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Outside the Vacuum Cave



Let’s begin, as we always do, with checking in with what it’s like to be you right now. Just go within, and just feel how you’re doing, how’s your body feeling? How’s your emotions doing? What’s your thought realm like? and so on. Tune in, and see, what it’s like to be you right now? The trick here is to both be as clear and honest as possible, while at the same time just letting it be that way. However it is, is just how it is. So, for now, just tune in and see what that’s like.

Good. Notice the urge to change it, the urge to control it, the urge to deny, the urge to try to hang on to it, maybe the urge to, in some way, control control control, and see if you can, even if that urge is there, just not take any action. Instead, allow whatever you’re feeling like to be that way. Letting go, if only for a little while, of the fundamental aggression against the way it is. 

Good. Now let’s do some light breath work, simply by on the in-breath, breathing naturally, but on the in-breath, feeling the sense of awakeness and clarity and energy coming into the belly. Feel energy coming into the belly, filling the belly as you breathe, brightness, openness, clarity. Then, on the out-breath, it radiates through the whole body and out into space, so that there’s a kind of letting go into space on the out-breath. You’re building energy and clarity on the in-breath, feeling that in the belly, and then on the out-breath it radiates out into spaciousness. Each in-breath bringing much more brightness and clarity awakeness to experience, and each out-breath that just dissolves into space, bringing tremendous openness, relaxation, release, boundlessness. You can just breathe naturally, but if you want to make it a little more powerful, just let that out-breath go on for a little longer than you normally would, of course remaining comfortable and without strain. With each out-breath, as you dissolve into space, noticing that any tension in the face relaxes, tightness and gripping in the shoulders releases, the belly becomes soft and open. The whole body just sinks now into a much more grounded and relaxed place. 

Continuing to feel the energy and spaciousness growing, and, for some of you, you may notice at the end of that long out-breath, it just stays there for a while without you intending for it to stay there. It will sometimes just kind of hang there before beginning the in-breath, and notice on the out-breath, as you dissolve into space, any connection with the mind with thinking, with trying to do something, just is utterly released. The mind itself just dissolves into space just completely let’s go. So that even if a lot of thinking is happening, we’re not engaging at all with thought. We are being the wide open space, a vast clear bright awakeness. Notice that that wide awakeness is there without you doing anything at all. It’s not somehow something you can make happen or interfere with, it’s just wide awake of its own accord and its own energy.

 If you want to, you can let go of any engagement with the breathing technique, and simply rest as the wide awake openness, and see if it becomes apparent that this wide awake openness is very stable. It’s not something you’re doing, and it’s not a kind of attention because doing and attention are unstable. Spacious awakeness is tremendously stable, and so we rest as spacious awakeness itself. Spacious awakeness is not something you do with your mind. The mind is something that the spacious awakeness does. Thinking and doing and feeling are all downstream of this wide-awake openness.

Now, let this awakeness be aware of all of body sensation, just feeling the whole body, not only the breath sensations, but all the sensations, without bearing down, just allowing the sensations to arise in awareness and notice the vibratory quality of the sensations. Some of it’s very obvious: it’s buzzy or tingly or rhythmic in some way. Other things may at first seem more solid, but as you allow awareness to notice them more clearly, their vibratory nature becomes obvious as well. Our image of the body is very stable, our mental image of the body sees it as levers and pulleys and pumps and electrical wires — all these metaphors. But when we just tune into what the body feels like, to the body, it’s a bunch of vibration, a bunch of buzzy tingly vibratory stuff. So just notice that now. If you only notice it in one little area, then just notice that. Eventually, you’ll see it’s every sensation, and it’s tremendously relaxing and opening and releasing and pleasant for the body to be seen as it sees itself — in this vibratory energetic way. It’s alive, it’s supple, it’s fluid, it’s flowing, it’s moving, it’s made of energy. As you relax even further, and settle into this awakeness even more totally, the clarity and brightness of awakeness. You’ll notice that the all the buzzy, tingly, energetic quality of the body resolves into nothing other than awake spaciousness. That is a concept, but is something that the awareness directly “awares”. The body itself is awake space, full of energy. See that clearly, not as an imagination, not in the mind, but as something we’re directly aware of.

