Meditation: From Top Down to Bottom Up

By Reginald A. Ray.

An excerpt from Dancing with Dharma anthology (McFarland, 2016) edited by Harrison Blum.

Among many modern people, meditation is approached as a kind of mental gymnastic, a way to fulfill yet another agenda or project—attempting to become more “spiritual,” less stressed out, more focused, more effective in our lives, or even more conceptually adroit. Meditation becomes another means of managing and superseding nature, controlling the other, ourselves, our bodies, and our own experience. Ultimately, what we are trying to override in the attempt to fulfill our various ego aims through meditation is our own somatic experience of reality. Unfortunately for us, it is there, in the Soma, that the spiritual path, and life itself, are actually and truly found.

Within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, we may distinguish two quite different ways of practicing meditation. The first method, by far the most common in the Tibetan Buddhism taught in the West, is based on the labeling, thinking, agenda-driven functioning of the left-brain. In this approach, the practitioner is given a set of instructions on how a particular practice is to be performed, where the practice is intended to lead, and what the goal is to be attained. He or she then sets out to perform and accomplish the practice as it has been explained to them, to fit their experience into the template that they have been given. Or, alternatively, they try to use meditation to meet their ego needs—to gain certain preconceived experiences or to feel the way they think they should.


In neuroscience, one way to talk about this is as a “top-down” process—the process of meditation is carried out under the watchful and judgmental eye of the executive function of the cerebral cortex. In top-down meditation practice, we are constantly attempting to approximate what we think we are supposed to be doing and what we think is supposed to be coming out of it. In short, we are bringing the managerial function of the left-brain to our practice, to control and manage our meditation in a top-down way. This approach is not without important benefits, helping us to calm down, reduce our stress, become less distracted and more focused, sleep better, and so on.

Another method of meditation within Buddhism—less well-known but characteristic of the yogic practices considered the most advanced in Tibetan Buddhism—is based on entering and identifying with the Soma. By Soma I mean not only our physical body, but also the entire neurological network within which it is embedded, including the right brain and the subcortical regions that include other parallel processing systems—for example, the intelligence centers of the limbic system, the reptilian brain or brain stem, the heart, the gut, and the neural pathways that exist throughout the entire body, each with their own kind of awareness. This somatically-based meditation could be characterized, in neuro-psychological terms, as a bottom-up approach.

What I have found in my more than forty years of teaching meditation is that when meditation is presented as a left-brain, top-down practice, it can be very difficult to sustain and frequently doesn’t really lead to long term results; certain superficial benefits arise, but people often don’t fundamentally change in the ways described as being possible in the tradition. However, when meditation is taught as a somatic, bottom-up, embodied practice, it works in a very natural, effortless, and beautiful way. By softening control and conscious agency, this approach allows the journey to unfold naturally, bringing often profound transformation and enabling us to experience the innate goodness, clarity, and compassion that meditation is all about. By drawing on the yogic practices of Tibetan Buddhism, which explore the body from within, we can learn to allow the experience of the Soma to communicate with our conscious mind and to become known to us in a direct—that is, nonconceptual—way. In the tradition I teach, this method of meditation is anchored in some twenty-five progressively-unfolding somatic meditation protocols that we refer to as the bodywork. Frequently begun in a lying down posture, these practices use a variety of techniques—such as the breath, visualization, and the simple direct physical experience of certain key gates in the body—to bring us into a new, intimate relationship with our body, the limitless awareness that resides in it, and the objective information it is constantly sending our way. (For an example of one of these protocols, see the chapter in the Guided Practices section of the book.)

These practices enable us to contact our body, or Soma, in a new way, beyond and outside of the conceptualized body or body image that we all habitually interpose between our conscious, ego selves and the direct, unmediated, naked, nonconceptual experience of our body. We gradually discover how our uncontrolled anxiety, ego reactivity, and endless discursive proliferation obscure the natural health and wisdom of our Soma, and end up creating physical and psychological distress and illness. As we move through this process of deepening somatic awareness, we can find intensity, meaning, fullness, and fulfillment in the most mundane details of our life.

