Rob Burbea and Catherine McGee Link to retreat

  • Meditation as a balance between cultivation and investigation
    • Cultivation of positive heart qualities, metta, generosity etc…
    • Investigation in a way that brings freedom
    • All practices are a practice of ways of looking
  • Nice short Energy Body Practice in the Intro Talk (starting at 1:10:00)

Metta Practice

What is Metta?

Metta is an ideal love and well wishing that is unconditional and boundless. It embraces all beings independently of how they acted etc…

We gradually cultivate Metta by starting where it’s easiest. It could be with ourselves, or with someone we deeply love.

There is not one specific feeling for Metta. It may manifest in many different feelings → energy, warmth, joy, gentleness etc… If there’s no feeling at all, that’s completely fine too, we are planting seeds of Metta.

Practicing Metta

  • Different people have different preferred ways
  • Some prefer cultivating Metta through phrases
    • Better to have 3 or 4 that you can easily remember (e.g. “may I be happy”)
    • Better to keep them general and broad (applicable to everyone at any time)
    • Phrases not meant to be corrective - coming from a place of criticism - “May I be kind (because I’m not kind enough)“
      • Pay attention to that - Energy should be about well wishing
    • Eventually phrases become not that important
      • The body itself becomes the center of practice
  • Some through images or both
    • Imagining warmth or light radiating out of oneself and bathing others
    • Images don’t need to be hi-fi, crystal clear
      • Important to get a sense of the images
    • Worth it to play around with different phrases and images see what works best for you
      • Sometimes you can stop saying the phrases and feel Metta in the body
      • Sometimes you can repeat a phrase twice, or say them more softly, or less frequently etc…
  • Bringing responsiveness to the practice (responding skillfully to what’s present in the moment)
    • metaphor of sailing and responding to the situation (in 2nd guided meditation)
      • If Metta is flowing well, we go with it and get nourished, enjoy it
      • If we notice some difficulty, we continue with Metta but make adjustments to deal with them (posture, light, images etc…)
      • We notice large difficulties, we respond by doing something different (take the sails down)
  • Letting the Metta be expressed through touch
    • How often do we touch ourselves with tenderness?
    • Using one hand to touch the other
    • Opening the hands up and visualizing Metta coming out of it
    • Experiencing and expressing Metta through our lives, even to the inanimate objects

Sometimes, you will feel a sense of metta, warmth and kindness, open to it and enjoy it. But just like everything else, it will be impermanent. No need to be bothered when it’s not there. If we put too much pressure on ourselves to feel metta, we lose the sensitivity to notice subtler sensations.

Element of faith (The 5 Heroic Motivations), we are planting the seeds with the phrases, knowing that they will eventually sprout (even if we don’t feel it flowing right now)

Using Samadhi to Cultivate Metta

  • We can start practicing with phrases and images to cultivate a sense of Metta in the body
  • Or we can start by cultivating pleasurable (Samadhi) states in the body, and then interpreting them as Metta and spreading it to others
  • Discussed in the Fourth Guided Instructions

Metta Q&A

  • Practicing Metta throughout the day, while walking etc…
    • Wishing well to the people we come across
  • There are times where the phrases are not appropriate
    • When there’s a difficulty, just listening to one’s thoughts (or the character inside) might be the kind thing to do
    • When things get very quiet
  • As Metta opens the heart, it can also make room for desire
    • Observe if that desire feels painful (craving has a painnful sense of lack while desire doesn’t necessarily)
  • When the heart is open, it reduces aversion, we usually don’t make the connection between love and aversion
    • We often don’t notice that there’s aversion around
      • I don’t like this feeling of tiredness, sadness, I don’t want to go on a walk when raining etc…
      • Rob recommends to Practice Discomfort sometimes (going out when it rains or staying up late one night), especially if we tend to always stay cozy and closing ourselves
      • It’s about opening up the heart and questioning
    • Aversion is often a non-openness of the heart
      • What state is the heart in when we don’t feel like going outside?

