Q. I have a further question that has arisen having read your book. In relation to the Bodhisattva Path you mentioned that dwelling on wisdom whilst meditating can help to deepen one's practice. Do you liken this to dwelling on the 'appreciation' of higher spiritual states and values? I would very much like to hear your views on this subject and what your recommendations would be to cultivate this wisdom in one's practice.
A. The reference in the book (Dharma Mind Worldly Mind) to dwelling on wisdom refers to it as a 'skilful means' to recall your own insightful understanding, which can help deepen still further your concentration during meditation, not others' understanding that you may have read about or heard. My recommendation, as ever, is to commit yourself wholeheartedly to cultivating the eightfold path embraced by going for refuge. If you pursue the path in the correct way, the values and qualities you mention will slowly mature within your own heart, and become self-evident. If it helps you, you can study books and then ponder these characteristics and qualities to orientate yourself in the Dharma, but be careful not to turn yourself into a parrot and merely think about and recite what you have read or heard.
Q. I wonder whether you have any thoughts on the need for solitude for those going for refuge. How important is it for the spiritual seeker to experience aloneness, or for that matter, even loneliness. Is aloneness necessary for spiritual progress, and therefore should intimate, companion-type relationships be renounced?
A. The aloneness of a retreat from time to time is essential for those going for refuge, for it is at times like these that we have the opportunity to get to know and understand ourselves to a degree not possible in our ordinary everyday lives. All Dharma practice is focused directly or indirectly on the human existential truth of loneliness, caused by the sense of separateness from what is. When we are alone we can open up to that greatest of all fears whilst in its grip, and see directly into it. Here we may discover that if we learn to open and stay with loneliness, we will see it for what it is and learn to accept and make friends with it. Whilst on this journey of transformation we may come to see that everything that we have ever done in our lives is just a deep sub-conscious search by our own heart, bound by delusion, to be reunited with the totality of what is. Our onward journey into understanding loneliness need not exclude companion-type relationships, for this sort of experience may well show us just how lonely we basically are, and how difficult it is to live with and accept that truth.
Q. My day-to-day practice is mindfulness of the breath and body, with the attention placed on the hara. In addition, I try to keep my attention in my belly as I move about during the day -with, of course, varying degrees of success. For some reason, I have a slight but steady sensation just above the bridge of my nose, between my eyebrows. It feels as though it is just below the surface of my skin, but does not seem to respond to massage or any sort of physical manipulation. I've had this for about a year. It seems to be connected with mediation, as it first appeared last summer during a 10-day vipassana retreat, and seems to intensify somewhat when I am meditating more often. It is not painful, just a small sensation like static electricity, with a faint pulse. It is always there.
A. This is a common experience and really should be nothing to worry about. It is about gathering energy from concentration that backs up in the psychic channels, due to impurities. It is an experience I am familiar with. If you continue to retain your awareness and emotional energy (see next answer) in the hara, and learn to live in your body, you will be keeping yourself in balance. This way it should not get worse as you learn to live with it.
Q. On a possibly related note, during meditation I often experience short energy bursts. They occur when I am well settled and concentrated, and able to settle the mind well into the body. They persist so long as I can maintain the particular subtlety of attention - usually just a few seconds, but they will occur again and again until the session ends or I become distracted. They are fairly neutral in feeling-tone, tending a little bit towards pleasurable. Sometimes they make my body twitch a little. When I was at Vajraloka, they sometimes came in short, single bursts while I lay in bed meditating - to the point it felt like they might knock me off the bed! If I have had a lot of stress recently and I lie down or sit up with the intention to 'feel into' my physical sensations, they will come up quite spontaneously.
A. It is all about living in the body. You mention in the previous question that you try to retain your attention in the hara. Whilst retaining your awareness down there you should also be retaining your emotional responses due to habits and conditioning, with the aid of that same awareness. By learning to bring this crucial aspect of practice into your daily experiences you will be promoting health and safety in your life, and also bringing stability to your meditation. This is very much to do with turning away from the chattering mind and its blinding consequences and becoming grounded in yourself. So that when you walk you know you are walking, when you stand you know you are standing. Your twitching suggests that it needs to be worked on, as it is indicating you have lots of errant energy. If you have a physical job, so much the better. if you don't, then find something to help that energy on its way. If it gets worse you may have to consider cutting back on meditation for a while (a good way to test your attachment to sitting), because you don't want it to cause physical complications, as it often does for those who insist that Dharma practice is about working everything out in the head.