2 Quieting the Mind and Generating Care

Other languages

Creating a Quiet, Caring Space

Traditional sadhana practice for deconstructing one's negative self-image and creating a more positive one begins with quieting the mind of preconceptions and establishing a "circle of protection." The latter practice may consist of an elaborate visualization of forceful figures posted in all directions to ward off interference. Alternatively, as in the Drugpa Kagyu practice of ladrub (actualizing through the spiritual teacher), we may generate a protective field of care and loving compassion both within ourselves and surrounding us. Love is the wish for someone to be happy and to have the causes for happiness. Compassion is the wish for someone to be free from suffering and from the causes for pain. A modern therapist follows equivalent procedures to establish a warm atmosphere of acceptance and trust within which both he or she and the client may feel emotionally safe.

Sensitivity training also requires a safe internal and external space within which we and our group, if we are participating in a workshop, can open more easily to feelings and emotions. The Drugpa Kagyu approach suggests that the mental space most conducive for the process is a quiet and caring one. A quiet mind and a caring attitude are, in fact, indispensable for being attentive and responsive to others and to ourselves.

If we are practicing in a workshop, we may begin to create a safe and friendly space by starting the first session of the course with each participant telling the group his or her name and background. Once we have gained some proficiency in the meditation methods for creating a quiet and caring space, we may simply recall that space to reestablish the proper atmosphere before each part of the subsequent exercises in the program. We do this while initially settling our mind through focusing on the sensation of the breath passing in and out our nostrils.

Exercise 2A: Quieting the Mind

First, we need to quiet our mind of mental chatter, stories, complaints, worries, songs, dullness, excessive emotion, or anything else that might interfere with being attentive and open. Three methods are helpful:

  • "letting go"
  • "writing on water"
  • "swell on the ocean"

The first method, "letting go," is a breathing exercise suggested by the analogy of thoughts as fleeting clouds. The Gelug/Kagyu tradition uses this image in its mahamudra (great seal) teachings to explain the nature of thoughts and the mind. Since quieting the mind requires special attention, we begin each part of the exercise with the conscious decision to rid ourselves of extraneous mental activity. Then, after settling down by focusing on the sensation of the breath passing through our nostrils, we turn our attention to a picture or a thought of someone and breathe normally. We use the three-part cycle of exhalation, rest, and inhalation, as described in the initial procedures for each session. While exhaling, we try to imagine that any verbal thought, mental image, upsetting feeling, or dazed state of mind we may have leaves us with our breath. We may visualize these mental objects as clouds temporarily obscuring the clear sky of our mind, or we may dispense with a graphic representation. We do not expel the mental items forcefully with gale-force breath as if they were invading forces, but just gently exhale them as if with a summer breeze. Once we have reached a quiet mental space, we continue breathing with the three-part cycle and gaze at the person with an objective and accepting mind. If paranoia arises about extraneous mental activity recurring, we release and exhale it as well.

Since many people have the deeply engrained habit of making up or repeating mental stories about everyone and everything, we start our training with people who conjure in us few associations. We then proceed gradually with persons about whom we find it progressively more compelling to think. Thus, we look first at magazine photos of an anonymous man, woman, boy, girl, and elderly couple and focus on one person at a time. When practicing as part of a group, the facilitator may mount these pictures on cardboard and display them in front of the room. Further, to help us keep mindfulness throughout the process, our group facilitator may occasionally say the key phrase "let go" or we may sometimes say it silently to ourselves. We do not repeat it continuously, however, like a mantra.

For especially compelling extraneous mental activity, we supplement the letting-go procedure with a dzogchen method. We try to feel our verbal thought process to be like writing on water. When we write on water, the letters arise and disappear simultaneously. There is nothing substantial about them. We may try an example by thinking slowly, one by one, each word of the thought "What time is it?" Without visualizing letters or the action of writing, we try to feel each word occurring as if through a process of writing on water. Most people find that the energy of the thought diminishes significantly and the thought loses its meaning. They often experience that it is difficult for the next word of the thought even to arise. Similarly, if we regard mental movies, disturbing emotions, and dullness appearing as if through a process of momentarily projecting a picture on water, the energy behind them also decreases and may stop altogether. Thus, after pausing briefly, we continue the exercise by focusing once more on the magazine photos, one at a time, and slowing down and applying the writing-on-water dissolution method to any irrelevant mental activity. As an aid for maintaining focus, we may use the key phrase "writing on water."

Some people find that when they quiet their mind of mental stories and release some of their tension, even if for only a short time, certain emotional blocks seem to open. Repressed feelings such as sadness, anxiety, insecurity, or fear may suddenly arise. If this should happen, we may use a third approach suggested by the Karma Kagyu mahamudra analogy of the mind as an ocean and thoughts and emotions as waves. We try to feel the sudden wave of emotion pass like a swell on the ocean and then feel it is gone. As with the letting-go and writing-on-water methods, we do not concern ourselves where "I" am during this process. Otherwise, we may begin to feel seasick. If the repressed emotion becomes overwhelming and the ocean-swell approach proves ineffective, we may try to concentrate on the sensation of the breath passing in and out our nostrils and then focus on our navel.

