I came across this awesome story recently. It really touched me and I'd like to share it with you here and talk about it a little bit. Here it is:
Become a Lake
An aging master grew tired of his apprentice’s complaints.
One morning, he sent him to get some salt.
When the apprentice returned, the master told him to mix a handful of salt in a glass of water and then drink it.
“How does it taste?” the master asked.
“Bitter,” said the apprentice.
The master chuckled and then asked the young man to take the same amount of salt and put it in a nearby lake.
The two walked in silence to the lake and once the apprentice swirled his handful of salt into the water, the old man said, “Now drink from the lake.”
As the water dripped down the young man’s chin, the master asked, “How does it taste?”
“Fresh,” remarked the apprentice.
“Do you taste the salt?” asked the master.
“No,” said the young man.
At this the master sat beside this serious young man, and explained softly, “The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains exactly the same. However, the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things. Stop being a glass. Become a lake.”
A fresh perspective
The thing I love about this story is that it shows us who we really are. Too often we identify not even with the glass of water but with the salt (pain) itself. Of course, this applies to all types of pain - any areas in our life in which we may be suffering.
The story shows us that we are the water, not the salt. The pain that we have exists within us but it is not us - we are not defined by it. By this I mean that the pain we have controls our perspective and our behaviour. Here are some things you might hear someone who is identified with pain say:
This happens when we are the glass of water. The salt is all that we can taste and so it is all that we can focus on. So, how can we expand the glass and become the lake?
Expanding into emptiness
I'd like to focus on physical pain here, but like I said, this applies to all types of suffering.
Let's take an example of having pain in your knee. You can of course imagine pain anywhere on your body for the sake of this exercise, wherever is most personally prominent for you.
With pain the natural reaction is to seek to alleviate it in some way. You may immediately begin to start moving or supporting the area in pain, or you may seek medication, or some method of distraction. This creates an identity around the pain, in essence you see the pain as being separate from yourself - an unwelcome guest.
Instead of doing this, we can go into the pain and examine it. We'll override our averse reactions to the pain by working with breath to relax and soften. And then we'll observe the pain for what it is, allowing it within us to the point where we become the pain. The funny thing that happens here is that suddenly, when we are no longer defining the pain as 'pain', then it no longer defines us. There is still the feeling but not the suffering that comes with it. Suddenly we have become the lake.
6 - Step process to becoming the lake
So, here's a step by step process for becoming the lake:
My personal experience
I'd like to leave you with a personal experience of mine that happened a few years ago. It was my first taste of being the lake, and it was such a revelation I couldn't understand why it wasn't being taught to everyone.
'I came across something amazing today. I was out walking and it was very cold and wet. I felt like it was seeping through my bones and I couldn't stop shivering. I just wanted to get back inside and warm up by the fire.
But then I remembered something I'd heard in a martial arts film about becoming 'one' with things. So I gave it a try. I noticed that my whole body was tense. I unwrapped my arms from around my sides and and worked to relax all my muscles. That's no easy thing when they are going into spasms from the cold. I let the cold come into me instead of pushing it out and imagined that I had become transparent. The wind was blowing through me and not coming up against any resistance, like I had become the air itself.
Suddenly I realised that I was no longer shivering! The cold was so much a part of me, that I really was one with it. I didn't suffer any more as I continued walking. Wow! I never thought such a thing was possible.'
Finally, for anyone who resonates with this approach, I can really recommend Stephen Levine's book 'Healing into Life and Death'. It focuses on examples of people who are going through the dying process but much of it applies to anyone who is experiencing some kind of pain, which lets face it, is pretty much all of us.
If you want support with managing physical pain or processing emotional or mental pain please book a session.
An amazing thing about this song is that it invokes the divine masculine in it's lyrics (at least that's how I see it). The divine feminine energies of surrender and compassion are usually what we work with when it comes to death as there are so many things to let go of and the masculine 'warrior will' is not often touched upon, usually because it's distorted in that it is used to 'fight against' rather than embrace. However, in this song the warrior dies a noble death, in all his power, invoking mother nature as he goes. What an awesome expression of the divine warrior in death.
Here are the lyrics:
Come, lonely hunter, chieftain and king
I will fly like the falcon when I go.
Bear me my brother under your wing
I will strike fell like lightning when I go.