Body as Revelation

Over time, these practices experientially demonstrate the essential and transformative role of embodiment in the path of meditation. The body becomes a revelation in of itself, outside of any thought of a spiritual journey or commitment. A much larger range of emotional and perceptual information becomes available, and we begin to sense the limitless terrain of our so-called “physical being”—the endless, open spaces we can enter through the body. Practicing in this way opens a context within which one can actually experience the energy of the body, and the tremendous inspiration that arises for life, without the mediation of the ego.

I have mentioned the left-brain, top-down approach to meditation; another set of terms I would like to introduce here is endogenous control—a left-brain oriented, top-down approach—and exogenous stimuli—a right-brain oriented, bottom-up somatic approach. Endogenous refers to ideas, concepts, assumptions, judgments, conclusions that already exist in our consciousness, based on past conceptualizing, and that we seek to impose on our experience in order to “know,” manage, and control it. Exogenous refers to phenomena that arise naturally and spontaneously from the darkness and unknown (i.e., subcortical) regions of our Soma, feelings, sensations, intuitions, memories, arriving in our awareness in a direct, utterly fresh, immediate, and naked way.

The endogenous part of us is a relatively closed system, cycling and recycling abstracted concepts that are already existing within us. Not surprisingly, the left-brain, without our larger brain, is the most far removed from actual experience. In fact, the left-brain cannot feel, sense, or experience anything directly, because that is not its function.

The exogenous part of ourselves, or Soma, by contrast, is all about direct, unmediated, nonconceptual experience. It beholds things exactly as they are without any judgment, evaluation, without even any filtering whatsoever. It receives reality as it is in all its diversity, color, and multiplicity without comment. Moreover, it beholds things as wholes, not through the limiting eyes of preconception, hope and fear, or ambition and agenda. It sees people as they are, in all their uniqueness and individuality, and in all their fullness and their totality, with everything included. And what it sees, it loves. It feels the utter sacredness of the earth, of each person, animal, cloud, and star in the sky. It loves and it appreciates. It also sees the connections and the communions that bind us all in one vast cosmic reality. For the Soma, strict and separationist personal boundaries do not exist; what is clear and compelling are our connections with each other, our links and bonds, the natural communion that our deepest self—our Soma—has with everything that is. The Soma’s way of being, it seems, is to see the totality of what is and to love and appreciate it all, simply because it is.

So, the purpose of this somatic work is to connect us with the reality, goodness, health, and possibilities of our basic human situation. In modern culture, all of us live in a state of disembodied abstraction, and we chart our life journey according to a bunch of more or less random ideas and hopes and fears—and a huge amount of wishful thinking—rather than based on who we are as people and what our lives are actually like. When we address our disembodiment directly through these bodywork practices and invite the wisdom and vibrancy of the Soma back into our lives, a new constellation of embodied experiences, along with their intelligence, insight, and wisdom, begins to become available. These somatic learnings or accomplishments, listed below, arrive of their own accord and on their own schedule; while they may seem to be arranged in a progressive manner, the order they take is ultimately unique to each practitioner. Trusting the body’s process is an integral part of this way of relating to meditation practice and to ourselves.

  1. You develop the awareness that you have a body that is actually independent of your ego, and not purely a function of your conscious mind.
  2. You begin to include this new awareness as part of your ongoing way of feeling and sensing yourself and of being at home in the world.
  3. You become sensitive to the livingness of your body: it’s dynamic, an ever-changing reality, almost an independent entity, filled with energy and life.
  4. You see that what you think about and what you experience in your body are often not the same thing, and that your thoughts, when they take over, often simply disconnect you from your own experiential ground, which is your body.
  5. You begin to see the impact on your body when you turn away from it through discursive thinking—you become numb, tense, feel that you’ve lost your ground. Because you’ve had the experience of the simplicity and directness of your body, purely conceptual and filtered experience doesn’t feel right anymore.
  6. You discover that you can actually best address a difficult or challenging situation by coming back to your body and listening deeply to it; you are learning how to heal yourself.
  7. You begin to experience a state of being that is embodied, visceral, grounded, open, and always in process, and you begin to feel this is your home.
  8. You realize that there’s a much bigger range of emotional and perceptual information coming to you than you had ever been aware of before.
  9. You begin to sense the limitless terrain of your physical being—the endless, open spaces we can enter through the body. Now you have a context within which you can actually experience the energy of your body, and the tremendous inspiration that arises for life, without the mediation of your ego.

