Going In to Find Out
As you read this, I will be heading into a 5-day silent meditation retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, a time of deep reflection and perhaps even deeper understanding of the mysterious, imponderable Source of the meaning of all the being-ness and doing-ness that occupies the attention and activities of all of my days.
The focus of this retreat is Awakening Joy and Well-Being: Two Essential Qualities for Troubled Times. Our times are certainly troubled; there is trouble and uncertainty and difficulty for most human beings most of the time, and these times seem particularly fraught with the tension of not knowing – how to resolve the looming climate disasters, end the war in Ukraine, bring about racial and social justice. Let alone repair a a rupture with our sister-in-law or make ends meet in an unravelling economy.
I want to practice accessing the deep equanimity that is the ground underneath all the flow, all of the ups and downs and unpredictables. To experience-embody-express once again the serenity and well-being that will allow me to “look out on life with quiet eyes,” as Howard Thurman said.
It’s true I’m navigating many changes, disruptions even, in the flow of my own life as I move steadily toward retirement. Not yet knowing what new commitments will engage my attention and my activities. Doing the work now so that those new choices come from the well-being that holds the 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows of life in a serene equanimity.
Here’s a meditation to “let go” of the coming and goings that normally occupy our full attention and drop into the open, spacious awareness that allows us to hold all of those comings and goings in a much vaster perspective, and much larger embrace of all that is. I created this meditation after experiencing the joy of this letting go of my self on a retreat many years ago.
Letting Go of the Self — Breathing into Infinity
1. Sit comfortably. Allow your eyes to gently close. Focus your awareness on your breathing, gently in and out. As you follow your breathing, notice your own awareness of your breathing, the awareness that allows you to know that you are breathing.
2. When that awareness of your breathing is steady, begin to notice the breathing of any people around you, or people you imagine being around you. There’s no need to do anything; just notice or imagine other people breathing as you are breathing, and notice your awareness of that. Notice what you are aware of in your own being as you rest in this awareness.
3. Staying anchored in an awareness of your own breathing, expand your awareness of breathing to include the breathing of more people you know, who are not necessarily physically near you. Notice your awareness of your awareness of everyone breathing. Notice your awareness of your own being as you remain aware.
4. Still anchored in an awareness of your own breathing, expand your awareness further to include people you don’t know, outside the building you are in, perhaps elsewhere in the neighborhood, throughout the city, across the region. Become aware of all of them breathing together. Notice your awareness of your awareness: you are simply being, and being aware.
5. Continue to expand your awareness to include people breathing all over the country, all over the planet. Expand your awareness to include all living creatures breathing in the parks, the forests, underground, in the lakes and rivers, in the oceans, the sky, of all sentient beings breathing together. Notice your awareness of your awareness of existence, and your awareness of simply being.
6. Expand your awareness to include all forms of existence, some breathing, some not — the air, the water, the rocks. And notice your awareness of your awareness of the breathing, and your awareness of simply being.
7. Expand your awareness beyond our planet to other planets, other stars, other galaxies, and the space between the planets and stars and galaxies, as far as you can possibly imagine; notice your awareness of your awareness expanding. Rest comfortably, safely, in this vast spacious awareness, in this vast simply being, for as long as you choose. Take your time.
8. Gently bring your awareness back to your awareness of sitting in the room you are in, in this moment, breathing. Focus your awareness on simply breathing. Take a moment to shift gears and reflect on your experience of simply being. You may experience a lightness, a spaciousness, or an openness in your being.