Intermezzo: 8 Awakening

Intermezzo: 8 Awakening

The old year has finished. This is my little contribution to start the New Year, by reflecting on what I have learned recently and the several expansions of awareness that I have experienced in company with a substantial number of people  that I like to look on as being the Sangha.


I cannot doubt that from time to time one or more members of these groups, working in unknowing, as they do, with the revelations that arise in the body, experience some kind of awakening.

Words like profound Peace and Bliss are often used and there is a sense, visible to all others in the room, that something has profoundly changed. It is mostly evident in the eyes but re-inforced by other subtle changes in posture, voice and an awed expression. I believe everyone shares to some extent in the blessing of that expanded presence. It is one person’s story but the whole group has been affected.

Something inside me has reached the place
Where the whole world is within me, breathing
The flags we cannot see are flying over
The peak of the mountain.
Kabir says: My desire body is dying and my heart’s desire
Is being born.

The work is doing the work: that is apparent. It cannot be said that anyone is doing anything TO anyone; quite simply, creation is happening and we are the witnesses.

Sometimes the person attempts to share with the group the experience of what has been going on. Rarely are the words adequate, in the speaker’s perception, to convey the experience. Phrases like chains bursting apart from around the heart, are sometimes heard but often the rebirth is too powerful and tender an experience for there to be words adequate to describe it and we are gifted with the palpable feeling instead, of the concept.

This is the euphoric stage; but this is also the stage that we desperately want to hang on to – it is a very seductive attachment – and I liken it to the wet bar of soap in the shower; the harder we grasp, the more elusive it becomes.

We go back to our homes, to the reality, the other reality, that we are accustomed and habituated to, outside the safety and support of the retreat centre, and we encounter and are seduced by, the old, reactive ego patterns which, so easily, fall back into place. The story is familiar and in its familiarity, somehow comfortable, even in its discomfort.

People write to me quite often about how easily they have become bewildered about what it was they brought away from the retreat. What actually did happen or indeed, did anything happen or was it just a dream, a sort of hallucination brought on by the intensity of the group process?

Jack Kornfield sums up this disappointment so well in the title of his excellent book, “After the Ecstacy the Laundry.”

Laundry, dishes, mortgages, relationships (perhaps, especially relationships) , stock-markets, wars, the need for a new pair of shoes – the sales are on – and the weather, still have to be dealt with. Nothing has changed!

“I need a new teacher. I never did like the way she favoured Charles all the time and I never got a look in.” Perhaps this is a rather childish analogy which doesn’t, couldn’t, apply to me, it sounds like a nine-year-old talking. Yes it does, apply to me, AND sound like a nine-year-old!

And yet, and yet, something has changed. For a moment, back there, we touched the core of being, not just our being but Being, the source of wisdom itself. A faint trace, at least, of that will always be available, waiting to be revisited, rediscovered, where it has always lain, in the heart.

Awareness, of what is, has expanded not as a concept or intellectual process but as a felt sense, in the body and that body is there for as long as we shall live.

If the initial coming home to real being, as opposed to disempowered reactivity, is in the body, so then, must be the route back to its recovery.

That route is practice. By practice, I do not mean sitting for endless hours in a full lotus, or the recitation and repetition of 100,000 mantras, or even the lighting of candles and shaving ones head, although all of these may have value in certain contexts and particularly if not seen as an end in themselves.

The practice I am talking about is being present, time after time for as long as is necessary, to the absolute stark nakedness of what is going on, whether good or bad, and then letting go of both the good and the bad. That is to say, surrendering the judgement.

That is being compassionate, full awareness without judgement. That is what we need and that is the practice for connection with Wisdom; already in place and available all the time.

It was easier in the group, the place where we first had the courage to embark on the way of the warrior and surrender the armour plating. It is easier to be compassionate and supportive to others, is it not, than to be compassionate towards ourselves.

On our own or, possibly in social company with others whose needs are different, it is not easy to allow all the hidden refuse to come to the surface and be accepted as being just what is. The story of a life. Just that, nothing else. The chances are that if some of it does come to the surface from where we have so laboriously buried it, we shall beat ourselves up with it and add another link to the chain that we haul around.