Taking Refuge Through the Body

Working with the Soma restores to us the basis and ground of our human life. We become present to who we are and we discover resources of health, sanity, and well-being we didn’t know existed. We begin to take who we are as the foundation of our human journey, rather than something to be shunned or transcended. This work also naturally creates an unbelievable ground from which to make the spiritual journey. From this perspective, you can see how difficult and limiting it could be to commit to a spiritual path—in Buddhist terms, taking refuge—in a completely disembodied state, where you really have no idea about your physical body or what’s happening there. It would be something like your thinking mind trying to take refuge in an idea of taking refuge; meanwhile, the experience of the full spiritual journey, of showing up as who you are, would not be possible, because you wouldn’t even fully know who you are.

As Pema Chödron says, “Start where you are.” What the bodywork does, in a way that is very mind-blowing for all of us, is it actually shows us where we are. On the one hand, where we are is very grounded and real. It includes everything that we are. After some basic training in the bodywork, we have a pretty good idea of where we go off track. We have a pretty good idea of how neurotic we can be and of how open we can be. We can feel. We are bringing everything that we are to the table. If we don’t have that, taking refuge is frequently an attempt to escape from one’s pain and blockages, to escape from oneself, rather than taking the reality of what you are as the point of refuge. And that is the point of refuge—to take the person that you actually are as the ground of the journey.

With this genuineness as a person, you become very grounded, very open. There’s a softening of the ego process as you come to understand experientially that the body is more fundamental than the ego. The ego is not so hard and rigid and arrogant any more. And that’s the moment at which you can truly take refuge. You can commit to a spiritual journey because you know who’s taking refuge; you’re coming to it as a full person, an open person, and you can make the journey.

So, this work really becomes the ground not only of the journey but the ground of human life. Having a sane and healthy human life is really what this is about, in a certain way. In the traditional Buddhist cultures, they call it the prtagjana yana. “Prtag” means “ordinary” and “jana” means “person.” So, it’s the yana, or vehicle, of the ordinary person who is starting to have a healthy, dignified, wholesome life, and it’s considered to be very important in Buddhism. It’s the foundation of everything we do as humans.

But this is a very fundamental change for most of us; being an actually healthy person is extremely unusual in the modern world. “Healthy” means that there’s a healthy relationship between your thinking, ego-mind and the wisdom, openness, and spontaneous healing of your body. The neuro-pathways linking the Soma and your thinking mind begin to open. As we’ve discussed, the more they open, the more we feel a very deep sense of connection with our self as a person, with the world we live in, and with other people.

This brings us to a point where we begin to get a sense of what we could do with our life. We begin to see that there are places within us that are tremendously open and unbounded, and that there are places within us that call us, communicating in many different ways. We begin to relinquish our obsessive and often maniacal control over our experience and see that we could commit ourselves to a life that is much vaster, and more inclusive of our actual experience, than the one we currently inhabit. It’s very beautiful. It’s very powerful. It’s very transformative. With this experiential foundation, the spiritual journey becomes a constant, unfolding, embodied process that is inseparable from our lives. It transforms us and our lives as practitioners—our very experience of reality—in ways that the purely conceptual understanding of the left-brain never can.

To read other entries in this anthology, visit Dancing with Dharma, an anthology edited by Harrison Blum. 


Episode 274: For the Welfare of All – Part II

In the second part of this talk on the training of a Bodhisattva, For the Welfare of All, Reggie discusses the last five of the six paramitas: discipline, patience, exertion, meditation, and wisdom. Through examples, he shows how the truth of each paramita is not necessarily what we might think.

This talk was given at the 2003 Winter Dathün retreat held in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

Joining Heaven and Earth

By Reggie Ray

In order to understand the shape of the Dharma Ocean community, its configuration of teachers and mentors, and its work in the world, it is necessary to understand Chogyam Trungpa’s Shambhala teachings about Heaven and Earth, the process of joining them, and the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo principles. It is sometimes thought that these teachings apply in a practical way only to individuals at the top of the hierarchy, but this is not the case. In fact, Trungpa Rinpoche emphasized that each of us plays the role of Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo in our individual lives, and that we all need to understand Heaven and Earth and how to join them in order to live our lives in the Shambhalian way. Because there seems to be much confusion today as to what Trungpa Rinpoche actually meant by these aspects of his Shambhala teachings, some explanation is in order.

