The next protection comes through having the support of spiritual friends, good friends, and being able to explore and discuss the teachings with these good friends. This is likened to loosening the earth around the roots of a plant or tree. In contact with the spiritual community, spiritual friends, or a teacher, we can often dissolve the artificial constructs of our own sense of limitation and see what our potential actually is in a given moment. We can more readily connect our immediate experience to a larger picture. We're not left alone with our own sense of what we are capable of, or our own lonely interpretation of what is happening.
The fourth protection is concentration. This is likened to weeding a plot of land, protecting it from things that will not be helpful. In terms of the mind, it means protecting ourselves from hindrances, putting in mental effort to get concentrated -- right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration, to weed the garden. It means developing the power not to be tossed around by our various changing mind states.
With these three qualities taken together -- right effort, concentration, and mindfulness -- hindrances like grasping, anger, sluggishness, restlessness, or doubt cannot find a home, a foothold in the mind, when they arise. These qualities bring mental strength, stability, calmness, and power. We apply our effort to be mindful, to be aware in this very moment, right here and now, and we bring a very wholehearted effort to it. This brings concentration. It is this power of concentration that we use to cut through the world of surface appearances to get to a much deeper reality.
The last protection is a very interesting and subtle one: not allowing ourselves to get attached to any state at all, not even to states of comfort, bliss, calm, equanimity, insight, or any other really pleasant thing that can happen in meditation practice.
To remember non-attachment is to remember what freedom is all about. If we get attached, even to a beautiful state of being, we are caught, and ultimately we will suffer. We work to observe anything that comes our way, experience it while it is here, and be able to let go of it.
What is important is not getting intoxicated with a good feeling or getting intoxicated even with an insight. These take many forms in our practice. We go through times of great release, where there has been physical holding for what feels like forever, and something opens up and releases. We go through times of catharsis where things that have been bottled up and repressed come to the surface and get freed. We go through times when we experience altered states, where concentration gets very strong, and we feel very far out, and it is all very wonderful.
It's not like we are trying to put these experiences down or scorn them. What we are going through should not be denigrated. We just need to realize that although they may be powerful and important and true, they are not ultimately what the practice is about. The practice is about freedom in every moment, which means not holding on, not grasping. To be able to be absolutely here with whatever is happening. We understand that the movement, the growth of the practice, comes from letting go, not from getting and having and acquiring. The more we can be at peace in this very moment, with how things actually are, the greater the protection that we have.
This is a great protection because it means that we won't settle for less than what we are capable of, we won't compromise. We won't give up freedom for just another experience, even a very special, extraordinary experience.
With an intention to see more clearly, to be free from habit and conditioning, we have planted a seed, and now we need to use all of these ways to nourish it and protect it. To protect the dharma, the truth, so that we, in turn, can be protected by it.
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