Very good. Now, in the same way, look into the activity of thinking. Not into the content of the thinking, but the activity of the thinking. Notice that it, too, is simply a kind of vibratory movement. If you’re quite relaxed, you’ll notice that instead of one stream of thought there’s usually many going on, all together as kind of a broad spectrum of activity. There’s just a lot of vibration there, it’s just flow of thought energy. We don’t want to try to interrupt this flow, or change the flow, or worry about the content of the flow, or try to change the content or anything like that. We simply tune into this energy, this vibratory energy of thinking. The more this awakeness tunes into the vibratory energy of thinking, the more obvious it is that, on a very subtle level, this flow of thought energy is nothing other than awake space. It’s just vast, boundless, awake space, vibrating as thought energy. Over and over again, notice this energy of thought as simply vibrating awake space.

Now, you can either stay with that, or if you want to, you can go with me to something a little more intense. But it is going to be intense, so if you’re feeling not up for that, unresourced or whatever, just stay with doing what we’re doing now. If, on the other hand, you want to dive into some emotional stuff, then, what I want you to do is to bring up the feeling that you’re really trying to avoid all the time. Whatever the very worst feeling, emotionally, is, whether that’s shame or rage or despair, or whatever — I want you to bring that up on purpose now. Remember, you don’t have to do this. Only do this if you decide to go with me here. Bring it up on purpose, just quit resisting, and let it arise, and allow whatever thoughts and images are required to make it really come up strongly. That thing that you spend all day trying to avoid feeling. Stop avoiding it, and just let it happen. That starts to be relatively strong. It’s pretty easy to notice that, in terms of the experience of the emotion, not the thoughts around the emotion, but the experience of the emotion itself, is like energy and vibration in the body. There’s kind of this intense energy, depending on the kind of emotion, it could be really high frequency sharp energy, or it could be really low, heavy, energy, but, no matter what, it’s vibratory. You can feel the vibration happening in this awake space. See if you can make it just a little stronger, and feel its vibratory, energetic qualities. Instead of getting caught in the mental content, feel the physical part of it, the intense energy, and then, as before, notice that this intense energy, right in the core of this difficult, difficult feeling, expressed as intense energy, is nothing other than wide awake space, vibrating space, boundless, openness, right in the center of the feeling. The feeling itself is just a kind of really powerful energy. If we don’t resist it, and we let it be there completely, and see it very clearly, we experience it as awake space vibrating. It can even be refreshing, opening, stabilizing, grounding. Remember to allow the mental content around it to also be experienced as awake space, wide openness, boundless clarity. You see that even this very difficult emotion is nothing other than wide awakeness and boundless freedom itself, without ever doing anything to it. We’re not changing it, we’re not avoiding it, we’re not transmuting it, we’re not bypassing it, we’re going right into it. I’m feeling it’s wide open, wide awakeness of tremendous energy.

It’s the opposite of avoidance, the opposite of sublimation, or repression, or bypassing—we’re meeting it completely and going right into it with no resistance.

Now, notice the room, the light, the shapes, the colors, the textures, the patterns, sounds. We’ve learned to think of it, to model it, to conceptualize it, as stable, but in experience, it’s continuously moving and changing, maybe slightly, maybe a lot.

Notice the experience of the room, and the sound of the room, and the side of the room, the contents of the room. All that experience is none other than vibrating awake space, wide awake, boundless high energy. Really clear. It’s not just nothing — there’s all kinds of shapes and colors, and it’s also just wide open, wide awake space. If you notice, the room has wide open vibrating space, and emotion as boundless open clear space, and thought energy as a flow of wide open clear spaciousness and boundlessness and openness, and the body itself as wide awake vibrating space, with no boundary and no center. Anything else at all that arises, arises as an experience as nothing other than awake space. Then what else is there, but tremendous openness, clarity and energy? There’s a sense of unboundedness. That is the feeling of freedom. There may be a real sense of deep joy or satisfaction at this tremendous clarity and energy, totally unbounded, totally unconstricted, open, loose, free. The joy itself is, of course, just more wide awake, vibrating spaciousness, and yet it can be tremendously powerful.

