“Remember yourself always and everywhere.”
“Remember yourself always and everywhere.”
George Ivanovich Gurdjieff
Gurdjieff once said the whole work can be summed up as “self remembering”. The self he speaks of is the awakened self: the Buddha within, the clear and unobstructed state. This type of remembering is tough but It is the main difference between the student and the master. It is relatively easy to reach, if not full enlightenment, a higher level of awareness while on the meditation cushion. It is significantly less easy to maintain that level of awareness when off the cushion living our ordinary lives.
In Dzogchen, the main method that I follow, the path begins with a master pointing out the nature of mind. This is usually done by making an analogy to a mirror or the sky. The student than tries to uncover and rest in the nature of mind, or Rigpa, through a series of meditations called Rushan’s. I discovered Rigpa for myself in 2000, after a week of sky gazing meditation on the Great Stupa at Boudhanath. It was a state that I like to refer to as “perfect ordinariness”. It was truly wondrous to have thoughts arise and set within the mind and yet feel no attachment to them. To rest in the nature of mind, rather than its contents. After experiencing a higher state of awareness, the issue than becomes maintaining that state, or even remembering that you can even be in that state.
This problem exists no matter what your meditation is. Once we learn that we can be mindful, we have to remember to try and be so. Monasteries exist almost entirely for this reason: to surround the practitioner with reminders to be contemplative. To practice being in the present when waking, walking, eating, washing dishes, praying, and playing.
In my own life I try to make use of what I call Awareness Mines. These are places that I pass occasionally that trigger me to remember Rigpa. Obvious ones like images of the Buddha and such seem like they would be best, but they are usually in the places that we meditate anyway, so they don’t quite count. Besides, if you get used to them, they can become just like ordinary objects. The best examples are things that push themselves into your awareness in some small way, things that you come across almost accidentally like a landmine. Only this type of mine reminds you to shatter your habitual patterns rather than your guts.
The first one that I usually encounter outside the house every day is one of the branches of the pine tree in the front yard. I see it against the sky right before I get into my car, and the light hits the dew in just such a way as to make it noticeable. It explodes into my awareness reminding me to maintain contemplation.
Another one is a spot in the parking lot of the mall I get coffee at every morning that is particularly quiet. The walls of the mall act like a sound barrier, and I am usually there before anything else is open. Awareness mine: I usually take a few minutes to stretch, make a mental offering, and do a walking meditation.
My job takes me to the beach often. How can one not be reminded of vastness and clarity when glimpsing the ocean meeting the sky. I blend my mind with the sky and gaze, if only for a few moments.
They should not all be scenes of serenity and beauty however. I use the toilet as an awareness mine as well. The perceived impurity of the act is a reminder of my vow to not view things as pure and impure. The bonus is that on even the busiest days you can spend a few minutes alone in the crapper. Call it excremeditation if you like. I try also to remember mindfulness when I come across a scene of horror and tragedy like a car accident on the parkway or Janice Dickenson on the television.
Awareness mines can be set by events as well as places. Sex is an obvious one. The orgasm is after all a pretty primordial experience, at least if you are doing it right. Thus the wonderful Kamamudra practices from the Tantras. Physical labor, especially repetitive labor, is another. It is easy to loose oneself in the work and be completely present, which is why I meditate while mowing the lawn; the only yard work that I do not complain about. Thich Naht Hanh speaks about washing dishes in the same way – not washing the dishes to get them clean, but washing them just to wash them.
It is easy to make pleasant and neutral experiences into awareness mines, but it is much trickier to make negative experiences into reminders to practice. For those that can do it though, the rewards are great. For the last month I have been trying to make anger and hunger into awareness mines. I am starting to make progress with the sensation of anger: my wife is 8 months pregnant so I get a lot of practice. I have had some success with hunger pangs leading to awareness practice, but often the search for something decent to eat counter acts the effort. Still, I am having some small amount of success.
I find that these little reminders to be present are key in linking the formal meditation in the morning and evening. Most days I can stop what I am doing and actually do a short 5 minute semzin practice or simple breath meditation, but even if I can’t, simply being present in the moment doing what I am doing is enough. Each of these ripples throughout the day like a pebble hitting a river. It is wonderful to develop the ability to cut through distraction, but it is even more wonderful to remember to do it!