This is a text I wrote in July last year and then somehow forgot. I just rediscovered it and thought I put it here. It's a bit long but maybe helpful to one or the other.
The aim of meditation is, simply put, understanding the mind. Far from being merely intellectually stimulating, that is an existentially transforming process, but it is also practically very helpful for everyday life. Understanding here means mainly becoming conscious of mind activities that have been unconscious before. Once you get it into the picture, it seems that this (egoic) mind has no other interest nothing else than making us miserable. As far as it remains unobserved, i.e. unconscious, we are its slaves and it is extremely tricky and clever in trying to keep us in that position.
There's, however, also good news, which consist in seeing that there is something else than this mind that can save us from all this misery. This something else is difficult to describe because it is not a 'thing'. A term I personally like to use for it is: awareness. Others are mindfulness, re-cognition or re-memberance (the original meaning of the Pali term sati is 'not forgetting'), consciousness, emptiness, Dasein, ursprünglich-synthetische Einheit der transzendentalen Apperzeption, Iamness, being, stillness or presence (even love, light or god). They simply describe that which - again, these are just word - surrounds, contains and observes the activities of the mind neutrally and acceptingly. It is that 'in which' mind and world appear.
Awareness of what's happening in the mind is like showering it as it at the same time reveals the dirt and has the power to clean it up. If there is little awareness though, we are almost completely identified with our mind. Then we don't see the dirt and thus don't see a reason to clean up. Coming from my experience in the center I am staying in right now and influenced by the teaching given by Sayadaw U Tejaniya, I would like to introduce a very simple practice of showering the mind that can be practiced in everyday life. It can both make us aware of the dirt and clean it up.
Maybe dirt and cleanliness are not proper words suiting everyone's personal taste, so if you don't like them, use other dualities like confusion and clarity, delusion and wisdom, darkness and light, suffering and happiness, bondage and freedom, ego and higher self, fear and love, sin and forgiveness, contraction and expansion or, if that is your cup of tea, even evil and good (or devil and god). It's all the same thing being described, just in different words! ("Es gibt nur zwei Dinge: Die Leere / und das gezeichnete Ich", Gottfried Benn)
The practice consists simply in recognizing aversion.
I wish the text could end here and not have begun before. But my chattering mind thinks that more explanation is necessary, and maybe your chattering mind also does, so here we go: Aversion is a major means of the mind in making us miserable. That's why it is very helpful to become more aware of it and get to know all of its forms and tricks. Aversion simply means that you dislike something. It can be anything and appear in a lot of different forms. Thoughts, emotions, feelings, sensations can be fueled by and come together with aversion in a wide range of intensity from being very angry with something to just feeling a slight bodily discomfort or thinking that something isn't quite alright. All these are forms of disliking.
Aversion often arises with perception, i.e. in the seeing, hearing, etc. processes and it is to be found in every single negative thought and emotion. Sadness, disappointment, complaining, negative judgement, being annoyed or just slightly genervt. It moreover comes with all the thoughts, emotions and sensations we would rather not have. If something joyful comes to an end, there's easily a slight aversion uprising with it as well as with thoughts like 'I shouldn't have done that', 'It's so noisy here!', 'He is so selfish', 'Argh!' etc.. Mental states like sorrow, guilt, shame, regret and even boredom contain aversion as well as not feeling well in your clothes or your skin, your environment, your company or with the weather.
Everytime you are not perfectly happy there is most likely some aversion lingering around. But do not search for them. Just be aware of whatever kind of disliking there is during whatever you do. No need to take special time for that or make special effort or look for something. Just be alert, recognize what comes across without expecting anything and most important:
Do not judge the aversion or yourself for having it.
Judgement is actually the mother of aversion. It will want to raise it's child and let it grow if you let it do so. If, however, judgement has already happend, accept it and don't judge the judgement! You will very soon recognize quize a lot of aversion that you have never been aware of before and this might lead you to judge yourself very negativly or you might not want to continue the practice and judge it for creating misery. If this happens, just see that this is just another aversion to be noticed neutrally and acceptingly.
