Why do you practice? A few words on intention and aspiration (from July 2 class)

During last week’s “Intro to Zen” class (July 2), I prefaced my instructions for open awareness practice with some remarks about the importance of reflecting on why we practice in the first place: our underlying intention or aspiration… This aspect of spiritual practice is profoundly important, but it’s not something I’ve spoken much about during this series so far, so I wanted to share the audio recording of that part of the class here.

On Aspiration or Intention: Why Do You Practice? (July 2)

Jack Kornfield on Emptiness

I’m thinking of reading these beautiful words written by Jack Kornfield (from his book, A Path With Heart) during tomorrow evening’s class on heart practices. Whether I do or don’t, I wanted to share them here:

The last aspect of mindful healing is awareness of the universal laws that govern life. Central to it is an understanding of emptiness. This is most difficult to describe in words. In fact, while I can try to describe it here, the understanding of openness and emptiness will need to come directly through the experience of your own spiritual practice.

In Buddhist teaching, “emptiness” refers to a basic openness and non-separation that we experience when all small and fixed notions of our self are seen through or dissolved. We experience it when we see that our existence is transitory, that our body, heart, and mind arise out of the changing web of life, where nothing is disconnected or separate. The deepest experiences in meditation lead us to an intimate awareness of life’s essential openness and emptiness, of its ever-changing and unpossessable nature, of its nature as an unstoppable process.

The Buddha described human life as comprising a series of ever-changing processes: a physical process, a feeling process, a memory and recognition process, a thought and reaction process, and a consciousness process. These processes are dynamic and continuous, without a single element we can call our unchanging self. We ourselves are a process, woven together with life, without separateness. We arise like a wave out of the ocean of life, our tentative forms still one with the ocean. Some traditions call this ocean the Tao, the divine, the fertile void, the unborn. Out of it, our lives appear as reflections of the divine, as a movement or dance of consciousness. The most profound healing comes when we sense this process, this life-giving emptiness.

As our meditation practice deepens, we are able to see the movement of our experience. We note feelings and see that they last for only a few seconds. We pay attention to thoughts and see that they are ephemeral, that they come and go, uninvited, like clouds. We bring our awareness to the body and see that its boundaries are porous. In this practice, our sense of the solidity of a separate body or a separate mind starts to dissolve, and suddenly, unexpectedly, we find out how much at ease we are. As our meditation deepens still further we experience expansiveness, delight, and the freedom of our interconnectedness with all things, with the great mystery of our life….

The Tibetan teacher Kalu Rinpoche puts it this way:

“You live in illusion and the appearance of things. There is a reality, but you do not know this. When you understand this, you will see that you are nothing, and being nothing you are everything. That is all.”

Healing comes in touching this realm of nonseparation. We discover that our fears and desires, our attempts to enhance and defend ourselves, are based on delusion, on a sense of separateness that is fundamentally untrue.

In discovering the healing power of emptiness, we sense that everything is intertwined in a continuous movement, arising in certain forms that we call bodies or thoughts or feelings, and then dissolving or changing into new forms. With this wisdom we can open to one moment after another and live in the ever-changing Tao. We discover we can let go and trust, we can let the breath breathe itself and the natural movement of life carry us with ease.

Each dimension of our being, the body, the heart, and the mind, is healed through the same loving attention and care. Our attention can honor the body and discover the blessings of the physical life that has been given us. Attention can bring us fully into the heart to honor the whole range of our human feelings. It can heal the mind and help us to honor thought without being trapped by it. And it can open us to the great mystery of life, to the discovery of the emptiness and wholeness that we are and our fundamental unity with all things.

