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HABITUATION AND KARMIC MOMENTUM

momemtum We have in all living beings —and so this is something that we all experience— what’s called in Buddhist terminology, a karmic momentum. It’s like a wind inside of us that drives us to always keep moving, always keep doing something, always move away from this underlying restlessness. There’s this kind of underlying restlessness that’s in all beings. It’s called a karmic momentum or a karmic wind. All you have to do is sit still for a little bit and not be busy to connect with that restlessness. It’s very, very easy to connect with it.

We experience it as uneasiness or restlessness or slight anxiety, anxiety building. It’s slight, almost pre-panic panic. When you’re not completely hooked yet, but it’s there. There’s like a pre-thought level of just moving away from that restlessness. We do it with our actions, with our words, with our minds—continually, all the time. Moving away.

I’ll give an example of actions although there’s hundreds of them, you know. Let’s give a meditator’s example. Any of you who have sat for a little while at home, you know that it’s just a common thing that you sit down and you say that you’re going to sit there for fifteen minutes, half an hour, forty-five minutes, an hour or something, and then you keep popping up, popping up. And then you sit down and calm down, and then there’s this agitation —Oh, I forgot to turn off the stove... I need to jot something down. There’s this restlessness that keeps causing you to pop up.

Even if you don’t really pop off the cushion, because maybe someone is sitting with you that day and you’re embarrassed to do so [laughter], or you’re really heavy on yourself so you don’t let yourself do it; nevertheless (I know this very well, so I’d be surprised if you don’t), you keep coming up with reasons to be somewhere else.

Maybe you just keep following the instruction, following the technique, you keep letting those thoughts dissolve into space, and you don’t follow after them. You cut the momentum. But then more pop up. There is this fundamental restlessness. It can be everything from wanting to fill up the space... and when you’re not sitting, this is happening all the time.

Trungpa Rinpoche used to praise boredom in sitting. He said that you have to sit to the point where you’re just bored. You’ve worn out all the entertainment value and you’re just bored. And you have to go through the restlessness of boredom. Because boredom is just another word for this fundamental restlessness--it’s hot, you want to get out of there. And he said you have to sit through with as much loving kindness towards yourself and compassion, relaxation, anything that enables you to kindly and gently and continually stay present. Learning to stay with the boredom. Until, at some point, it shifts to what he called cool boredom, which is that it doesn’t make you want to jump up anymore or fill up the space.

We fill up the space by working, by eating, by addictions of all kinds, by all kinds of activities. And if you don’t believe me, just start paying attention to this tonight when you leave, or even sitting here, or tomorrow during your day, or for every day for the rest of your life. You will notice just a few examples now and then. [Laughter] Then with your speech, it’s the same thing. Yackity, yackity, yack. Filling up the space.

How often have you finally gotten some time in your day to have a little peace of mind (you might say, Well, that never happens, but...), but how often has that happened when it stretched a little longer than was comfortable and you made a phone call? You just, somehow, wanted to not be there with that fundamental restlessness. So you make a phone call. Or, how often are you with somebody and they’re not talking very much, and then you just start talking more and more and more and more and more. Like silence becomes very threatening and awkward, and you begin to feel every hair on your head and you begin to feel where arms are and everything’s itching, suddenly you’re scratching all over, and wiggling and moving.

This is a description of this underlying karmic wind that you’re always wanting to move away from. And the shenpa is very much in there, someplace. There’s not always shenpa involved in this. But the momentum of moving away usually involves shenpa of some kind. You get hooked by something because it represents comfort for you —making the phone call, avoiding the boredom, avoiding the restlessness, avoiding this uneasy, underlying uneasiness.

Photo by Ana Elisa Fuentes.

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