The Eightfold Noble Path

Here we will use a particular model rooted in the Buddhist tradition for experiencing the conscious self. In that tradition the Buddha taught what is called the eightfold noble path. The Buddha taught that attention to each aspect of the noble path would lead to freedom from suffering. This path is traditionally described as right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right effort, right livelihood, right concentration, right mindfulness.

This model is an interesting one to work with. In the upcoming months we will explore one by one the different aspects of this path, but with a slightly different perspective than the traditional Buddhist one. Let us together translate the word "right" as "conscious." Let us work with the desire to become more conscious, the belief that awareness can help to alleviate the suffering that one experiences and bring greater peace to the world.

Conscious view
Conscious thought
Conscious speech
Conscious action
Conscious effort
Conscious livelihood
Conscious concentration
Conscious mindfulness

To reflect on each aspect of this path is to discover what it means to you personally. As one reflects on each of these, one begins to know oneself better, to bring greater awareness to one's life, and to see more clearly how unconscious most of our daily experiences are.

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CONSCIOUS VIEW

The perspective from which you see the world determines to a great extent how you experience the world. To become aware of how you see the world, yourself, other people and the universe is important. One's view is usually conditioned by what you have been taught, by your past experience, your family, culture, education, your own studies and encounters with teachers of all kinds.

Conscious view, then, means that one begins to choose one's view, to recognize at any given moment there is choice about how you see the world and what is happening to you. Conscious view is to choose a view that arises not only out of your old conditioning but from new information and increased Awareness. To do this one has to explore one's present belief systems and how they have been conditioned into you. How do you see yourself? How do you see this world? Then begin to experiment with consciously shifting that view. Take a judgment you make and transform it into a simple observation. Notice the difference in your energy when you simply observe and when you judge. Take a daily life situation that you find meaningless, trivial, and even boring and see if you can see the meaning and purpose in it. Find your own ways of experimenting with this shifting of your view.

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"Uppekha" is a Sanskrit word that is translated as "equanimity." Literally, the word means, the view from above. This word provides a practice in experiencing conscious view, and conscious view leads to greater equanimity.

You can work with "seeing from above" in this way. Take a situation in your life that is disturbing you, that you need to know more about, that you would like to experience differently. Imagine that you are sitting in meditation with this situation in front of you, all around you. You are right in the middle of it. Let's say, for example, it's something to do with your past, your childhood family experience. So you imagine yourself surrounded by the situation, with the family doing whatever they do, fighting, withdrawing, ignoring you, whatever.

You are sitting at the foot of a great hill with a path leading up to the peak. After sitting there for a while in the midst of the situation you imagine that you get up quietly and move a little further up the path. You are a little further above the old situation, the family dynamic. As you look at the situation from above, remember to see yourself in it also. You are moving into a greater Awareness of the situation, but you are also still in the middle of it.

Let us call this the point of the ancestors. You look down, and see yourself, and the others, engaging in the old familiar behavior, what ever that may be. See it from the point of view of the ancestors, what you know of your grandmothers and grandfathers, the great-grandmothers and grandfathers, uncles, aunts. If you don't know much, you simply remind yourself that each person there comes from a line of ancestors, that all the complex patterns that are acting out in front of you are connected into a genetic pattern woven of many centuries. This may bring understanding, or it may feel like a weight. Remember the hillside behind you. Remember that you are not alone in confronting this situation. There is the support of your Awareness that can understand this, transform it, and release it.

As you go up this meditative path you will experience new views of where you come from, who you are. There is a vast blue sky all around you, and you will feel increasingly that open space that surrounds this old situation. You begin to see that the valley in which this old family pattern is acting itself out, the valley where you started, is part of a much bigger universe.

Take a moment to notice that you can shift your attention from the valley to the sky, and back again. At times you will want to focus on the sky, the wide open space of peaceful Awareness and acceptance, and at times you will want to focus on the situation in the valley.

