Yūgen, Profound Grace


Yūgen, Profound Grace

This term was first found in Chinese texts (as much of Japanese philosophy tends to be) and was later evolved into a more solid concept in Japanese aesthetics (the nature of art, beauty and taste; sometimes the study of sensory and/or emotional values). Yūgen originally meant “dim,” “deep,” “dark” or “mysterious.”

A famous poet, Kamo no Chōmei (1212), wrote about yūgen in this way: “It is like an autumn evening under a colourless expanse of silent sky. Somehow, as if for some reason that we should be able to recall, tears well uncontrollably.”
Another description is by Hume: “When looking at autumn mountains through mist, the view may be indistinct yet have great depth. Although few autumn leaves may be visible through the mist, the view is alluring. The limitless vista created in imagination far surpasses anything one can see more clearly.”

It can also be described as “an awareness of the universe that triggers emotional responses too deep and powerful for words.”

This concept has been used in various types of poetry over the years including waka poetry and it’s own form known simply as yūgen. It has been used in Noh theatre (traditional Japanese theatre) and dramatic theory (Kadensho). To attain yūgen, or profound grace, in the arts takes many years of dedicated practice. It is a sort of highly refined culture or way of being or relating in and to the world. When acquired, one has a sense of “higher naturalness,” with a sense of something even perhaps supernatural.

However, as abstract as speaking of things beyond semantics may be, yūgen does not refer to another world or plane of existence, but rather it is about experience in this world, namely the mysterious beauty of the universe and the juxtaposed sad beauty of human suffering.
I’d like to break down these two concepts. In art we are exploring yūgen through the abstract methods of music, painting, poetry, drama, etc. We are always hinting at something which cannot be named, expressing feelings and sensations, thoughts, wonder, even awe. But beyond all that is a sense of lack of fulfillment. It is argued that we require art to fulfill some sort of longing or absence which cannot be filled with non-abstract things. We all know there are deeper meaning to things than may first appear. We’ve all heard the saying “do not judge a book by its cover.” The way things appear may not be the way things truly are.
In juxtaposition of this, we have this concept of the sad beauty of human suffering.

This relates to the Buddhist idea of samsara, or cycle of birth, life, and death. In this philosophy, suffering is not a necessary human condition, but one which is meant to be transcended. The Buddhist doctrine of experience as an expression of dharma was an emerging idea in Japan when the concept of yūgen was being developed. This holds to the idea that all phenomenal worldly experiences are fundamentally expressions of Buddhist law, which inherently implies that all experiences can be a means to enlightenment (ceasing of suffering) which ends the cycle of samsara through specific realization or awakening to truth.

There are two schools of Buddhism which emerged in this time. The first was Tendai, a school of Mahayana Buddhism, which claims that each and every sense phenomenon, when realized to be ‘just as it is’ is a means to enlightenment which is intrinsic in all things. The second is the school of Shingon, a school of Vajrayana Buddhism, which believes that through the help of a genuine teacher and through training the Three Mysteries (body, speech, and mind) we can recognize the Buddha-nature, or enlightenment, which is already existent within each one of us, for the benefit of ourselves as well as others.

These both come back to the idea of yūgen as they work with both the inner worlds and outer worlds of deeper meaning or purpose. If you’ve ever experienced a tea ceremony or geisha dance, you have perhaps experienced a bit of yūgen in expression. Yūgen is both the subtle and the profound. It values the power to evoke rather than the ability to state directly, and perhaps expresses that which cannot be stated or experienced directly.

“Cannot the beauty of Grace be compared to the image of a swan holding a flower in its bill, I wonder?”

It is through these poetic experiences, the philosophers argue, which we tap into something perhaps greater than ourselves. It evokes a sense of humility and humbleness. A sense of unity, maybe. It can manifest in grace within us and also the inherent grace of nature. Beauty in itself is controversial and relative, but perhaps yūgen is more closely related to an essence.

Were they on to something? What do you think? I open the floor.

Buddhism on “Do Humans Exist”?


Buddhism on “Do Humans Exist”?