That is not useful, what is coming up is my life story, nothing more, nothing less. It is there. The only choice I have about it is, having seen what it is, is to decide what I am going to do with it. Either I can try to bury it again like some sort of malignant cancer and let it work unseen, or I can compost it. Make it the starting point of right now, the eternal present, not the then that cripples me. All sorts of things can grow from that compost.

The present is the razor blade from which we lick the honey, being vigilant the whole time that we do not cut ourselves on the edge which is complacency and hubris.

There is only practice; there is no knowing the goal as that would be a limitation. It is said that no teacher is free of the possibility of suffering or Mara.  Mara lurks and catches us out form time to time and the awareness of that is also the practice. Even enlightenment has its opposite; only change is certain. We keep coming back to the awareness of that and become a relatively still point in an infinite spectrum of change.

What we tasted, in the group, was honey. We can go on collecting honey until the pot is full and when it is full, we must give it away and let others have the taste. Honey is sticky and is easy to become attached to. To obtain the honey, we must surrender that separate-ness that we have constructed, called ME and become the synergy that we experienced during that time that now seems long ago.

I quite like the idea that we should consciously do, what bees do from programming, that is to say, benefit their surroundings whilst at the same time looking after their own kind.

In our case the locus for our practice is the Wisdom, Intelligence – no confusion with Intellect, which is personal – of the body.

Trungpa Rinpoche said, “There is no division between the spirituality of the mind and the spirituality of the body; they are both the same….” He commented further that the definition of samsara is a mind that parts company with the body. The definition of an awakened person is one for whom there is no separation of mind and body. To know the body is to know awareness. To know awareness in its pure state is to know the awakened state.

The body is present; we cannot walk away from it; we cannot even fly away from it; it is always right where we are; and WE KNOW THAT, somewhere, somehow; at some level; don’t we?

Don’t go outside your house to see the flowers-

That is where we taste the honey…

My friend, don’t bother with that excursion.

Inside your own body there are flowers…

One has a thousand petals!

Won’t that do for a place to sit?

Sitting there you will have a glimpse of Reality-

Inside the body and out, a garden in a garden.


People call the experiences I have referred to as Awakenings or Sartori or Kensho – they come in various intensities – and the path to the experience of the next one and perhaps the Great one, is letting go the experience of the last one. It could be said that to become attached to any form of experience is to become stagnant right there. Attachment , even to the concept of enlightenment, makes it another link in the chain of disempowerment and how can that be freedom?

We tend to talk of these openings as doors. There are many doors and an open door may lead anywhere; sometimes apparently, back to where we started from. And yet it cannot be the same place. Perception has modified by the travelling of the road. Travel we must, change will be, or the wind of habit will blow the door shut again. That travelling, we call practice.

We just trust where the road will lead us, we cannot know it in advance without limiting the destination. This trusting we call “the Blessing of Insecurity.”

The direction of the road is inward towards the heart and this we call “the Embodiment of Spirit.”

The teacher travels the path together with us and that is joint practice and when, from time to time, the teacher is fully present, we all listen to the Teaching not the Teacher and that we symbolise by “the Empty Chair”; but “the Empty Bowl” says it all and that is my excuse for repeating it….

An Empty Bowl

I have a metal bowl.
It was made by the latest in a lineage of such bowl makers.
It is empty, though the Ocean is in it.
If I strike it, it rings and that is useful.
I can put flowers in it, that is beautiful and that is useful but it wont ring.
My grand-son could pee in it and probably would and that would be useful but it
would not ring.
If I approach it from stillness and get into joint practice with it, it sings beautifully
And the sound goes all round the Universe
And that is very useful
And the bowl is empty.

I have a mind.
It was made in eternity.
And if thoughts are in it, that is useful.
And if lesions are in it and edges of resistance, that is useful.
And sometimes it is full of roses and sometimes full of piss
and I can work with that and that is useful.
But if it is empty and I can approach another in stillness,
There is room for the whole story and she remembers who she really is
and the universe remembers what it is
and that is really useful.
And the mind is empty.

Mike Boxhall.

The flowers bloom. The flowers die. The seeds fall. The end is the beginning.