From here, it’s easy to really enjoy all the arisings, shapes, colors, sounds, feelings, thoughts. The tremendous brightness and variation and exuberance of the display is tremendously gorgeous, beautiful, delicious, rich. Notice the joy that’s available from this vibrating space. It’s always there, deep, deep within it. Just the joy of the freedom and the clarity and the beauty. It’s not somehow simply trapped in a body. It’s radiating out in all directions and radiating back from all directions, all the time.

There’s a palpable sense of the tremendous beauty and exuberance of the world and being is always flowing, ever present, totally free.

Let’s end the meditation there. Feel free to move and stretch. If you need to go to the bathroom or whatever go ahead and do that.

Dharma Talk

Over the last like 35 years or something I’ve worked with this one Indian woman teacher who is a traditional Guru, and it’s really common when you work with her that you kind of get knocked into this very altered state. That can feel different ways, but often it feels like an ecstatic energized world of awake space, and then you do that in a retreat for days and it gets turned up and turned up and at some point, inevitably, just when that would get really good, she would yell at me and be like, “Mahesh,” which is what she called me, “Mahesh, go chop vegetables.” I’d have to get up and go to the kitchen and with a really sharp knife, chop vegetables as fast as I could, coming out of that place. At first, I thought, that’s just a coincidence, and then after a while, after years of that, I realized, she’s doing that on purpose, just to be mean or just to fuck with you. But, after a while, I realized that contacting that sense of vibrating awake space is super important, super deep, and critical and meaningful, but that’s not enough. It’s not just about checking out into a really pleasant space, but instead, noticing that the entire regular world is still there, and from that place of vibrating awake space, it is incredibly cool, beautiful, rich, interesting, meaningful, deep, powerful. Not just somehow erased by nothingness. Your job is to engage with it, but engage with it from awake space, not from some kind of constricted little ball of being a personality fighting with everything.

It’s really interesting. The lesson that I sort of got beat into me, which is it’s crucial to notice awake openness, and it’s also then crucial to re- engage really strongly from there, and not just Teletubby your way through the day. Instead, doing stuff and noticing that that isn’t a contradiction. Those two things aren’t even separate, or they’re different, but they’re not separate. Everything is an exuberant expression of that energized awakeness, and not somehow like bumming you’re high, bringing you down off your cloud. That’s just not the idea. There can sometimes be a real sense that there’s a special world of awareness and energy, and that it’s totally different than this. It often feels like that, oh, if I tune in, there’s a separate world of openness and energy and beauty and stillness, and this is all just in the way of that. That’s not true — or it’s that that’s just kind of halfway there. The rest of the way there is to notice that this isn’t in the way at all. This is not any different than that, and engaging, engaging, engaging, engaging, is what that awake energy wants to do. It doesn’t want to disappear into its own awakeness hole. It’s here to do stuff and engage in and experience and enjoy and create. That’s all it does is create. So, even though you know it’s problematic to talk sequentially, I’ll talk sequentially and say at first we’re all stuck in the constricted, reified thingness of everything. There’s no space and there’s very little awakeness, seemingly, so the first part of our meditation is like prying our grubby tight little fist off of engagement with all the stuff. When you finally recognize, when I relax and open and just let go of all that tension, there’s just awake space, and that’s it it’s vibrating, it’s intense, it’s wide awake, it’s spacious, and maybe there’s nothing there.

