Burgs – The Silence is Always There
Interview by Iain McNay
Iain: Hello and welcome again to conscious.tv, I’m Iain McNay and I’m here with Burgs. We’re in the countryside in Herefordshire near the Welsh border and I first interviewed Burgs a couple of months ago on conscious.tv and we had a good connection and I really enjoyed doing the interview and he invited me to a silent retreat and we’re coming up to the end of that retreat now, it’s the last day. We’ve actually worked very hard in terms of… it’s been an early start, 6.30 for meditation every day and we’ve meditated for maybe five hours a day and done some Chi Kung. Certainly, it has brought everybody, including me, into a much deeper place in themselves and so I’m going to chat to Burgs about some of the things that have come up for me during the retreat and just get his ideas and his wisdom on the wider picture that he explains very well – for me anyway.
So Burgs, as I’ve sat, and I’ve gone inside, and I’ve listened to you, I realize the depth that I am identified with myself… is so deep. I kind of know the theory very well and I know parts of myself and I know I am not them – but the identification [is so deep] and you were talking earlier today about how, that it’s in the body as well, the identification.
Burgs: Yes, yes, not just how deeply identified with ourselves [we are], but how completely we’re experiencing this self in every moment. Almost to the point where the primacy of our experience is our sense of self within it, rather than the actual experience itself. So it’s like, there I am at the forefront of my experience rather than the experience itself. So often our experience is lost to us. The phrase that I use, “So smothered with self” that we almost lose the experience that we are part of. Yes, as you said, that between the top of our head and the soles of our feet, we are literally full of ourselves. We are full of self. So not just by way of identifying with the idea that this body is me, which is the obvious way of seeing it, but the fact that this body really - and when I say body I don’t just mean the physical body, I mean all five aggregates of our being - including our mind, they are just expressions of our idea of our self and the behaviour and mental states that those have prompted. This body that we’re sitting here now is a record of what we have done in the past, all of which was prompted by our idea of our self.
Iain: Explain that with some examples, so when you say: “It’s a record of what we did in the past” how can we see that physically in our body?
Burgs: The thing is, you may not physically see all of it, but you certainly will start to see, or you will start to experience some of it physically within you because this body, apart from being produced by the nutriment that we eat and the breath that we breathe in and out, is vitalized by the consciousness that moves through us twenty four hours of every single day. In fact whilst we eat some things some times and other things other times, this mind is arising all the time and the qualities with which that mind arises, is conditioning the qualities with which this life expresses itself within us.
Iain: A lot of people realize to some extent that they are what they eat, their body is what they are eating, so what you are saying is even more important: what the mind is doing, what we are thinking is also influencing the body.
Burgs: These two aspects of mind: you are what you think, as in “I think I’m a banana” – that won’t make you a banana – but the charge behind your ideas is vitalizing your body, that’s what I mean. And you are how you react. You are what you react to, as in - I react full of aversion, or intolerance, or impatience to what’s going on around me – and my body becomes unstable, my body becomes intolerant. I am patient, I’m equanimous, I’m methodical, I’m organized and the energy in my body becomes organized and settled. So they say, “If you want to know where you’ve been, look at the body, it will tell you.” If you want to know where you are going, look at your mind and what’s prompting you to act because those are the seeds that will fruit in what happens to you in the future.
Iain: And it’s easy to see in some cases when you see someone that’s very nervous, always moving their feet and they can’t sit still, you realize they have – let’s put it nicely, a very lively mind…
Burgs: [laughs] Yes, let’s put it politely, yes.
Iain: I can see that as a very obvious example in somebody who is very calm, their body is going to be, as you say, stable and they are going to be much more centred in what they are doing, more measured in how they are making decisions in life.