There's nothing intrinsically 'bad' about aversions. They are very human. Everyone experiences them and they are almost always around. So no need to judge. Your job is simply to recognize them. Also don't try to get rid of them, for this is again creating just another aversion. No need to fight, just like light does not need to fight darkness. Darkness disappears by itself when light comes in. Just as Bible wisdom tells us to:
Resist not evil.
So every time you recognize an aversion is not a reason for blame, pity and complaints about yourself, but a reason to be happy that you became aware of it! Upon becoming aware they might not necessarily disappear and it is important that you do not expect them to disappear, but at least they are most likely not going to grow. The fire only grows if you put burning material into it. If you want them to disappear, they grow.
Our practice of showering the mind by being aware of aversion is actually the middle way between the two things we usually do: Being unaware, we let them grow wildly without care or we try to escape them by suppressing their objects. Both extremes, we can call them the Nihilist and the Moralist, do not shower and that is in both cases obviously very unhealthy!
Moralists are likely to suppress because the dirt they see in their own mind is not in accordance with their ideals of which they are more aware than of the reality in front of them. Once suppressed, the object of aversion will operate under cover, grow in the dark and play all kinds of tricks on us, neurosis being a very common one. Just think of how much damage the suppression of sexual impulses, coming from a culturally inherited aversion, is doing to human beings. Suppressing requires a lot of energy that is subtracted from life energy and in the long run makes us lifeless, dull and heavy, if not entirely neurotic.
On the side of the other extreme, Nihilists don't see the dirt as dirt. Having no higher values, it's all the same to them, no reason to care. Seeing no reason to shower, they most likely end up as slaves to their habitual tendencies. Letting aversion grow without care, slight discomforts easily accumulate and leave people extremely moody or attract negativity from all over the place which might finally burst out into rage or depression. Suddenly the mind is full of negative thoughts and emotions and we have have no idea how that happened. If we do not see the causes of something, we are more likely to accept it as given and justify it.
Be aware of how tricky the mind is concerning that! It enjoys aversion. There is quite some satisfaction in negativity. It is fun to gossip, think about how stupid others are and so on. Strong emotions like anger produce a strong feeling of identity. Your ego loves that and only seconds after it starts justifying the aversions in order to keep them going. 'That is so unfair, I don't deserve this!', 'That's a scandal' 'Always me!', 'This should never happen again', 'She's such an ass' and so on. We are very likely to believe these thoughts and not even recognize the basic aversion behind it. The path between Moralism and Nihilism is very narrow and we are likely to fall into the traps of indulging in upset justification according to ideals (like the Moralist) or according to our personal needs (which is the only thing the Nihilist secretly accepts). In fact there's not that much difference between the two and our way of showering is beyond both:
No aversion is ever justified!
(It is also not not justified, it's just a fact. No need to quarrel. Just accept that it happened. It is concepts and ideas that want to be justified, not facts and it is wise to discern both. Only a fool doesn't accept facts. So again: If you see things like that happening in the mind: Recognize it neutrally, maybe smilingly, do not judge the fact that all this process of aversion, judgement and justification has already happend, but be happy that you noticed it! You might also start recognizing the feeling of satisfaction that comes from this aversion fueled behaviour ... but that is actually the next step.)
Step 2 consists in applying all of that to desire/attachment which means that you want something you don't have or keep something you have. That's obviously even much more common than disliking. Every aversion contains desire: You don't like something because you want it differently. But even without aversion, there's of course lots and lots of more desire. Again: Nothing wrong with desires, just good to know them. Watch every kind of eagerness to do or think this or that. It's best being identified as expecting pleasure. You can then extend the practice to simply watching every mind state that arises. But at first, I guess, watching aversion will be enough for a long time and is easier as well, as it can mostly be recognized by the unpleasant feelings coming with it.
Step 3 is then, and can also be applied before step 2: Seeing aversion (and or attachment) as just something that happens in the mind and not as YOUR aversion/attachment. Just because you see clouds passing by doesn't lead you to think of them as YOUR clouds. Do the same with these mental states. They just appear, stay for a while, and then they go. You just witness this process. No need to want or not want them to arise, stay or disappear. If you manage to see it like that, to not identify with these objects of awareness, the practice will become much more smooth ...