Heaven is the realm of vision and view. Earth is the realm of phenomena and practicality. Heaven’s task is to overarch and protect Earth. Under the vastness of Heaven’s love, the task of Earth is to give birth, to nourish, heal, and grow all things, to nurture them and make them live.

Vision, as Trungpa Rinpoche presented it, is seeing what is with complete openness, clarity, and impartiality; it is thus utterly non-conceptual and non-judgmental. To see things as they truly are is the same as loving them, and so just as Heaven sees Earth’s plethora with perfect clarity, its love for Earth is infinite. In Vajrayana terms, this is known as seeing the sacredness of all things—the phenomena of Earth and all she gives birth to—in all their beauty, power, and life.

Interestingly, each of us seems called more toward either the function of Heaven or the function of Earth. There is a tendency for men to be more disposed toward the Heaven role and women more toward Earth, but not always. In any case, as we grow spiritually, each of us learns how to embody and speak for both Heaven and Earth.

The word Sakyong means “protector (kyong) of the Earth (sa).” This means protecting the isness, the true or essential being, the life force, the inner purpose or mission for being that marks each of Earth’s children, from sub-atomic particles, to people, mountains, and stars—“all the realms of being,” as we say. It is assuredly not the role of the “Earth protector” to dictate to Earth or to humans what they should be; the sakyong’s role is to see what is in all its purity and sacredness and protect that within the realm of Earth. This means protecting and making clear the inner integrity, life force, and sacredness of what is, so that it is not covered over, misrepresented, polluted, or destroyed on its journey. For example, the sacredness of each person—their individuality, creativity, and unique journey—is an end in itself; in the Shambhala world, people are not a means to achieve some other higher purpose, sacrificed for some more noble end. Heaven’s role, in short, is to protect the life that Earth bears, the integrity and inviolability of all that is.

When it does not unite with Earth, Heaven remains aloof, disconnected, and ineffectual. Earth, for her part, loses her sense of sacredness when she does not unite with Heaven, becoming purely mundane and susceptible to being taken over by conventional values.

When Heaven and Earth are joined, the vision of the sacredness of each person, of all phenomena, is made clear within the mundane, practical, earthly sphere: Heaven gives teachings, practices, and social forms to protect that sacredness among the people of the Earth. When Heaven and Earth are joined, then Earth is able to carry out her mission of manifesting the vision: she heals, nurtures, and loves, guided by the true compass of Heaven. Heaven and Earth must surrender to one another. Heaven must surrender to what Earth bears without judgment or partiality. Earth must surrender to the sacredness of what Heaven knows and reveals, the sacredness of what is, beyond concept and conventional values.

We are a Shambhalian community in holding Chogyam Trungpa’s lineage of the four yanas and seeking to practice, realize, and transmit to others his teachings of sacredness, the dignity of each human soul, and the mission of bringing the Shambhalian view and practices to the rest of the world. In any Shambhalian community, those at the center of the mandala—in the case of Dharma Ocean, Caroline and I—are charged with representing the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo principles, and joining Heaven and Earth.

At present, I am mainly responsible for representing Heaven, Caroline is mainly responsible for representing Earth. Although everyone in our community is involved in the process of giving birth to the Shambhala vision and its application, Caroline and I together bear ultimate responsibility for developing, presenting, and activating the teachings within Dharma Ocean and the world. Beyond this, we have the charge of training everyone in the vision and maintaining its integrity in ourselves, our leadership, our community, and all the ways the teachings are manifested in our world.

Within that collaboration, my particular area is the view and practice. As I come to deeper understandings through my own meditation, and through ongoing explorations and discussions with Caroline, my job is to develop appropriate language for the teachings and practices which help people gain direct experience of it in their lives and benefit from the transformations that follow. Teaching, writing, and recording programs that express the view and practice are all parts of my job as well.

