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Buddhadharma : Winter 2011
31 WINTER 2 01 1 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY This is all very encouraging, no? But then, a day or two later, you are going about your life and you completely lose it with a friend over something that had no significance whatsoever. Where did that demon come from? In meditation practice you cultivate attention, and the cultivation of attention is based on energy transformation. We saw how transformation takes place in the four foun- dations of mindfulness. Body scanning, holding a question, taking and sending—not to mention direct awareness meth- ods such as shikantaza (just sitting) in Zen, yidam practice and Mahamudra and Dzogchen in Vajrayana Buddhism, and bare attention in the Theravadan tradition—all involve energy transformation. In the initial stages of practice, we are consumed by thoughts. As we continue, we gradually are able to experi- ence thoughts as thoughts, and not be distracted by them. To be a little technical, when the level of energy in the attention is higher than the level of energy in what you are experiencing, say, anger, or love, then you can experience the anger or love without getting lost in it. When you experience it that way, energy is transformed to a still higher level, making it possible for you to experience deeper levels of clarity and stillness, and also deeper levels of conditioning. With higher levels of energy (and, consequently, higher lev- els of attention) you are aware of patterns of emotional reac- tion that you couldn’t touch before. In the story of Milarepa, through his prayer and devotion to Marpa, the energy in his attention moved to a higher level, he had a spiritual opening (the vision), and then, he had to deal with a whole level of reactivity that he had not touched before (the demons). Just as the warmth of the sun penetrates the crystal struc- ture of ice and causes the ice to melt into water, higher levels of energy in your attention penetrate the structures of old patterns and they break up. Energy that was locked up in the patterns is now released and may lead to strange and appar- ently unrelated physical and emotional sensations. If it releases suddenly, you may experience deep clarity, emptiness, or bliss for a while, but the shift is unstable and dissipates, maybe in a few minutes, maybe after a few days or weeks. The experi- ences aren’t always pleasant. You may encounter anger, desire, and other emotional reactions, pains in various parts of the body, inability to focus, recurrence of old physical ailments, and so on. There is no rhyme or reason to them. These shifts are called energy surges (Tib. nyams) and one is generally advised just to let them come and go. My teacher used to say of such shifts, “Not good, not bad: keep going.” Energy Imbalances When you are sitting in meditation, you may feel in your body where energy is unable to flow. You may feel pain, or other uncomfortable sensations at a certain point in the body. Often, the meditation instruction is to put attention on the sensations, to experience them without reaction. When you are out of balance, energetically, this approach can compound problems. Energy follows attention, and by putting attention on the sensations caused by the imbalances, you are likely to increase the imbalance because you are drawing more energy into it. Energy imbalances arise when energy is unable to flow. Something feels blocked, knotted, or tied up. The blocked energy tends to stagnate and starts to attack the organs and the nervous system in that area of your body. Stagnant energy can cause a wide range of imbalances that have both physical and emotional manifestations. If symptoms of imbalance occur with increasing frequency and/or intensity, you may find energy-balancing techniques helpful. For instance, feel (and if you can’t feel, then imagine) energy collecting in the center of the body, at a point a couple of inches below the navel and an inch in front of the spine (the hara in Zen practice). Then feel (or imagine) it gently spread- ing from that point through your lower abdomen, then your whole torso, then your arms and legs and head, and then out through all the pores of your skin to form a field of energy in which you sit, with the field extending two or three inches beyond your body. If energy imbalances arise, do this two or three times in the evening. You can also do it at the end of every meditation session, as it will help to distribute energy evenly through your whole system and reduce the likelihood of imbalances. Energy imbalances are nothing to trifle with. The more potent energy transformation practices (such as tumo, vase breathing, anu yoga, certain forms of pranayama and qi gong), practices in which you are transforming basic energies in the body to power attention, are all dangerous if not prac- ticed properly. They can result in death, paralysis, or insanity, and for this reason need to be learned under the guidance of a capable and experienced teacher. The physical ailments associated with imbalances are gen- erally untreatable by any medical system. While techniques like massage or acupuncture can help, such methods don’t usually treat the underlying block, which is, in my experi- ence, always due to some deeply conditioned emotional issue. Sooner or later, one way or another, the underlying emotional issue needs to be addressed. Here are two approaches that can be safely employed in your practice. The first is to keep the field of attention open when you are working with sensations in the body. That is, instead of focusing attention on the part of the body where the sensations arise, hold your whole body in attention and experience the discomfort as a sensation that arises in a field of attention that includes your whole body. A simple instruction for this is, “Crown of the head, soles of the feet, hold these