by Erik Vienneau
More than ever our world needs beings who have awakened. The Seven Factors of Awakening - an important Buddhist teaching - is one of the main keys to this awakening to our fullest potential.
In the West, many think you don’t need a guide book to realize your true nature. Some believe if you sit there in meditation long enough you will simply “wake up.” Perhaps for a lucky few this is true! For the rest of us the Buddha left a clear, scientific path to realization. He did the hard work, realized his perfect nature (which is the same for all of us!) and figured he’d leave a map behind for the rest of us. Thanks Buddha! The best part is, is that every person who has handed down the teachings to us had to realize (experience first-hand) their meaning. So, the path - when handed down with integrity (ideally you can find a realized teacher to receive the teachings from) - is just as effective now as it was when the Buddha himself was doling out the wisdom himself 2,600-plus years ago.
Before we dive into this comprehensive guide to realization – the Seven Factors of Awakening - we should discuss what “realization” is.
A simple way to talk about realization is that one “realizes” no-self along with impermanence. The reason why one may want to realize no-self is that once no-self is seen there is no one left to suffer! This is good news. After all, when you say, “I have anxiety,” or “I’m sad,” there has to be an “I” that suffers. Lose the “I” – lose the “experiencer” of suffering. If there’s no one home to experience the i.e. anxiety or sadness the suffering becomes less relevant. One may then ask about the anxiety or sadness itself. That’s where the realization of impermanence comes in – those emotions are just made of moving parts with no solidity – when seen directly they will simply disperse (or you could say return to the same formless place they came from).
Hopefully this basic explanation of realization shows how the experience can end suffering. The cool thing about the Buddhist teachings are that it’s really not about religion. You don’t need to be a mala-carrying “Buddhist” to use the Buddha’s not-so-secret path to freedom.
To understand the teachings it may help to see the Buddha as a doctor. Before we cover the Seven Factors it's helpful to understand his most foundational - yet deep - teaching, the Four Noble (or realized) Truths.
Four Noble (Realized) truths…
Like any good doctor, he first diagnosed the sickness – the truth of suffering (1). “Suffering” in English doesn’t quite explain what he meant as well as the terms Dukkha and Samsara. Dukkha is that most basic human feeling that "something just ain't quite right" (A.k.a. is sense of dis-ease). It's the feeling that if one could just tweak this or that in their life, then…then they’d finally be lastingly happy.
The deeper sickness he diagnosed is called samsara. The essence of this term is that we are chasing our own tail. We chase (attachment) external people, places and things to get the happiness we seek. We avoid (aversion) people, places and things that we don’t like. All this misdirected effort aims to avoid suffering - but we never find the peace we seek. We just spin around and around experiencing only temporary happiness or short-term relief from pain never arriving at our goal of peace.
The Buddha kindly went on to let us know that there is an origination (cause) of suffering (2). Put bluntly, the cause of suffering (aka Dukkha/Samsara) is ignorance. We wake up each morning wanting to be happy and to avoid suffering but at the end of day we have not figured it out and are often exhausted from the chase. We don’t know how to obtain the lasting peace we seek. Knowing there is a cause of suffering is good news. Once we know there is a cause we can take heed knowing a cure is just around the corner.
The third noble truth is that there is a cessation of suffering (3). That solution is the Eight-Fold path. These are the medicine you take to “wake up” or said another way to “realize” no-self and impermanence.
To wake up you are going to need to cultivate equanimity which is the fruition of the Seven Factors of Awakening. Where this teaching comes in handy is when you are ready to deepen your meditation practice into something that not only relieves stress and creates some peace in your life (these are just side-effects of meditation) to a practice that ends your suffering completely. This is the point of authentic practice – to end the confusion and wake you up to your perfect, peaceful, limitless nature. Don’t settle for less!
If you really want to wake up you’ll eventually want to put the Seven Factors into practice in a deep retreat. The goal here is to simply plant a seed and layout the framework to experience some equanimity. One could describe Equanimity as the ability to let thoughts, feelings and mental formations come and go with out attachment - like clouds in a clear blue sky. Resting in this space of peaceful non-attachment is an important jumping off place for realization.
The Seven Factors start with mindfulness (present moment awareness) and end with Equanimity (non-attachment). The goal here – equanimity - is so basic that it could escape you. Equanimity is simply being OK with whatever arises. Spoiler alert… You may have thought that equanimity and your eventual awakening was going to be a big ol’ bliss fest (and you will certainly experience these pleasant side effects along the way) but at the end of the day equanimity/realization just may be as simple as getting to know your basic goodness. Said more simply you will stop riding the roller coaster of life and will be like John Lennon, “just sitting there (completely OK and at peace) watching the wheels go ‘round and ‘round.” Finally, the chase for pleasures and the avoidance of pain will be over. After all, if you know you are truly OK why chase and avoid? The big pie in the sky “realization” might not be all unicorns and rainbows but instead may be simply and finally being completely and utterly OK as-is.
