Bob Fergeson and Tess Hughes will share their stories and teachings through a series of workshops, inquiry, and discussion, designed to free your own inner guide.
A talk about the benefits of stilling the mind:
link to the original Breathing Underwater video: https://youtu.be/2lVE64vZvVE
Text of the talk:
Hi Folks, I’d like to talk with you today about a meditation exercise, that I’ve mentioned and made a little video about in the past, called breathing underwater. To me this exercise, which could be called stilling the mind, placing our attention into the quiet, the stillness, so that there’s no movement of the attention. This can feel at first like you’re breathing underwater because you’re so used to allowing the attention to run free. We’ve been taught to let this attention run out into the world for two reasons: One is the adventure of it. You could call this entertainment. The ego wants to go out into the adventure of the world to entertain itself, to look at all the strange things out here, and to identify with them, put our sense of “I” into them, so that we think we’re the ‘doer’. To get back past that sense of doership to the real reality that we’re just the observer, we keep this attention still, we can allow the will of God to come forth. This is like a trick of surrender. We can’t surrender on purpose, that’s just another ego move. What we can do is keep the attention still. Another thing we’ve learned is to try to escape. To let the attention run out into the things of the world in order to get away from the bad feelings inside of us, that may have been put there in our childhood, through school, through being told we’re inferior, bad. This is unconscious mostly, it’s not our fault, but if we can still this escape mechanism, not try to fix it, solve all the little details of it with analysis, but simply to be still and watch it and see that it’s not us. This little attention thing is like a cursor on your computer. If you hold it still and don’t click on it, then things stay still and there’s silence. This is like I said, a strange form of surrender, and that we can let our mind be still, but the world still flows through. Then God’s will is manifest rather than ours. This can be pretty scary at first to let go, it takes a long time for us to have Faith, so we don’t think the world will either fall apart, or go nuts on us, if we don’t have our little will in there trying to control it every minute. This practice, the more we do it, the more we try to hold our breath, our attention, our will, the easier it becomes until we find we can do it without effort, and that the world goes on. It can go from being brief seconds to being minutes, of allowing God to take over, and we can just relax and sit back and watch the show.
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We must somehow acquire a quiescent mind in order to truly turn the head and go within. To initiate contact with the inner self, or higher centers, the mind must be capable of receiving from within, as opposed to its usual obsession with the unconscious projection of thought. Now, if we find we are not capable of a quiet mind, one that can discriminate within the inner realm, to receive intuition and insight, why not? What is bothering us? It is usually compensations based on our chief feature. Since we are largely unconscious of our chief trait or pattern, observing the compensations we have in place to deal with it may be our best bet. We may even think the compensations are themselves our chief feature, meaning we’re even further out from our center than we thought. We must deal with what our problem presently really is. We cannot afford to get lost in imagination, such as the realm of archetypes, or concept structures such as ‘oneness’ or ‘non-duality’.
If we can observe our compensations, our psychological habit patterns that keep us spinning in thought and obsession, and accept them, we can perhaps look beneath them and see their opposite, our chief feature. We do not want to fight and destroy them, or rationalize them away as meaningless. We must accept that too, if we are to be objective. We are not to blame or judge ourselves for any of this, but to bring it into consciousness and allow the higher power to do what it will.
Once we are blessed with a true understanding of how our mind keeps itself in charge through the compensations and chief feature, we open the possibility to find the quiet mind, what I call the listening attention. From here, we can go within; allow contact with higher centers. This itself is paradoxical, for we need the insight and intuition from higher centers to understand this, but how do we make contact until we do? Know that paradox is the sign you have reached the outer limits of the mind. From there, one must allow oneself to become; paradox yet again.
– Bob Fergeson
Trap: Identification with pain. The usual reaction to pain is avoidance, either through distraction or medication-induced relief. Thinking it is “us” that hurts, we must get rid of our pain. Pain is nothing more than a signal that something needs our attention. Identification with our thoughts and feelings, and thus our pain, keeps us from this simple truth. By avoiding pain or medicating it out of our awareness, we procrastinate facing both the problem the pain is pointing to and the action or change needed to solve it.
Trick: Seeing pain for what it is. By seeing pain as the simple signal it is, we can turn our attention on it without fear or over reaction. The underlying problem can be dealt with and, usually, the pain stops. This is especially true in relation to psychic pain, the avoiding of which can keep us in the following Trap of
Ignoring our conscience: That faint voice from the depths is often seen as a pain to be avoided, thus preventing us from learning the following Trick of
Trusting the Inner Self: If we learn to listen to this inner voice, our own inner wisdom, we see that instead of it being a pain or inhibition keeping us from what we want, it is actually a guiding signal from an interior compass deep within. This beacon gives us direction in our search, pointing to a path or lifestyle that gives better probability of Becoming. Experience will show that the pang of conscience is best dealt with by the avoidance of temptation, not pain.
