Winter Solstice
7-Week Zen Practice Period / The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success
Week 3: "The Power of INDIVIDUATION"
Choose What to Tune Into
Listen to this talk:
The Power of INDIVIDUATION: "Choose What to Tune Into" (28 min.)
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
February 20, 2011 - Dallas, Texas

Meditation helps us to remember the beautiful gifts that exist here and now: the ability to hear. We have 2 eyes that can see. We have 10 fingers, 10 or 11 toes. We have a non-toothache. So there are so many beautiful realities right here and now, so many causes and conditions for happiness right here and now. Mindfulness helps us to cultivate the ability to access those realities more deeply.

And mindfulness also helps us to grow and develop emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. There are so many different voices calling us these days. There are thousands of channels in the realm of consciousness. It is up to us to choose the channel that we listen to, just like there are many channels on the radio station and the TV station. They are always playing constantly, even if we have not tuned in. They are always there on the airwaves.

So also there are many voices and many different things in the universe calling out to us. Some are negative. Some are positive. Some are neutral. Some are beneficial. Some are harmful. Some are just distractions. It is up to us to choose what we tune into.

A few months ago, I went to Deer Park Monastery to get away for about a week, away from technology, away from my cell phone, away from the computer. This is very difficult. About 10 years ago, I started to get into doing lots of e-mails, and I remember my roommate Mark at the time, when I was living in Los Angeles, the very first thing he would do when he woke up was to check his e-mail, and I kind of laughed at him because of it, but I started to do the same thing.

Over the years, I've noticed I do that more and more. The very first thing when I wake up, I want to check my e-mail. It is really difficult to resist the temptation because my brother got me an iPhone for my birthday a couple of years ago, and now you can check your e-mail on the iPhone. So you can have your iPhone by your bedside and then the alarm goes off, and then you turn it off, but you can also check your e-mail just by pushing a button. So one of my resolutions is not to check my e-mail before I meditate in the morning and not to watch TV or listen to the radio. I wish I didn't do those things anyway, but that is something we can all maybe try to practice.

But I found that when I went to the retreat at the monastery a few months ago, I found that I had withdrawal symptoms from technology. It sometimes takes a retreat to realize what is going on, to get yourself out of the situation to know what is actually happening. And so I was like, wow, there is this withdrawal symptom of, oh my gosh, I cannot check my e-mail while I'm out this monastery, you know? And this signal is not strong enough to do too much on my phone.

And so I made a decision not to use my phone during those 7 days except for maybe one day where I just absolutely had to. But for the most part, I did not use my phone. I did not check e-mail. And I just put myself into the schedule of the monastery. And there is something very beautiful about going to a monastery for a week. I highly recommend it to everyone. It will change your life.

It just puts you back into the rhythm of nature, just waking up a little bit before the sunrise, meditating with all the monks and nuns and the laypeople there, and then walking mindfully, doing some exercise, and then eating breakfast in silence together, appreciating each bite of food, and then doing working meditation afterwards, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine and the sound of the birds and working together, not frantically, not rushing, just joyfully and peacefully working.

And it is okay that you do not finish whatever task you were given. You only work for the amount of time, and then you stop when the bell rings, and you know that someone else will finish the job tomorrow, or maybe you will be given the same task tomorrow. But it is not working to get anything done. It is just working because that is what we do as human beings, and that is what we need to do to get things done, but it is not to get something done. It is just to work to enjoy the work.

I remember the first time I did sweeping meditation in the lunch hall. I thought, this is a really large hall, and I only have one and a half hours of working meditation, and I needed to get this done fast. So, I was really, really sweating and trying to figure out these weird looking broom things. So the monks came over to me and smiled and bowed and said, "This is how we practice working meditation. We take the broom and we breathe in, sweep, and breathe out, sweep. Breathe in, sweep. Breathe out, sweep." And I thought, you have got to be kidding me.