Burgs: Both more measured in the way in which they behave, but actually, more settled within their experience, because this body is the vehicle through which we interface, physically, our experience. So whatever is going on consciously, the deeply embodied felt sense of what we’re experiencing, appears through the subtle energetics of this body. So somebody who, as you say, has a restless mind, or we might say, or you say as a lively mind…
Iain: …or driven…
Burgs: …or I might say has a very restless mind, when the mind is constantly flittering this way and that, constantly seeking distraction, rather than settling within itself. The innate intelligence of this body which is governed by just awareness, not the active mind, is constantly being bombarded by what our mind is doing which is why, we have to spend eight hours or so unconscious! Because that’s the only time our body gets a rest from what our mind is doing to us. So this erratic, or volatile, or unstable, or restless mind plays havoc with the body, but the problem there becomes that once the body becomes unstable and is constantly shaking, not just at a physical level, but at a subtle energetic level, then we are experiencing the affliction of that and that feeds back to make our mind thus unstable, right in the here and now. So we see how our past habit patterns of instability in the mind, produce present instability in the body which prompts a renewal of that instability in our mind right now. It’s a vicious cycle. Our past conditioning our present, our present being the cause for what outcome we meet in the future.
Iain: Yes. So this thing that you were saying about how our mind is now, shows us how our future will be.
Burgs: Yes, now of course there’s quite a lot in that statement, but the way that we meet our current experience, the way that we land that experience… let’s say that we just take it into our memory, which is our cellular memory, our energetic memory within us as well as at a consciousness level, but that impulse - whether that causes us to be disturbed, whether we are disturbed by it, or whether we are undisturbed by our experience - then becomes a tendency which will condition the way in which we meet our future. Are you with me?
Iain: Yes, it’s getting pretty obvious that the key is how we deal with things that are arising because challenges are always there for us and there’s always, I know for myself, there are so many historical patterns and experiences that want to influence how I respond, or react to something that happens. So what we’re getting now then is the detail of how we can possibly change our outcome and not just perpetuate the past. Just give us some clues about, or some insight about how we actually, to use your word, stabilize ourselves.
Burgs: How we stabilize ourselves… yes, of course. Well, as you say, knowing that I shouldn’t be impatient, doesn’t stop us feeling impatient and becoming impatient, because what does impatience start with? What does it start with? It starts with a feeling that we feel agitated and all of a sudden...”No, I can’t hang around here anymore.”
Iain: Doesn’t it start with a thought? Because… I’m so much better than I used to be, but one thing I still get caught sometimes is when I’m a bit late for a meeting, I’m sitting in the car, the traffic is very slow and my experience is, I think, that it starts with the thought “I don’t want to be late.” But what you’re saying is, it’s actually in the body, and the body is influencing…
Burgs: It starts with a feeling.
Iain: It starts with a feeling, ok…
Burgs: The feeling of agitation that comes up within us which we don’t normally recognize, but what’s happening is we’re feeling agitated, it feels uncomfortable, we’re literally shaking.
Iain: And that triggers the thought?
Burgs: That triggers the renewed impatience in the mind, the idea is triggered, the reaction to our experience is triggered by how it’s made us feel. So this feedback loop of conditioning, if you wait and just observe what your reaction is, how can you cut that off? It’s already happened, I’m already feeling angry, I’m already feeling frustrated, I’m already feeling craving for something. And you can tell yourself as long as you like that I oughtn’t to be, but the next time it comes around, you’re sitting in the traffic, you haven’t got quite enough time, you’re going to start getting overwhelmed with frustration not because you don’t know that it would be good for you to not be like that, but because the feeling that is triggered by the old stock of how you reacted last time, comes up again. And you’re feeling agitated and then the mind follows on from the feeling. The point being that while we try and tell ourselves to stop being the way we are we can’t, but when we start to sit and pay attention to how we are actually feeling and instead of reacting all the time to what doesn’t feel pleasant within us, just sit to be with it, to the point where we realize, “Ok, it’s just a feeling, it’s not going to last forever”, eventually our capacity to be with our experience which is, “I feel a bit unsettled right now”, deepens to the point where it doesn’t necessarily trigger in us the reaction which has been habitual for however long. This is the way we let go the bad reactions from our memory, so that we become more settled in the present.
