A Very Human Condition (Part 2 of 2)

To enhance your Dharma practice, Tsoknyi Rinpoche requested that a series of short papers based on his retreat teachings. The Teachings section on the main web site also contains a library of previously published materials and chants.

A Very Human Condition (Part 2 of 2): Techniques for Working with Lung

In Part One we spoke about the difficulties presented by upward-moving lung residing in the wrong location in our body. In addition to the wrong-location problem, it’s important to remember that upward-moving lung has a job to do as the emotional communication system between our physical body and our mental activity, but it can’t do this job when it’s in the wrong location.

In general, we’ll be learning how to locate lung in our body and bring it down to it’s natural home below the navel. We will begin by awakening conceptual mind’s awareness of the body so it can sense what is actually going on. Generally, we know so little about what is happening internally because ego doesn’t like us dealing with what’s not on its own agenda. However, we can’t rely on ego’s limited ideas about lung. What we need is a full picture, including direct awareness of lung’s emotionality and buzzy energy, ego’s fear-based narration and the body’s patterns of distress. To get this full picture, we’ll take a mental “x-ray” of the situation, using the techniques of mindfulness of thought, body and sensation.

Before going forward, remember this: ego is going to be interested in and perhaps threatened by what we are doing. To maintain its sense of dominance, ego will very likely want to hijack the process. So we keep it simple and gentle–no big deal–and hopefully slip in under ego’s radar. It is to be nothing exciting or esoteric, just common sense and easy effort.

So the first thing we need to do is locate lung’s buzz with our conceptual mind. Make this connection in a relaxed manner through the practice of long, slow breathing. Keep mindfulness on the movement of the breath as it locates lung and makes a connection with it.  Then, in an equally relaxed manner, begin a mental scan of how lung feels. When you have a clear picture of this, begin to gently bring lung down with the help of the breath, slowly breathing in and out. This soft breathing practice is called “jam lung” and is a traditional practice for working with subtle body. It acts like a French press coffee maker, using the movement of breath to gently bring the energy of lung down through the body to below the navel.

Jam lung is very simple to do. Relax and take long in-breaths, encouraging the body to rest loosely. Then the conceptual mind can examine the body to see where lung’s speediness is active. We find the points where there is tension and tightness, indicating the presence of speediness. As we breathe in the press goes down, connecting with lung wherever we find it. The moment the mind locates the speedy buzz it’s already making a relationship with it. When we’re ready for the next breath we exhale and begin again. Eventually, we’re able to bring lung smoothly down below the navel. Upward-moving lung cannot find its own way home if mind doesn’t escort it down. By doing jam lung correctly over and over, restless lung can become normal as it enters the central channel and returns to its home below the navel.

It’s very important to establish this collaboration between conceptual mind and the speedy energy of lung; otherwise we might do jam lung practice with our speedy minds and remain out of touch with lung. It may take awhile to get it all together, so have patience and persistence, giving plenty of time to jam lung during practice. If we do jam lung slowly and mindfully as part of our daily practice, lung will definitely learn to stay down. If we train like this for one, two or more months, we’ll naturally know when lung is down or not and when it starts to move up. When we feel lung is down, all the big muscles in the body loosen up and we feel quite light. With lung staying in its home, even when we’re doing a lot, we won’t suffer from buzzy, speedy lung. In post meditation, during which we maintain the mood of meditation, it’s good to keep about 10% of the energy below the navel with slight muscle pressure above and below lung’s home. This helps gently keep the energy down and enables us to function well in the world. With 10% of the energy held below the navel we can breathe normally, our minds can function normally, and we can get on with whatever we’re doing.

As we grow accustomed to having lung function more correctly, we might notice the natural bodhisattva element stirring within us. The natural bodhisattva element is a courageous open-heartedness, but often there is an undercurrent of ego-clinging that keeps the heart from opening very much. We are like CNN, displaying our lives on the main screen, but have ego’s controlling under-current messages (which are based on hope and fear) constantly streaming within us. This split makes us tight and ill at ease. But as we continue to focus on bringing lung down, this too will eventually subside.

