The Way to the End of the World, by Howard Cohn
About Howard Cohn:
The more I rest in present awareness, and don’t separate myself out from life, the more I appreciate the impact that I have on others. Only when I am present am I sensitive to my connection to the world, am I able to feel how important it is to be non-harming in my words and actions. When I am lost in thought, I lose that simplicity and sensitivity
Wait for Anushka. You know, well, while settling in, I just want to congratulate every one of you for making it through the first day. And admittedly, I say this at every retreat, but with all the sincerity that I can feel, because it really is such a heroic thing to stop, to put on the brakes, to downshift, and to keep quiet, and to look within. It is quiet to sometimes describe, thus going against the stream, because everything, as I mentioned last night, everything in our conditioning, the momentum of our lives, the engine of our lives is “How are you?” “Busy.” “How’s your week?” “Good. Busy.”
And as Amy ___ says, “You name the question. Busy is the answer.” She says, “I know we’re all terribly busy doing terribly important things, but most often, busy is the ___ response.” She said that “people’s always been this busy, did the cave man think they were busy too? I’ve gotten caves to ___. Can I beat you by the fire next week?” Yeah, so this is the momentum of our mind, and to stop, and to have our identity so bound up in “busy” and what she describes as the ___ byproduct of productivity, the joy of crossing things off our list, etcetera. So, clearly, what we’re doing here was we’re not list-crossing off. Even though you have done some list-making today while you were sitting, reviewing or revisiting the list that you had been living in. Then, it’s amazing to stop. What do you experience when you stop? As ___ says, if you want to understand your past, look at your present experience as we experience the fruits of what we practice.
And I think that for most of us, when we come on retreat, whether we’re the people leading the retreat or sitting, we alternate the first day between either dullness, because our vital energy has gotten so diminished in our daily life, we fluctuate between dullness and restlessness, where our reactivity is so strong to being present that we start feeling very agitated, restless and so we alternate between the two. So, it’s not easy to sit with this sometimes extreme fatigue and restlessness. And then, we’re often visited the first day especially, because if you’ve been incredibly dull or restless, you start to ask yourself, “What’s the point?” Then, we’re visited with doubt, and then our mind then starts fantasizing about all the things we could have been doing, should have been doing and then the mind fills with desire and then we’re having, and then we have a wanting mind, and then everything here looks unpleasant, and then we start feeling aversive, and then we fluctuate in and out, what we call a multiple hindrance attack. And yet, during this day, in a fundamental way as Anushka ___ this morning, nothing really happens, nothing- you never ever left the present moment, that the entire drama that played through your mind and body as intense as it is was just an unfolding of sights, sounds, smells, taste, lots of sensation and thoughts, reactions, feelings, but because these, the reaction come in such a torrent in a way. Often, it seems, it’s though we are in a middle of a big drama when it’s really just those six experiences repeating themselves over and over, you know, just one after another. Last one has gone, next one hasn’t happen, just the one where we’re hanging out together right now and maybe, at some point in the span of your day, you saw, no matter how crazy it was, it was really just moments. Just unfolding moments. And perhaps, we begin to see over the course of the retreat how different it is what’s actually happening, what the Dharma is, which is the six experiences and the other aspect of the Dharma, this amazing capacity of our mind to proliferate about what’s happening, and to elaborate. The good news is that even the elaborations of our mind, that fly-will of commentary and judgments, and likes, and dislikes. Even that becomes, that is our path. It’s just another thing that we notice, and then everything becomes equal in its opportunity, to wake us up to the simple reality of this unfolding present. So at first, we have very little capacity to be able to notice, to be, to wake up in every world and bring in the title of the retreat. We have very little capacity to actually see what our mind and our body is doing in a continuous way, and it requires some degree of settling, some degree of gently bringing our attention. It’s often scattered, together with our body, to have our mind, you could say, mind being the conscious, in the same location as our body and this is what the- what the Buddha suggested was the key to this capacity that we have to wake up out of just being lost in the dramas of our mind. To be able to notice, to be able to be clear, to have clear perception about what’s happening. Because most of our distress, comes from the lack of clear perception of what’s happening.
Just a little, funny story that I enjoyed about this waking up out of the distorted perceptions of ourselves, I read this in a book from Anthony De Melo where he describes how we are literally sleepwalking just so much lost in our internal world. And said, last year in Spanish television I heard a story of a gentleman who knocked on his son’s door, and said to him, “Jaime, wake up.” And Jaime answered, “I don’t want to get up, papa.” And the father shouted, “Get up! You have to go to school!” And Jaime said, “I don’t want to go to school.” “Why not?” asked the father. “Three reasons,” says Jaime. “First, because it’s so dull. Second, the kids tease me. And third, I hate school.” And the father said, “Well, I’m going to give you three right reasons why you must go to school.”
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