One of the most common images in spiritual teaching is that of an open empty sky.
It represents an awake, open mind through which thoughts, emotions and sense perceptions pass like clouds on a gentle breeze.
This is a beautiful image.
Imagine yourself on a long holiday, deeply relaxed but wide awake, lying comfortably on the grass gazing up into an endless blue sky. A cloud may appear but it simply comes and goes. Of course, we all know this experience of being deeply relaxed and fully present with nothing triggering us. Unfortunately, most of us don’t stay there for long. A group of noisy people arrives and they sit down right next to us – far too close for comfort – and our minds start: ‘Why can’t they go somewhere else? Do they have to make so much damned noise? Bloody tourists! So selfish and arrogant!’ Our body has become tense and we have closed down – we’ve become constricted. All that we are left with is ‘me’ and these damned tourists. No sky. No gentle breeze. No clarity, ease or openness. And, so, thinking it’s all about the tourists, we walk off muttering to ourselves, hoping to find another place to settle.
But, even when we find another comfortable, relatively isolated place to lie, we are dogged by resentment at the intrusion by the tourists and the commentary in our heads continues: "Why can't I get some peace in this over-crowded world?" If we had clarity at that moment, we would see that the tourists are long gone and that it is the stories in our mind that are causing us so much distress.
And, if we had clarity at that moment, we would also see that although we are longing for a return to that relaxed, open awareness, our minds are taking us further and further away from it. When we are caught, we don’t see clearly at all.
We think it is ‘them’ and it seems so reasonable to our minds that we should be angry with these inconsiderate tourists who spoiled a precious moment for us. The reality is different. In truth, we have gone deeply unconscious. So, how do we recognise that we have gone unconscious? Well, we can develop a habit - over time - of recognising that: whenever we are caught by an emotion - in other words when emotions are not simply coming and going like clouds across an open sky - then we have gone unconscious to some degree. There are no exceptions to this. One can recognise, too, that when we are caught by an emotion, that that emotion will generate stories in the head: "The sh*ts, how could they be allowed to behave like that…." And the stories in the head will generate reactions in the body - tension and so on. And, the bodily reactions will, in turn, reinforce the stories in the head. And so we have a vicious cycle lasting much longer than the actual presence of the tourists. So, the first step in freeing oneself is to develop a habit of honest recognition: "Yes, here we are again. I’ve got caught. I have gone unconscious...again!" Now, this is not easy to do with the mind in the head - which will often tend to justify the stories it has made up.
One way of testing whether or not we have become caught is by taking our attention off the stories in our head and placing our attention on the sensations in our body.
Then we can ask ourselves: "Does my body feel open or closed?"
A closed or tight feeling will tell us immediately that we are caught.
An alert, relaxed, open, spacious feeling will tell us that we are not. Now, even if you recognise that you have gone unconscious, the mind will tend to fight back.
It may reassert its view that it's perfectly justified in getting angry. "It’s only natural" it may say "to react like that. We can’t have these hooligans disturbing good people’s hard-earned holidays. They should be locked up!" Or the mind in the head may shame you: "Oh, hell, you’ve got caught again. You’re never going to get anywhere on the spiritual journey. Why can’t you stay conscious? You’re pathetic. You can’t even stay mindful on holiday." In truth, there is nothing wrong with the mind in the head behaving like this. That’s the kind of thing that the mind in the head does.
The crazy part of it all is that we buy into the stories in our heads. These stories cause us untold suffering. Eckhart Tolle, by the way, is a master at illustrating this truth. So, let's say that we accept the craziness of the mind in the head and the fact that we have become caught by both it and by our emotions, how do we let go? Well, one of the easiest methods is the Sedona Method.