As I walk along the snowy trail
my face to the starry sky,
the night air feels as rain.
The animal self howls and moans
at the night, for it
knows of its illusory existence,
of its own eternality, its life and death.
For it heard, as I heard,
these words we spoke:
Rest easy in the Deep,
as the Deep….
for We are the Deep.
“The earth was formless and void,
and darkness was over the face of the Deep,
and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.”
According to local Irish legend, Saint Nicholas is buried in Co Kilkenny. The grave is said to be in the ruined Church of St Nicholas, Jerpoint. The church is all that remains of the medieval village, Newtown Jerpoint, that fell to ruin by the 17th century. The village was surrounded by the Cistercian Jerpoint Abbey, founded in 1183. Located on 1,880 acres, the abbey had its own gardens, watermills, cemetery, granary, and kitchens. It served as a launching point for Irish-Norman Crusaders from Kilkenny. The abbey was disolved in 1540.
The ruined church is now found on privately held farm land. Located to the west of the abbey, the church has an unusual grave slab with an image of a cleric, thought to be a bishop, and two other heads. The cleric is said to be St Nicholas and the heads, the two crusaders who, so the story goes, brought Nicholas’ remains back to Ireland. Though the church dates from 1170, the grave slab appears to be from the 1300s.
The tale tells of a band of Irish-Norman knights from Jerpoint, traveling to the Holy Land to take part in the Crusades. On retreat, as they headed home to Ireland, they seized St Nicholas’ remains, bringing them back to Kilkenny, where the bones were buried.
Evidence lends some posible credence to this tale as the Normans in Kilkenny were keen collectors of religious relics—possibly even more so than the Italians. And it is known that Norman knights from Kilkenny participated in the Holy Land Crusades.
Another version of the story tells of a French family, the de Frainets, who removed Nicholas’ remains from Myra to Bari, Italy, in 1169 when Bari was under the Normans. The de Frainets were crusaders to the Holy Land and also owned land in Thomastown, Co Kilkenny. After the Normans were forced out of Bari, the de Frainets moved to Nice, France, taking the relics with them. When Normans lost power in France, the Nicholas de Frainets packed up once again, moving to Ireland. This story has the relics being buried in Jerpoint in 1200.
This poem by Bill Watkins commemorates the legend:
‘The Bones of Santa Claus’
Where lie the bones of Santa Claus
To what holy spot each pilgrim draws
Which crypt conceals his pious remains
Safe from the wild wind, snows and rains.
It’s not in Rome his body lies
Or under Egypt’s azure skies
Constantinople or Madrid
His reliquary and bones are hid.
That saint protector of the child
Whose relics pure lie undefiled
His casket safe within it’s shrine
Where the shamrocks grow and rose entwine.
Devout wayfarer, cease your search
For in Kilkenny’s ancient church
Saint Nicholas’ sepulcher is found
Enshrined in Ireland’s holy ground.
So traveler rest and pray a while
To the patron saint of orphaned child
Whose bones were brought to Ireland’s shore
Safe from the Vandal, Hun and Moor.
Here lie the bones of Santa Claus
Secure beneath these marble floors
So gentle pilgrim, hear the call
And may Saint Nicholas bless you all.
“The greatest need of our time is to clean out the enormous mass of mental and emotional rubbish that clutters our minds” ~ Thomas Merton.
Feeding the head, if it’s not regulated, leads to a negative state of overload. It is the childish dream of acquisition without conflict; ‘I wanna do what I want’, taken on a mental level. If you let an animal, the animal part of your self, just do what it wants, it will eat and eat until it gets sick. It will never have time to process and digest, never get needed exercise or sharpen its wits through the trials of the hunt. It ends up fat, sick, and obsessed. The same with feeding the head. If we do nothing but read books, watch YouTube videos, even attend retreats and talks, but never actually exercise our mind through concerted actions, discipline it through reason, and rest it through silence, it too becomes fat and lazy.
We get caught in a downwardspiral, tending to blame everything on outer circumstances: “why can’t I do what I want, why won’t they let me do what I want, if I could do what I want I’d be happy”. If there is no reason or restraint put into action to exercise the mind and lend experience rather than ever fulfilled desire, we become bloated and sick, and place the blame for our discomfort on others and the world.
This is where isolations, or solitary retreats, come into play. If you can go into isolation, even small periods of ‘tech fasting’ during the week where you’re not putting information into your head nonstop, your mind can digest and comprehend. Otherwise, the imagination takes over and the mind gets fat and lazy, lost in the fog of information overload. You’ll have little chance for true realizations. You’ll instead be miserable; mentally constipated. And if you’re miserable, you’ll be always looking to be happy. See how this leads into a downward spiral: “I need to do what I want, don’t you understand that I’m miserable, why can’t I do what I want?” You’re not deprived, but exactly the opposite. You’re obsessed, craving more and more, and down the slippery slope you go.