True emptiness is that which transcends all things
and yet is imminent in all.

Thomas Merton

One of the most controversial ideas in Buddhism is the idea of emptiness. This is the idea that everything is empty of inherent essence. Meaning, there is nothing that is part of who I am that is different than the things that are part of you. There is nothing constant that defines us as individuals. This leads to the next idea, that everything is impermanent and forever changing. This is proven by modern science with things like particle decay and our bodies replacing themselves completely every seven years or so (no cell in our body is the same as seven years ago). So, having an essence would apply to something like the Western idea of soul or spirit, the “us” that inhabits our bodies. The Buddhists believe that there is no such thing.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu over on Tricycle Online, summed it up nicely as far as experience goes: “Emptiness is a mode of perception, a way of looking at experience. It adds nothing to, and takes nothing away from, the raw data of physical and mental events. You look at events in the mind and the senses with no thought of whether there’s anything lying behind them.”

The idea of emptiness necessitates the idea of interdependence, meaning nothing can exist on it’s own. That everything and everyone depends upon everyone else for it’s existence.

How is it, then, that we are reborn? If there is no part of us that carries on after we die, what is reincarnating?

This very idea has birthed many schools of Buddhism over the years, none of which have a perfect answer that can be agreed upon by everyone else. BUT, I will try to break this down for you. Karma is a creative force which has been around since the beginning of all things. It is the cause and effect principle, where every effect had a cause, and every cause had an effect. This also relates to he idea of interdependence.

Now, Shakyamuni Buddha, the Buddha we all know and love, never tried to answer metaphysical questions such as “what was the original cause?” So, we won’t get in to that as we are strictly looking into the present and future. As individuals, we generate karma, and have for many past lives. Every single moment has the potential for everything. We make a decision in every single moment of our lives. Since we know that every cause has an effect, we can understand how many effects have to play out from even just the time we’ve spent reading this! Because it would be impossible for all these effects to play out in one life time they continue to happen for many lifetimes to come. So, the aim of some buddhists is to create as few effects as possible so they don’t have to be reborn. (As being reborn is a continuation of samsara, or cycles of suffering, as all life brings with it suffering…a different topic all together.)

In a perhaps more logical sense, then, it isn’t a soul that is acquiring a new body, but rather a process of causes and effects that are continuing to cycle through all of time on a particular wave length. So, if all we are is a cycle of cause and effect, and there is no essence within us, do we really exist? For that matter, does anything really exist?

I open the floor.

Welcome back from Summer & A Short History of Japanese Philosophy


Well, it has been a beautifully long and busy summer, and in all of it I seem to have neglected posting my discussion notes. So, over the next few days you will get a few updates! This first post was not used for intro notes, but rather a guideline to some of the topics we’re discussing at the 5pmSLT Sunday meetings on Sengoku.


 

Japanese Philosophy

In the West we typically approach philosophy from finding the space between a set of opposites – for instance mind and matter, or self and other. In the Japanese traditions, rather, they try to find where these philosophies overlap, essentially negating that anything is separate from anything else, but rather everything is a process of apparent opposites.

Before 7th Century CE – Yamato Period
⁃ Shintoism, a native form of animism that addressed an essence within each of us and in every living thing known as “kami,” which governed the world.
⁃ respect for animals, weather, nature, and ancestors.

7th-9th Centuries CE – Asuka and Nara Periods
⁃ Confucianism and Buddhism imported from Korea and China.
⁃ “Confusianism addressed the “social self,” influencing government structure and patterns of formal behaviour.” (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/301242/Japanese-philosophy)
⁃ Buddhism focused on the workings of the inner self. The most common ideas in Buddhism are impermanence, emptiness, dependent co-origination, and the impermanence of the self.
⁃ Shotoku Taishi, the then crown prince, declared in the “Seventeen Article Constitution” (604 CE) that the goal of “philosophy as well as government was harmony, rather than competition or separation, between the traditions.” (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/301242/Japanese-philosophy)
⁃ Buddhism and Confusianism came together to allow the people to view the universe as a constantly fluctuating process, and acquire an understanding of the self as “interdependent with the social and natural worlds.” (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/301242/Japanese-philosophy)