Talk - Freeing the Self

Summary on Emptiness

  • There’s suffering and causes of suffering
    • Craving and clinging are common causes for suffering
    • We crave and cling because of a deep misunderstanding about who we are, and how the world is
    • We don’t see the emptiness of things, the dependent co-arising
  • Things neither exist nor they don’t exist (The Middle Path)
    • We can see this through practice
    • When we hold the Self too tightly, we suffer
  • Emptiness is sometimes taught as the “teaching of disappointment”
    • Everything becomes meaningless nihilism
  • In reality there’s a strong sense of beauty and meaning that can come from it
  • Emptiness is a tool for freedom
    • It is a way of looking that we can pick up and put down
    • It is complementary to the “View of Self”
      • We can learn to use the “View of Self” as another freeing, useful tool in certain situations
    • Both can be true

Emptiness of Self

  • Starting with Emptiness of Self is a good way to learn about emptiness without running the risk of facing nihilism or meaninglessness
  • We identify with our personality, our body, or even with awareness
  • Often we have negative self-identifications
    • Can we see that those are not true?
    • However we define ourselves, our definition is not going to ALWAYS hold true
      • If it is not always true, we cannot say it to be true
  • Positive self-definitions can be a good stepping stone, but eventually also lead to suffering and are not true
    • We have to constantly prove our self-worth to others
  • Emptiness of Self doesn’t mean there’s an erasure of personality
    • Are we moving to normalcy and conformity?
    • Emptiness of Self means we are free to express our individuality

Practicing with Self-Definitions

  • Starting with suffering, notice how you are defining yourself or others (worthless, weak, wounded, sick passionate etc…)
    • Realize that that definition is empty
    • Ask: “What do I repeat to myself (or others) about myself?”
  • Confirmation Bias creates Reinforcing Feedback Loops where we look for confirmations of our definitions
    • We get stuck believing our definitions more and more strongly
  • Some of these self-definitions might be partially true
    • How are these definitions bounding, limiting, constraining the possibility of our Self?
  • Reification blocks love
    • Not only when we create tight definitions about the self, but also about others
    • If we feel a stronger sense of love as we let go of our self-reification, it’s a sign that we are on the right track
  • We can expand, open up our self-view by honoring and loving the fullness of self
    • All the manifestations, parts of our self
  • ”What do I overlook about my Self?”
    • We often only focus on the self-definitions we acknowledge, while ignoring many other beautiful parts of our self

Practicing with Sense of Self

  • Sense of Self is different from self-definitions or thoughts about self
    • It is more about how your self feels
    • Feelings of lack, or desire, shame etc…
  • Every mindstate has a body-sense and a self-sense
  • Paying attention to our sense of self throughout the day, as we practice etc…
    • Is the sense of self getting more contracted or expanded?
    • Does sending love to oneself in Metta reinforce/contract the sense of Self?
      • Try it!
  • Can we allow our self to feel a self sense that we usually don’t allow?
    • What is it like to feel vulnerable or strong, if we usually avoid them?

Talk - Holding Yourself Dear

  • How do we talk to ourselves?
  • Taking it as a practice and playing with it
    • Talking nice to ourselves as we go through our day
    • Treating yourself as a
      • Special guest
      • child who needs care
      • Loved one
  • Looking again at ourselves
    • Looking while accepting Not-knowing everything about our self
    • Not defining and limiting who we think ourselves to be


  • Questions to journal aboutjournalingprompts
  • What’s right about not holding yourself dear?
  • What are you afraid would happen if you treated yourself as the beloved one?
    • Not asking to the wise part of yourself
  • What hinders you from holding yourself dear?
  • What is it like to hold yourself dear?
    • What does it feel like?

(Perceived) Issues with Self-kindness

  • In society, people who like or love themselves are often looked at with suspicion or contempt
  • Near enemy of Love
    • Attached, clinging love
  • Far enemy
    • Hatred and aversion (even towards love itself)
    • Metta practice may allow us to see the hatred more clearly
      • Aversion to hatred may immediately arise in response
      • Instead we can also hold the hatred and aversion in a loving container
      • Love is capable of doing that