Since not everyone experiences repressed feelings arising, we do not practice this method as a separate step. Instead, we conclude the sequence, after a pause, with looking once more at the magazine photos, one at a time, and applying any of the three methods that seems appropriate. First, we try the letting-go approach to release any extraneous mental objects that arise. For more persistent problems, especially verbal thoughts, we use the writing on water method, while for sudden waves of emotion, we try to experience them as passing swells. We maintain focus with the key phrases:

  • "let go"
  • "writing on water"
  • "swell on the ocean"

We apply the threefold approach while looking next at pictures of some people we know or while simply thinking about them. Starting with a mere acquaintance, we proceed to someone with whom we are or have had a warm and loving relationship involving few regrets. We conclude by focusing on a loud, overbearing relative who perhaps pries too strongly into our life, but who has not actually hurt us. Without letting go of positive feelings we may have toward each person, we release any agenda or upsetting emotions that might cloud a balanced and sensitive interaction.

Next, we look at our group facilitator, if we are part of a workshop, and use the threefold approach to release any mental stories and so forth that might arise. The facilitator first sits still and then gets up and walks around. Encounters with live persons have a higher level of energy than recollections of someone, and thus can more strongly evoke extraneous mental activity. At this stage in the training, focusing on other members of the group is premature. Others may find it uncomfortable if we look at them with a mind that is merely quiet, but not yet caring. If we are practicing alone, we may dispense with an equivalent for this step.

The person most people find the most compelling topic for mental stories is themselves. Therefore, next we practice the threefold quieting method while looking at our hands before us, and then at our face in a mirror. Finally, we repeat the procedure while looking at two pictures of ourselves from different periods in the past, one at a time.

Outline of Exercise 2A: Quieting the Mind

I. While focusing on someone not present

1. While looking at magazine photos first of an anonymous man, then of a woman, a boy, a girl, and an elderly couple

  • Consciously reaffirm the decision to quiet your mind
  • Breathe normally with a three-part cycle of exhalation, rest, and inhalation
  • Look at the photos, one at a time, and while exhaling, imagine that any verbal thoughts, mental stories, mental movies, upsetting emotions, or feelings of dullness that arise leave with your breath – either by visualizing the mental object as a cloud temporarily obscuring the clear sky of your mind, or by dispensing with a graphic representation
    • Breathe out paranoia about extraneous mental activity recurring and the mental tension for thoughts, images, or disturbing feelings to arise at all
    • Maintain focus by listening to the group facilitator occasionally saying the key phrase "let go," or by sometimes saying it silently to yourself
    • Pause briefly
  • Look once more at the photos, one at a time, and feel each word of any verbal thought or mental story that arises to be occurring as if through a process of writing on water – arising and disappearing simultaneously
    • Feel any mental movie, upsetting emotion, or daze that arises to be appearing as if through a process of momentarily projecting a picture on water
    • Maintain focus by using the key phrase "writing on water"
    • Pause briefly
  • Look again at the photos, one at a time, and apply first the letting-go procedure for releasing any extraneous mental objects that arise, and then the writing-on-water method for more persistent problems
    • If repressed emotions of sadness, anxiety, insecurity, or fear suddenly arise, feel the wave of emotion pass like a swell on the ocean and then feel it is gone
  • Maintain focus by using the key phrases
    • "let go"
    • "writing on water"
    • "swell on the ocean"
  • Once you have achieved a quiet mental space, breathe normally while gazing at the photos with an objective, accepting mind

2. Apply the combined method of letting go, writing on water, and an ocean swell, while focusing on a photo or on a thought of a mere acquaintance

3. Repeat the procedure while focusing on a photo or on a thought of someone with whom you have or have had a warm and loving relationship involving few regrets

4. Repeat the procedure while focusing on a photo or on a thought of a loud, overbearing relative who perhaps pries too strongly into your life, but who has not actually hurt you

II. While focusing on someone in person

1. Repeat the procedure while focusing on the group facilitator

  • While he or she sits still
  • While he or she gets up and walks around

III. While focusing on yourself

1. Repeat the procedure while looking at your hands

2. Repeat the procedure while looking in a mirror

3. Repeat the procedure while looking at two photographs of yourself from different periods in the past, one at a time

Exercise 2B: Generating Care

Quieting our mind of stories, upsetting emotions, and other irrelevant matter creates merely one dimension of the mental space required for balanced sensitivity. After all, with a silent mind, we may be unconcerned about anything. We may fall into a daze and become inattentive to what is happening around or within us. Even if we notice something, we may not respond. Therefore, we need to couple mental quiet with a caring attitude, but one that is calm and not anxious. Quieting the mind before generating this attitude helps us to avoid being worried, tense, or overemotional.

