, mantra practice, mindfulness and pretty well all other forms of mind training. By definition, if we are training the mind, we are training the Active Mind.
So meditation in the classic Tibetan Buddhist tradition of Dzogchen has 4 phases. There is:
1. Shamatha (calm abiding) that aims to settle the mind, bring us stability and help us to remain undistracted.
2. Vipashyana (insight) that aims to develop the wisdom that comes from recognising and knowing who we really are
3. One taste that comes with accomplishing shamatha and vipashyana and leads to a state of equanimity wherein one is able to respond to all things equally
4. Non-meditation which is when the meditation and its attendant wisdom has become so fully integrated into one’s life there is no differentiating between formal periods of meditation and life itself, and as such, there is no need to meditate formally.
The blowfly is a metaphor for whatever distracts you, for whatever irritates you.
Contemplate this and enjoy your next encounter :)
And remember what a joy it is to be alive
and in circumstances where we can ponder such things…