I just came back from a month-long immersion retreat in the Amazon jungle of Perú where I drank plant medicine in ceremony with native Shipibo healers. It has given me a lot to ponder and integrate. We started each day with a yoga class and finished with a silent meditation period before dinner. While many people in the group made it to the morning yoga, only a handful of the 23 pasajeros, as we were called, came to the meditation. I found people wanted to talk about meditation much more than they actually wanted to do it. And the type of meditation being offered, I think, contributed to that dynamic.
They were the standard meditation techniques: follow the breath/ don’t allow yourself to get caught up in thoughts; or body scans; or Tibetan Tonglen practice where you breath in pain and breathe out compassion. I’ve practiced and done them all at one point or another in my life. In my experience most people find them too stressful or difficult and give up. So after a couple of weeks, tired of hearing the same old techniques being taught, I offered to teach my approach. I announced the class by calling it a more feminine, maybe even anarchistic approach to meditation. It was a relief to finally come out of the closet and own the meditation teacher in me, and even more of a relief to teach a practice that I know anyone can do and with great benefit.
Through this process of revisiting the old – what I have come to think of as masculine – techniques, I came to a deeper appreciation of what I teach and a renewed commitment to it. In naming it a feminine approach, I began to think about it in a new way and realize that over the years since I stopped training with the teacher who originally taught me, I’ve developed my own style of teaching. While I still honor what I learned from him, I cannot say anymore that it is what he teaches. I’m sure he would agree. So I decided to come up with a name for my approach and really own it as “mine.” I know, how unenlightened of me!
The question now is: what to name it? I thought of yoniso manisakāra which is a Pali term from the Buddhist suttas referring to the type of thinking necessary to perceive dependent co-arising. The Buddha is reported to have said “to see dependent co-arising is to see the dharma and to see the dharma is to see dependent co-arising.” Dependent co-arising is the Buddhist view of mutual causality, how phenomena arise and pass away. I love how Joanna Macy in her book, Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory: The Dharma of Natural Systems (1991, State University of New York, p 63.) translates this term yoniso manisakāra:
“Manisakāra is from a verb meaning to ‘ponder’ to ‘take to heart’ and denotes deep attention or attentive pondering. Here this pondering is qualified by yoniso, the ablative of yoni. Yoni, literally is ‘womb.’ By extension it came to mean ‘origin,’ way of being born,’ and ‘matrix.’
“Yoniso manisakāra…involves an awareness of wholeness – a wide and intent openness or attentiveness wherein all factors can be included, their interrelationships beheld.”
This so beautifully illustrates that the idea of having to empty one’s mind of thought in order to meditate and see “the truth” of reality is false. And it also expresses the open awareness and inclusiveness, the feminine aspect of holding all experience, that is such an important part of the meditation approach I teach. But it seems a little too esoteric and quite a mouthful, not to mention presumptuous, to appropriate the term.
So I am back to square one. Perhaps it is enough to simply qualify my approach as being feminine and slightly anarchistic in its seeming structurelessness. It’s deceptively simple and easy on the surface and yet offers deep wisdom as one ponders more effectively, and takes to heart, one’s experience. Emptiness is not some special quality or reified state but always there for us to perceive, even in the most mundane experience, as we come to understand what we are seeing. This is not a matter of technique but of relaxing, letting go of control, and allowing the dharma to reveal itself to us litle by little as we transform and develop the capacity to see it.