Caroline’s particular role is expressing, manifesting, and activating the view or vision in the realm of activity, both within the Dharma Ocean community and the world beyond. For example, as chair of the Dharma Ocean board, she oversees our board of directors, our operations, and all of the people who contribute to our organization, so that everything we do reflects the values of our lineage—the precision, responsibility, compassion, and integrity of the sacred world. She has also taken the lead in developing the teachings on relationality and intimate partnership, and looks after the areas of family life and children’s Dharma education at programs.

As a healer herself, in her teaching Caroline is helping all of us to understand how healing and spirituality are not separate domains. It is the process of healing itself that makes the spiritual journey possible, providing the continual foundation for the path. As head Desung (protector of well-being or bliss), she helps the kasung perform their function of protecting the health and well-being of participants and staff at programs. In this area, she has also worked with the kitchen mandala so that it is sane, wholesome, uplifted, and supportive of the journey of everyone at programs, both participants and staff alike.

Caroline also attends to the sign-lineage expressions of the teachings, having been instrumental in funding, designing, and decorating our retreat center and other physical spaces. Her own practice as a photographer, as well as her exploration of Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings on Dharma art, inspire the increasing presence of visual art in our community spaces. In short, through her many ways of developing, activating, and manifesting the teachings, Caroline is responsible for overseeing the life of our community and beyond, birthing, nurturing, teaching, healing, and mentoring as needed, encouraging all of us to bring the teachings into our everyday existence and make them real in all the details of our lives.

Trungpa Rinpoche’s Teachings and Dharma Ocean

It is most important that anyone wishing to practice in this lineage understands how deeply grounded our work is in Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings and how we strive to maintain faithfulness to his particular Vajrayana lineage.

When I began instructing others in Rinpoche’s teachings five decades ago, I was a thoroughgoing literalist. I came close to an approach quite common in historical Buddhism, where a teacher takes a revered text, reads a line, and comments on it. I was also a purist in the sense that I devotedly tried to follow what Rinpoche had said, not only about what the teachings were, but what to emphasize and how to communicate them, as well as how to work with the various students and situations one met.

While part of me might wish to remain a literalist and a purist, continuing to follow Rinpoche’s teaching and other instructions to the letter, as a historian of religion, I know that such can never be the case. Rinpoche’s legacy had to evolve in response to a world that has turned upside down since his day. Otherwise, like so many other charismatic spiritual movements over history, it would end up being no more than an archive or a museum piece, gathering dust, out of sight of the suffering world.

Over time, with the freshness of the teachings as my guide, and learning daily from my students, I gradually made room for Rinpoche’s dharma to evolve in my teaching, always in form, never in content. I have sought to emphasize certain aspects of Rinpoche’s dharma and de-emphasize others. I want to stress this point: none of this has come out of my own imagination or my own opinion. All of it has emerged from what I have discovered in my own practice and life, and what I have observed and seen in the students I have worked with.

The Natural State

In 1970 and in the following years, the “natural state,” what Rinpoche called “the meditative state” and “the awakened state,” was, at least for me, at the center of everything he taught. It wasn’t just a matter of theory, but what I experienced whenever I was with him, alone or in groups. Over time I discovered how to find my way there on my own. Throughout my seventeen years studying with him, this was the central theme and the main point in my interactions with him, up to the time he died.

As Rinpoche’s own teachings unfolded over time, this emphasis became less explicit, more implicit. In his Vajrayana teachings, though, at least for me, “pointing out” this natural state was always the centerpiece of every program he taught.

As my teaching evolved, I felt that I needed to bring students not just to understand, but to directly experience the natural state as the ground and essential point of their own being, and of Rinpoche’s entire lineage and, beyond that, of Buddhism itself. I felt that otherwise everything remained too conceptual and too abstract. But how to do that?

The Somatic Approach of Dharma Ocean

I stumbled on a very powerful — in my opinion the most powerful — entry into the experience of unborn awareness, one’s awakened state. During a Naropa Buddhist Christian conference around 1980, Eido Roshi reported an incident in his own training as a young, aspiring Zen student. He said that as a Zen trainee, he was in a sesshin, sitting late one night on the porch of the Zendo. He was completely consumed by his superficial mind, his thinking ego mind. This had been a problem for some time, and he became increasingly frustrated and upset. There was something he just wasn’t getting. His teacher then gave him a simple practice that involved breathing into the lower belly, the region of the hara, in a particular way. And that, Roshi said, abruptly provided the gate that had been eluding him. Eureka!