Here in the blog we can only give you a quick overview of the Seven Factors. Join us for a retreat to take a deeper dive and put them into practice. The best way to explain the factors is via a guided meditation. First take a comfortable upright posture. Do some 4-3-5 breathing to settle in. Do a little loving kindness (metta) practice. Then settle into mindfulness of breath. Next step (2) is to investigate the breath. Look for texture, depth and temperature. Make these qualities of the breath the most important thing in your world – get curious about the breath.
Next increase the energy (3). Many think meditation is zoning out. The right way to meditate is “like your hair is on fire.” Increase that effort/energy! Next find some Joy (4), you can start simply with any sense of “Ok’ness” you can find anywhere in your body or mind. It doesn’t have to be big mind-blowing bliss – just a simple sense of something that is at ease. Then expand it throughout every cell of your body until it expands into rapture. This experience can be very exciting and a bit shaky. Therefore, you’ll want to calm things down and ease into tranquility (5) which is much calmer then the Joy/rapture. Let a sense of ease permeate your mind and body. Now you’ve set yourself up to concentrate (6). From here you’ll want a qualified meditation guide to help guide you, but mainly you’ll be doing a Shamatha practice as this point focusing attention on one point. From here you can rest in a non-dualistic state (equanimity). When you get pulled out you’ll simply start at the beginning again. Experience the Seven Factors of Awakening at an upcoming AWAKE Mindful Living retreat.
The Seven Factors of Awakening…
1.Mindfulness (sati) i.e. to recognize the dharmas (phenomena or reality, two ways one can translate "dharma").
2.Investigation (dharma vicaya) of dharmas.
3.Energy (viriya) also determination
4.Joy or rapture (pīti)
5.Relaxation or tranquility (passaddhi) of both body and mind
6.Concentration, clear awareness (samādhi) a calm, one-pointed state of concentration of mind, or clear awareness
7.Equanimity (upekkha), to be fully aware of all phenomena without being lustful or averse towards them.
The yoga scene in America is shifting. Everyday Yogis are looking for a lot more than tight abs and nice bottom from the practice. Yogis are looking for more peace and ease in their lives and they are turning to meditation - many to mindfulness meditation - to unearth the peaceful treasures within. But if you've tried to cultivate a daily practice you are seeing just how difficult getting to the cushion each day can be. After all, if you are like me, the arisings of the mind and body ain't always pretty.
Believe me, I know it's difficult to meditate every day. I've been at this for 15+ years and been in countless long-term meditation retreats, attended thousands of teachings and have done the hard work on the cushion. I know that life can be very full and that you have many responsibilities. I have compassion for the pressures you probably put on yourself to show up for your families/friends and yourselves. I have empathy for your anxiety, depression, shame/guilt and anger. I know how it feels to be too busy to slow down. I know how it feels to get hooked by the appearances of this life. And, I bet you ask yourself, even after your have worked so hard to achieve a good life, 'Am I being a good mom/dad/husband/wife/worker/friend?' 'Am I good enough?' 'Maybe if I work/push/try just a little harder I'll finally feel good about where I'm at in life'…
See, we all have the appearances showing up in our lives. Work, school, relationship, parenting… the list of roles and responsibilities goes on and on. We may not have much control over what happens in life today… the car breaks down, the dog gets sick, your child gets upset… But, what you DO have control over is how you relate to the arisings in your life. You actually have a choice on how to respond to your life. Actually, without a mindfulness practice you probably don't have much of a choice. You'll find yourself reacting habitually, emotionally and most of the time unskillfully to the arisings in your life. This unmindful life to put it bluntly, stinks. But, great news here yogis, you don't need to react unmindfully any longer. This is what your mindfulness meditation practice for. Your practice gives you some space to slow down and gives you the CHOICE to respond mindfully, calmly and peacefully to your life.
Someone asked me recently if meditation gets easier over the years. I wish I could say it does. For me at least it's as difficult today to let a thought, emotion, physical sensation go as it was when I first sat on the cushion 15 years ago. But what does get easier is your relationship to your life. You don't need to get pushed and pulled by the arisings in your life when you have a practice. With a practice you are able to have a thought, emotion or physical sensation arise and fall without getting wrapped up in it. You see that you have a choice whether you want to suffer or not and with mindfulness you can choose to let it go and NOT suffer.
The answer to all life's problems with a daily mindfulness practice are now the same… The car breaks down? BREATHE. LET IT GO. RESPOND vs REACT. Kids grades are down? BREATHE. LET IT GO. RESPOND vs REACT.Fight with your spouse? BREATHE. LET IT GO. RESPOND vs REACT. You breathe (and know you are breathing) and then you let the thought, emotion or physical sensation go back to where it came from (we're not saying the situation doesn't exist or should necessarily not be dealt with). You then, from your new found calm, ease and clarity respond vs. react. You choose ease in relationship to the arising vs. letting them take you on yet another roller coaster ride… And, aren't you tired of that ride by now?