Talk - Ending Blame

  • Blame blocks love, whether towards ourselves, others or both
  • Recognizing the causes and conditions behind all events, actions etc… helps us reduce our self-blame or others’ blame
    • ”I made a mistake because I was tired, my boss was breathing on my neck and many other conditions”
    • Allows more love to flow
    • Opens a self-view that’s more in line with emptiness
  • The way we see things is the fundamental factor that gets us in trouble
    • Avijja = Ignorance/Delusion
    • The self, Ego wants to be the star of the show and that’s why we blame ourselves ignoring the many conditions that were in place as well
    • At lots of different levels we have a wrong view that hurts us
    • the negative views of ourselves get reinforced through a Reinforcing Feedback Loops since our Confirmation Bias makes us notice much more the behaviors that confirm our (often negative) self views
      • we think of ourselves as awkward, we have an awkward moment at work (and 10 non awkward), and we concentrate on it, reinforcing our self-view of awkwardness
  • Unconsciously we interpret events or emotions as meaning something about our self
    • e.g. “I’m feeling sad, it must mean I’m a failure” (it may also be non-verbalized thoughts, or images that we interpret in some ways)
    • These thoughts crystallize the self
  • We can practice deliberately changing/flipping the view
    • Of oneself, of other people, of our lives etc…
    • Changing from a view of “how I feel, what I need” to “how can I support others?”
  • Metta softens our view, making it more flexible and malleable
    • Allowing us to consider the inner and outer causes and conditions for events and not blaming our selves
    • Allowing us to shift between different ways of looking

Talk - Contact and Construction of the Self

  • ”When there is suffering, there is fabrication of the self”

Dealing with Fabrication

  • Seeing that the Self is fabricated
  • Seeing how it is fabricated
  • Learning to fabricate it less

Learning to fabricate it less

  • Stop feeding the views that are fabricating (“She treated Me this way”)
  • Simplifying attention
    • Fabrication makes the mind spin agitatedly
    • Focus on the simple present, allowing the unpleasantness (we might have aversion to it)
  • If the mind is caught up in the comparison trap, judging yourself or others based on something, it can be useful to imagine a 3rd person either judging you or feeling judged by you
    • That will clearly show you the silliness of comparing and judging

Practice of “Staying at Contact”

  • Practicing “bare attention” (Mindfulness)
    • Coming back to the bareness of sensations
    • Instead of keeping a narrow focus, jumping from sensation to sensation trying to keep and expanded level of awareness that includes different sesations
    • No labels, no fabrication of the mind
    • If labels come up, just coming back to sensations
      • In a way labeling also creates the experience
        • If you label a sensation as “pain”, you also fabricate a self experiencing the pain
        • You compare yourself to others who seem to have no pain
        • The experience may become more painful than if you labeled it as “warmth”
  • We can systematically practice with different senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, thoughts)
    • Looking only at thoughts might be tricky, easy to get distracted
  • It can be easier to look at thoughts while keeping a spacious awareness of all sensations that come up
  • We may find a sense of relief, or find a sense of beauty in the rawness of sensations

Ways of Looking - Anicca

  • Insight as a kind of seeing or understanding that brings freedom
  • Two types of insights
    • Aha moment (something become clear in meditation)
    • Sustaining ways of looking that bring freedom over time
      • comparison trap is a unskillful way of looking, that fabricates a lot of self
      • Mindfulness (bare attention) is another way of looking, but a more skillful one that constructs less
    • ways of looking often become a mental habit that we’re not even aware of

Three Characteristics

  1. Anicca (everything constantly changes (impermanence)) - (also means uncertainty)
  2. Dukkha (unsatisfactoriness)
  3. Anatta (no-self)

Anicca as a practice

  • Paying particular attention to moment-to-moment changes
    • In sensations, moods, etc…
  • Practice paying attention to the subtle changes in the sound of the bell
  • While eating, noticing the changing sensations that come up

”What we call the body is a field of changing sensations”

  • Paying attention to arising and passing away of thoughts, sensations, etc…
    • Even more subtle, noticing the arising of intentions (for example while walking, the intention of taking the next step, or the intention to move at certain times)
    • Eventually, we can also start noticing the impermanence of the sense of self

Why Practice with Anicca?

  • Learning to see the impermanence of things allow a natural tendency to let go
    • We don’t even have to think about it
    • Once we see change, we learn to let go
  • When things feel solid and substantial, they have more power over us
    • Depression or pain could seem unsurmountable, so heavy, but seeing impermanence, we can see a lot of gaps in it (moments of joy etc…). We also know that they won’t last in the long run
    • Impermanence starts to open us to Emptiness
  • We notice that the self (What is the Self) is also impermanent
    • We cannot find this self that we consider to be real
    • Not an intellectual exercise, the understanding arises in the felt-sense