Roshi showed me the practice. I began working with it myself and found the same thing happened to me when I became stuck. A door that had been closed suddenly and miraculously opened. At the same time, I was doing long Mahamudra retreats each summer, then moving to the Six Yogas of Naropa. I began to clearly see how the many somatic practices in these and other Vajrayana transmissions lead to the same exact place. It wasn’t the specifics of the practices themselves, but the mere fact of entering so abruptly into the body that seemed to be the catalytic agent. How could I have not seen this before?

I began looking for other somatic protocols, first in the other major Buddhist lineages, finding Dogen’s profound teaching and instruction on how to be in the body. Then I discovered some Theravadin forest teachings along the same line. I looked beyond Buddhism, first to indigenous spirituality, then to the evolving Western somatic psychologies and therapies, exploring a few in depth. Since then, over the past forty years, I have developed some two dozen somatic practices with a single intent: to provide direct and immediate entry points into the experience of the natural state.

I began using this approach in my meditation programs, even with relatively inexperienced people. To my amazement, I found students naturally dropping into their deeper, buddha mind. That experience, occurring over and over, provided an extraordinarily fertile ground for their inspiration to follow the path of meditation and their confidence in doing so. For many years now, I have said that the core of my own teaching is pointing out the natural state — pointing out, pointing out.

As our Western and world culture becomes increasingly disconnected and dissociated from direct human experience, as we all live more and more in a virtual, disembodied world, that disconnection is reflected in each new generation of aspiring practitioners. Within this context, this somatic approach to meditation, and the immediate gate it offers to the immaculate, awakening within, would seem even more important than when I began teaching it. While traditional Tibetan Buddhism reserved these teachings for a tiny elite, I feel that that kind of extreme restriction is not only unnecessary, it is actually counterproductive as it prevents modern people from direct, personal experience of the ultimate, inner awakening. And I have found that without that experience, it is very difficult for modern people to connect with and stay with the challenges of meditation and the journey it provides.

Over the past two decades, neuroscience, and especially neurological research into meditation, clarifies what I discovered in my teaching. We have two ways of knowing — first, and primary, is what we might call “right brain” knowledge — the direct, non-conceptual experience of our subcortical regions, everything “below” the thinking mind — the body’s innate knowing.

In Vajrayana Buddhism, it is said that this type of knowing is “naked” or “pure” because it is unfiltered and unprocessed by our egoic thinking mind. This is somatic knowing, what some people call “body knowledge” or “body wisdom.” Second is the abstract, conceptual knowledge of the left brain, consisting of all the labels, concepts, judgments, and narratives we overlay onto our naked, pure experience. The left brain cannot experience anything in and of itself; it can only label and categorize the actual experience of our Soma, or body. Thoughts, even thoughts of enlightenment, don’t liberate; only the direct, bodily experience of the teachings does.

The somatic protocols of our lineage enable even new students to drop immediately beneath the incessant thinking of the left brain into their Soma. When they do, they experience themselves in a completely unprecedented way, running into the natural state as their ground of being. Once this occurs, students suddenly experience the insight, power, and warmth they have been looking for in the inner depths of their own being. This experience is known in Tibetan Buddhism as “empowerment,” and that is surely exactly what it is.

Embodied Spirituality in Vajrayana History

Spiritual practice and everyday life are not separate. In contrast to conventional approaches, this spiritual journey does not involve distancing oneself from “samsara;” from all that is physical, bodily, worldly, “impure,” and problematic. Rather it is a process of an ever deeper and more complete entry into those domains of our existence. We discover that it is precisely within the interior “space” of those aspects of our fully embodied, ordinary, human lives that the most important discoveries occur, and our true spiritual journey can unfold. This is why the experience of the natural state is so crucial for practitioners, right from the beginning of their journey, for it provides the unbiased, unlimited awareness within which the true sacredness of all experience can be seen.

