I enjoyed a great little weekend of spiritual practice, inspiring a couple posts on both my teacher John Ashbrook's quarterly class and Shinzen's Home Practice Program. Kicking it off on the Friday night 10 p.m. to midnight call, Shin's monthly weekend home retreat allows easy access to his colorfully engaging approach to sitting practice, as people from around the world meditate via conference call. After my weekend experience, I’ll be doing these with regularity, as, according to Home Practice Program site, the improved consistency of practice increases the likelihood of exponential growth, home delivery enables extended retreat time without the expense of travel, and Shinzen’s variety of imaginative offerings foster broad and deep psycho-spiritual transformation. Five independent programs are offered each practice weekend, each organized around different focus techniques, with special themes offered regularly, such as managing physical discomfort. The good news too vis-a-vis Shinzen's somewhat elaborate dialect used to map the inner world is that each month includes one or two programs that require no previous experience whatsoever.
Friday night’s focus explored a phenomenon called Don’t Know Mind. “There’s this idiom,” Shinzen opened with, “the biggest idea I know, which is the merging of contemplative practice and science in a mutually evolving relationship.” Naturally fostering one another, this dynamic fusion unifies the past while offering a bright future to the human species. In Shinzen's world, “The Spirit of Science” is what should inform the efforts of a modern mindfulness teacher. Don’t believe anything not based on logic. Be precise, be nuanced in your presentation. We then defined the phenomenon of Don’t Know Mind – that is, the urge to know something – and structured a scale based on this state's presence, absence and intensity. Shinzen cited the three dimensions of mindful awareness - concentration, sensory clarity and equanimity - and instructed us to apply them accordingly, focusing on the presence or absence of Don't Know, detecting any and all subtle changes be it visual or somatic, and cooling out with a level-headedness around whatever arose. We stretched up and settled in, monitoring spontaneous levels of Don't Know Mind for almost two hours, with Shinzen offering sporadic but encouraging guidance. "Stay with that. The longer we work, the deeper we train,"
Don't Know Mind is the source of Zen Koans, riddles in the form of a paradoxical questions like "What is the sound of one hand clapping?", inner inquiries used to gain intuitive knowledge. Having equanimity with muddle or confusion is the basis of an extraordinary new kind of knowing, discovered independently in three different cultures. The Tang dynasty of China's Don't Know Mind was also the ancient Greek's skepticos "epoche" as well as the Christian monks' and nuns' "Docta ignorantia" of the middles ages. Shinzen pointed out that in general, the more we learn the more questions we have, thus Don't Know is always bigger than Do Know. Matters turn over and over in our minds, as we at best ponder and at worst obsess over the things we care about. Cultivating an awareness of the prevalence of Don't Know then allowed for experiencing a sense of freedom or tranquility in its absence, the working through of mental drivenness also nurturing one's natural wisdom function. Enjoying the energetic bump as I scribbled points for this piece in a notebook by candlelight, I thought, 'This is exactly what I should be doing with my Friday night.'
If you're interested in checking out The Home Practice Program, go here to learn more and join in on the next virtual gathering, usually the second weekend of the month, scheduled for August 10th-12th.