9th-12th Centuries CE – Heian Period
⁃ Kūkai (774-835) and Saichō (767-822) were two primary thinkers of this period. They influenced the Shingon and Tendai Buddhist schools. The main ideas they brought about were of every phenomenon as an expression of the cosmos (macro mirrored in micro) and that enlightenment, a goal of Buddhist practitioners, was not able to be attained as a concept but “was an act of the full complex of mind, body, and spirit as transformed through ritual practice.” (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/301242/Japanese-philosophy)
⁃ It was in this period that the miyabi (elegance) and (okashi) charming aesthetic themes emerged.
⁃ The philosophical ideas of impermanence (mujō) and deep ontological being or mystery (yōgen), poignancy (mono no aware) and sensitivity (ushin) were further developed.

12th-16th Centuries CE – Kamakura Period
⁃ Samurai class takes over the court life seen in the classical period, turning people to search for a religious philosophy which would lead to peaceful everyday life rather than big-picture answers. Buddhist schools such as Pure Land, Zen, and Nichiren were established.
⁃ Thinkers of this time were Hōnen (1133-1212), Shinran (1173-1263), Dōgen (1200–53), and Nichiren (1222–82).
⁃ Hōnen and Shinran each founded a school of Pure Land Buddhism which focuses on faith in Amida Buddha, “the buddha of light who promises rebirth in the Pure Land to the faithful.” (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/301242/Japanese-philosophy) They critiqued the idea of self as an isolated ego.
⁃ Dōgen was a main figure in Zen Buddhism, known for his ideas of the self and consciousness, with a focus on zazen, a particular form of seated meditation. Zazen was developed not as a means to enlightenment but as a form of discipline as an end in itself.
⁃ Nichiren focused on the Lotus Sutra and its ideal of the bodhisattva.
⁃ The native Shintō ideas and practices were absorbed into the Buddhist traditions during this period.

17th-19th Centuries CE – Edo and Tokugawa Periods
⁃ Confucian ideas reemerged to encourage peace and stability, unifying the state to political centrality.
⁃ Bushidō, the Code of the Warrior, emerged. This code expressed ideals of loyalty, stoic self-control, and personal virtue. These are in line with, respectively, “Confucian propriety, Buddhist self-discipline, and Shintō purity of heart.” (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/301242/Japanese-philosophy)
⁃ There are two main groups of Confucian thinkers:
⁃ First are those who emerged from the neo-Confucian philosophies of Zhu Xi (Shushi; 1130-1200), Wang Yangming (Ōyōmei; 1472-1529), Hayashi Razan (1583-1657) and Nakae Tōju (1608-48). This group had some members who thought that the neo-Confucian philosophy was too abstract when detailing ri (metaphysical principle) was the structuring force of the universe – they emphasized that qi (vital force) was the main structuring force of the universe.
⁃ The next group was the school focused on the “traditional” ideas of Confucianism as presented by Confucius, which emphasized a less metaphysical view and was more concerned with the functioning of everyday lives than answering the greater picture. This school is known as the kogaku school.
⁃ During this period, a school of thought known as kokugaku emerged which held the idea of returning to the original “ancient ways” of Shintōism. They wanted to renew the ideas of mono no aware – a sensitivity to or sympathy for the things that constitute the world.