Let us welcome 2010.

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2 thoughts on “Intermezzo: 8 Awakening

  1. Dear Mike,
    Thank you for this exquisite offering. I feel a deep resonance with each and every word. My gratitude is unspeakable, for all that your teachings have shown me, but is finding expression in how life occurs, moment by moment. Practice is the key, and with your guidance, presence has become my practice. Life is so full of opportunities to be aware, and blessings abound. There is an ever expanding ease, for me, with the way things actually are, and much less mental commentary about how things ought to be. When my life story dishes up some meaty morsel to chew upon, I now find that it can be well digested, and in fairly short order. That’s a blessing worth every trip across the pond. But, there is more. Through your teachings, I have found the confidence to share “the honey”, and this has been the most surprising of blessings for me. Knowing, deep in my marrow, that the work truly does the work, allowed me to take on the mantle of “teacher” without the usual identification with that label. The idea of the Empty Chair really resonates here, and my students are blossoming with such grace. It’s astonishing . . . . and, at the same time, not at all surprising. Thank you, from the center of my heart. Love, Julia Marie

  2. I have just received a further response to this entry from Amanda Biggs. It is a lovely, thoughtful piece which, in a very personal way, reflects her experience of the work at a very embodied level. Do please read it.

    From Amanda Biggs 10th January 2010.

    “The piece, I think, pretty much says everything, and yes resonates, thank you. And never too many times to read The Empty Bowl, it gets me every time.

    Some scattered thoughts… Yes I still feel very much with not-knowing. Not knowing just about anything in fact – even things that I didn’t realise that I thought I knew!…. especially anything that could be labelled ‘spiritual’, ‘growth’, etc. Everything looks uncertain, or at least undefinable. eg how could I know what a path is, for another or even for me, etc, you know the kind of thing…. The other night I was pondering this, and feeling that I could also feel a bit of a veil between me and it, whatever ‘it’ is – life? Certainly control seems to be somewhere enmeshed in anything that could be called reactivity (including veils). When something remembers and finds itself letting go there is only being touched, again, and all is simple, even with, and containing, the complexity of humanness. I had a good reminder of this in the form of one of my clients, who fairly recently received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, having been forgetful for a while before that. She has been interesting to work with. The other day during our session I realised I was reflecting on how she ‘felt’ to me, something feels woolly yet also something feels connected, etc. Then, noticing this, just that little expansion of awareness and it can let go, what a relief…. and here is room again for ‘health’, wholeness and particularly the unfathomable and simply finding oneself bowing to this. How can I even know someone is suffering? Even if they say they are?!! Different types, or timescales, of suffering I suppose. It is so clear from my own life and events that some things that could be labelled suffering just had their timing and ultimately, as you say, composted. How can I wish someone’s potential compost away? Or have any idea how they should be making their compost? Yet these subtle little habits are tenacious! The assessment seems to be almost inherent. And I’m sure it’s about control. Something like, if we can just label it, we have the illusion of knowing where we are. I have the sense this is why I need to feel I don’t know where I am at the moment. There is some potential freedom in it, and also a gaping emptiness of uncertainty, our old friend the blessing of insecurity…..

    I didn’t know enough about Buddhism to know about a way of the warrior, but of course why wouldn’t there be! My background was shamanic work and funnily enough I have just been re-reading some of Castaneda’s books, disputed but still containing truths I find, after a gap of 15 years so with different eyes and ears. It is very interesting how much is the overlap. There was one little passage at the end of the last book I just finished that made me smile… “The hardest thing in the world is for warriors to let others be… The impeccability of a warrior is to let them be and support them in what they are”. It could have been written about ‘stillness’ of course.

    I group I worked with, not so long ago, was interesting in various ways, not least in terms of process – to borrow your phrase, not always roses round the door. Some discomfort came up and was worked with within the group, even within such a small time frame as two days, really a testament to the collective energy, of those present.

    There does seem to be, as we’ve said before, some hunger for this work ‘out there’, and also as though the intuition of it is nearer, as though what might have seemed an outrageous thing even only a few years ago is closer to awareness these days. Or it’s my fruitful imagination! “

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