Iain: But this requires real discipline doesn’t it? We have to say to ourselves that I am not going to go into the old pattern; I am going to stay with the feeling and see what is actually there, underneath where the actual feeling is.
Burgs: Yes, it develops, it requires patience, which it may well be that impatience is one of the causes for our mind being so unstable and you know, it doesn’t feel particularly comfortable when we first sit, for example, and our initial tendency was, “Why am I going to sit here? It’s just aches and pains!” The point is that while your spirit is settling, your awareness is settling you have to go through the disturbances that are in the way. So if you [Burgs twitches] every time you feel the slightest discomfort you’ll never experience being settled. So just sit patiently and as you allow the feeling to be with you, gradually your reaction to it passes, your aversion to the unpleasant is gone, and then gradually - because the unpleasant itself was caused by the aversion energy of the mind - slowly the unpleasant feeling itself goes. So the first thing that’s let go is the bad reaction in the memory, then gradually over time the unpleasant feeling itself will be gone. And now we’re not suffering from it anymore.
Iain: And then the next time or hopefully after a bit of time - it happens a few times, we do the same process, we don’t get caught in this ongoing vicious cycle.
Burgs: Yes, now of course, right at the heart of this vicious cycle, is the sense that it’s me. The identification with me and what I [like] …don’t like.
So the sense of me being right at the forefront of my experiences is really the root of this proliferation of these habit patterns of what I want, what I don’t want, I can’t bear having what I don’t want, I can’t bear not having what I want and all the other things that sabotage our best efforts to be at peace with ourselves.
Iain: Well, the levels, as I say at the beginning, the levels of identification, the different ways we see ourselves as me, or we think that we are me, they just seem to be endless and they seem to be… in a way there’s certain obvious things and we can see that yes we like to think, “I am somebody and I do this, I’m married to so-and-so and I live there…” and they are very obvious, but it’s these more subtle ones that kind of catch us, because they’re the ones that we don’t first of all know how to deal with, and don’t always even recognize.
Burgs: The one that we most often don’t recognize is pride. Pride is in a way the most insipid aspect of ourselves, because it is that deeply embedded tendency to compare ourselves to others. Whether we are comparing ourselves to others as better, same or worse, this is all pride. Or whether we are comparing our self to our idea of self, as better, same or worse – that comparison is so often at the root of why we find what we’re experiencing unsatisfactory, because we’ve got a sense of expectation about what we think it ought to be. And that comparison, or that pride is really at the root of us not being able to accept and be with things as they are. Now it’s interesting because in a way, we also subscribe to the views that suit us and they formulate - you know our ideas and the views we subscribe to - formulate a huge aspect of our sense of self. So we might subscribe to a view of no- self, because it suits us. It would be very convenient, this idea, that this afflicted self I am experiencing, is just an idea, what a relief! And so we subscribe to the view. But that doesn’t mean that we are freed from the experience of ourselves with all our tendencies and unreasonableness, right at the centre of our experience. We actually have to work hard to free ourselves of our conditioning. Freeing ourselves of our views is actually only a step along the way of really freeing ourselves.
Iain: You’ve got me thinking on a slightly different tack which I think is also very interesting and very important, there are quite a few people that certainly we’ve met on conscious.tv who have said there is no-self there, something happened and the self is gone. And I don’t feel, being with them, that it’s a complete illusion; it’s something that’s happened to them and they’ve reached a certain understanding, or experience, but I think what you’re saying is: that in itself, can still be a trap and the idea that’s saying, “Well the self left. There’s no-self there”, there’s an identification with having a no-self.
