WEEK 3: The Art of Listening

No matter what brought you to a meditative practice or how long you have been sitting, you eventually run up against your inner dialogue or, for some, a very clear inner critic(s). Rather than putting a full stop to that inner speech, what I am asking you to do here is to actually listen to what is being said. To be able to do this, we need to be in a state where we will not get swayed by voice(s) in our head - we do not want to buy into everything that our thoughts are telling us. As Mark Twain said, “I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”  This is true for most of us!

We want to remember that if something is repeatedly showing up in our formal sitting practice, it is desiring our attention. And if we ignore something (or someone) that is begging for our attention we usually end up in pain or a painful situation. Have you ever seen a 3 year old throw a tantrum? The trick is to not get caught up in the "emotions" while listening, but rather give space and silence. It is good to remember that you do not have to respond to every thought that jumps in, but rather see it for what it is and continue to sit.

All this can be very challenging when a strong emotion comes to surface and that is where the practice of the nine breathings can be very useful. If your mind is jumping, scattered, and does not want to be present with what is going on (mentally, physically and/or emotionally), you can use this practice to help settle and balance the internal blockages with focused wind-like energy.

The Nine Breathings

The nine breathings of purification from the Bon Tibetan Buddhist practice happen through three channels of the body: 

  1. The central channel runs from the crown of the head to about four fingers below the navel. Its color is blue and it is associated with our self-doubt in the and lack of confidence in the negative and with our true confidence and knowledge of who we are in the positive.
  2. To the right of the central channel lies a smaller channel whose color is white. This channel is associated with blockages of anger and aversion in the negative and the action of skillful means in the positive.
  3. The smaller channel to the left is the color red. This one is associated with clinging and attachment in the negative and associated with wisdom in the positive.

All three channels converge below the navel. However, the side channels run through the skull, behind the eyes, and exit out each nostril. The central channel exits out the crown of the head.

Clear out the right channel by inhaling through the left nostril and exhaling through the right (3 times)
Clear out the left channel by inhaling through the right nostril and exhaling through the left (3 times)
Clear out the central channel by inhaling through both nostrils and exhaling out the central channel through the crown of the head (3 times)

It isn’t what happens to us that causes us to suffer; it’s what we say to ourselves about what happens.
— Pema Chodron

Tsa Lung

Another practice that we can do to help us "mobilize" is called Tsa Lung. This practice is dealing with our energy on a more subtle level and the "winds" that pull and push us around.

Both the practice of yoga we are familiar with and Tibetan Bon Buddhism talk about the five pranas that exist within the body. In the yoga tradition they are known as the Prana Vayus (vayu meaning wind).

Prana is:
Universal Prana (or prana with a big P) is considered the life force energy, sometimes referred to as the horse or driving element. Without it there is no existence of any life.
When we give prana a foundation in the body, it becomes our breath.

In the Tibetan Bon Buddhist tradition they use exercises called the Tsa Lung to work with the five pranas. Lung means vital energy and Tsa or "channel" means the hollow tube where blood, wind, and consciousness can pass freely (for example body cavities such as blood vessels, the mouth and hollow organs). Tsa is a symbol of space, and it gives space to the consciousness and other components of body/mind to manifest themselves under transcendental and dualistic forms and colors. It is like a house for the consciousness.

The Basics of Tsa Lung