AG: We were doing some sitting. I wonder. We haven’t talked too much about it. I’ve sort of left it up to you to adapt. We did finally get some rugs to make it easier. If you want, you can bring in zafus (if you know what a zafu is – it’s a little round pillow that you can prop yourself under your butt and get a more solid seat) . If there’s any question about sitting, you can ask me sooner or later, or you can always go over to Naropa and check that out. Most of you have. Yeah. But my meditation instructor is here, in the room, in our very presence, Tsultrim Kloppenburg (Tsultrim Allione) (so while she’s here, if anybody has any technical questions relating to meditation practice or how to adapt it, maybe to this situation, sloppy as it is, or any subtle matter that you want to ask about it, this might be a good moment). You had your hand up?
Student: ..I was wondering about sitting with mantra
AG: Sitting with what?
Student: Using mantra
AG: Yeah.. Do you actually have a mantra? Do you already have a practice? From where?
Student: (Being in the program)
AG: Well, I’ve sat with a mantra a long time too. My own experience is that sitting just with breath is a little bit more subtle, less.. sort of less crass. Because the breath is invisible Mantra takes up your mind but the breath is a little bit more.. well, for one thing it leads out. For the purposes of poetics, for the purposes of poetry, of leading toward some kind of panoramic awareness of the world outside and some sensitivity to detail in the world outside, not having your mind occupied repeating your mantra, see, that somewhat occupies your mind, somewhat.
Student: (But concentrating on a syllable as music – that’s what I’d call a mantra)
AG: Well, see, that’s contemplation. That would be more contemplating. You’re thinking about fixing on that. What I was trying to do was provide a situation where we would all have the experience of being kind of opened up – open – and not focused on any other literary matter, mantra, or music, any other aesthetic literary matter, thus leaving the mind open and maybe attention out into the world, into space, as being the nearest meditative practice to that little poem of William Carlos Williams that I started with. Did you hear it, that first day, about feet planted on the ground, looking up at the sky, breath passing in and out at my nose? I was just trying to find a common place where we could all have the same experience, instead of a whole bunch of different experiences (or our different experiences would be in the same empty space).
And then, the other question was that I was using the breath as in the breath-spirit, breath that’s inspiration-expiration in poetry. So that it makes a kind of simple to conjoin the two. In other words, it’s distracting if you’re laying a trip on music or mantra. So I was saying, if possible, for the purpose of this course, just as you would do, like, literary research, or a footnote, then check out this form of sitting and use it, at least in the class. Does that make sense? Yeah?
Student: ..Is it best to breathe normally, or do you emphasize your breathing and take a little deeper inhalations?
AG: Any breath. I would say normal. As you settle and sit, the breath tends to settle a bit but I wouldn’t try to control the breath. Just being mindful of whatever breath, short or long, comes along, whatever outbreath. It’s just a question of being with whatever breath youre breathing, rather than trying to control it. In other words, not really trying to control anything, just be there, aware of it and with it. Does that make sense? Sulteem is pretty sharp on the subject. If anybody’s got any sharp technical questions while she’s around. That’s Tsultrim over there. We used to run around a lot together with Ram Dass and Bhagavan Das, raising money for Naropa. Yeah?
Student: (A question about vision. (You) sort of like (open your eyes and….)
AG: What do you do with your eyes?
Student: (Right, yeah)
AG: Well, what I do, I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing (but) if they wander a little, it’s alright. I just don’t focus on anything specific. Eyes tending towards the horizon. In this case, generally, I wind up going forty-five degrees down here, just so I don’t stare anybody in the face, and don’t get.. just try to be invisible, sort of, but generally tending toward the horizon – neither focused nor unfocused, but.. how do you say it?.. resting in space. But not trying to pull an image into your brain, not staring at something. In other words, it’s the same thing as like not.. not.. just relaxing your eyes, not doing anything, not doing anything, just letting it be. Letting the external visual world rest there, outside, and you’re inside, and looking out into space, so it’s what painters might call “the middle distance”? – just resting in the middle distance (middle distance between foreground and background). And then, if your eyes move around, they move around. There’s no.. It’s mainly a question of relaxing and not trying to pull an image into your brain. Does that make sense? Is that correct? Is there another terminology that might fit? [to Tsultrim] – Is there another terminology that might fit better? [Tsultrim’s remarks are, regrettably, not really audible on the tape] – [to the class] – Did everybody hear? – So it’ll be a question of not getting attached to anything you see, or hear, or smell Or, as you become aware of your eyes and mind moving around, you might let them rest. As it becomes obvious that you’re jumping around a lot. If you don’t become attracted to what you see or hear or think or smell or taste, oddly enough, it might leave a more sharp impression, in a funny way. Because you don’t fuzz it by thinking about it and trying to prolong it, it’s just there, and there, sort of unborn, in space, and then it’s not there, and something else is there. You might then see and hear so deeply that you might recollect it later on. Involuntarily. Or the recollection might come up on its own. Like there was that mechanical voice that came through? Do you remember? There was a strangely mechanical voice [sic] Did everybody hear that, or not?
AG: How many didn’t remember that? Did not remember it? Yeah? Probably you were thinking about something. You probably were thinking about something so you didn’t know what was going on here. But there was a mechanical voice somewhere – a police car or what was it? – did anybody recognize (it)?
Student: (It was coming from the fire station)
Student: (It was coming from the fire station)
AG: Oh… Yeah. It struck me as odd. Since I was in the middle of empty space (and) there was this voice in empty space, also, somewhere in the middle of empty space. It’s a kind of, sort of.. And I forgot it, and I recalled it now and I didn’t get hung up on it, but I recalled it now, because it was maybe the most odd and striking external fireworks, sensory fireworks, of that moment, of those ten minutes. Yes?
Student: (My question (is) first I’ll pretend…..)
AG: Yeah. You mean pretend you’re sitting there?
Student: Yeah, I have a lot of my experience by pretending, pretending I’m not thinking and…
AG: Well maybe stop pretending you’re not thinking, them. I don’t know, what do you do? – Did I tell you (to)…
Student: (I’m not worried about it, but I just want to say that…)
AG: Well, if you go back to your breath, maybe you’ll forget you’re pretending. If it bothers you. Did I make a suggestion that’s haunting you or something?.. Did I say the wrong thing? Actually, I’ve forgotten, see, what I’ve said. There’s a traditional saying that sitting is like you pretend you’re sitting and after a while you’re sitting, (in the sense that when you first sit, there’s a certain self-consciousness and you don’t know what you’re doing so you pretend you’re sitting, and after a while you do get absorbed in just being there. Is there some special quality of your pretending that’s bugging you?
AG:..or would bug me if I knew about it, or something?
Student: Oh no, it doesn’t really bug me. It’s just that feeling of being very calm and then feeling like you’re pretending.
AG: Well maybe you can stop feeling like you’re pretending then? Maybe you can stop feeling like you’re pretending.
[Audio for the above may be heard here, beginning at approximately seventy-six minutes in, and concluding at approximately eighty-seven-and-a-quarter minutes in]