Burgs: Well, I don’t know if you remember at the beginning of the course when I said, [when] I voiced the caution that needs to be upheld with regards to teachings like this. I said there is an old saying that says that “Teaching should not be whispered downwind of one who is not mature enough to fully grasp them” because at one level, we could adopt the idea or the view that there is no-self to negate any sense of responsibility for ourselves, which is actually a very dangerous thing. The idea that everything is empty, there’s no-self there, what I do is empty and has no effect, now that has to be handled extremely carefully. The idea – and it’s certainly the case that many of us have these experiences that are beyond self – no-self is perhaps a little more misleading. But the experience for a moment of being beyond a sense of self, and that can happen in a number of ways; it happens to most people once they start meditating, once they spot that stream of awareness in the background, they see their mind arising within that, they realise the mind is actually illusory and the arising of this momentary mind is the cause for the perception of self, it’s an illusion. So we see that, we have the experience momentarily of being free from self. And it can happen through a traumatic event, it can happen a number of ways. Some people have the same experience through taking drugs, but the point is this mind continues to momentarily arise within this free of self aspect of pure awareness, it’s not until we have broken our tendency to continue to come back and identify with this, finally, that this mind of ours truly stops being the cause of suffering and this mind of ours truly stops being our sense of self because our mind is nothing more than my ideas of self.
Iain: But what’s actually driving the mind?
Burgs: You mean what’s prompting the mind to arise?
Iain: What’s perpetuating the mind?
Burgs: Our attachment.
Iain: Yes, but at the core of it, is there anything there? Or is it just a programme?
Burgs: No, the mind itself, mental states, that arise within us, they are all conditioned, they’re prompted. So they are the effects of causes.
Iain: That we’ve learnt over our life?
Burgs: Not necessarily consciously learnt. Conditioning is governing us at much deeper than conscious level, but the point is, the mind still needs to be prompted and what causes its prompting is attachment to what it is. Beyond the seeing, or the smelling, or the feeling of what it is that we experience, it is our attachment to and identification with that, that prompts the elaboration of the mind to arise, to seek to either add to, or take something from the experience itself, rather than to just rest with the experience as it is, and to be with it, and to find that the experience is enough. So the sense that the experience needs me to add something to it, or take something out of it to make it complete, is really at the root of the proliferation of the mind – and what’s that sense? That’s the sense that ‘I’ have to be at the centre of this experience to make it meaningful.
Iain: You see, the thing that I don’t quite get, is the mind just a free floating, self-perpetuating which is kept together by prompting and attachment, or is it actually somehow related to something bigger, another aspect of who we are?
Burgs: This aspect of awareness that we have been introduced to on this retreat, that we started to develop a deeper relationship to through our meditation which we call, and then start to recognize the basic ground of our Being, does not contain within it any sense of me at all. So we might get a glimpse of it, but whether we really recognise that that’s the basic ground of our Being that could be some way away, because what are we actually experiencing? We’re actually experiencing, even when I spot that pure, undisturbed basic space of awareness, I’m also spotting it, “There I am!” There’s a sense of me as experiencing this Non-dual sense of, or the basis for my Non-dual experience. So the mind continues to proliferate. Even at that point it might say, “Goodness me, look at that, there was an experience in which I momentarily wasn’t there! How wonderful is that, truly there’s no self.” And the idea of self, or no-self, now gets placed by the mind up into our mandala of ideas as part of our way of seeing the world, but the bottom line is that the real truth is how we are experiencing the world. So the experience of no-self, whilst it may have momentarily happened there, does not consistently and continuously happen until we gradually bring these momentary arising, these habit patterns of momentary arising mental states which give the sense of me to my experience, till they come to cessation. Now that, that’s quite a job. The teaching that we had this week, which was to rest effortlessly within - when I say within yourself, obviously I’m not meaning self - I’m saying rest effortlessly within the basic state of awareness and leave everything as it is. It’s that leaving everything as it is, that means the non-arising of that mind that brings with it the sense of me at the centre of my experience.
Iain: But the thing is, on a retreat like this, if you leave everything as it is, you get actually a lot of arising, you may sometimes get a non-arising, but there’s a lot of arising as well.