I will bellow like the thunder drum, invoke the storm of war
A twisting pillar spun of dust and blood up from the prairie floor
I will sweep the foe before me like a gale out on the snow
And the wind will long recount the story, reverence and glory, when I go
Spring, spirit dancer, nimble and thin
I will leap like coyote when I go
Tireless entrancer, lend me your skin
I will run like the gray wolf when I go
I will climb the rise at daybreak, I will kiss the sky at noon
Raise my yearning voice at midnight to my mother in the moon
I will make the lay of long defeat and draw the chorus slow
I'll send this message down the wire and hope that someone wise is listening when I go
And when the sun comes, trumpets from his red house in the east
He will find a standing stone where long I chanted my release
He will send his morning messenger to strike the hammer blow
And I will crumble down uncountable in showers of crimson rubies when I go
Sigh, mournful sister, whisper and turn
I will rattle like dry leaves when I go
Stand in the mist where my fire used to burn
I will camp on the night breeze when I go
And should you glimpse my wandering form out on the borderline
Between death and resurrection and the council of the pines
Do not worry for my comfort, do not sorrow for me so
All your diamond tears will rise up and adorn the sky beside me when I go
And, finally the song
Is there a kind of consciousness which is beyond the mind? If so, how can it be accessed? Once we have come some way along the conscious path, we may begin to sense that there are other forms of consciousness within ourselves that are beyond our thoughts. We get glimpses, so to speak - a sense of expansion where we become hyper aware. It has a different quality to our thoughts. However, the mind is so enticing. It is safe to view things in a logical way and our ego tends to lock us into our mind. So, how do we transcend the mind?
A matter of Identity
Firstly, it is a matter of identity. The philosopher Descartes famously stated 'I think, therefore I am'... Are you? I will give you some questions for consideration: Who is thinking? Who is the mind? It's very important on the conscious path to ask, 'who am I?' When you realise that you are identifying with something that is not the chore of who you are, there is a tremendous sense of expansion. So again, who is thinking? Consider, how can your mind observe itself?
In the field of Neuroscience there is increasing evidence that our brains are not simply reacting to outer stimuli, but actually creating the forms and patterns that we see, selecting them from an immeasurable spectrum of vibration (Karl Pibram, 1971, Languages of the Brain).
"So the problem is, how does the brain evoke the world, which is simultaneously the world in which it exists? Does the brain evoke the brain?" - Alan Watts
Stepping beyond the mind
You may have noticed that so far I've been writing in a way that actually stimulates the mind; citing scientific research, quoting well known philosophers, and asking questions for you to ponder. This has been somewhat intentional, both as a way of demonstrating how the mind can approach such topics, and also because it is possible to use the mind as a tool in order to move beyond the mind.
Yes, I know this seems a little paradoxical...good!! *evil laughter ensues*. The mind can indeed be used as a tool to go beyond itself by being made to consider things that are not immediately logical and don't have an answer which arises in the brain.
This method is also used in Zen Buddhisms with the use of Koans. These are essentially questions or stories which are designed to show you what is beyond the mind. Here are a few Koans:
Into the Heart
So far we have talked about 'the Observer' and how to cultivate this. However, in some ways even the observer carries some identity - even the name suggests this, so I refer to the true observer that lies beyond the mind as 'Witness Consciousness'. How does witness consciousness manifest itself?
Once you have begun to sense a part of you that lays beyond the mind, you can begin to cultivate it. What you can't do is grasp at it and try to recreate the feelings that come with it. This is just not how it works and the moment you grasp you are back in the ego, identifying with the feelings. It is just a matter of giving energy to it by tending the garden in which it can grow. And, it really is like tending a garden, using love and awareness to provide the right conditions for something to grow of it's own accord.
Many refer to this as 'the heart centre' and it's a good way of seeing it as witness consciousness comes from a place of love. This love flows naturally through each realm of physical, emotional and mental as an acceptance of what is. It is such that you can be un-accepting and controlling on the outside, while processing a pattern that needs to be worked through, and still be totally accepting of this non-acceptance on the inside.
Cultivating the Heart
There are a few simple things you can do to cultivate the heart centre in order to tend the ground for witness consciousness to grow:
A bit of inspiration
I'd like to leave you with this beautiful video from Trinity at Openhand. It comes right from the heart, and I guarantee, if you resonate with this article then this video will be an inspiration for you. Enjoy!
To begin with there are 3 main areas to focus on: the body, the emotions, and the mind. All 3 of course will be active, to certain degrees, all the time and this can be a little overwhelming in the beginning, so it might be helpful to start your practice by observing one at a time. As you become more practiced, it will seem as though the Observer flicks to whichever is more prominent at the time, although the less prominent aspects will still be observed in the background.
To that end, here's a breakdown of these first three areas and what you can do to cultivate the Observer within them.
This is probably the easiest area to start with as it's the most tangible to observe. It also doesn't change at such a fast rate as the emotions and especially our thoughts.
Here are some things you can do to develop awareness of the body:
These are slightly subtler than the body, not tangible enough to touch but still often very prominent. There will of course be times of extreme emotion and times of more neutral emotion, but even in times of neutral emotion it is helpful to just be aware of subtle feelings which may arise here and there.