But that is what I did. So I stopped. I slowed down. I breathed, and I just started sweeping. And I stopped sweating, and I just started to enjoy the motions. It was rhythmic, like my breath, rhythmic like walking meditation, sweeping in, and just enjoying sweeping.

And I remember also at night during the evening meditation before dinner as the sun was setting, right in the middle of the silence in the meditation hall you started to hear howls from the coyotes in the hills. They started to sing and to howl and to laugh. It was beautiful. I think they might've been hyenas too. I do not know, but it was a very, very interesting sound. And some other nights, we would hear the crickets start to sing and the frogs.

And that night, after dinner, we had informal practice times, so sometimes I would just take a walk by myself under the beautiful starry night sky. And since we were away from a lot of the city limits, you can see more stars, and they are much brighter. And this I do not experience right here in Dallas very often. It was just wonderful to feel the immensity of the universe and the beautiful quiet of the hills and all the different animals and plants coexisting harmoniously together with the humans.

I just simply put myself into the rhythm of practice. I did not have to make everything happen. It was already made available on the schedule. All I had to do was choose this channel and then say, "Yes," and to completely immerse myself into the schedule, and then just being in that routine without trying too hard, without even trying to get enlightened or trying to read as much as I could or practice meditation longer.

I did not have to do any of those things, just one meditation in the morning, breakfast, working, lunch, personal practice, group practice, meditation, dinner, personal practice at night or sometimes community practice at night. That is not a lot. But that rhythm over several days seeped into my bones, and I started to let go of my addiction to the technology, and I started literally and tangibly feeling myself letting go of that habitual habit of my fingers wanting to push little buttons.

It felt so freeing, and I remember when I had to leave the monastery and go back to civilization the feeling of relief that, oh, I do not have to check my e-mail right away. I do not have to make these phone calls. I do not have to do these text messages. Then of course, after a few weeks, if slowly has crept in again, that habit energy, but I'm a little bit more aware of it now. That is good, that I am a little bit more aware.

This year is a year to take refuge in the Sangha, in the community. So I hope all of us together will really take that to heart. Put yourself into the rhythm of practice. Make a schedule for yourself. Do not just meditate whenever you feel like it. Schedule it in. If meditation really is that important to you, why wouldn't you want to schedule it in? It is not something you just do haphazardly. I mean, it you can, but let's see how far you go in that approach. With our busy lives these days, it is not a very helpful approach. I really believe we have to schedule it in. We have to make the intention that we are going to meditate.

And you know what? It is okay if you do not do it every day yet. Just make the intention starting today for the next week, I will do it every day. And then at the end of the week, assess if you did or not, and let it go. Start again next Sunday. Okay? Choose one of these days of the week which is your mindfulness day. Maybe it's Saturday. Maybe it's Sunday, but it is your day to assess the previous week and to recommit to the practice for the upcoming week.

Usually Sunday is my mindfulness day. So, choose a day that will always be your day to remind you to assess the past week and plan for the next week the practice of mindfulness and meditation.

The 3rd chakra, which is what we are talking about tonight, is in the solar plexus. We usually associate it with the color yellow, like the sun. You see, the 1st chakra you might say it's about survival. Money issues sometimes come up. And the 2nd chakra is sexual energy, creativity energy, and then the 3rd chakra is personal power and personal individuation, really knowing who you are, being your own person apart from society and family and the dictates of those who have raised you to actually know who are you for who you are.

That is what this 3rd chakra is about, but it is interesting. These 3 areas for many spiritual teachers are difficult areas, especially if they have developed their 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th chakras really, really highly but neglected these. It is important that we develop all of them in balance. But of course, everyone does them in different orders, so we all have different journeys, but it is interesting. The 1st, 2nd, 3rd chakras are all about money, sex, and power, which is usually part of scandals. So we have to be mindful of that.