The Sedona Method is an extremely simple technique created by a man called Lester Levenson and developed over decades by Hale Dwoskin. The essential method is this: Having recognised that you want to let go of something, you place your attention on the sensations in your body. So, if you were sad, you would be noticing a heaviness in your chest, a loss of muscle tension in most of the body, a tightness in the throat. You would then let yourself feel these sensations as fully as you can - almost pulling the feelings towards you, accepting them as fully as you can - just for now. In doing this you are taking your attention off the stories in the head and simply welcoming the sensations in your body, neither suppressing them nor acting them out. Now, having done this, you then ask yourself a series of questions: The first question is: "Could you let it go?" In other words, you are asking: "Are you capable of letting these feelings go?" And, you just let yourself give a spontaneous, simple answer: ‘Yes,’ ‘No,’ or ‘I don’t know.’ Don’t try at this point to let the sensations go. Just give a spontaneous best guess. That’s all that is necessary. It doesn’t matter if it’s wrong or right. You are simply getting a spontaneous best guess. Whatever your answer, then ask yourself the second question: "Would you let it go?" In other words, you are now asking: "Are you prepared to let it go." Again, you simply give a spontaneous best guess: "Yes," "No," or "I don’t know." If the answer is "Yes," then you ask the third question: "When would you let it go?" This is an obvious invitation to answer 'Now." And, if the answer is "Now," then you can say to yourself (in a gentle, relaxed voice): " ‘Just let it go!" Usually, there is a relaxing in the body and a release to at least some degree. Next, you check in with your body and, if any negative sensation remains, you simply repeat the process. And, you repeat the whole procedure several times if necessary until you find that you are able to simply relax into a more relaxed, open awareness. Now what happens if there is a negative answer to the second question - "Would you let it go?" Well, if there is, we are dealing with some form of resistance. Resistance is not unusual and it takes many forms.
A common reason for resistance is the fear that letting go might make the situation feel even worse. Let’s say that your housemate has yet again left the kitchen a mess after having made something to eat. You get angry and the mind in your head may think that you have to remain angry in order to impress on your housemate just how important this is to you. The same mind may also think that you have to punish your housemate by continuing to be angry with him or her. Because of this, the mind in the head creates resistance because it thinks that, if you let go of the anger, your housemate’s behaviour will never change and you will be left feeling helpless and angry every time this happens in the future. But, if we look at the situation more carefully, we can easily see that this is simply not true. There are other alternatives. You could, for example, talk to your housemate and insist that you find a mutually-workable solution together. That process is not going to leave you feeling helpless at all. But, having said all of that, the beauty of the Sedona Method is that you don’t have to go through all of this insight and strategy. Given that you recognise that there is resistance, you can ask yourself: "Would I be prepared - just for a moment - to to let that resistance go? I can take it all back again if I want to. But, just as an experiment, would I be prepared to let it go – just for now?" Generally, the answer will be a somewhat reluctant "Yes" and you can then ask yourself: "When would I let it go?" And, given that we have already established that you would be prepared to try it ‘just for now,’ the answer is almost invariably "Now." So, you say to yourself: "OK – just for now – just for a moment - let it go!"
Usually, there is at least some letting go. So you repeat the process with the resistance if necessary and then, having released enough off the resistance, you work on releasing the anger. And, having done this, it is seldom the case that you will find yourself clamouring to take the anger back.
Feeling open and light feels so much better than feeling angry! Because resistance can take so many forms, the true art of the Sedona Method comes into play in dealing with its various guises. One person may be resistant because the mind in the head says: "It can’t be that simple!" Another may be resistant because she feels that if she lets go of her grief, it would feel like she’s betraying the loved one that she lost. Yet another person may be resistant because: He has constructed his whole image of himself around being a bad person. Another person made be stuck in victim mode. Whatever the form the resistance takes, if there is resistance, we put the attention on the resistance and see if we can let that go – just for now. Having let go of the resistance, we come back to the body to see what remains and we release that - taking as many rounds as we need. Although the Sedona Method appears simple, it does take significant learning and practice. But, if one puts in the effort, it becomes an amazing resource, helping us to release our triggers so that we can rest more and more in what Buddhists call the natural mind - a deeply peaceful, open spacious awareness. Another common image used in spiritual teaching is particularly pertinent here. That is the image of a golden Buddha covered with mud. The Buddha represents our natural, open awareness and the mud the mess we get stuck in by buying into the madness of the mind in the head. By letting go, one is slowly but surely cleansing the Buddha and the Sedona Method is one of the best methods that I know of helping ourselves to do this. So, how does one learn the Sedona Method? Well, one way is to take one of Hale Dwoskin’s downloadable courses. The Sedona Method Course is a good place to start (http://www.sedona.com/programs/Supercourse.asp). Another good way is to work with a Consciousness Coach who is familiar with the method and who will discover with you how the method works best for you.