Can Meditative Inquiry Be Carried On?

The following article by Toni Packer is from the June 1997 Newsletter.

In recent years a few people have spoken to me about their wish to devote themselves to the work of this moment, either at Springwater or elsewhere, carrying on the spirit of meditative inquiry with others, maybe even beyond the time that Toni will be active at the Center.

Unlike other spiritual training centers, Springwater has not had a program to “train teachers” who may then be “sanctioned” to carry on the tradition. As presented in the Newsletter article On Transmission and Teaching, I have not been seriously concerned about the future of Springwater, and have carefully avoided getting into the potentially messy affair of picking, grooming and appointing “heirs.” Only someone totally unaware of reactions arising in close community living could deny the problems of rivalry, comparison, and feelings of superiority or inferiority connected with being “chosen” or “rejected.”

The unfolding of Springwater has been quite egalitarian and non-hierarchical. We all perform different functions here, with various people in charge of functions like building and maintenance, kitchen, financial, housekeeping, gardening, conducting retreats, holding workshops, meetings, and so forth. Division of function doesn’t automatically mean division of powers. It is the idea of superiority and inferiority that has power over our thinking.

Traditional images like “the teacher” and “the students” have never had any hold on my mind in working with people. I do not feel apart and haven’t felt the need for role- playing. Images and roles about being “the teacher” teaching “students” inevitably create distance and separation. Anyone truly interested in this matter can see it clearly for themselves.

So — can people carry on this work and not get caught up in separation through ideas of “superiority” and “inferiority?” We all suffer from separation sickness and carry the germs for spreading it to others. Clear awareness of the symptoms can irradiate the sickness and the germs which spread it, bringing about healing from moment to moment. In healing ourselves, we do not infect others.

Simply feeling strongly that one would like to do this work with others may not be enough. (We will later go more carefully into what I mean by “this work.”) We do have so many blind spots. In meeting with those who are interested we will explore not only our intentions and motives, but this great matter of undivided presence.

Even if our by-laws did not state (as they do) that it is the function of the resident teacher to appoint a successor or a committee to find one, I see it unequivocally as my present function to approve those who wish to work with people under the sponsorship of Springwater Center, i.e., hold workshops, retreats, or experiment with parallel meetings during retreats that I conduct. Taking this step needs thorough exploration of one’s entire state of being.

Approval is not necessary for some of the activities already taking place at the Center. In the past few years retreats have been held without Toni (or with Toni as a retreatant only) with no particular person in charge. During these retreats any participant has been free to give talks and meet with others. Also, every retreat that I conduct now has a period during which I take a break, and the meeting room is available for people to meet with each other, one-on-one, or in groups. These activities by participants will continue, and do not need my approval. Also, there are a few people who are conducting workshops, retreats or other activities on their own, i.e., without Springwater sponsorship. Obviously none of that requires my approval.

In order to enter with intense awareness and understanding into looking and questioning together, we have recently, whenever I have been in residence, held special meetings (on Thursday evenings) open to anyone who wishes to attend. These meetings are not ones in which a participant can bring up any which topic, with the discussion proceeding somewhat randomly. Rather they are meant to be a focused, careful entering into listening, questioning and speaking out of emptiness, meaning with minimum interference by the personal, reactive consciousness. Can meditative exploration itself become our prevailing topic? That is, attending and speaking out of nonpersonal awareness that sheds light onto the blockages and constrictions operating in personal consciousness. Everyone who happens to be present at the Center on those evenings has been welcome to attend, but we do emphasize that we need to stay with a relevant topic, feeling free to remind each other when something becomes tangential or irrelevant to the ongoing inquiry.

In the past we have used the term “working with people” to cover holding retreats, giving talks, and meeting each other with words and in silence. It may be clarifying to point out that “working with people,” as used here, does not refer to assigning people practices, entering into a therapeutic relationship, trying to find solutions to personal problems, supporting another through difficult times, giving solace, sharing communal activities, doing bodywork, and so forth. Even though any one of these elements may at times be present in meditative inquiry, they are not of the essence.

What is the essential nature of meditative inquiry? What do we wish to carry on? Words cannot really capture it, but let us say that it requires a stability of awareness — a direct seeing that is not flickering on and off, but sustained without effort to maintain it. In this stable presence one is not easily uprooted by flattery or criticism, by emotions, opinions, misunderstandings, and the injustices that seem to happen in relationship. While all this may be taking place, it needn’t become disabling — listening and questioning can continue even though habitual reactions are stirring and pressing to express themselves. Awareness can take care of this in amazingly wise and loving ways — reactions need not be expressed when they come into clear, wholesome view.

So — can there be a growing transparency of the different levels on which we are operating as any given meeting is unfolding? The personal, the collective, the unconscious etc. For example, carefully listening to the personal problem in which someone may be entangled, and yet not getting caught up in it oneself through reacting habitually, unawares? Not losing presence in the midst of entanglement? This does not work unfailingly — the personal consciousness takes over so quickly. We are not striving for perfection, but observing carefully what is, what was — learning as we go.

Despite our susceptibility to getting caught up in the personal, the collective — feeling superior or inferior to other people — can one be a bright mirror unto oneself and to another, not feeling apart?

There is love in this way of meeting.