19th-Current Centuries CE – Taisho and Heisei Periods
⁃ A new word was coined during this period that was meant to be a direct translation of the English term “philosophy” – testugaku, comprised of wisdom (tetsu) and learning (gaku).
⁃ Here is when the Western constructs started to influence Japanese philosophers. The first major Japanese philosopher to use the Western style of philosophy was Nishida Kitarō (1870-1945) in his “An Inquiry into the Good” (1911). He introduced a philosophy he called “Nothingness” (mu), which fuzed the ideas of Zen and William James to come to an idea of “pure experience” based on experiential and logical experiences of judgement and action. His ideas inspired the Kyōto school of philosophy which explored the differences and similarities of Western and Eastern philosophical and religious traditions.
⁃ Nishitani Keiji (1900-1990) explored the idea of Nothingness and brought the ideas of Martin Heidegger (who he studied under), which was already arguably similar to Japanese ideas of being and existence.
⁃ Watsuji Tetsurō (1889-1960) disagreed with the ideas of Western individualism as well as Confucian collectivism, and instead posited an ethical idea of “betweenness,” as if each individual exists on a sliding scale of “individual freedom and socially imposed norms.” (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/301242/Japanese-philosophy).
⁃ Tanabe Hajime (1885-1962) also found a sliding scale between the universal and particular ideas, feeling that the schools of either ignore the fact of specific species. For instance, the respective schools would emphasize a person’s universal human nature or atomistic individuality. What Tanabe introduced was the idea of a person as an ethnic, national and cultural being, having an individual role as well as a universal role.
⁃ Some modern philosophers that have stuck to the traditional philosophies are Tamaki Kōshirō (1915-1999) and Nakamura Hajime (1911-1999) who follow a Buddhist tradition. Some others, such as Yuasa Yasuo (1925-2005) and Ueda Shizuteru (1926-current) focus on integrating ideas to establish a universal or global perspective rather than monocultural.

Food and Culture in Japan


Japanese Food Culture and Festivals

Second Life

Quotes taken from: http://www.savoryjapan.com/learn/culture/festivals/

What is your favorite kind of Japanese food?

Food in Japan is greatly affected by location – Japan is surrounded by the ocean, so a very common food is fish. Rice is a staple food, grown locally in huge rice fields. Though rice is the stable food, many kinds of noodles, such as udon, soba, and ramen, are also common.

On an interesting note, it was only in 2013 that UNESCO declared the traditional food cultures of Japan, known as washoku, as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. In other words, they only recognized it as something deserving to be preserved in order to keep the culture alive last year.

But, something that I didn’t know, was when Buddhism came to Japan in the 6th century, it became taboo to eat all flesh of animals and/or fowl. Because of this, the vegetarian style of cooking known as shojin ryori introduced soy sauce (shoyu), miso, tofu, and other products made from soybeans to replace the animal products. Also coming from the zen buddhist tradition is the well-known simple and elegant display of the food that we still see today and I’ll describe a bit below.

TEA CEREMONY

The sado, or tea ceremony, is highly ritualized and greatly influenced by Zen buddhism. The type of tea is a green tea known as matcha, which is powdered tea leaves. I won’t go in to all the details, even I don’t know them, but be sure that each movement is highly learned if it is done properly.

CHAKAISEKI RYORI

This is one of three basic styles of Japanese cooking, which we will cover all three today. This one in particular is served during a tea ceremony. The foods served are fresh, seasonal, and usually local, and are prepared without decoration. The meal is then followed by the tea ceremony.

HONZEN RYORI

In this style of Japanese cooking the food is served carefully arranged on legged trays, as it would have been to the nobility during the Heian period (794-1185) when this style emerged.

The menu usually consists of a soup with three types of side dishes such as sashimi (raw seafood), yakimono (broiled fowl or fish), and nimono (simmered veggies or meats). This is the minimum serving, sometimes they can be as large as three soups and eleven side dishes. It is important to ensure that foods of similar tastes are not served together.

It is particularly important when attending a meal of this style to follow proper etiquette, most importantly eating a bit of rice before passing from one dish to another.

KAISEKI RYORI

Kaiseki ryori is regarded as Japan’s most exquisite culinary refinement. This is a multi-course dinner consisting mainly of vegetables and fish with a seasoning base of seaweed and mushrooms, the dishes are characterized by their refined flavour.

There are two kinds of kaiseki ryori’s. The first is a set menu served on an individual tray. The other is the meal served before a ceremonial tea, known as cha-kaiseki.

The courses served in this style consist of the following:

Appetizers: sweet alcohol or local alcohol and bite-sized appetizers.