Though the path of Somatic Meditation is not “religious” in nature, it has deep and ancient roots in the Vajrayana Buddhism of India, Tibet, and elsewhere in Asia. The tantric approach of Somatic Meditation takes our Soma — our body — as the fundamental arena of practice. Rather than trying to develop meditation through our thinking mind in a “top-down” process, as is the case with most contemporary approaches, Somatic Meditation involves a bottom-up process, wherein we connect with the inherent, self-existing wakefulness that is already present within the body.

In Vajrayana, the human body is in fact pointed out and personally discovered to be nothing other than the Buddha’s own threefold body of enlightenment. These are the three dimensions of our fundamentally, already fully awakened incarnate being: immaculate awareness — our most fundamental nature; the energy of awareness; and self-less compassion, from which the spontaneous responsiveness naturally flows. All of these occur outside of ego’s framework.

The hallmark of the Vajrayana in our lineage is that we begin with the fruition of the journey; we begin by pointing out, in a fully experiential, way the reality of the enlightenment within us. Meditation is the space within which we receive this fruition, and the method by which we develop it in ourselves. Somatic Meditation develops a meditative consciousness that is accessed through the feelings, sensations, somatic intuition, and felt sense of the body itself. In Buddhist terms, the human body is always abiding in the meditative state, the domain of awakening; we are simply endeavoring to gain entry into that.

Unless we make room for a direct, unmediated experience of our body as it is, without manipulation or distortion, then deep, lasting, ultimate transformation cannot occur. This helps us understand the curious fact that many people, even after decades of practicing top-down methods, will give up meditation, finding that the ultimate transformation they were looking for has not happened.

For all the benefits of top-down meditation, there is always an element of a conscious agenda; a subtle, if unconscious, culling of what comes up, and a prioritizing of some experiences over others. Hence, the ego ultimately stays in control. This freezes our development, landing us in what John Welwood calls “spiritual bypassing.” We are unable to grow. We are bypassing our actual life and the opportunity for endless spiritual maturation that are inherent within us. When we let what we think should happen override our body’s imperative of what actually needs to happen, we are turning away from the opportunity to become fully and completely human in this life; we are turning away from the highest spiritual realization.

Touching Enlightenment

Tricycle, Spring 2006

After years of meditation, you may feel you’re making very little progress. But the guide you may need has been with you all along: your body. Drawing on Tibetan Yogic practices, Reggie Ray takes on the modern crisis of disembodiment.

Read more…

Episode 273: For the Welfare of All – Part I

In this talk on the training of a Bodhisattva, For the Welfare of All, Reggie discusses the last five of the six paramitas: discipline, patience, exertion, meditation, and wisdom. Through examples, he shows how the truth of each paramita is not necessarily what we might think.

This talk was given at the 2003 Winter Dathün retreat held in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

The Awakened State

Sounds True: Insights at the Edge, June 2012

In this episode, Tami Simon from Sounds True speaks with Reggie about the possibility of using modern methods for capturing the essence of student-to-teacher transmission, how glimpsing the awakened state fits in with Mahamudra training, and the “three teachers”—a human teacher, the natural state, and life itself. (65 minutes)

Listen to the episode

Episode 272: Clear Circle of Brightness

In this episode, Caroline discusses the somatic unfolding of the awakening heart. She says that the journey involves three concentric circles: an outer circle of enchantment, an inner circle that is like a ring of fire, and a third circle of complete freedom—the clear circle of brightness.

This talk was given in 2016 at a course Caroline taught in Boulder, CO called In Love with Life.

Episode 271: Loss of Reference Points

In this talk, Loss of Reference Points, Reggie speaks to the groundlessness that we experience when situations don’t fit into the known world of ego. In such moments, strong feelings of anxiety, fear, and ambiguity might arise. Instead trying to secure territory, he encourages us to turn toward the feelings and open to the uncertainty.

This talk was given in 2006 at the June Meditating with the Body retreat held in Crestone, CO.

Episode 270: Being with the Journey

In this talk, Being with the Journey, Reggie describes the moment when we check-out during experiences that are painful, unsettling, or disconcerting. He says such moments of intensity offer an opportunity to step through our fear and resistance, open to our feelings, and rest with the sacredness of the situation.

