Sunday, March 8, 2009

Exploring the Mental Landscape

Okay I finally did it.  I was inspired  enough by my qi gong classmates and our teacher's constant reminder, that if you keep taking the pot off the burner the water is never going to boil.  Even though somewhere in the night, an hour went missing, I managed to find 2 one hour periods to sit in meditation.

In the morning I was thinking about Alice, a woman in our class who is always up front about her experience.  Yesterday she expressed a lot of frustration at not "feeling the chi" when she sits. She is feeling pretty disappointed by this, really wanting to experience it, and wondering in the end if she has any chi.  I could see some of myself in Alice and started to wonder what separates those classmates who are getting the "big chi buzz" and those of us who are asking where is this illusive chi hiding.

As I did my first sit this morning, it came to me.  Besides the hours of practice that the chi filled students have put in over the years, I could see three fundamental difference.  These differences seemed, to me, to all involve mental attitude, if we can call it that.  First those chi-key guys believe when they sit down that they are going to feel the chi.  Past experience leads them to feel this way.  They have no doubt that the chi is there and that they will feel it.  The rest of us aren't so sure.  We think thoughts like: maybe this won't work for me, maybe I'll never feel the chi, maybe I'm the exception.  Doubt in Buddhism is one of the five hindrances.

The other mental attitude that stands in our way is that feeling of frustration and impatience.  Where is that darn chi, it should be here by now.  I told it to pick me up at 5 o'clock and I'm still standing on the corner waiting.  Our frustration and impatience tightens our bodies, closes our minds and natters away in our ears.  Man it is a pesky companion!

And then there is desire, attachment (the good 'ol cause of suffering in Buddhist lingo).  We want to experience that feeling of chi.  We want, we want, we want.  We are so full of wanting there is no place for the chi to sit.  It's like the old comment that the Zen master makes about the archer in competition.  "His need to win prevents him from hitting his mark."

So these were my discoveries.   If I could just sit with some openness and presence and believe that the chi was already there in my lower dan tien that would be step number one.  Give up doubt.  Number two: let go of frustration. Don't waste  your energy checking in on the chi and then winding yourself up into a chi seeking pretzel because what you find doesn't meet your expectations.  And these expectations are linked to the wanting, the desire, the attachment that we taste so strongly that it obscures the flavour of anything else.  ....  So my work was to just sit and know that the chi was present (just like our Buddha nature) but that I am not quite skilled enough to feel it strongly, that it takes time and patience and tending and trust.  And so I relaxed and experimented and explored.  And interestingly by leaving the pot on the burner a little longer and adjusting my mental fedora which was slightly askew I seemed to have a more focused meditation and a greater sense of the growing chi.

It is so interesting to watch the impact our sometimes subtle (sometimes not so subtle) mental attitude has on how things play out for us.  Our minds are powerful little pieces of equipment.  It's too bad they don't come with a better operator's manual.  But knowing me I would never read the instructions until something went wrong!


  1. Beautifully expressed! In Vedanta we call the mental attitude 'beatitude'. Its being in the right frame of mind for meditation or spiritual practice.
    Faith, Non-attachment, something I am learning to cultivate for my own practice too!

    When we are ready meditation will come;-)

  2. Thanks Janaki as always, for the words of encouragement!