Main courses: soup, sashimi (raw fish), nimono (boiled vegetables, meat, or seafood in a mix of soy sauce, sweet cooking sake, and sugar), yakimono (grilled fish or meat), agemono (tempura – deep fried seafood and vegetables), mushimono (which is exactly what it sounds like…lol…a steamed dish. The most popular is chawanmushi, a savory egg custard flavored with fish stock with mushrooms, chicken, ginko nuts and seafood), and sunomono (vegetables and seafood in a vinegar based sauce).

The next set is called Shokuji, which we don’t typically do in western cultures, but it consists of rice, miso soup and pickles (tsukemono).

Dessert: can be anything sweet but is typically made up of local or seasonal fresh fruit or sorbet.

HOLIDAYS

Ochogatsu, or New Years, isn’t the best time to visit Japan since all the shops and restaurants are closed between Dec 28 and Jan 3. The time is spent in temples and shrines and with family. The chopsticks used during this time are pointed on both sides so the gods can partake in the feast of osechi-ryori. This is a dish of predominately vegetables with grilled fish, served in special boxes called jubako which resemble bento boxes. Many dishes can be served, so I’ll only name a few. They all have special meaning with regards to the New Year. Daidai, “from generation to generation,” is a bitter orange which symbolizes the wish for children in the New Year. Kamaboko is a broiled fish cake arranged in rows or patterns which resemble the Japanese rising sun. Konbu is a type of seaweed which is associated with the word yorokobu, meaning “joy,” and is used for wishing for joy in the new year. Ebi is skewered prawns cooked with sake and soy sauce and it symbolizes a wish for a long-life, symbolizing a long beard and bent waist.

Hina Matsuri, or Girl’s Day, is celebrated on the third of March. The most stunning thing about it is the heirloom dolls that are display, and promptly taken down on the fourth since they are thought to delay the girls’ marriage if they are left on display too long. These dolls the caretakers of the girls’ health and happiness, warding off bad luck and bringing in good fortune. This is probably my favourite festival food wise, because they get mochi! Hishimochi are lovely, diamond-shaped mochi (rice cakes) with pink, white and green layers. Pink represents plum blossoms, in season in late February and early March. White represents the snow of the waning winter, while green represents the new, fresh growth of early spring. They also get sake, or rice wine. Shiro-zake is the first variety of sake of the year, available in early spring. White, unfiltered and sweet, it came to be associated with girls, (and thus, the festival) even though women did not necessarily drink sake in the old days. The pure-white color of the sake also compliments the pink of the plum blossoms. Red (or pink) and white also signify happiness and good fortune, and are often displayed during festivals. The next treat they get to indulge in is hina arare. Hina arare are small, blossom or snowflake-like pink, white and green balls of crunchy puffed rice, sometimes sweetened with sugar. In the old days, arare were made of leftover mochi from the Oshogatsu (New Year’s) festival celebration, and therefore, were often enjoyed during girl’s day. This thrifty and creative use of materials also came to symbolize the desirable qualities of a good wife.

The Sakura festival is the world-renowned cherry blossom festival between the end of March and early April (depending on when they blossom). I was going to try to explain this phenomenon myself, but I found this quote and it’s just perfect, ” I had thought it was sentimental hype until I found myself in Kyoto one year during the height of cherry blossom season. The city was awash in pink; enveloping me and everyone around me with their delicate fragrance; the petals falling, fluttering like gentle rain on the sidewalks and onto the hair of young women in their sakura-patterned kimonos. Since then, I haven’t missed a single season.” The season is a time of change, a gentle reminder that the harsh winter is over. It reminds us of the fleeting nature of reality, a prominent Buddhist belief. Hanami bento is a homemade dish that most people take to the viewing of the blossoms and accompanying parties. These boxes include seasonal grilled fish and spring vegetables, rice with vegetables cut into the delicate shape of sakura petals, green yomogimochi (spring herb dumplings) and kamaboko (fish cakes) with pink designs.