(From https://jackkornfield.com/healing-emptiness/)

Afternoon sitting: Saturday July 13, 2-4:30pm at Tasha Yoga (space is limited; please RSVP to reserve a spot)

Hi everyone,

I’ve reserved the studio at Tasha Yoga from 2-4:30pm on Saturday July 13 for an afternoon of silent meditation. Here’s the schedule:

  • 2:00-2:30: silent sitting meditation
  • 2:30-2:40: walking meditation (indoors or outdoors: will be up to each individual)
  • 2:40-3:10: sitting
  • 3:10-3:20: walking
  • 3:20-3:50: sitting
  • 3:50-4:00: walking
  • 4:00-4:30: sitting

To make sure it doesn’t get too crowded, I’m limiting this mini-retreat to 25 people. Please email me at brhie@williams.edu if you’d like to participate. All participants are asked to commit to the full afternoon schedule.

I plan to offer mini-retreats like this on a somewhat regular basis. So if you can’t make it to this one, don’t worry — there will be more in the future!

Warm wishes,


Guided meditation: instructions for open awareness practice

During tonight’s “Intro to Zen” class, I led an instructional guided meditation that walked folks through what I consider to be the key elements of open awareness practice. The elements that I covered were:

  • Posture (and why it’s good to refrain from moving during meditation)
  • Awareness of the breath (in the nose, chest, and belly)
  • Awareness of the body (sensations, overall feel of the body)
  • Awareness of the environment (sounds)
  • Putting it all together: awareness of breath, body, and environment
  • What to do with thoughts (wordless noting, generic labeling, or precise thought-labeling?)
  • How to work with unpleasant sensations/emotions (like pain or difficult emotions)

An audio recording of tonight’s full class (which includes some introductory remarks and the Q&A session afterwards) is now uploaded to the “class audio recordings” section of this blog and will remain there for the next few weeks. This is the audio recording of just the instructional guided meditation portion of the class.

Guided Meditation: Instructions for Open Awareness Practice

Audio: Body Scan (Wellness at Williams 6/25/19)

Here’s a recording of the body scan meditation that I led during today’s noon Wellness at Williams mindfulness session. Before you begin playing the recording, find a comfortable place to lie down on your back (a yoga mat/blanket, your bed, etc.).

Body Scan Guided Meditation (June 25, 2019)

Three poems by Han-Shan

I was reading the chapter devoted to the poet Han-Shan in The Roaring Stream: A New Zen Reader this morning, and I wanted to share just a few of the wonderful poems collected there (Han-Shan’s name literally means “Cold Mountain,” referring to a remote, craggy spot in the T’ien-t’ai range of eastern China, where this legendary poet is said to have lived the life of a hermit, sometime during the T’ang Dynasty, i.e. early 7th to early 10th centuries):

1. I climb the road to Cold Mountain,
the road to Cold Mountain that never ends.
The valleys are long and strewn with stones
the streams broad and banked with thick grass.
Moss is slippery, though no rain has fallen;
pines sigh, but it isn't the wind.
Who can break from the snares of the world
and sit with me among the white clouds?
3. As for me, I delight in the everyday Way
among mist-wrapped vines and rocky caves.
Here in the wilderness I'm completely free,
with my friends, the white clouds, idling forever.
There are roads but they do not reach the world.
Since I'm mindless, who can rouse my thoughts?
On a bed of stone I sit, alone in the night,
while the round moon climbs up Cold Mountain.

Line 1: “The everyday Way” is a reference perhaps to the words attributed to the Zen Master Ma-tsu Tao-i (709-788): “The everyday mind–that is the Way.”

Line 6: “Mindless” (wu-hsin) is a Buddhist term indicating the state in which all ordinary processes of discriminatory thinking have been stilled. An alternative translation would be, “Since I have no-mind….” In this reading, Han-shan refers not to a quiet condition of mind but to the original emptiness of our common nature.

8. Chattering about food won't fill your belly,
Blabbing about clothes won't stop the cold.
To fill you up, only food will do.
Putting on clothes--that keeps out winter.
But misunderstanding, you mull things over,
always saying, "Seeking the Buddha's too hard!"
Turn your mind back--that's the Buddha!
Don't swivel your eyes around outside.