Before you reacted. Now you let the thought, physical sensation, emotion do what it does naturally… arise and fall. You no longer get hooked. You no longer get taken for a ride. You are the calm in the center of the storm… and what you'll find, thanks to a daily consistent practice, is that the storm calms down all on its own.
So, after all these years of meditating I wouldn't say it's gotten easier to practice every day but that my RELATIONSHIP to life has gotten easier. And once that relationship is easier than you see that already is simple, beautiful and easy all on its own.
So, don't let meditation become another thing you need to fit into your schedule. Don't let it become another thing to be hard on yourself about not doing. Instead see it as your medicine. See it like brushing your teeth. It's not optional. If you want to be happy and not to suffer (and you want to bring Joy vs. suffering to others lives) then your daily meditation practice is just SOMETHING THAT YOU DO, no matter what.
Join us at an AWAKE Mindful Living Retreat to get the support you need to stabilize a daily practice.
May these words, which are only possible due to the kindness of my teachers be of assistance to beings and may all beings be happy, peaceful and at ease!
By Erik Vienneau
Can we be OK as things in our life fall apart? On the other side of 40 I’ve been forced to feel into this question more often lately and I’m sure you have as well. Whether you are younger or older we all need to deal with external people, places and things falling apart. The question is can we see this as part of our spiritual practice or will we fall apart internally when the inevitable changes in life happen on their own?
Lately things have been intentionally and unintentionally falling apart in my external life. I've parted ways with my Guru of 20+ years, left my successful yoga business, my other income-producing business is slowing down and multiple people that I’m close to have died or moved on.
What external people, places and things in your life do you depend on to maintain a strong sense of self (note the small “s” in self a.k.a. “ego”)? Perhaps it’s your job, a certain level of income, the size of your home, the quality of your car, your partner, your parents, your friends, or your identity as a spiritual person/yogi/mom or dad. The more life experience you have you will see that eventually every one of these things will change or fall apart completely.
"What is your ego identity? If it was threatened tomorrow could you be OK?"
This falling apart has shaken me to my core and I am sure you have felt the same way when big changes happen externally in your life. This phenomenon forces us to see how much we depend on external people, places and things for our sense of self/wholeness. My identity, Buddhist student who provides well for his family and is central to the yoga community is toast as my Guru left, my income has gotten shaky and I’ve left the comfort of my yoga business. What is your ego identity? If it was threatened tomorrow could you be OK?
It's interesting – albeit it intense and shocking - to have these external things fall apart as it forces a choice on us. Will we fall apart internally as external people, places and things do or can we have faith in our true Self (note the capital “S”), our practice and fall back into the embrace of our eternal, peaceful, always-OK presence?
When things fall apart the self is often scared because it has less to cling to and build an identity out of. Can we use our practice to learn to feel into how OK we are deep inside the part that is watching this whole adventure unfold? If you can be OK with the open space and groundlessness you will find that your True Self – the part of you that seems to be watching this whole show – is where you can find the peace and security you have been searching for “out-there.”
It's amazing to see that mostly, I feel OK and at peace now more than ever as things fall apart thanks to a hard-won, ongoing meditation practice. I hope that these growth challenges we all experience will help us come closer to wholeness - exclusive of external ego inputs.
I know we can all realize our true nature and stabilize this realization of true peace so that we may be present for this beautiful life so that we can then help others transform their minds as we transform our own. May there be peace, ease Joy and happiness for all beings and may we support each other in this awakening to service. After all, peaceful minds = a peaceful planet.
Mindfulness Meditation has proven benefits and many want to cultivate a daily practice. But, to stay committed to the practice can be challenging if you don't know why you are sitting on a deeper level. It's helpful to know WHY you are practicing. View this video to learn about going for refuge (protection) to your highest self, the wisdom teachings and conscious community to go for the real goal of meditation - the end of confusion and the unveiling of your perfect, limitless and peaceful nature.
This past Sunday the AWAKE Community hosted its first one day mindful living retreat. Many attendees loved the talk and guided practice with Tamme Buckner. Check out this talk with Lisa, the founder of the Neurosculpting® Institute in Denver, CO.
Lisa Wimberger is the founder of the Neurosculpting® Institute. She holds a Masters Degree in Education from the University of Stonybrook, NY and a Foundations Certification in NeuroLeadership. Her work draws upon her background in medical neuroscience. She is the author of NEW BELIEFS, NEW BRAIN: Free Yourself from Stress and Fear, and NEUROSCULPTING: A Whole-Brain Approach to Heal Trauma, Rewrite Limiting Beliefs, and Find Wholeness. As the Founder of the Neurosculpting® modality Lisa runs a private meditation practice in Colorado teaching clients who suffer from stress disorders, and she is a faculty member of Kripalu Yoga and Meditation Center, and the Law Enforcement Survival Institute.
How this video will help you AWAKEN...
Join Lisa Wimberger on this interview to learn how to manifest more peace, joy, intention and flow into your life using the tools of Neurosculpting. In this episode you'll learn:
Connect with Lisa + Learn More:
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“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”