Burgs: It appears to be because you’re leaving it as it is, but that which is arising to disturb you is actually because you couldn’t really leave it as it is. If you watch carefully, whatever arises within you that looks like a trigger from your memory, that’s disturbing you, be it your frustration or your agitation or you think, “Burgs is talking nonsense I’m done with this I’m going to try something else” it’s actually arising because you couldn’t leave that moment alone, i.e. you became disturbed by it. Even if it’s something as simple as sitting there with nothing to do but be with yourself, we become disturbed by it. So in truth when we do learn to leave it alone we are undisturbed and it’s actually not until we leave our experience utterly alone with the mind that we start to enter deeply enough into it to actually see, rather than try to understand, what’s actually going on here. Because most of what’s governing this life is hidden from us in our normal way of attention and it takes tremendous stability of attention and subtlety of perception to perceive directly what is really going on. It appears to be a complete mystery even with all the powers of science that we’ve got behind us right now.
Iain: You see the clues, there are many, many clues always there and with our attention there’s only so much effort we can give to certain clues, at certain times.
Burgs: Well that’s the thing. You see what we’ve done is because of our inability to pay attention; we’re left slightly confused by what’s going on. So because the completeness of things doesn’t reveal itself to our current way of attention, what else can we do but try to fill the gap through understanding, as in trying to understand it, so the mind therefore becomes this inevitable process of elaboration that is our best efforts to make sense of what we are experiencing, you know. So we lean upon our best efforts to make sense of it, which is our mind, rather than leave it alone and learn to pay more and more attention to it so that more of it, or so that it reveals itself in more completeness. The experience is complete. There is nothing lacking there, it’s only our ability to truly enter into it that is lacking.
Iain: And one of the advantages of being on a retreat like this is we have the time, we take the time, to slow down, we meditate a lot. Basic things are provided, the food and everything else is provided, there’s a structure, so then we are able to put the attention back here and then when something arises we have the support system if you like just to observe and to look - and to understand as well, to some extent.
Burgs: Once you’ve settled and got over the restlessness of the mind and the laziness or the sort of dullness in the mind, once the mind starts to become clear and settled, we have a space in which to enter into our experience more completely which we don’t give ourselves normally. You know this mind that we are, this experience, the vehicle, the lens that we’re looking through at the moment, the way that we are engaging in our life is such a poor reflection of our deeper capacity to enter into life, but we don’t stay with our experience long enough, or deeply enough to enter into it. So it’s like… if you were to look at life through a magnifying glass, it would appear to be still somewhat baffling, you turn it into a microscope, you’re going to get a better clue. Now it’s not about looking microscopically into things but it’s a similar analogy. As your ability to pay more attention develops, more of the mystery turns itself into a direct experience and that’s what we call Knowing. And the mind has no role to play in the Knowing because the mind has a role to play in the not knowing and the trying to make sense of it. So what happens is a new faculty - well it’s not a new faculty, a faculty that’s been running in the background your whole life which has always experienced everything in its entirety - starts gradually in stages to become our reference point and not only that, our ability to sustain attention there matures. That which has always been experiencing everything, gradually, in stages starts to reveal more and more to us, of what it is that we are actually engaged in and our mind now starts to become cooler. You remember –the mind doesn’t just happen, we’ve all said we want to stop our minds sometimes but we can’t. But the mind is constantly running on because it hasn’t reached a resolution, it’s looking for a resolution it hasn’t got there it can’t stop till it finds it. As the resolution reveals itself within the experience, the mind just cools down on its own. So it’s just a question of learning to pay attention and wait.
Iain: Do you feel this is a natural process?
Burgs: I’m not sure that it inevitably happens in people. I think, quite often we become so frustrated and tired of our minds and eventually tired of this idea of ourselves that we look for resolution somewhere else and it may come to us, “Well hold on. What about if I was to learn to start paying attention?” But I don’t think it’s an automatic process. I think it happens at some point to some of us when I suppose… when we’ve had enough of trying to work it out in our mind. You know some of us tire quickly of all of that, some of us don’t. You know, we are very intoxicated with the idea of our self and we will go through no end of suffering on account of that intoxication. There’s a point at which that suffering, that intoxication, is not sufficient to justify within us the suffering that it brings. And that’s the point at which I think it starts to turn itself around. And actually in some ways it’s talked about as a sort of an awakening, as if it was discovering something that’s out there, but actually it’s always been working that way within us, we’ve just lost sight of it. So in a way I often talk about it as the return journey, like a journey home to the basic ground of your Being.
