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LIFE FORCE

Shambhala Mountain Center, 8.21.03

butterlamps at Vajra Vidhya, Sarnath India When I gave the analogy of water turning into ice, I said that we could look at is as life force, and our life force is either frozen, blocked, or free flowing.

I think that is a really accessible way for a lot of us to think about our practice. When we are irritated and provoked or in any way hooked at a greater, middle, or lesser level— but, particularly, when the habitual pattern is very strong, the momentum or sense of undertow is very strong-- we want to do what we've always done. Wouldn't you say that's pretty accurate?

No matter how many Dharma teachings we hear or how much we practice, when the going gets rough or we're in a tight spot, when you're in that [tight] place, as far as I'm concerned, that is the main place that all the Dharma teachings are pointing to. You could say they're pointing to full, complete awakening— and that would be true— but the moment of truth is when we're caught in a habitual way and we just do the habitual thing.

The main thing is how we talk to ourselves at that point. I know that one of the main story lines is: "I'm not good enough," in some kind of form. And we get hooked by something along those lines.

If at that point, you could just say to yourself, "This is a familiar moment, this is just a common, ordinary occurrence in every day life, and the choice is mine, again and again and again. And I'll get plenty of opportunities to work with this. I don't have to get it right this time. Do I want to proceed with a blocked, frozen life force or do I want to experience it [as] free flowing?"

Now, you wouldn't usually call that usual Dharma language. But I think it's a very helpful way to think about it. Do we want to block the possibility of our human life, the creative, life force, the basic energy of our being, which has the potential, when fully recognized and fully experienced, is the experience of full awakening— complete open heart, complete open mind to everything.

Do we want to have access to that in this very brief human life that we have? It's so short, and the whole thing, from the moment we're born until we die, is like a chance that we're given to either unblock ourselves or block ourselves further.

What made the Buddha cry was at the moment of his enlightenment, looking out, he saw that the whole planet was filled with human beings and animals— birds and insects of all kinds, fish... but he knew he could communicate to human beings— and everyone was acting and speaking and thinking in a way that we block ourselves more and more and more. As life goes on, we become more stuck.

And so, mostly, everyone comes to a retreat like this and goes through this process of retreat, because you wish to connect with the free flowing essence of your being, and you wish to not continue to block and freeze and tighten and shut down and escalate the chain reaction of misery. The teaching is intended to help us in this process.

Let's talk a little bit about this life force, and let's not give it any Dharma labels— not even soft spot. But, let's just say that all of us experience, in an ongoing way, in everyday life, to lesser degrees or greater degrees, and sometimes we don't experience it at all, but it's a very common experience, that we experience this sort of uneasiness.

There's this uneasiness. That's a label, actually— uneasy. But, it's a shaky, quivering, underlying energy. It's life force. That's how we experience life force. It doesn't have to be called uneasy. It doesn't have to be called "pre-panic panic," or "pre-anxiety anxiety." It's just a quivering feeling.

Trungpa Rinpoche had a very interesting way of describing this. He called it "shaky tenderness." And that is a great way to describe it, because it has a lot of heart.

A lot of what we're talking about is developing the skill to just experience directly or abide with the underlying energy, which now I'm calling life force— but, basically, it's the insubstantial fluid dyanamic energy of wakefulness.

Photo by Gregg Eller.
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