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After a while you imagine yourself another step further along the path, higher on the hill. Let us call this the cultural/historical point of view. From here you view that family including yourself living at a certain point in human history, dealing with issues that are unique to that time, and yet carrying old values, old patterns of behavior left over from past history and cultural influence that can be now anachronistic, no longer functional. You see that each person in that family exists in a context of cultural/historical forces and you simply observe, and identify some of those forces.

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Then you go a little further up. Let us call this the place of karma. Here you look down and see that each person in that family, including yourself, is coming from a karmic stream of experience. Perhaps the concept of karma is not part of your present belief system. Take this opportunity to try shifting your view. Experiment with looking at your family from this perspective: everyone in it has their own stories, many lifetime experiences that have made them who they are, and are interacting now with each other on the basis of those experiences. Even though you don't know all the karma, you just know that there is a whole set of complex experience that each person brings to the present situation. You are the child in this lifetime; perhaps in another you were the parent, or a brother, or a friend, or an enemy. There is a drama being acted out in that valley below, and the actors have played many different roles with each other.

This place of karma might also be called the place of the soul's experience. This is where you reflect on what you have learned or are learning from this experience, what you need to remember, know about yourself, let go of or embrace.

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Now you turn and go further up the path, to the top of the hill. You are aware of the great blue sky, the sense of open space and room to breathe. The family down below seems very small. As you sit there in this Awareness of space and freedom, you see the situation below you dissolve into patterns of light interacting, moving. You become aware that this is the energetic level. See the situation as pattern, interlocking patterns of light that dissolve away into fluid rivers of light. At that place from above you experience the letting go of all those other levels. In the presence of that great space of Awareness. You become aware that from this place of Awareness you can see that family experience from all those different perspectives.

Now, what you will notice is this. If you manage to dissolve into light all those patterns of the family, the old situation, you may feel reluctant to return to them, to come down from this place of Awareness and actually enter into the situation and deal with it. You'll want to stay in that feeling of peace, being above that situation.

And yet, this ability to see from above is only a skill you develop, one perspective among many. You learn to transcend the grip of the old pattern, to release yourself from being caught in it. How do you bring that perspective down the hill, into the valley?

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Conscious view means you can choose your viewpoint. You aren't stuck in any one place. If you have stay on top of the hill in order to be at peace, then you're stuck in that view too.

So, then in this meditative exercise you experiment with going back down through the different phases, until you are back in the midst of the situation, back in the valley. Can you carry the Awareness of what you have experienced with you? As you reach the valley, embrace the child that you were, the you that has been there in the situation all along while your Awareness has been watching it from above. Remember that the you in the situation may be sad or angry or lonely or afraid.

Notice: is there any greater equanimity, any greater sense of what you need to do in the situation, is there any greater compassion, perhaps for the others but also for yourself?

You can work with this in so many ways. This is a complicated meditative exercise. You may need to read through it many times and absorb it before you can actually work with it. You don't have to follow it literally, step by step. Follow your own path up the hill, choose your own points of view. Just remember always - to come back down. This exercise helps one develop that ability to detach from a situation, see it clearly, and then return to it.

CONSCIOUS THOUGHT

In examining conscious thought we will begin with some simple exercises.

A lot of thinking is just automatic reaction to certain stimuli. Circumstances occur, a chain of thought gets triggered; that chain of thought gives rise to more thoughts. The nature of the thoughts depends on our past conditioning, what we have learned to think as a result of our past experience. Many people experience their thinking mind as a wheel that turns around and around and around, beyond their conscious control. Conscious thought means, quite simply then, to become conscious of your thought, to realize that there is an Awareness in you that is not only thinking, but is aware of the thought. Then, there is an Awareness that is aware of being aware of the thought.

So just begin to notice your thinking. Notice you are thinking. Notice the habitual patterns of your thought. Do you worry? Obsess? Fantasize? Plan? What are your common thought patterns. If you meditate, don't try to get rid of your thoughts. Make it your practice for a while to observe your thoughts. Ask yourself, where do they come from? Who is thinking these thoughts? What is thought, anyway? Play with your thoughts. Observe them with a little sense of humor, lightly.