In fact aversion and attachment are really like clouds. And awareness is like the sky. The sky is not affected by the clouds, they just appear in the sky and then disappear and even if the clouds are dark and plentiful and we do not see the sky, we know it is still there. Otherwise where would the clouds appear? The same goes for awareness. It is always there, even if we do not see it because our minds are heavily clouded with aversion and desire. If you find yourself so entangled in negativity that you think you cannot watch or recognize anything neutrally, just accept that this is what's happening right now. And if you think you cannot accept, just accept that you cannot accept right now. Recognize that you are already aware of your unability to accept right now and that's all there is to do. This is the sky that is always there. Don't mistake the weather for the sky of your being. This is step 4.
Some questions that might arise concerning this practice:
* What exactly are you asking me to do? Am I supposed to focus my attention on aversion?
No. Just be alert, don't look for anything. Focusing creates tension and thus more aversion. Keep your mind open and do whatever you do anyway. If you feel like sitting down, maybe closing your eyes and just being alert about arising aversion, that's fine too, of course.
* What is the goal of that practice?
Better not be too eager about a goal. Expectation leads to disappointment which is more aversion. Definitely don't think about the goal while you practice for that ruins the whole thing. Being aware is generally a joy in itself, but this might take a while to reveal itself. If you see no reason to be aware of aversion, you might expect to gain a better understanding of the mind which comes with more peace, joy and clarity. If you practice for a while and absolutely nothing happens, there is probably something wrong with the way you practice. Check your attitude. Is your observation non-judgemental? Are you looking for or trying to force something? Are you enjoying the practice or not? If not what are you disliking about it?
* I am happy that you mention these questions, because the practice of merely recognizing aversion seems a little bit dull to me. How is understanding supposed to arise if there is no analysis, no reasoning and so on?
Generally just noticing the aversion will be enough, as it distances you from them and therefore already brings some release. In order to gain better understanding questions like the above mentioned or 'How does aversion feel?', 'Where does it come from?' 'Why do I dislike this?' 'What is aversion?' can be helpful if your mind is not naturally investigative in these directions. They should, however, not fuel too much thinking, for the answer to these questions is not gained through reasoning, but through observation and experience. The kind of understanding that is meant here is more like developing intuition than like thinking. Your mind might come up with a lot of theories, non of which will be helpful. The mind's intellectualization just wants to distract you, because the mind likes nothing less than to be watched.
Imagine you want to really, and not just superficially, understand another person. It will probably be best just to spent quite some time with her and patiently observe and see and feel, instead of creating theories about how she might be like from afar or after only one meeting.
* Aversion seems somehow abstract to me, can't you make it more simple?
Just recognize everything you dislike. That's easy, isn't it? Aversion in itself is indeed a bit abstract as it is a discret mind state that is not easily recognized apart from the stuff it is usually mixed with like thoughts, sensations, perceptions, etc. No need to look for that particular mind state. You feel when it is in the mix of your current mind state by noticing the (feeling of) disliking or discomfort.
* I recognize the thoughts you are talking about, but I don't really see the aversion in it.
Aversion is indeed not in the thoughts, they are neutral in themselves, it just accompanies them and can be felt easiest as some bodily sensation.. There is actually a bodily tension coming with every aversion however small it may be. It might take a while though to feel it. But don't worry or hurry about that, just recognize those aversions that are gross enough that you can perceive them. In some thoughts though the disliking is very obvious, isn't it? And after a while you will notice that these negative thoughts have a very different energy than positive ones, they feel very different!
* I practiced a bit and a lot of aversion arose, I became very negative. I think something is wrong with the practice.
Don't look down on the negativity arising. Without darkness, how could we appreciate the light? And light, i.e. being aware, does not create new darkness/negativity, it just reveals what has been there before, but hidden. Initially it can be very painful to see all this stuff and make the practice seem a counterintuitive thing to do. But finally we do not really have a choice, we'll have to face the stuff someday anyway. Of course we can always postpone and procrastinate which is kind of a choice. But who would consciously choose more suffering?
