Q. Dear David, I wonder in your opinion what the relationship is between psychological 'work', maybe termed integration, and Awakening? For example, does one need to have dealt with all of one's psychological stuff before Awakening happens? Or is it more of a case that a reasonable level of integration is needed, which enables a steadiness of mind? From this steadiness of mind we can see how things are sufficiently for Awalkening to happen. Hope the question is clear.
A. It is good to be able to dampen the idea, which many have, that sooner or later you have to go beyond all your 'stuff' and become 'perfect' before awakening can take place. I'm sure the reader will be relieved to know that you certainly do not need to have reached this lofty height — far from it in fact. Yes, it is true that we need to be reasonably balanced and integrated to be able to do this practice, but most people are. It is only a few that are not able to get themselves started. It is certainly true that much has to be transformed through practice over the years, but even quite 'heavy' karma won't necessarily 'block the path' through the final stages leading to the collapse of samsara. Through skilful practice and gradually alighting to the profound state of the middle way, it is possible that many of our unresolved attachments will 'suspend' and return when the bodhisattva path is attained, providing you with rich fodder for practice that will take you through the ten stages.
Q. I wonder whether you can clear up some confusion I have regarding the pure awareness practice. I can relatively easily bring stillness to my mind when I meditate. The chattering mind becomes quiet and I can sit with an experience of my own presence and an awareness of the flow of my perceptions. However, there still remains a sense of 'me' doing something, i.e., being present and aware. Is this the 'pure awareness' practice that you speak about, or in 'pure awareness' should there be no longer a sense of a doer? I guess another way of posing this question is whether samatha is a prerequisite for doing the pure awareness practice? Not just concentrating the mind, but samatha in the sense of the cessation of the dualistic mind experience.
A. Not sure what you mean by 'my own presence', but the state we are coming into is to be aware without a 'centre' - i.e., an observer. We come to this state by being able to let go of all that comes into our experience. At first we start by bringing ourselves back from our distractions through an ever-increasing shining awareness that becomes that letting go. Ideally you don't use any sort of 'practice' however, you may find a samatha practice useful at times to provisionally 'get you started'. But by having some sort of 'practice', you will not be nurturing the true spirit of Pure Awareness, in which we are slowly becoming familiar with the subtle reality of not really doing anything at all. This may take time to mature, so in that time we are in the state you describe. Stay there and be still; there is nothing to do, so any sense of doing something will prevent maturity. The state we are moving towards is so very subtle. It is not a state of trying (or even sometimes forcing) our way towards a 'goal'. Nor is it a slack state in which we become slothful and dull. We cannot create the true state. It will be there when we let go of all trying and not trying. When this profound state is present, we lose ourselves completely and become lost in our true state — our state before the 'world' comes into being -- and we become the universe and all that is in it, going truly beyond time and space and birth and death.
Q . When you cry, is that a failure to 'sit with' something in the hara? I suppose there are different kinds of crying and some are more emotionally indulgent than others. When I was crying about my cat I felt like I was just BEING with how much I missed him very acutely, and it felt cathartic to cry, though if I was sitting with it I guess it wouldn't feel cathartic.I'd have to sit with it?
A. In many situations it certainly is not a failure to cry. Crying is a wonderful safety valve and one I myself have made use of several times over the years. In emotional situations during sitting practice we do our best to contain our habitual reactions, but if the emotions become too powerful then we sometimes need to 'let go'. Sometimes we need to grieve. This is necessary to be emotionally balanced, but when it crosses the line and becomes more like a self-indulgent expression of an ingrained habit, then we need to be careful. There may be a tendency to self-indulge and feel sorry for ourselves. This can be quite an unskilful habit, so it is always good to be aware at these times. If you see that you are crossing that line, then try as best you can to resist falling into what is often an immature state. Feeling sorry for myself was a strong tendency of mine. In pulling myself out of the habit, I felt I was cultivating inner strength, allowing myself to bear-with life's trials more successfully.