As you notice the thought patterns as well as the random thoughts coming and going, notice that there is an Awareness that becomes aware of the thinking mind. That Awareness is what eventually gives one the possibility of directing and channeling thoughts, of dissolving a thought or thought pattern that one experiences as negative. You can begin to experiment with how your Awareness can shift, change, focus, or dissolve a thought pattern. People try to control their thoughts with their will. You will find it quite a different experience to allow your Awareness to transform your thoughts. The foundation is simply to become aware that there is an Awareness in you that is aware of your thoughts.

If you would like to explore the subject of conscious thought more deeply this month, there is a chapter in my book "You Are Energy" entitled "Thought as Energy" which has several meditations that would be helpful. Please see Books and Tapes for order information.

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CONSCIOUS SPEECH

To become more conscious of one's speech means to become aware of the power of "The Word." It is said, "In the beginning was the Word."

Reflect on the power of the word. Notice what effect words have on you - the words you say to yourself, that others say to you, that flow daily from the many forms of media. Become aware that you have choice about how you respond to this constant flow of words.

Conscious speech can express and affirm awareness, love and creativity. Speech is sound, sound is vibration. Sound can carry a healing, affirmative energy or a destructive energy. You can work with conscious speech by experiencing the healing power of "the word."

Choose a word that carries a strong positive energy for you. Be careful in your choice, Many words that have a seeming positive energy create mixed feelings in people. "Love" is a good example of such a word. For many people this word has mixed associations including fear, anger and sorrow.

"Om" is a possible choice of a neutral "word" that carries healing vibrations. It is said that it is the seed syllable of all creation. Notice if you intone "om" at a pitch that is comfortable to you how it both releases and reveals areas of tension, and how, over time, it balances and harmonizes your energy.

You can use a word such as "om" to balance the effect of negative speech. If you are feeling overwhelmed by your inner talk, or something that has been said to you, or the evening news, try using "om" to balance the effect.

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Invocation is a time-honored practice for connecting with greater consciousness. When you speak aloud the name of the divine, the speaking brings that energy present. It can be felt. Therefore invocation is a good way to begin a meditation period. When you sit down to meditate, invoke, for example, the presence of Awareness. Say, "May I experience the presence of greater Awareness during this meditation period." You immediately summon forth that greater Awareness. Often people find their minds wandering during meditation. If you are meditating alone, repeat the invocation out loud as you need to throughout the meditation. The voice carries energy; sound is energy. This is the conscious use of speech to bring yet a greater consciousness. You can use your speech consciously to help bring present the state of mind you wish to experience. "May I experience greater peace." "May I experience greater love in my heart." If you experiment with it you will see that as you speak these intentions out loud and allow the sound to vibrate throughout the body you will feel the energy of that which is named come present, if only for a moment.

That is why it is good to exercise care with speech. When you spend a lot of time with negative speech, about another person, or oneself, it tends to reinforce the negative energy. To speak about one's pain, or the pain of another, with compassion and understanding, brings the energy of compassion and understanding to that pain. So it is not a matter of denying and repressing that which is negative and only ever talking about the positive, it is the energy with which the words are said that helps to determine the effect of the speech.

If you practice affirmation, it is also more effective to speak your affirmations out loud. Feel them vibrate in your body. You begin to experience the truth of the affirmation not only in your ordinary conscious mind but deep in the cellular consciousness. Sit in a meditative posture, invoke the presence of Awareness, meditate for a time, and then speak your affirmation aloud, whatever it may be. Feel that vibration resonate in the heart, throughout the entire body. This begins to create a resonance, to shift old patterns, to attract new experiences. It allows you to experience yourself in new ways. You can find your own affirmations. You know what it is in yourself you wish to affirm. "I affirm......I affirm.....I affirm...." To discover your affirmation is the conscious use of thought. To speak it aloud is the conscious use of speech. To begin to live it is conscious action.

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CONSCIOUS ACTION

Perhaps it can be said that conscious action is action that is in accord with your inner knowing. So many people feel a split between how they feel inside themselves and how they act in the world. People grow up learning to behave according to external expectations and rules. To act consciously means - to take the risk to be yourself in the world, or when you do put on a mask, a persona, to be aware that you are choosing to play a role rather than doing so from old conditioning, fear or to please others.