This talk was given at the 2011 Winter Dathun retreat held at the Blazing Mountain Retreat Center in Crestone, CO.

Episode 269: Practice Dismantles

In Practice Dismantles, Reggie points to the process that unfolds on the journey of somatic meditation: personal stories fall apart and we come to trust the intimacy, humor, openness, and love that emerges when our solid sense of self is dismantled.

This talk was given in 2009 at the September Meditating with the Body retreat held at the Blazing Mountain Retreat Center in Crestone, CO.

Episode 268: Basic Space

In this talk, Basic Space, Caroline discusses the true nature of reality—the Dharmakaya—that we experience when we rest in the space of the lower belly in the practice of yin breathing. She says that this space is open, free, and not constrained by conditioned “parts.”

This talk was given at the 2016 The Body Loves retreat held at the Blazing Mountain Retreat Center in Crestone, CO.

Episode 267: Life Force – Part II

In the second part of this talk, Life Force, Reggie asks: where does the Life Force come from? He says that the empty nothingness of space gives birth to the primordial isness and rabid passion we feel when we rest with the raw energy that emerges from the emptiness of being.

This talk was given at the 2009 Winter Dathün retreat held at the Blazing Mountain Retreat Center in Crestone, CO.

Episode 266: Life Force – Part I

Here, Reggie speaks to the utter power of the Life Force that courses through our body as pure unadulterated love. This force, he says, speaks the message of this lineage: to trust our uncompromising, wild, reckless, implacable lust for being alive.

This talk was given at the 2009 Winter Dathün retreat held at the Blazing Mountain Retreat Center in Crestone, CO.

Episode 265: Journey of Individuation

In today’s episode, Reggie discusses the meditative journey of individuation. He acknowledges societal obstacles, such as institutional bureaucracies, that can undermine inspiration and waylay personal development. True freedom requires taking responsibility for our life and completely trusting the inner voice of our body.

This talk was given in 2009 at the September Meditating with the Body retreat held at the Blazing Mountain Retreat Center in Crestone, CO.

Episode 264: Loving Presence

In today’s episode, Caroline asks a shrine hall of retreatants: what are we doing here? The answer: letting be. In this process, we discover the felt sense, or non-conceptual awareness of the body, which has distinct qualities: loving presence, attentiveness, attunement, responsiveness, and reliability.

This talk was given at the 2014 Winter Dathün retreat held at Blazing Mountain Retreat Center in Crestone, Colorado.

Episode 263: Sacred Mysteries

In this teaching, Sacred Mysteries, Reggie discusses the experience of pain as understood in the Vajrayana tradition of meditation. When we let go of judging and rejecting, moments of pain are experienced as sacred ornaments of tenderness that connect us to Life in all of its depth, power, and beauty.

This talk was given at the 2011 Advanced Meditating with the Body retreat held at The Blazing Mountain Retreat Center in Crestone, CO.

Episode 262: Awakening Heart

In this talk, Awakening Heart, Caroline teaches on bodhicitta, the wakeful intelligence of the body that is concentrated in the heart. She says that the essence of bodhicitta is space, the manifestation is love, and the activity is connection.

This talk was given at the 2016 The Body Loves retreat held at the Blazing Mountain Retreat Center in Crestone, CO.

Episode 261: Stripped Down to Nothing

In Stripped Down to Nothing, Reggie points to the often hidden and unrecognized dimensions in the life journey of the Buddha. He says that Thich Nhat Hahn’s book Old Path White Clouds shows how the Buddha’s renunciation of conventional norms was quite radical and threatening to the cultural establishment of his day.

This talk was offered at a Dhyanasangha Weekend and shared with the Public Broadcasting Service in support of the film The Buddha.

Episode 260: Under the Rose Apple Tree

In today’s episode, Under the Rose Apple Tree, we listen to a talk Caroline offered on the experience of the natural state in childhood. She offers a Vajrayana account of the story of the Buddha who, at age 9, recognized rigpa while sitting under a rose apple tree.

This talk was given in 2016 at the November Meditating with the Body retreat held at Buckfast Abbey in Devon, England.

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