* I had a lot of physical pain these days and disliked it a lot of course. Paying attention to that made it worse, I'd rather distract myself from the pain to avoid the aversion. What's wrong with that?
What we experience as physical pain is actually a mixture of physical sensations and mental aversion against them. This aversion is so immediate, unconscious and habitual that we'd never expect it to be something separate from the sensations. We perceive it as pain and think it us in itself undesirabke. Watching that for a while, however, reveals that these are two different things, the sensations being intense but neutral, no suffering, and the aversion being just aversion, equally no big deal in itself if seen as separate, also no suffering! Suffering comes with the gross mind that cannot see the difference.
The sensations are interestingly exactly the same as in pleasure, the only difference being that in the case of pleasure the mental reaction is positive. Sounds strange and I could hardly believe it when I first saw this, but it's true: There's no real difference between pleasure and pain! We think we like pleasure and dislike pain, but it's not that the pleasure makes the liking and the pain the disliking. The other way round: Disliking literally creates pain, out of nowhere, there's nothing physical involved that makes the difference to pleasure. Therefore: We are responsible for our suffering, because we create it in the first place. Thus it's up to us to do something about it, for no one else can or will.
Things are a bit more difficult and complicated when it comes to mental pain, but it's generally the same.
Pain is best not being watched directly and focused, which only increases the aversion, but kind of at the edge of the main attention which can softly focus on something else or be kept completely open. It takes a while to see the difference between the object and the mental reaction, but it's worth it as some physical pain is simply unavoidable.
* I think you're still treating aversion as something negative. But there are really bad things in the world like war, famine, disease, violence, Nazis, etc. that ought to be fought and disliking them does seem highly justified to me!
I'd like to avoid the question if there are ultimately 'really bad' things in the world, but considering that you want to fight something, do you really think aversion will increase your chances to win? It will blurr your mind and make you act irrational. Fighting without aversion seems to be much more effective to me. Think of martial arts. Or Gandhi. If you want to do something against violence, isn't it wise to at first fully accept the fact that violence is there? If not, you are likely to end up fighting some idea of what is that you have created in your mind and not changing reality for the better.
There's a difference between acceptance and justification. Facts need no justification, they need acceptance, only a fool would not accept facts. Concepts on the other hand want to be justified, because they are subject to doubt, criticism, pride, blame and so on. You are not asked to accept concepts, just facts! It is a fact that you dislike something, what you dislike is not that important for the practice. Do not loose yourself in the content and stories of the mind.
* Why are you introducing all these dualist notions of dirty and clean, darkness and light and so on when you know that the main delusion is duality itself?
This is a pragmatical approach that can be applied by anyone. Non-dual practices like self-inquiry (Asking Who am I? or Where does this experience arise? or stuff like that) or Dzogchen (Seeing everything as already perfect) only make sense if one already has some non-conceptual insight, i.e. has gone beyond the mind, directly perceived that there is only awareness/emptiness and mind-objects or however we want to describe this which is beyond description. Otherwise the mind will use the practice for its own purposes and come up with all kinds of answer to the inquiry question or use perfection as a mere idea to convince us of the validity of its own deluded concepts.
Our practice is already a mixture. We use dualist notions, but we do not judge one side as bad.
* What's wrong with the mind? I think you're actually judging it.
One could say that there are three stages of relationship to the mind that correspond to a famous Zen saying: At first a mountain is a mountain, then a mountain is not a mountain, but then again a mountain is just a mountain. If you are completely identified with the mind, you don't think there's anything wrong with it. You can't see anything else anyway. If you begin to watch the mind-activity, everything seems to be wrong with it. If you see the whole picture, i.e. that the mind is just a funny little part of what is beyond it, there is nothing wrong with it. We are concerned here with entering the second stage, that's how the somewhat negative light being shed on the mind comes into play. But don't take it too seriously. You see the misery that aversion creates, but you don't judge it.