Impermanence, Love, Emptiness Q&A

  • Emptiness is sometimes called groundlessness
    • Starting to realize emptiness can bring up some fear, and that’s ok
    • Instead of becoming afraid of fear and trying to escape from it, we can welcome it as a feeling
    • Alternatively, if it’s too strong we can stop practicing for the moment or shift to Metta practice
  • Love is also empty
    • However, in practice we can see that when cultivating or dwelling in Love we are constructing less
    • We notice that to be in a state of anger requires a lot more fabrication

Reflections on Commitment and Ardency

  • Commitment intended as commitment to the Dharma
  • Are you involved or committed?
    • The chicken making the egg is involved, the pig is committed
  • Commitment involves giving one’s whole self
  • Commitment does not allow to leave all the options open
    • In a way it is a reduction of freedom
    • We pledge to commit

Goethe on Commitment

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.
Concerning acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth,
the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:
That the moment one definitely commits oneself then Providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.
A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.
Whatever you can do, or dream,  you can begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
Begin it now.poetic

The Buddha’s Commitment to not get up from under the tree until reaching enlightenment

Talks about Goals in Spiritual Practice and motivation

  • What lights your fire?

  • What motivates you to practice?

  • We can cultivate our motivation

    • In the Tibetan tradition you continuously remind yourself that you are practicing for the good of all beings
  • It’s important to pay attention to the quality of our motivation

    • That also constantly changes
    • You can also have unwholesome motivations (e.g. not wanting to be disturbed)

Ways of Looking - Dukkha

  • Dukkha → Unsatisfactoriness
    • Clinging and aversion are big contributors to the fabrication of Self and Dukkha (they are two sides of the same coin “I feel aversion to loneliness an craving for romance”)
  • Because of their fleeting, impermanent nature, events, phenomenons we perceive are unsatisfactory
    • We can’t find permanent, fulfillment in any one thing, experience, phenomenon
  • Idea of holy discontent in Christian tradition

1 Practice

  • Deliberately seeing and labeling things as “unsatisfactory”
    • The bird sounds beautiful, but it won’t bring permanent happiness
    • Similar to the impermanence practice
  • This view supports letting go and not-clinging in the moment
  • Different from boredom or aversion
    • This practice doesn’t lead to a grim look at the world
    • Not life denying
    • Rather it doesn’t limit life to the normal mode of looking

2 Practice

  • Noticing in the body when aversion or grasping are there and seeing if we can relax them (relaxing the body usually relaxes aversion)
    • More subtle than noticing aversion or grasping in thoughts
      • Feelings of contraction etc…
    • Sometimes it can get even subtler, in the energy body
  • Focus is not n the aversion or clinging, but on our relationship to it
    • Opening up the awareness to the energy body can help

Ways of Looking - Anatta

  • Normally we have a conscious and unconscious habit to regard things as me or mine

  • In this practice, we deliberately start seeing things as “not me, not mine”

    • This letting go of identification brings freedom
    • There’s a degree of suffering in appropriating things as me or mine
    • A gentle, simple label “not me, not mine” can be really helpful
  • If we feel agitated, we can practice disidentifying from the agitation etc…

  • It’s useful to start with external things (car, furniture, lover, loved ones)

    • Recognizing those are not mine bring freedom
  • Disindentifying with sensations may be easier than the body

Using the Aggregates

the 5 aggregates (Khandas)

  • Body
    • If the body was mine I’d be in full control of it
    • Are my nails and hair “mine”? How much can I chop off to still regard me as me?
    • Using metta going through this process to avoid disconnecting or rejecting one’s body
      • Recognizing the miracle
  • Vedana (sensations - pleasant, unpleasant)
  • Perceptions (discriminating between this and that)
  • Mental formations (movements of the mind - thoughts, intentions, aversion, clinging)
  • Consciousness (Knowing)
  • Some teachers claim the Buddha said that human being is just these five aggregates
  • Rather these are just a practical guide to help disidentify
  • They are the things that we’re most likely to identify with and should watch out for

What to watch out for

  • Being careful to not include aversion in the practice
    • Seeing something as “not self” means we can let it be there
    • Sometimes we see pain as not self as we want to get rid of it
  • Kink in the carpet
    • It can be tempting to try to get rid of the self sense
      • If we do, like a kink in a carpet, the self sense will come out somewhere else
    • We’re just concerned with learning to regard phenomena in this moment as not self

Questioning Reality