But that’s part one, and then part two is, wait a minute, all that vibration is making everything happen, it’s making colors, it’s making thoughts, it’s making feelings, it’s making everything happen, and that’s not bad, that’s awesome! Now you can actually come back and get into all of it because, there’s no tightness, there’s no grabbing, there aren’t hands to grab with and in a sense. So many of the teachings, you’ll find out, there is just going to stage one. They’ll just kind of drop you off in the super vacuum cave — and it’s a cool place, but they’re, like, there you go, enjoy your vacuum cave. It’s enjoyable, but it’s a dead end, it’s stupid.

It’s, why were you born? What’s wrong with you? [laughter]- except for Lady Red!


Questioner 1: Last week I asked you, so that’s like the nature of mind, why are you sure you’re showing up, and now you’re like, if you just go to the cave, it’s Superman.

Michael: Here’s what nature of mind is doing!  Even if you work really hard, and it can be sequential, and that’s fine to get to that place. There’s more to do,  and it doesn’t even have to work that way. You can never leave, you don’t have to dive to zero and then come back out. There can just be directly noticing over and over again.

So what happened out there? What are your reports? What are your questions, comments?

We will bring you a microphone and remember that it is not just a microphone in this room. You have a question way back there.

Questioner 2: Hello. Really early, when I was starting to enter into the vacuum cave,

I actually had a sensation in my throat that was like a tickle like I needed to cough. If I’m at home, I just cough, but in a space like this I started to panic and I was like yeah

Michael: It’s good to panic. [laughter]

Questioner 2: It was really peaceful, there’s the cave, and then it was Doom. I think my question is, is it worth it to try to deconstruct a bodily sensation like that back into space?

Michael:  it’s always worth it, why not but, you might just cough, too. It just depends. 

Questioner 2: Nice.

Michael:  Sometimes, what if it’s super intense pain that you can’t just cough out? It’s just gonna be there. Your way forward might be, just gotta go into that. So, you have both moves available, and sometimes you go back and forth. Sometimes you go way into one, other days you go into the other. It’s all interesting, but it’s helpful to understand the context.

Questioner 2: Yeah,  thank you.

Questioner 3: Hello, I was not blissed out, but I would love it if you could deliver that for me one time. But what was really cool is like in going through the emotions, one of the things that was really cool for me was actually the energy of disassociation that was coming up for me. To me, that is an energy, just like any of the others, that I could follow back, and would become spacious. I was curious about your own journey, experience of playing with that, because I think it comes up a lot for me.

Michael: Can you feel your body?

Questioner 3: yeah, yeah 

Michael: So you’re not dissociated, and earlier, were you able to feel your body? When you say energy of dissociation I’m not sure exactly what you mean.

Questioner 3:  What do I mean by it? There’s a way in which I feel in freeze mode, maybe I’m actually outside of my body a little bit, is like what it feels like. It feels like I’m not fully in touch, and my brain, my mind, and my thoughts, can be like, oh, you’re just being very still right now, but the energy doesn’t move, it almost feels frozen. The mind labels that as bad, so it’s trying to find the other energy that’s there.

Michael: If you can feel the still frozen energy, you’re not dissociated from it, because

you’re feeling. Dissociation means you can’t feel it, so I would just say, what if it’s okay that it’s still frozen? Just check that out. Let it do that thing, and maybe it is the case that our experience of the body can be much larger than the physical body seems to be. That’s not a problem. It’s not like we’re necessarily escaping anything, it’s just bigger. That doesn’t mean dissociation can’t happen, but your description of it, you’re clear that it’s still frozen, so you’re still in touch with it. So I would just say, just check that out. Is it really that still, that frozen? You know damn well if you check into it, that it’s not. That idea that it is these things and that’s bad, that’s what’s leading you astray there.

Questioner 3: Yeah, yeah.  That’s bad is definitely in the subconscious, for sure.

Michael: There’s a way that you can do this to dissociate but the guidance I’m giving keeps making that really really hard. You have to try, so don’t try. I’m going to come back over and over again, okay. Does that help? Good.

Questioner 4: Thank you. That was really cool. I felt like there was stuff that’s been bothering me a lot, that I just felt it as vibration of awake space.  I don’t think I’ve ever really felt that before, and it kind of deconstructed things. I really appreciate it. My main question is, what’s up after the cave?

