More and more, the teaching practice takes me into the community where I engage directly with students. My focus right now is on bringing the continuity of the Dharma into the market place. Although retreating is an important form for self-knowledge, I find myself less interested in the immediate results of a retreat and more interested in helping students investigate their relationship to the ups and downs of their everyday life.
Nature, death and spontaneous freedom continually interweave themselves into my teaching. From the forest of Thailand, where I spent several years, I bring a deep awareness of the healing quality of nature into my teachings. Relaxing into our true nature allows us to realize what it means to be a human being. It is here we find a resting point, a counterbalance to the speed and turbulence of our culture.
My work in hospice brings a sense of urgency into my teaching. Working with the theme of death and dying reveals the here and now of life to us, how important it is to open to each loss, change and transition that marks our path. Life is precious. We need to awaken without hesitation.
Many of us crave to be more calm and centered. We know that life has more to offer than this fleeting material world. For each of us, the Dharma offers an immediacy of freedom for which we do not have to strive or wait. In practice, we can learn to relax deeply into the moment and rediscover spontaneous freedom.
Applying discernment requires an honesty of intent. That honesty is the discernment at work. If you need skillful means to help balance the energy, use it. It can be helpful to back up to the First Foundation and see how the state of mind is affecting the body. Next, move to the Second Foundation and catch the feeling tone and the accompanying story. Moving onto the Third Foundation, settle to see just what this state is in essence. Finally, apply discerning questions that pick apart the solidity and truth of the state of mind such as, "Is there space for this too?" "Where is the "me" in this state?"
What is a skillful or unskillful state of mind? What do those terms mean--skillful for what purpose? Even to know something at this most basic level requires active discernment. The Buddha may have said certain states were skillful or unskillful, but that does nothing for your practice. You have to see its effect on you and know its impact directly.
Questions are the life's blood of the dharma. If we are willing to follow wherever the question takes us, then the question will take us out of our beliefs and opinions into something new and unexplored. Something will end in us and will not arise again in the same way.
The Kalama sutta fits very nicely into the discussion on freeing awareness completely from any inward or outward authority. In the most radical statement possible the Buddha severs all ties from any dependency, essentially saying that freedom is not possible if one leans in any direction whatsoever.
Accessing the Fourth Foundation is as easy as abiding in wonder. A question that is interesting to you but does not immediately resolve itself into an answer holds that wonder. When you hold a question without trying to immediately find the answer, you will feel the pull of form (needing to know the answer) in conflict with the formless (the wonder within the mystery of the question itself).
A quality of awareness is discernment, which can be active or passive. Passive discernment is seeing, "just this" without doing anything about it, while active discernment is uncovering what is hidden and unconscious. It uses an energetic and curious probing to broaden the expanse of awareness and welcome it beyond its egoic boundaries.
The Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness is the ability to discern what limits freedom and to see the value of open awareness when it is not limited. It encourages a complete examination and investigation of mind until there is existence without obstructions.
The personal evolves into the impersonal with time and exposure to awareness. The less "you" do about this process, the quicker it happens on its own. Simply say when a state of mind arises, "Is this about me?" In one way it is, in another way it is not. Be willing to see both tendencies and investigate each.
Arrogance is a remnant from the pain of the self that wants to be seen and heard as special and privileged. It is our spiritual work to watch not only the subtle grasping and aversive formations of self but its gross manifestations like arrogance as well. What is the pain behind this mental display, and what are the assumptions that move arrogance forward?