A poem about the Sakura flowers:

“The Sakura Flower

I watch the lovers walk hand in hand, and feel sad that I will not live long enough to do the same.

The sadness pulls me down, I sway, I lean, I can feel the wind pulling on me.

Eventually it succeeds and I drift slowly towards the ground.

I fear the landing, the eventual end that I know will come.

I remember all the beautiful people I saw in my lifetime;
All the lovers, all the friends, and I regret that I will not see them again.

But, rejoice!, next year, I will have been born again, and will watch, perched from my high branches, learning the ways of love.”

I found this lovely story for you, for our journey to the next festival…

“You’re in a roji (“dewy path”, a small Japanese tea garden) on your way to your friend’s tea house. As you mindfully step on granite stones freshly splashed with water for your arrival, you notice that the stone lanterns, lit for the evening, are shining a little more brightly than usual. You peer inside of one of them, and notice an extra candle.

However, as you round a bamboo fence, the tiny and simple thatched roof teahouse comes into view, and you notice that the windows are dark, and find this a just a little odd. The tea house roof is so low that you have to lower your head as you enter the genkan. Despite your quiet arrival, your host welcomes you, opening the small shoji door for you to enter the four mat tearoom. In the dim natural light, you see the tokonoma, where a scroll painting of a moon, barley visible against the palest grey sky, and a bold arrangement of pampas grass and autumn flowers are displayed. It’s grown chilly in recent days, so you’re happy when your host invites you to sit close to the coals as he prepares the kettle for tea.

The light begins to grow brighter to the east, and you look out of the open shoji doors to see the moon, barely visible at first, rising past the trees in the distance. The sky is cloudless and the air, clear, rendering the outline of the moon in crisp detail. As the moon appears, impossibly huge and dazzling orange, you take a deep breath and your heart fills with joy. As the moon scatters golden reflections on the garden pond below, you watch, speechless, as it rises, past the sweeping branches of the pines.”

Can you guess what festival this is representing?

It’s o-tsukimi, the harvest moon festival! This usually falls in the middle of October, on the full moon.

“Autumn flowers and susuki (pampas grass, which is at its tallest and most beautiful at this time), are displayed, and kabocha (pumpkin), chestnuts, satoimo (taro potato) and tsukimi dango (small white rice dumplings, piled high on a tray), are offered to the moon in the family alter. The dumplings were traditionally thought to bring happiness and good health, and the offering is not only for the moon’s beauty, but an expression of gratitude for the autumn harvest.”

It is tradition to write poems to the moon. Shall we give it a try?

This past year I wrote one while bathing on a river under the local harvest moon:

Harvest Moon

By way of night creation is born,
Spontaneously, energy emerges
Riding the back of a turtle.

Like a monk on a mountaintop
He leaves the shattered cage
Emerging into silence.

Birds stir into flight,
the miraged man
Bathing them in orange light

Giants grasp at him,
Longing for a taste of his grace.
Smiling, he eludes them.

All the creatures yearn,
They ask, “how can energy
Be so still?”

That is all for today! Phew! Any comments or questions?

Awareness Intensive Week 3 Breath


Today we are going to observe our breath. We’ve worked on embodiment, a felt sense of “I”, and now it is time to just observe the breath.

We will do a lot of “just sitting” today. Just sitting means being alert, alive, responsive, creative, and quiet.

The last few classes I gave some directing questions to see what we could notice, to help you on the path to awareness, but today there are no questions, just a guiding statement. I’d like you to follow your breath. See if it fills up your whole body or if it transcends your physical body.

When we breath in there is a pause before we breath out. When we breath out there is a pause before we breath in again. This is called the ‘still point’ in the middle of each breath.

I’d like to you take some time observing this pause. Do not change it or do anything with it. No need to expect it to be a certain length, or even to match. Can you simply notice the pause between each breath? If it helps you to keep your attention focused, you may count each pause. For example, in breath, pause, one. Out breath, pause, two. In breath, pause, three. Out breath, pause, four. etc. When you get to 7, go back to one and start again. I will leave you with a few minutes of silence to practice this, and will ring the bell twice to end.

