Noticing the gaps


I wish I could meditate with others more often, it's so supportive. Not for the reasons that you might think; the collective energy, the sense of togetherness, that sort of thing.

No, the simple reason is that when I meditate with others I don't get up from my cushion!  

If I'm meditating with others for 30 mins, an hour, I stay on the cushion, no matter what. 

When I meditate on my own I often have this irresistible urge to get up and do something else. Part of the problem is that I have such good ideas when I meditate, sometimes I can't wait to put them into action.

Strangely I don't feel that way lying in bed on a Sunday morning. 

Sometimes I want to get up because something uncomfortable is happening. I don't know if it has a name, but if it did it would probably be something like fear, resistance or aversion. Those feelings have a way of sucking you in. 

What else is happening? 

Buddhism talks of the five classic hindrances to meditation, in reality there are far more than five. I think whatever gets me to get up from me cushion can be called a hindrance. There are also recommended ways of working with them.

But for me what's worked best recently is just to ask 'what else is happening?'.

This morning while meditating I had the urge to get up. I just asked, 'Okay, and what else is happening?'

When I looked there was a whole bunch of very pleasant sensations. That was a surprise. 

How does the saying go, we are afraid of the light as much as the dark? 

So next time you feel yourself sucked into some feeling of fear or aversion, just take a look and see what else is going on. No need to turn away from the fear, it can have it's place but in the much bigger landscape of feelings and sensations. 

Joining the dots 

Sometimes a feeling comes over us, fear, anxiety, dread, you can name your own favourite. It can seem so all encompassing, so solidly there. If our response to those feelings is to want rid of them, we unwittingly just add another layer of fear and aversion. 

Instead we can ask a slightly different question to 'What else is happening?', we can ask -

'Are there gaps?'

Is the fear, loneliness, longing, a completely solid experience or are there some gaps? 

Have we just joined a lot of dots to make something more solid than it is? Rob Burbea uses this image of a 'dot to dot' picture.

As practice develops, we naturally experience times when the quality of mindfulness is relatively stronger and more continuous than at other times, and we are able to pay close attention to things, inner and outer. Then, as has been mentioned, it is possible to begin to see that what at first blush looked so solid in fact has lots of gaps in it.

More than this though, we can begin to get a little sense, at a certain level, of how the perceptions of solidity or fabricated. Just as in those children’s ‘dot-to-dot’ drawing books - where you follow and join the numbered dots with a pencil line to get a picture of something or other - close mindfulness can show that the mind joins the fragmented ‘dots’ of momentary experience, and thus fabricates some bigger and more solid-seeming experience.

And as explained, the bigger and more solid an experience seems, the greater the clinging and the dukkha it involves. This ‘joining of the dots’ happens in thinking about an impending experience in the future, and also while we are actually experiencing it.
— Rob Burbea

practice: ‘dot-to-dot’

Whenever you are sucked in by any strong emotion, instead of trying to get away to it, try saying yes to it. 'Yes, and what else is happening?'

Or, try the other approach.

Really investigate the experience, get intimate with the moment to moment sensations, can you notice any gaps in the experience of a that particular emotion or state?

If you can find the gaps how does that effect the way you see that emotion, the way you feel about it?

Try these ways of looking with all kinds of experiences, pleasant and painful.