If you can fast the mind through solitary retreats, no books to read, no YouTube videos to watch, no teachers to listen to, no friends to pump you up, then you can let the mind become lean and free. Even short quiet periods during the week, such as going for a walk around the block, without looking at your phone, can work wonders. You’ll think better, you’ll open the door for resolution. This is why solitary retreats can be so valuable, especially nowadays when our minds have become arrogant and obsessed through constant exposure to the internet, ‘smart’ phones, and their ceaseless stream of meaningless information. Take a walk, and watch your head rather than stuff it. Go on a solitary retreat and fast your mind, let it get slim and trim, and perhaps something meaningful will slip through.
– Bob Fergeson
One fine day in the spring of 1997-8 or so, I was hiking out of Trough Springs Canyon. I had made the trip to the creek in the bottom, taken my weekly shower in the rarity of flowing water in the otherwise dry desert, and was walking up the thousand feet of elevation gain to my truck back at the trailhead. The past week or two had been spent in solitary retreat, fasting and reading, sitting in the desert’s immense silence. The exercise of hiking provided a break in the routine; I was in good spirits as I trudged up the narrow canyon through the large rocks.
The end of the ridge I would soon be walking on came into view above and to my left. From the perspective of being down below the sheer cliffs it took on the appearance of a peak, a glimmering tower of red sandstone set against a stark blue desert sky. I couldn’t stop looking up at it; it began to capture my attention in a strange way. After a few glances, I stopped at a switchback and turned towards it, and was hit with a beauty I have rarely seen. The peak hadn’t changed, but in that instant something in me was open and unguarded, and I couldn’t turn my head from the view. I gazed in awe at the rock, and could not believe it to be so maddeningly beautiful.
The view had somehow opened me up. I don’t want to sound too poetic, or grandiose, but that’s what happened. My heart began to ache, both figuratively and physically. My chest was in agony, and I thought of William Blake’s words, “…portions of eternity too great for the eye of man.” I could not hold the beauty, it was too much for my heart to bear. So it broke.
I do not wish you to think I’m exaggerating. It happened so fast and unannounced that I had no time to stop it, something I probably would have done if I could have. But the process had begun, and all I could do was drop to my knees on the rocky trail and weep. I had wept tears before: when my father died and I realized what his life had been like, for him. And when my dreams of the secluded life on the Zen Master’s ashram had been dashed from a good dose of reality. But this time it was somehow different. I was not weeping for the loss of something, or from the shock of hitherto unseen truths; I was simply allowing the beauty of my own true existence, reflected in the desert peak, to become apparent and real. I could now accept it, even though my mind could not believe it.
My heart had been opened, and in an unselfish manner. There was no loss of a loved one, or dashed hopes, but simply the seeing of things objectively, letting the beauty come through before it could be washed clean of its power by the reasoning mind. It flowed through unhindered, unabashed, and unexpected. I no longer had a need to filter perception; to keep my heart safe and secluded from its own treasures. I began to weep not only for the impossible view before me, but at my own heart’s opening. It was free, free of the tight bonds of reason and practicality. Free of the ‘shoulds’, the rules, the restraints. Not free to ‘do what it wants’, to indulge in the childish fantasies of teenage youth, but free to simply be, without correction.
Every time I hike that trail I try to capture with my camera the beauty of what I’ve come to call Heartbreak Peak. The photographs are pale copies, some better, some worse, but the view itself is still astounding. What hits me when I now re-visit that lonely canyon isn’t as much memory, but gratitude. Gratitude that something opened a crack in my heart to let in Grace and Love. That spontaneous breaking of the prison wall that was keeping me locked up as well as secure, allowed the higher part of me to make contact. It forged a connection from the low to the high, from the mundane to the eternal. I can now walk that trail, I try to visit it every year or two, and sing praises to my Self. I was rescued and delivered from the ‘secure’ unconsciousness of a buried heart, to blindingly clear Light and Love.
Now that I’ve had a few years to dwell on the above event, it’s become clearer to me what happened, and why it’s so important for anyone on the spiritual path. My Zen teacher used to take those who could make the trip, to the east coast seashore in hopes of catching that Beauty through a sunrise over the ocean. He had seen before what an effect this could have on the heart, if the person was ready. Maurice Nicoll wrote of Beauty and the Puer Aeternus, how the eternal child is our intermediary between the mundane and the divine, and how Beauty can be a door through which we allow the divine to make contact. Before the above event, the trip to the seashore and the words of the wise were only theories with which I had no real relationship.
If you have the chance to allow Beauty to break you, whether through a sunset, the eyes of a child, or a desert peak, don’t fear. It may seem you’re losing control and it’s too much to bear, and it is. But don’t be afraid, for if you follow Beauty and Love within to your own heart, the Infinite may become your Home.
– Bob Fergeson