I will give a short meditation to help those who are new to meditating enter their practice. If you’d like to not listen, please mute my voice. The bell will ring over sound so you will be able to hear it and can then turn on your voice when you are ready.

Guided Meditation:
Make yourselves comfortable, whether by sitting, standing, or lying down. Close your eyes. If you are in a place where you are comfortable making noise, do the following with me. If not, just let out a big sigh. Take a slow, deep breath in. When you exhale, give a big roar like a lion or deep sigh. Great! One more time…

Just relax, let go of your day. Realize that all the stresses you’ve experienced are over, they can not harm you. Release them into the earth around you. The Earth is good at recycling.

I will leave you in a few minutes of silence. [I gave 15 minutes of silence, but you can go for as long as you are comfortable. Don’t be afraid to push your boundary though; the uncomfortable zone is where progress happens.]

Take your time slowly coming out of the mind-practice. Bring your attention back to your body. Deepen your breath. Slowly wiggle your toes and fingers, and when you feel ready, slowly open your eyes. As you are opening your eyes, try to notice how you are feeling.

I would like to ask some questions for discussion.

What did you notice in this practice?

How does the breath feel?

Where do you breathe? Where does it enter? Where does it go? Can you feel the movement within your nostrils, down the trachea, and in your lungs? Do you breath with your nose or mouth or both? Do you feel the movements in your best, back, and abdomen? Can you feel it in your hands and feet?

What part of your body moves with your inhalations and exhalations? Place your hand on your abdomen or chest if you can’t feel any movements sometimes your hands are able to feel more subtle movements.

What is your rate of breathing? How long does it take for you to inhale? Does your exhale match the inhale? How many breathes do you take per minute?

How are you feeling about the last few weeks?
Has your definition of awareness changed doing this exercise?

Awareness Intensive Week 1


Intro:

“[It is] the paradox of the human condition, namely that we are mortally limited and human in form, and yet empty and cosmic in essense, and all at the same time.” -Michael Gellert

Let us take a few minutes to breath, to centre ourselves, and find ourselves truly in the Now.

Guided Meditation:
Make yourselves comfortable, whether by sitting, standing, or lying down. Close your eyes. If you are in a place where you are comfortable making noise, do the following with me. If not, just let out a big sigh. Take a slow, deep breath in. When you exhale, give a big roar like a lion. Great! One more time…

Just relax, let go of your day. Realize that all the stresses you’ve experienced are over, they can not harm you. Release them into the earth around you. The Earth is good at recycling.

I will leave you in a few minutes of silence.

Welcome to Awareness Intensive. During these next few weeks we will work on tuning our awareness and seeing what potentials we have. Our brains are magnificent things, and the fact that we can be aware is a mystery. Lets explore what it means to be aware and have awareness. There is no right answer to any of the topics or questions posed here. We are each conscious individuals and therefore may experience the world differently from each other. We will also explore the idea that perhaps our awareness isn’t a purely individual thing and that perhaps it is something we have the ability to “tap into” like signing on to an external server (much like SL!). We will explore the following questions in detail: what does being aware mean? How is it that we recognize awareness? How aware can we be? Where does our awareness stem from? Is it physical or immaterial? Can we be more aware?

Day 1:

What does “awareness” mean to you?

I’m going to ask a question in voice and text. After each question we will have a few minutes of silent meditation followed by a stream of consciousness exercise. I will ring the Tibetan bowl once at the beginning of each meditation and twice at the end.
If you are unfamiliar with stream of consciousness it means to write or speak or type without thinking about it too much. Don’t worry about typos or even if it makes sense. It could be complete gobbledegook and that’s perfect! The idea is to let the thoughts come out raw without intention.
There are no right or wrong answers. The practice is just to see what you notice. If you would feel more comfortable doing the stream of consciousness into a notecard or outside of your viewer rather than local chat please feel free. You can share it with myself or someone else after if you’d like or just keep it to yourself.