You see here in the 3rd chakra, we make decisions. This is where we make personal choice, and if we are not strong in this, we will not be able to make the choice to put ourselves in the rhythm of practice, to make the choice to take refuge in the Sangha. This is an area where we really need to cultivate so that we are not just pulled here and there by social pressures, especially if they are negative social pressures, but that we can stand on our own 2 feet and be who we are and be strong in who we are and make that choice, the choice of meditation, mindfulness, the path of enlightenment.

And it takes time to develop our ability to trust our gut feelings, our intuition, but if we do not start now, it does not just happen automatically. Every day, every moment, we need to keep listening to the inner light and just follow our intuition and you might not follow it exactly. It is okay. But you have to start listening now and start following now, and just take that risk. You know, the 3rd chakra is about taking risks, stepping out of your comfort zone, making a stand, being who you are, and just trusting.

You know, in January, while I was meditating, I heard an inner--not necessarily an inner voice, but an inner knowing--and it told me to investigate this building because it had been empty for a year and to see if I could do something here and see if anyone else was interested in helping me make something happen. So I followed that intuition, and 4 months later, we had our open house.

So, all of my life, I have been listening to that voice within, and I do not follow it perfectly, but I keep trying, and that is what matters, that we just keep trying. And the key to having more clarity in listening to the inner voice is when you have community to help you listen together. And this will help prevent cults from being formed, or going off the deep end, because your true spiritual friends can help you by listening together with you, and they can give you sound advice and give you their perspective in spiritual community.

So it is important that we listen to the inner voice, but in the context of community, so that we are not so vulnerable to maybe listening to a false voice. But we cannot allow the fear of listening to a false voice to stop us from listening at all, because when we do that, then we are very vulnerable to only listening to external voices or internalized external voices like your mother's voice or your father's voice or whoever's voice, which might have been positive, but sometimes might have been negative.

Individuation is key on the spiritual path because it starts to help us to trust our own voice and our own way. Yes, we learn from our ancestors and our parents and our teachers and our society, but we still have to make the choice ourselves. No one else can walk the path for you; only you can walk the path--only you. Teachers, parents, society, spiritual communities can give you the teachings, but they cannot walk the path for you. You have to walk the path.

A few months ago, I had a great joy come to my heart. It was a great joy because I realized what my mission in life is, and it brought me such great joy because I realized my mission in life is not necessarily to be fully enlightened in this life. My mission in life is not necessarily to try to bring everyone else to full enlightenment. What a daunting task that is. Rather, I realized, my mission in life is simply to realize at least the 1st stage of enlightenment and to help all of my brothers and sisters to realize that same 1st, initial stage of enlightenment.

Now, that might not make you smile, but it brings a smile to me, because that is not so hard. That is not as hard as full enlightenment. Though I was just so happy. I realize, oh, yes, and I'm totally content with that, just to realize the 1st stage of enlightenment and to help all of my brothers and sisters to realize the same initial stage of enlightenment.

Now, why am I smiling about that? It is because it is not so hard. It is very attainable for all of us, but it does take practice and commitment. I believe we can do it, and I bet if we did it together, we could do it by December 21, 2012. And that is just in less than 2 years. I bet we could.

What is the 1st stage of enlightenment? There are 4 stages. The 4th is, you know, full enlightenment. In the 1st stage, you just simply take complete refuge in the Buddha, not necessarily the teacher we called the Buddha 2600 years ago, but we take refuge in Buddha, meaning we take refuge in the fact that there is this enlightened nature within and all around us and that this enlightenment is embodied by those who are enlightened, such as the Buddha 2600 years ago or any other spiritual teachers who are fully enlightened that we know or may not know.

But we take refuge. We completely trust and have faith in and devotion in the truth that enlightenment is possible because there have been people who have been enlightened. And even if you do not know anyone who is fully enlightened, you at least know at least one person who is more enlightened than you, and that is good enough, right? I mean, that is good enough for me. I do not really know who is fully enlightened.

I never met the Buddha 2600 years ago. You know? I did not even meet Jesus, whom I totally love and admire too, but I met Thich Nhat Hanh, and he's definitely more enlightened than I am, and that is good enough for me to know that enlightenment is possible, and so I take refuge in the Buddha by taking refuge in the fact that there are those like Thich Nhat Hanh who are more enlightened than me. And so I know that enlightenment is possible for me.

