Breakthrough Newsletter
By George Pitagorsky

Volume VI, Issue 8                                                                        Top    August 2014
In This Issue
I am the sky - Happiness and Less Stress
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I am the sky - Happiness and Less Stress

by George Pitagorsky   
 

  

Happiness, performance improvement, stress reduction, and the ability to manage pain are bringing people to meditation practice. Teachers and trainers are bringing the ancient practice of mindfulness meditation to individuals, corporations, hospitals, schools and even the U.S. Army. While mindfulness meditation is highly effective on its own, its effectiveness is greatly enhanced when it is combined with a mental attitude of objective observation along with wisdom and compassion.

 

Mental attitude is a very powerful factor. Basic beliefs, mental models and thoughts shape our words and actions.


Take the statement, "I am the sky and everything else is just weather." The attitude expressed in this quote from Pema Chodron provides a foundation for less-stress living and happiness that is not conditioned on getting pleasant things and avoiding unpleasant things.

 

Unnecessary Stress
Stress is that part of life that stimulates, annoys and distresses. Unnecessary stress is the stress you impose on yourself in reaction to the stresses that you cannot avoid. Unavoidable stress is a physical or mental challenge, pain, a terrible job, noise from a neighbor, nasty smells, etc. Unnecessary or avoidable stress is what we add to the situation. When a neighbor makes a disturbing noise just when you have settled into a comfortable rest, the avoidable stress comes from your thinking that the person making the noise is a rotten so and so without any concern for others, or perhaps obsessing about how you chose the wrong place to live. Anger and the tension it brings is not about the sound itself. It is about your reaction to the sound.

 

Unnecessary stress can be avoided if you step back and, for a moment, observe the gap between the stimulus and the response. The noise, the unavoidable stress, is the stimulus, your reaction to it the response.

 

Often it seems as if there's no gap between stimulus and response. Noise and anger seem to arise simultaneously. But there is a gap. Being able to perceive it and step in with a new response is a critical capability. Without it you are doomed to reactive behavior that more often than not is damaging to yourself, your relationships and others.

 

Meditation
Mindfulness meditation is a key. It enables you to see more of what is going on? It is as if the world around you is going in slow motion. Meditation enables the meditator to see the gap, the space between the stimulus and response. With the right attitude it promotes objective observation and healthy acceptance of whatever comes.

 

Meditation practice is relatively simple. You begin by focusing on your breath as an object of attention to calm the mind and provide a taste of quiet spaciousness. Notice thoughts, feelings, physical sensations of the body, sounds, sights, smells and bring our attention back to the breath. If the breath doesn't work for you, you can use a sound, image, word or phrase as the focal point. Keep it simple.

 

This is concentration practice. Sustained focus on any object trains the mind and results in a calm state. The mind becomes trained so the practitioner can choose which thoughts to continue to focus on and which to let go. As concentration increases, there are fewer moments of distraction, less reactive behavior and a sense of being centered and in a highly pleasant, open and productive state. This is being in the zone or experiencing a calm state. The mind is stable and relatively quiet. Thoughts come up but there are fewer of them and the ones that do come go by without distracting the mind.

 

The calm state is a step in the right direction. Another step is to cultivate mindfulness. Experienced meditators gradually shift into an open meditation. Open in the sense that the focus is outward and less on a particular object like the breath or a sound. Movement, in the form of thoughts, feelings, sounds, sights, and all the other things that arise in and around you, becomes the object of meditation. 

 

If you become distracted, lost in thought, as soon as you realize it, it is gently back to the breath, then it is back to noticing the movement; opening to whatever arises with choiceless awareness. 

 

If the mind seems too busy you can shift back to concentration practice to quiet the mind. You might choose to spend the first few minutes of a meditation session with concentration and then open to mindfulness, calmly observing whatever arises.

 

Note that mindfulness practice is not limited to formal meditation sessions. It spills over into daily life so that every activity becomes a meditation.

 

Awareness
At some point you become aware that consciousness is an object that you can notice just as you notice your thoughts, sensations, sounds and all the rest. You have taken a step back. You are observing the observing. At first it seems as if a separate part of the mind is engaged as an observer or witness. As meditation practice matures this witness blends into the background and there is awareness without any identifiable observer being aware. There is just the experience of being aware. This awareness does not get in the way of your daily activities, just as the sky doesn't get in the way of the weather. It is simply present.

 

Many people, meditators and non-meditators alike, naturally experience this kind of awareness. Perhaps you have experienced a moment while playing a sport, being involved in an accident or engaged in an artistic performance in which you are no longer there in the normal way. Everything is just happening. You are performing and yet you are not doing it in the same old way. You are aware of whatever is occurring. Even the things that you are doing seem as if they are happening by themselves.


"I am the Sky"
So what does it mean when Pema says "I am the sky and everything else is just weather"? How does this relate to happiness and less-stress living?

 

The sky is a boundless expanse, empty and clear. Everything else is just weather -- storms, clouds, sunshine, etc. -- coming up and passing through. Nothing disturbs the sky. Before, during and after the storm the sky is still the boundless expanse, empty, luminous, accepting spaciousness.

 

To think "I am the sky" means that at some point you identify with clear empty spacious awareness. All phenomena - thoughts, feelings, sensations, etc. - are like clouds, storms, high pressure and low pressure systems arising and passing away. Even the sense of your normal self becomes just another thought. Then you can hear the sound, feel the sense of your displeasure about it, and notice the thoughts and how thoughts and feelings create, the physical sensations that can drive you to behave reactively. 

 

Just as the sky does not react to clouds you don't react to the noise. Instead you are clear and can skillfully choose your action. You can make your displeasure known, or not, you can choose to do something more or not.


But, we live in our current condition. We are individuals who have emotions, likes, dislikes and all the rest of the weather systems but some are completely unaware of the sky. For them all there is, is the weather. Others have moments of seeing the sky and then they drift or leap back into identifying with the weather. Once you identify with the sky, even for a moment, you know the weather is just the weather, a never ending flow of events, sometimes pleasant, sometimes not. 

 

The practice is to continuously remember that you are the sky and that everything else is weather. Then there can be responsiveness rather than reactivity, less stress and unconditioned happiness.

 

Guided Meditation
Following is a guided meditation that can help you experience an expansive, clear state.

 

Take a few minutes to come into relax into your body. Bring your attention into the place below your navel and above your genitals. Feel your body. Let go of any thoughts. Just be in your body, feeling whatever sensations arise. Imagine your breath coming in and out of this point. Relax any unnecessary tension.

 

Bring your breath to the center of your chest and visualize a white clear, gentle light there, deep within the center of your chest. Stay with this a few minutes.


Let that light expand slowly until it fills your entire body - your torso, arms, hands, neck, head pelvic area, legs feet and begins to spill over into the space around you. As it expands within your body tension melts away.

 

As the light expands to fill the space around you let your body melt into the light until all that is left is the field of clear, soft white light, boundless as the sky.

 

As thoughts or feelings arise, they immediately melt into the expanse of white light.

 

Rest like this for as long as it is comfortable.

 

Open your eyes and experience your visual sensations as just more phenomena arising in the expanse of white light. Feel the sensations, observe thoughts arising and passing away. 


"You are the sky and everything else

 is just weather."

 

2014 George Pitagorsky                                     Top