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Buddhadharma : Winter 2011
29 WINTER 2 01 1 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY by them. Your attention becomes still clearer and more stable. In the fourth foundation of mindfulness, mindfulness of experience (Skt. dharma), you are aware of all experience, which is everything that arises in your life—people, things, thoughts, and feelings. It’s all experience. It’s all movement in mind. Any sense of inside and outside drops away and you rest in this field of experience. It doesn’t end there, of course. Energy transformations con- tinue, taking you into different levels of insight. (In chapter 10 of my book Wake Up to Your Life there is a detailed map of insight energy transformations as described in the Mani Ka-bum, a ninth century text in the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.) In the metaphor of the rider and the horse, when the rider opens to awareness, energy powers the opening. When the rider falls into emotional reaction, energy powers the reac- tion. If the horse has only a little energy, attention doesn’t go deep and you are unlikely to have any problems. If, however, you have a very powerful horse with a lot of energy and you lose attention, then you can encounter serious problems, and others may suffer, too. After a period of intense practice, many people are surprised at how reactive they can be. During the retreat, they make a steady effort in attention and energy transforms upward, that is, the energy that powers their attention operates at a level higher than ordinary thinking. After the retreat, they usually relax their attention and the elevated energy now flows into reactive patterns. As it drops a level, it picks up momentum. The cascade of energy down from higher levels can result in much greater reactivity than normal. The more you practice, and the deeper your practice, the more impor- tant mindfulness becomes. The Experience of Energy Transformation Energy transformation experiences vary greatly from person to person. Sometimes, you look at the world around you, and it all dissolves into light. Sometimes, you look at another person, and colors are reversed. Unfamiliar sensations arise in your body, sometimes pleasant, sometimes decidedly unpleasant. You have difficulty sleeping. You feel wired all the time. For no apparent reason, you can’t focus. You are deeply unsettled. Perhaps you feel a sensation of warmth in your belly, quietly insistent. Maybe you see strange lights in front of your eyes. You can also experience overwhelming bliss, of the inten- sity of orgasm, physically or mentally, or both. You may feel sensations of movement in parts of your body, particularly up the back or up the spine or out through the crown of your head. You may have inexplicable but intense sexual desire, or desire for various foods, particularly protein-rich foods. Again, emotional reactions arise suddenly for no apparent reason. Maybe you are unusually reactive, hardly able to bite your tongue before you take someone’s head off, for no reason you can discern. Maybe you rest in an imperturbable calm and you wonder what happened to all your ordinary reactions. Your mind and body are utterly at peace. Thoughts, if they are present at all, are like wisps of mist in an autumn morning. Your mind may be almost painfully clear and you have the sense of knowing what others are thinking before they open their mouths. Any and all of these experiences may arise. They may last from a few minutes to several hours, even days or weeks. You may have difficulty functioning normally because of their intensity, whether they are positive experiences or negative. They arise because energy has been or is being released from old patterns, because of your practice or for other rea- sons. As the energy surges through your system, many kinds of sensory sensations, pleasant and unpleasant, are triggered. Over time, the energy usually balances out and you find a way to relate to the world with a higher degree of attention. Some people seek out the positive energy shifts and surges. They may use intensive yoga or other forms of physical exer- tion to induce them. They may use energy manipulation meth- ods derived from qi gong or other systems. They may use drugs or other artificial methods. In effect, they get high on energy, and, over time, will experience many of the problems normally associated with addiction. Body scanning, holding a question, taking and sending, and direct awareness methods such as shikantaza, yidam practice, Mahamudra and Dzogchen, and bare attention all involve energy transformation. KEN MCLEOD completed two three-year retreats under the guidance of the late Kalu Rinpoche and has received training in the Karma Kagyu, Shangpa, and Nyingma traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. He is a translator (The Great Path of Awakening) and author (Wake Up to Your Life), and the executive director of Unfettered Mind in Los Angeles.