Q: So, what do you think? Bear down and increase concentration on primary object? Or keep letting it play out?
A: Well, you never want to bear down, as that implies “over-efforting.” You want just enough energy/effort (viriya) to make contact with the object in this moment. No more, no less. It’s very dynamic and the amount of effort required from one moment to the next is constantly changing. This ability to dynamically change the amount of effort in response to the changing objects of attention is key to mastering vipassana. See how flexible you can be, how lightly you can touch the object without overshooting it. Imagine a peanut floating in a bucket of water. Put your finger on it just enough to feel it, but not hard enough to roll off. Now introduce some waves into the water. Maintain contact with the peanut as it moves up and down, back and forth. Reestablish contact when you lose it.
How do you know if you have contact with the object? Easy. If you can name it, you know you are contacting it. This is the true value of noting; it keeps you honest. If you are noting, you are doing vipassana. You cannot note without doing vipassana. That does not mean hypnotize yourself into noting “rising, falling,” and pretend that you are awake, mind you. You have to know something about the object. Go ahead and note “rising, falling,” but know that you are experiencing coldness, warmth, softness, hardness, stinging, burning, aching, pulsing, throbbing, or whatever it is. Noting (knowing clearly what you are experiencing and naming it) is biofeedback.
Choosing a teacher:
Q: Kenneth, I have a question about meditation teachers. I have recently become aware of a meditation teacher in my area. He is Indian(India) and completely self taught. He said he started meditating as a young boy. I asked him if he would be able to tell if someone had any realization or enlightenment and he said only the individual would know that, but at the same time I asked if he could ascertain where a student was on the path and therefore teach to where the student is. He said yes. I asked him flat out if he was enlightened and he said yes. I am trying to figure out how to know if this person can point to where I need to go. Can you help?
A: I have to say I really like the answers he has given you so far. But you’ll have to follow your gut. The question of whom to trust as your teacher is one of the most perplexing of all. Human relationships are complex in the best of cases. The first thing to keep in mind is to take care of yourself, understanding that there are people in the world who will not hesitate to use the mask of the meditation teacher to gain power over or unscrupulously extract money from others. At the same time, there are many sincere and gifted teachers, some of whom are enlightened. I recommend that you work with this man a bit, honor his time as your own, don’t give him any power over you, and see if you are making progress under his guidance. It may take you several years to really evaluate your relationship with him, but meanwhile your practice might grow immensely. If it feels weird or creepy at any point along the way, back off and get some wise counsel from friends, family, other teachers, and fellow meditators. The more these things are out in the open, the healthier they tend to be.
Masculine vs Feminine Approach to Practice:
The hardest thing to accept is that there isn’t any experience that’s better than any other. The work is done when you objectify something in this moment, thereby dis-embedding from it. That’s it. You can do it just as easily off the cushion as on, and in fact you will have to do it all day long to get enlightened. At first, there’s a tendency to favor cushion practice over off-cushion practice. Later, they are the same. No hurry, but understand that that’s where you are headed.
I once saw a move called Harlem Nights. Terrible movie, but it had one funny and important scene. Richard Pryor’s character and his wife are in bed together. The wife says, “Let’s make love all day, real slow and sensual. Then we’ll make love allllll night. Then, we’ll make love alllll morning.”
Richard Pryor is getting this uncomfortable look on his face. He says, “Baby, how ’bout we make love real hard… for twenty minutes?”
In order to get enlightened, you have to take the feminine approach to practice. The masculine approach will never work. Doing it really hard for twenty minutes is a recipe for anxiety, frustration, and failure. If, on the other hand, you can keep up the gentle pressure of attention all day long, from the time you wake up in the morning until the time you go to sleep at night, you can’t help but awaken.