However, even though mind is less cloudy and body less painful, when things become very active again, lung will most likely race back into action. Despite ego’s belief that we need lung’s full speed to be successful, we really don’t. So simply talk to lung, saying something like, ” Come on back down, Honey. This is your cozy home, right here below the navel. You don’t need to be racing all over the place. Stay in your cozy home.” By using kindness, rather then ego’s hope and fear-inducing stories, upward moving lung will calm down and learn to stay in its proper place, even when we have a busy day. Really, talking to lung this way helps. And it’s important for another reason as well. Lung can only do its job of balancing mind and body from within its home below the navel.

Now there’s another situation we need to consider. If lung has been residing in the wrong location in an intensely agitated state, there will definitely be impact on our bodies and minds. There will be a constant exhaustion and frequent explosions of emotional reactivity. Lung will be battered and unable to carry out its balancing functions. To work with this rather extreme situation, we begin the same way by slowing down, using deep breathing until we can feel a bit of relaxation and openness. It may take some time, so don’t rush into more exciting practices. This is really important because our whole system’s functioning is now based on the distressing patterns of dislocated lung’s non-stop speedy and excited energy, operating under ego’s control. Nothing positive can happen if we use tense, jumpy energy to correct tense, jumpy energy. So don’t ever try.

Ego will not like this, but the next step is to do “stupid meditation,” where the mind just sinks down into a dull and rather peaceful state, like the cows in Kathmandu. There’s no lung in them at all, even though they are in the middle of traffic! In addition, we must find a way to have enough good sleep and time to eat well. It’s also very important at these times to cultivate healthy, positive relationships that present no challenge to our emotionally exhausted and barely functioning lung.

In general, it’s easy for people in a fast-paced society to ignore these basics of life as well as the signs that inner harmony is slipping away as lung becomes a tight tangle of distress. Instead, we keep adapting to an imbalanced, contracted life, filled with emotional “lungy” energy that buzzes constantly within us. We are running on empty. This is unfortunate, because not only have we become chronically exhausted and numb, but also “gutless,” which is a feeling of insecurity mixed with susceptiblity to ego’s fear-based dominance. The good news is that this, too, can be resolved.

Again, what has to be done is quite simple. We need to have a different talk with lung, saying, “Ok, I have all the time in the world.” We need to make a big deal of this as a preliminary practice for everything we do, including meditation practice. Even though we have only one hour for practice, we treat it more like 100 hours, thinking, “If I finish it’s OK. If I don’t finish it’s also OK. I’m not just going to practice–I’m really, really going to relax.” This could just as easily apply to work or play or study. It actually applies to all of our activities. Slow down, relax and think there’s all the time in the world.

As we gently work with lung in this simple way, there are many everyday activities that can calm our battered lung and help it return home. For example, enjoying nice meals or taking an afternoon break in a relaxed atmosphere or walking in a forest or by the ocean. It has to be that loose and easy. However, when hiking or even just walking in the city there could be difficult stretches and we must to be alert in order to navigate the rough spots. These are good opportunities to look at what’s going on with lung. Chances are it’s moving up because there is some fear and mental grasping. By recognizing this, we are better able to bring lung down and walk along mindfully without further activating lung.

Formal practice can also be part of calming battered lung. Chanting with the “juice” of devotion is very good for helping lung relax and be less excitable. But if chanting is done with restlessness while the mind is thinking about something else, that is useless. Lung is still located in the wrong place and engaged in the wrong activity; lung and mind are still not in sync. Actually, restless chanting, effortful visualization practice and striving for rigpa will always make us exhausted and tight because it engages lung incorrectly. But by spending time in practice to gently reacquaint lung with its home, we are reestablishing the working collaboration between mind, lung and body.

So these are some ways to work with subtle body and the difficulties presented by lung that is lodged in the wrong place. When lung is no longer a problem, but an active communication link between mind and body, the difference in our lives and our practice will be immense.

(copyright 2011 Pundarika Foundation)