Sense awareness:
Can you follow the path of your breath?
Can you notice if it has a temperature?
When does the air stop being air and start being part of you?
Can you feel your whole body? Is there any tension or is it relaxed?
What is your posture like?
Can you feel the floor beneath you?
Can you feel the clothing and air against your skin?
Where does your body end and the objects touching it begin?
Can you feel the vibration of sound in your ears?
How many sounds can you hear? How far away are they?
Can you recognize when hearing stops and it’s just sound?
What can you taste? Is the taste external or internal?
What can you smell? Does it remind you of anything?

Take your time slowly coming out of the mind-practice. Bring your attention back to your body. Deepen your breath. Slowly wiggle your toes and fingers, and when you feel ready, slowly open your eyes. As you are opening your eyes, try to notice what you see first.

Can you be aware of all your senses at the same time?
Has your definition of awareness changed doing this exercise?
What did you notice?

Awareness Intensive Week 2


“[It is] the paradox of the human condition, namely that we are mortally limited and human in form, and yet empty and cosmic in essense, and all at the same time.” -Michael Gellert

Let us take a few minutes to breath, to centre ourselves, and find ourselves truly in the Now.

Guided Meditation:

Make yourselves comfortable, whether by sitting, standing, or lying down. Close your eyes. If you are in a place where you are comfortable making noise, do the following with me. If not, just let out a big sigh. Take a slow, deep breath in. When you exhale, give a big roar like a lion. Great! One more time…

Just relax, let go of your day. Realize that all the stresses you’ve experienced are over, they can not harm you. Release them into the earth around you. The Earth is good at recycling.

I will leave you in a few minutes of silence.

Welcome to week two of Awareness Intensive. During these next few weeks we will work on tuning our awareness and seeing what potentials we have. Our brains are magnificent things, and the fact that we can be aware is a mystery. Lets explore what it means to be aware and have awareness. There is no right answer to any of the topics or questions posed here. We are each conscious individuals and therefore may experience the world differently from each other. We will also explore the idea that perhaps our awareness isn’t a purely individual thing and that perhaps it is something we have the ability to “tap into” like signing on to an external server (much like SL!). We will explore the following questions in detail: what does being aware mean? How is it that we recognize awareness? How aware can we be? Where does our awareness stem from? Is it physical or immaterial? Can we be more aware?

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Last week we worked with our senses. Today we’re going to work with our feelings. I will ask a series of questions over voice throughout the meditation. After we’ve meditated we will take some time to journal. If you’d like to share your thoughts in local chat for discussion during this journalling time you are welcomed to, but please no chatter during meditation.

Emotion = Energy in Motion. See if you can notice when a thought/image/emotion arises. Shift your attention then to the ‘felt sense’ of the thought/image/emotion. I will assist with a few questions, but there will be much time to feel the experience. Rather than following any thoughts, only pay attention to the feeling of it. I will ring the bell once for each question, and twice to end. The questions will be posed in both text and voice, so you can choose to follow in whatever fashion suits you best.

Let us fall slowly into awareness.

Please answer the following questions in your mind only.

Where do the thoughts/images/emotions arise?
When these feelings arise can you feel it in a certain place in your body?
Where do the thoughts/images/emotions start?
Do the thoughts/images/emotions move?
How long do they stay for?
Are the thoughts and sensations you are experiencing in your practice pleasant (attraction), unpleasant (aversion), or neutral?
Does the same feeling/image/emotion arise multiple times? Does it feel the same every time?

Take your time slowly coming out of the mind-practice. Bring your attention back to your body. Deepen your breath. Slowly wiggle your toes and fingers, and when you feel ready, slowly open your eyes. As you are opening your eyes, try to notice how you are feeling.

You may now take the next few minutes to write about your experience. You may do this in local chat, or keep it privately for yourself. I’d like you to explore the question:

What was your experience during this practice?

In the Dhammapada we find the following words, “All that we are is a result of what we have thought, it is founded on our thoughts and made up of our thoughts.”

What did you notice during this practice?

Can you see how thoughts manifest themselves physically?

Has your definition of awareness changed doing this exercise?