Sunday, May 10, 2009

Animals R Us

I wanted to say a couple more things about the meditation inventory practice I wrote about here in my last post.

First, in terms of gauging one's level of mindfulness-awareness, it's important to say that the idea of an inventory practice is not so much to try to be as mindful as you can (skewing the effort too much that way could get into the territory of cooking the books) -- but, rather, to simply get an accurate reading on how mindfully aware you naturally are. You can even play with being intentionally sloppy in your meditation technique or your posture, and just see what kind of effect that has on your mindstream.

Second, in terms of the Six Realms, one's experience may fluctuate between realms from session to session, or even within a single session -- but chances are there are one or two realms that are your habitual favorites. Maybe you often find yourself churning in the hell-realm state of anger and hatred towards others, or wallowing in the poverty mentality and "can't get enough" obsession of the hungry ghost-realm, or blissed out in the prideful, carefree state of the god-realm.

For me -- to my surprise and chagrin -- the animal realm seems to be the place I go to most often when I exit mindfulness. It's a bit disappointing because I was hoping for something juicy and fun like the god realm or even a hungry ghost realm which would at least be dramatic. Even the fury of a hell-realm state of mind would be vivid and compelling. The animal realm is just so....well, dull and stupid.

I have been observing (or trying to observe) what happens when I go into the animal realm, how I actually experience that state of mind, what triggers it, how it arises, what happens when I bring awareness to it. There seems to be a sort of animal-realm fog that frequently descends on my mind; it clouds my awareness and carries away my mindfulness into discursive fantasies about food, conversations, work, and other agonizingly mundane concerns. The problem is that, when I try to really look at the fog and find where it abides, it's suddenly not there anymore....but the damn fog was here just a moment ago when I wasn't looking for it, so where did it go?

There seems to be a moment (sometimes I can catch it, but more often I can't) when my internal eye of discriminating awareness sort of glazes over and goes dull, and that is the moment when I exit into the animal realm. Once that moment arises, if I do not catch it, then I am off to the races and either spaced out or following a discursive thought (or both).

What seems to trigger this glazing over of the eye of awareness, and the exit into spaced out/dull/distracted mind is harder to put my finger on. It has something to do with laziness and resistance, not wanting to meditate (even though it's precisely to meditate that I brought myself here, to the end of the civilized world, to a monastery at that place where the North American continent drops off into the Atlantic Ocean), wanting to escape somehow into entertainment, perhaps wanting to avoid the boredom and tediousness of looking at my mind again for another three hours. This laziness and resistance, I have realized, is what has dominated my relationship to practice for the past few years.

A few days ago, when I was experiencing this strong resistance and aversion to practice coming up, the vivid image popped into my mind of a lazy farm animal (perhaps a donkey, or an ox....something quite stupid) not wanting to get up and do the day's work, but being forced to do so, and resenting it, and escaping into daydreams in order not to really be present for the unpleasantness of what it doesn't want to do.

The meditation inventory practice has opened my eyes to how much of this animal-realm karma of stupidity and dullness and laziness I have accumulated, and how it habitually comes up for me. I'm beginning to understand that it has been coming up for a long time (much longer than I've been here at the Abbey) -- and in relationship to other aspects of my life too (not only practice).

I'm mad...And that's a fact
I found out...Animals don't help
Animals think they're pretty smart
Shit on the ground...See in the dark.

They say they don't need money
They're living on nuts and berries
They say animals don't worry
You know animals are hairy?
They think they know what's best
They're making a fool of us
They ought to be more careful
They're setting a bad example
They have untroubled lives
They think everything's nice
They like to laugh at people
They're setting a bad example
(Go ahead) Laugh at me.

-- Talking Heads, "Animals"

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