Here are some things you can do to develop awareness of the emotions:
This is probably the hardest of the three to observe. It is the least tangible, the most interchangeable, and can be quite overwhelming in the beginning. Not to mention the observer is likely to be coming form the mind in the beginning. This is the last step towards to true observer (what I call 'Witness Consciousness') which is beyond the mind. The mind is the closest step to 'witness consciousness' and yet probably the hardest to pass through.
Here are some practices to help develop awareness of the mind:
Putting it all together
After practicing these methods they will begin to become easier and you can start observing multiple areas at once. This can occur through intention or may begin to arise spontaneously, which is great!
At this point you will really begin to become aware of the relationships between mind, body and emotions. How does one affect the others? For example, something triggers anxiety - lets say a job interview- all 3 areas will be reacting. You may get a strong emotion, which will trigger tension in the body - where is the tension? Then your mind will likely start going over scenarios or asking "what if I don't do well?" Observe the spiral effect as each thought triggers more anxiety and more tension in the body and vise versa.
Of course, there is no need to get yourself worked up. Once these have been observed for a time and accepted you can work to reduce the feelings in order to be calmer and clearer. Breathing is a great bridge between all these planes and it will do wonders to work with it.
A note on soft drugs
We have all experienced expanded or satisfied feelings from soft drugs and entertainment. However, they tend to have the effect of reducing awareness and so it may be beneficial to keep them to a minimum while you are still cultivating the 'Observer'.
Meditation is a great method to use when cultivating the 'Observer'. Sitting and focusing on the inner will mean that the inner landscape somehow becomes brighter and more navigable. It is also great to do while doing simple tasks such as washing dishes or eating. Of course meditation is really all about observing the inner landscape so I can't recommend it enough. Whether sitting in silence or going for a walk, it is sure to help you a great deal.
Going beyond the mind
I have hinted on something called 'witness consciousness' throughout this article. It is the term I use to describe the true observer which is beyond the mind. This will surely come with the practices that I have set out in this article. More on 'witness consciousness' in the next article.
Finally, here's a great meditation to get you started.
If you need help or support with being the observer or any other spiritual issues, please book a session.
On the spiritual path (or any path really) awareness is key. To be aware of who we are is probably one of the most important, yet complex aspects of our journey. It is the foundation of our inner work. The state of awareness required to do this is often called 'the Observer'. So, what is the observer and how can we cultivate it? This is the first in a 3 part series of articles on the observer.
Qualities of the observer
Generally, we will want to observe 3 aspects of ourselves, at least to begin with: our body, our emotions, and our thoughts. So, we will need to find a place within ourselves that is beyond these three. That is the 'Observer'. Certain qualities of the observer may alter as we move down the path but generally there are a few characteristics that stay constant:
In the beginning
As we begin to cultivate the observer, we will almost certainly be coming from the mind. This is a good place to start as it is familiar ground - we are used to approaching things through the mind. So, in the beginning the 'Observer' will likely be reflective, looking back on the previous moment. This is ok, but its tiring, taking a lot of concentration. But, with practice it will begin to come as second nature and there will come a point where the observer is no longer intended - that is to say it is no longer an effort. It is either there, or it is not. In fact it may seem to come and go at random times. If you feel this then great! It means you are beginning to touch the real 'Observer', what I call 'Witness Consciousness' which is beyond mind.
My early experinces
I'd like to share with you an earlier experience of my own as the observer began to 'kick off' in my consciousness. Here is my journal entry:
Phew! Becoming grounded in the observer is in some ways surreal.
I am observing my movements, my thoughts, my feelings. Yet feel like none of these are 'me'. I am stationary while this drama, this movie is being played around me, whats happening now? I am not this. Even now watching myself type, thinking about what words to put down to adequately express myself. What is moving? I don't feel like I am controlling this, it's just happening. My body has it's own 'mind' controlling it without 'me' being directly involved (this is not quite the perfect way to express this but with limited words what can I do eh? )
I feel disconnected with this, not involved any more, yet also more connected, conscious of whats going on. But its almost unbearable sometimes (ego clinging on, wanting to draw me back into the matrix?)
This is all very strange, and yet natural.
It can be painful
Cultivating the observer is not always easy. Essentially you are opening yourself up to all your 'stuff'. You will become more sensitive to discomfort and cravings in the body, subtle reactions to things you never knew you had, and destructive patterns of behaviour. Your coping mechanisms may well fall away just by being aware of them. And, on top of all that, your sense of identity will be seriously challenged as you realise that many of these things are not you.
Yes, cultivating the observer can be challenging and overwhelming.
The benefits can far out-way the pain, especially if you realise that moving through your pain is the path to a more expanded sense of self.
You will experience more clarity in yourself, which in turn gives you a better understanding of which path is best for you and, therefore, a sense of purpose.
Even though you are more sensitive to your pain (and probably other peoples as well) you may find that you actually suffer less because you are no longer identified with that pain.
My name is Richard. I love to write, and here you can find my general musings, observations and articles. Enjoy!
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