Conscious action is choice - recognizing choice, exercising choice.

Conscious action is that action which arises from conscious thought, conscious view.

Conscious action arises from the Awareness that you are a part of a great web of life and that you have a responsibility to act in harmony with that web.

Conscious action is not the reaction that occurs from old habit patterns and conditioning.

Conscious action is opening to the greater Awareness within you.

Here is a prayer to move you more deeply into conscious action:

May I open to that great Awareness which is my true nature, and may my actions flow from that Awareness.

 

Conscious Effort  

Let’s examine first the meaning of the word effort: what is effort? Effort is work directed toward a specific goal. The word effort implies trying. With effort, there is something you want to achieve. There is conscious action directed towards an outcome. You breathe naturally; in a state of health you breathe without effort; it simply happens. However, if you wish to use the breath in a particular way, do a particular breathing exercise associated with a meditation, this takes effort: the effort to do something other than that which is habitually done. Conscious effort is that action which is chosen, that effort which chooses action other than that determined by unconscious forces, habitual reaction.  

There is a story about the Buddha just before he sat down under the Bo tree, that final night of his enlightenment, after his years of ascetic practices, when he understood that was not the way, that the way was to turn deeply inward and understand the nature of his own being, of consciousness, of the mind. At that point, when he was close to death from self-starvation, a young woman appeared to him with a bowl full of rice milk. The Buddha accepted it, took the nourishment, and then he formed his great resolve, to understand, to awaken. He threw the bowl into the nearby river and said: if I am to become enlightened, may this bowl float upstream. To turn upstream against the current of your conditioned being: this is conscious effort. The choice is the moment when you throw the bowl into the river, when you say, enough, it is time to awaken to the truth of who I am and to live and act from that truth. This is not a choice that is made once. It is a choice that is made over and over again in the moments of one’s life. That choice is conscious effort.  

Really, the word conscious in this context means simply this: to remember there is choice. You will encounter the term “choiceless awareness” in many spiritual traditions. You experience this in meditation, and as you practice, in daily life: you simply experience the sound, the smell, the sight, the sensation, the awareness of being aware. There is no attempt to influence or direct that awareness. However, in the living of your life, there is the constant need to make choice. From that choiceless awareness, choice arises, the awareness that there is choice…there is even the choice to enter the experience of pure awareness. Conscious effort is remembering the choice you have at any given moment to remember yourself, to experience the awareness you are, the awareness that simply experiences, and that chooses. Conscious effort is the choice to remember what you have learned, from your own experience as well as from the teachings you have learned and read.  

Conscious effort is also related to intention. This can also be called aspiration. From the Buddhist point of view, the desire to awaken, the Bodhisattva vow, is the highest intention. Conscious effort remembers your highest intentions, affirms your highest intentions, chooses action that supports and manifests your highest, deepest intentions.  

Conscious effort also means that on this branch of the path, as on all of them, you seek the middle way. Tension, striving, overachieving: these are characteristics of modern western civilization. How do you find that balance, the middle ground between over-exertion and exhaustion?  That question is a vital one for each person; today’s culture lends itself to those two extremes. Please remember always that some questions are not easily answered, and the search for the answer itself brings you into a greater balance.  Remember to ask yourself on any given day, in relation to any given effort: how do I find the balance between over-exertion and exhaustion? What is the middle way here? What is my body telling me I need? Is it time to rest, to slow down, to take a break? The very practical, day-to-day manifestation of conscious effort is that which honors the balanced needs of your physical, emotional, mental, spiritual being.  This is a challenge in today’s world. Conscious effort is …an effort to maintain. Again, and finally, conscious effort arises from your awareness of yourself, how you are today, at this moment.

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May all beings be happy, peaceful and free of suffering.

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Please feel free to e-mail me from the Contact Information page with questions or simply to share your experience.


Previous Meditations and Exercises:
Choices and Transformation Meditations

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