And, we take refuge in the Dharma, in the teachings of enlightenment and the practices of enlightenment, such as meditation, mindful living, and we completely immerse ourselves in these practices of generosity, loving-kindness, feeding food to the monks and nuns who are on the path of enlightenment, all of these different practices. Completely immerse yourself in those practices.

And then taking refuge in the Sangha, in the community, supporting the community financially, with presents, with volunteering, putting yourself in the company of those who are on the path with you. This is important, because in our everyday life, most of our hours are spent with those who may not be consciously on the path of enlightenment, so it drains us slowly over time, slows us down over time, which is why we need to at least once a week or more surround ourselves with those who are definitely on the path of enlightenment and consciously so. It is very important to uplift us.

So, these are the only requirements for attaining and realizing the 1st stage of enlightenment: taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha deeply in every area of our life--and to practice the Mindfulness Trainings: nonviolence, non-greediness, sexual responsibility, mindful communication and healthy consumption. Continually immersing ourselves in the Mindfulness Trainings on those precepts and in that lifestyle of kindness, that is it. That is it.

And if we can do that deeply and fully, suddenly we may find ourselves awakening to who we really are. And so the sign of the 1st stage of enlightenment is that you realize the truth of nonself and emptiness. It is no longer a concept. It is a reality you have actually experienced deeply. And I am not going to explain what it is to you, because I do not know it fully, although I have had a glimpse of it.

And also, the 2nd is that you, for the most part, live your life completely by the Mindfulness Trainings without much failure in those areas. So you are usually a very ethical person, saintly person. And the 3rd sign is that you no longer rely on rituals and rules. You realize that they have a place at a certain stage in development and practice, but they are not really your true refuge, rules and rituals. You may have rules and rituals to engage in, as a part of your spiritual, beautiful practice and aesthetics and also some guidelines to help you, but you do not rely fully on those. The truth is within, beyond all rules and all rituals.

So those are the 3 signs that you have realized the 1st stage of enlightenment. I, personally, have not realized the 1st stage of enlightenment, but I've come right to the brink about 3 years ago. And at least I realized a glimpse of the meaning of nonself and emptiness, but my keeping the Mindfulness Trainings still has a way to go, and I think relying on rules and rituals is not so strong in me, so I think I'm good in that.

Because, you know, I grew up Baptist and a Virgo, and so there is a part of me that really likes to cling to rituals and rules to guarantee my happiness or to guarantee that I will be loved and, you know? This is something that we sometimes do. We try to rely on rules or rituals, and if we do them, then we will be saved or then we will be enlightened or then we will be loved. You see?

The more we practice on the path, we start to let go of that dependency, and we realize we can still have rules and we can still have rituals, but our relationship to them is different. Instead of them being our Savior, they are just simply expressions of who we truly are. You see? See the difference? It is like good works. Instead of doing that so that you will be good enough to go to heaven, now good works are just simply the natural expression of your gratitude for the love that has already been given to you. You see? That is the difference.

So, to attain the 1st stage of enlightenment requires that we are strong in our 3rd chakra, in our individuation, because it takes commitment and choice and perseverance and true willpower to go on the path. It can be very difficult for many people because so many times we sabotage our willpower or we give away our power, right?

If we could see our energy field when we engage in our everyday life, we would see that certain chakras have energy draining out toward people. It is like we are hooking ourselves into others that we physically see and also that we just do not physically see, like memories of other people. You know, someone does not have to be present physical in the room to have a powerful effect on you, right? Even people who have already died in their life can still have a very powerful influence on you--even if you divorced them--because our mind still looks energetically to them.

So through the practice of meditation and mindfulness, we can start looking at how especially our 3rd chakra is still hooked into dependency and codependency on many, many other beings, and we can start letting those go and cutting back into our own true self.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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