Michael:  That’s what I was saying. You can deconstruct it down to just this awake space which is very cool, but there’s nothing to do there. Which is, in a way, okay, but there can be traditions that instead of noticing the vibration there, are noticing the stillness, and want you to just rest there and stay there. But, if you pay attention, it’s not still. It’s energized, and the minute you go back into the energy, it comes back into all this, but seen in an utterly new way, not as stuck stuff, but really exuberant rainbow energy flow, right? So that’s what’s next:  Coming back in and noticing that all the thoughts are like that, all the feelings are like that, all the doing is like that. It’s wide-awake electricity that’s having fun. It’s not just sitting there. It might sit there for a while, but even that it is vibrational, so it’s total re-engagement, but with all the knots worked out. 

It’s like before you were trying to dance when you were just one big cramp all over, and then now the awake space takes you through like a total de-cramping– a real massage–where all the knots get worked out, and now you start moving and it’s a really different feeling. It’s deeper than that because who’s even moving at that point? It’s like that feeling when you’re in a total dance flow, where it’s just space dancing. You’re not trying to do something, so in this case, awake space is dancing the world into being an activity.  So that’s what’s next.

Questioner 4:  Cool, thank you.

Questioner 5:  Thanks again for that. I’m not sure I have so much of a question as much as I’m curious what your feedback would be to this. When you were telling your story of when you’re we’re with your teacher and or experiencing the amount of Shakti that you experienced with her and so forth, one of the things that came to mind, because I’ve experienced my own version of that, was Shinzen once talking about there’s no need to ever leave samadhi, and so forth.

Michael: That’s the whole talk I’m giving, is what it’s like to not leave samadhi. 

Questioner 4:   There also seems to be on the other side of that coin which you highlighted in your story, that I could also relate to, was when you’re kind of in just being blasted with all that, then experiencing that within yourself, there is no need to feel the need to cling to that — either to rush and chop some onions or deal with some phone calls or emails. It seems like we’re more scattered. I gotta get back to that.  I remember you commented almost a year ago when I came back from the monastery, there is that underlying trust and faith in the practice, and in yourself, of what even if there’s all this, our own nonsense, what’s underneath all of that, all the time? I’m just curious if there’s anything you might have to say about that.

Michael. Just that eventually you notice that all the activity is not somehow taking you

out of your meditation. It is the meditation, right, it’s coming directly out of the awake space, which you heard me say already, so I didn’t add anything, but that’s that’s my response. At first it feels like you’re being knocked out of your cave, and that just means you didn’t get it, at least not deeply enough. Eventually you recognize you can’t get knocked out of it, because it’s not a state, it’s not a special, altered state. The awake space is always there, always, always, always, always.

Last question – or statement or critique.

Questioner 5:  It’s a very straightforward terminological question. That thing you’re trying to point to, which you can either have the there and back again with the vacuum cave, or you can just notice it, is that what is called rigpa?

Michael:  Awake space is rigpa. Technically, literally, rigpa is just the Tibetan word for knowledge–just regular knowledge–like any kind of knowledge, but when it’s used in a Dzogchen context, it means awake space. Just like the Sanskrit word for it would be vidya, which is just knowledge. So, it’s just a normal word being used in a really special way. If we were doing that, we’d just say, notice the awakeness. Why they call it knowledge is, when you’re pointing at it like that, you’re knowing it. It’s like that, not the knowledge of that thing, but it doesn’t work that well in English. These days, it’s much clearer to just say the awake space, awake spaciousness, or some people call it awake awareness, you could say awake aware space, that’s rigpa. What’s different is, it’s not just just awareness, because awareness can still be that constricted, tight, clumped. When you drop all that, you’re not grabbing on to anything, then all that’s left is spacious awakeness. Then, eventually you notice that even the clinching stuff was always right, always awareness, but unrecognized as such.

Thank you.

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