Caring is considering what we notice in others and in ourselves as personally relevant and important. It matters to us. It also means taking seriously the consequences of our words and behavior on both others and ourselves. A caring attitude is the basis for ethical self-discipline and serves as the container for love and compassion. To generate this attitude or feeling, we shall use the rational method of relying on a line of reasoning. Buddhist logic requires an example to illustrate and substantiate the truth of each statement in a line of reasoning. Here, the use of ourselves as an example for statements concerning other people also helps to balance our sensitivity toward them and us.

After settling down as before, we begin by focusing once again on a photo or on a thought of the person with whom we have or have had a warm and loving relationship. Using the threefold approach, we create a quite mental space. Then we listen as our group facilitator repeats aloud, one clause at a time, the following logical argument or we read it to ourselves if we are practicing alone. Pausing after each clause, we try to regard the person in light of the statement. We then sit back, figuratively speaking, and try to focus on the feeling evoked by the line. This enables us to affirm and digest the validity of each point.

The line of reasoning is:

  • "You are a human being and have feelings, just as I do."
  • "The mood you are in will affect our interaction, just as my mood will affect it."
  • "How I treat you and what I say will further affect your feelings."
  • "Therefore, just as I hope that you care about me and about my feelings in our interaction, I care about you."
  • "I care about your feelings."

We conclude by actively looking at the person with a caring attitude. To maintain focus and to deepen our sentiment, we repeat after the group facilitator, or say aloud by ourselves, the four key sentences:

  • "I am not going to make up or tell stories about you."
  • "You are a human being and have feelings."
  • "I care about you."
  • "I care about your feelings."

Here, it is important at least to mouth the words, even if so softly that only we can hear them. Mouthing the words reaffirms our commitment to maintaining a caring attitude. With eyes closed or looking downward, we then let our feeling of care sink in.

To complete the first phase of the exercise, we repeat the entire procedure while looking at a photo or while simply thinking of a mere acquaintance, and then while looking at the anonymous magazine pictures. The strangers in the magazine photos may not be as important to us as our friends and acquaintances are. Nevertheless, if a stranger approached us for directions, we would need enough care to take the person seriously and to take the time to help. Lastly, we follow the same steps while focusing once more on our loud, overbearing relative.

During the second phase, we sit in a circle with a group and repeat the procedure. After each line in the argument, we look at each person in turn and apply the statement to him or her. After this, we pair off and repeat the procedure with a series of partners, at minimum practicing first with someone of our same sex and then with someone of the opposite gender.

Practice with each partner is in four steps. First, we repeat the entire procedure, with both persons generating a feeling of acceptance and concern toward each other. Establishing a quiet and caring space with each other enables us to feel sufficiently safe to work on any imbalances felt from low self-esteem. For example, insensitive to others' concern, we may have difficulty acknowledging that anyone cares about us or about our feelings. Alternatively, we may overreact and reject someone's caring attitude if we feel undeserving. Low self-worth may also cause us to feel that no one could possibly accept our sincere concern.

To address these problems, first one partner and then the other repeats after the facilitator the four key sentences several times:

  • "I am not going to make up or tell any stories about you."
  • "You are a human being and have feelings."
  • "I care about you."
  • "I care about your feelings."

The speaker focuses first on caring about the listener and then on feeling someone accepting his or her sincere concern. The listener focuses on feeling the other person's acceptance and care. While receiving open and warm attention, we need also to let go of our internal barriers, especially physical tension in our heart and our gut. After all, the feeling of being accepted and of being cared about is a gut feeling, not an intellectual one. If strong self-hatred makes accepting nonjudgmental, caring regard from others too difficult at first, we may focus on the breath passing in and out our nostrils. Awareness of our breathing process grounds us in a feeling of being alive and of being a human like everyone else. To ground ourselves further, we may also focus on our navel. As a final step, the partners alternate repeating each of the four sentences while focusing on the mutual generation and acceptance of caring concern.

The third phase begins with looking at ourselves in a mirror and repeating the procedure, but using a slight variation of the previous line of reasoning:

  • "I am a human being and have feelings"
  • "Just as everyone else does"
  • " How I regard and treat myself affects my feelings"
  • "Just as how others regard and treat me affects how I feel"
  • " Therefore, just as I hope that others care about me and about my feelings in our interactions"
  • "I care about myself"
  • "I care about my feelings"
  • "I care about my feelings toward myself"
  • "I care about how I treat myself"

When a caring feeling arises, we direct it at our image and maintain focus by repeating after the facilitator, or saying aloud by ourselves, five key sentences:

  • "I am not going to make up or tell any stories about myself."
  • "I care about myself."
  • "I care about my feelings."
  • "I care about my feelings toward myself."
  • "I care about how I treat myself ."

Trying to feel accepted and cared about by ourselves, we repeat the key sentences several times more. Putting down the mirror, we repeat again the key sentences twice. During the first repetition, we aim our positive feelings directly at ourselves. During the second, we try directly to feel accepted and cared about by ourselves.

We conclude by looking at two photographs of ourselves from different periods in the past. Focusing first on just one of the photos, we try to generate a feeling of caring concern toward the person whom we see, by using the same procedure, but thinking:

  • "I was a human being then and had feelings,"
  • "Just as I have now."
  • "How others regarded me then affected those feelings."
  • "Therefore, just as I hoped that others cared about me and about my feelings then,"
  • "I care now about myself then."
  • "I care about my feelings then."
  • "I care about my feelings now about me then."

We then direct our feeling of caring concern toward ourselves in the picture while repeating after the facilitator, or saying aloud by ourselves, the four key sentences:

  • "I am not going to make up or tell any stories about myself as I was then."
  • "I care about myself then."
  • "I care about my feelings then."
  • "I care about my feelings now about me then."

At the conclusion of the sequence, we imagine the person in the photo thanks us for not thinking badly about or being ashamed of him or her. We then repeat the procedure while focusing on the other photo of ourselves.

Outline of Exercise 2B: Generating Care

I. While focusing on someone not present

1. While focusing on a photo or on a thought of someone with whom you have or have had a warm and loving relationship involving few regrets

  • Focus on the person and create a quiet mental space by using the threefold approach as before
  • Regard the person in light of the statements:
    • "You are a human being and have feelings,"
    • "Just as I do."
    • "The mood you are in will affect our interaction,"
    • "Just as my mood will affect it."
    • "How I treat you and what I say will further affect your feelings."
    • "Therefore, just as I hope that you care about me and about my feelings in our interaction,"
    • "I care about you."
    • "I care about your feelings."
  • Generate and direct toward the person a caring attitude, by repeating after the group facilitator, or by saying aloud by yourself, the key sentences
    • "I am not going to make up or tell any stories about you."
    • "You are a human being and have feelings."
    • "I care about you."
    • "I care about your feelings."

2. Repeat the procedure while focusing on a photo or on a thought of a mere acquaintance

3. Repeat the procedure while focusing on the magazine pictures of anonymous people

4. Repeat the procedure while focusing on a photo or on a thought of a loud, overbearing relative

II. While focusing on someone in person

1. Repeat the procedure while sitting in a circle with a group and focusing on each person in turn at each step

2. While facing a partner, first with someone of your same sex and then with someone of the opposite gender

  • Repeat the entire procedure
  • One partner repeats the four key sentences, while the other partner listens
    • The speaker focuses on caring about the listener
    • The speaker then focuses on feeling someone accepting his or her sincere concern
    • The listener focuses on feeling the speaker's acceptance and care
  • Switch roles
  • The partners alternate repeating each of the key sentences, while focusing on being both the giver and recipient of each feeling

III. While focusing on yourself

1. Repeat the procedure while looking in a mirror

  • Substitute,
    • "I am a human being and have feelings,"
    • "Just as everyone else does."
    • "How I regard and treat myself affects my feelings,"
    • "Just as how others regard and treat me affects how I feel."
    • "Therefore, just as I hope that others care about me and about my feelings in our interactions,"
    • "I care about myself."
    • "I care about my feelings."
    • "I care about my feelings toward myself."
    • "I care about how I treat myself."
  • Substitute the key sentences
    • "I am not going to make up or tell any stories about myself."
    • "I care about myself."
    • "I care about my feelings."
    • "I care about my feelings toward myself."
    • "I care about how I treat myself."
  • Repeat the key sentences while directing a caring attitude toward yourself in the mirror
  • Repeat the key sentences while trying to feel accepted and cared about by yourself

2. Repeat the key sentences without a mirror

  • Aim your caring attitude directly at yourself
  • Try directly to feel accepted and cared about by yourself

3. Repeat twice the procedure used with pictures of other people, while looking at two photographs of yourself from different periods in the past, one for each round

  • Substitute,
    • "I was a human being then and had feelings,"
    • "Just as I have now."
    • "How others regarded me then affected those feelings."
    • "Therefore, just as I hoped that others cared about me and about my feelings then,"
    • "I care now about myself then"
    • "I care about my feelings then."
    • "I care about my feelings now about me then."
  • Substitute the key sentences
    • "I am not going to make up or tell any stories about myself as I was then."
    • "I care about myself then."
    • "I care about my feelings then."
    • "I care about my feelings now about me then."
  • Imagine the person in the photo accepts your care and thanks you for not thinking badly about or being ashamed of him or her