Iain: I think for many people - and it may even be desperation in some cases - they realise you get more and more on the outside, or you try and get more and more and you realise, ok, it works for a time, and you feel a peak experience every now and again, “Oh I’ve got this…” or “I haven’t got this…” and then you realise there’s no resolution that way.
Burgs: You’re never finally satisfied.
Iain: Well, you might be temporarily and then the old feeling comes back and you think “There must be another place to look.” It’s almost like you go down, and then you finally hit a dead end and then you turn around and come back, then something slowly starts to open - another way of looking at things.
Burgs: Yes, it’s like… how many rabbit holes do we have to go down before we realise they are just rabbit holes? It’s not until we come out of the rabbit hole that we realise, “Ah… at the surface, they all come from the same space.” Do you understand? So we chase our tail down any number of routes. And there are two things that tend to be the cause for us turning away from that pursuit through self: one, is that we become utterly – like you say, we experience a state of despair. Or two, that we simply tire of it, we become weary of it. And so one is a gradual turning away and the other is a crisis that sort of “I can’t go there, I can’t be there anymore, I can’t do that anymore, this has to stop.” But there is still the period in which we have to integrate this process of turning around and you know, long after we’ve recognized that this mind is affliction, ideas of self are the affliction, we still have to disentangle ourselves from them and they have tremendous momentum, life times of momentum, they don’t just suddenly fall away just because we wake up and see that “That was an illusion.” That’s what Grace is, and it takes tremendous patience and humility and courage to gradually extract ourselves deeply, at a causal level, from the things that are conditioning us.
Iain: We were talking earlier, about [the fact that] in society we’re moving the other way, towards instant gratification and we’ve lost the art of somehow making a commitment, staying with something and seeing it through. People haven’t got the patience for that anymore.
Burgs: Well, they haven’t got the patience for it anymore because the way that we are using our minds now is so broken, so fleeting. Our capacity to pay attention to anything is breaking down because we are constantly stimulated by bits of information that we just snapshot and move on and snapshot and move on. We don’t imbibe the essence of our experiences anymore. Firstly our ability to pay attention is breaking down and secondly our actual capacity to connect to source, or consciousness, or spirit, or whatever you want to call it – that which connects us to all things - is also breaking down. So at a subtle energetic level, the interface between us and what we’re experiencing that actually connect us to it is being broken by the violation to it, through the grossness of what we’re engaging in. All these electrical fields, as well as the erratic behaviour of the mind, everything is so unstable now that this extremely delicate operating system or software system that interfaces between this Being and everything else is just breaking apart. So now even to be able to feel that connection that we used to, even without being trained in any meditation at all, when we were a kid we could feel it, we could sense it. As we grew up we became moved by it at different levels, [now] all of that is gradually breaking. We’re in crisis at two levels: One, the way we are prone to use our minds habitually now is utterly opposed to being able to really pay attention. Secondly, the way that we actually truly connect - which is not through our ideas - we’re connected through the fact that we’re all sharing the same experience of being alive within the same vast field which is Life itself. At that level we are losing the connection so we are in a very difficult state. Difficult stage where, as you say, quite often it’s a crisis, “I feel so overwhelmed by it, something’s got to give.” But then we’ve got all the repair work to do to really re-establish that connection.
Iain: We’re actually losing our sensitivity, aren’t we? That’s what it comes down to, to a large degree. We don’t feel as we used to feel, we don’t see as we used to see, we’re just not in touch with the environment as we used to be.
Burgs: We’re so versed, we’ve never been so educated spiritually, but we just don’t feel at the level that we used to. You know, I‘m a meditator, I’ve been meditating for twenty years now, more, but I know, and I’ve been meditating, and I know how to look after this software system. I can see that ten years ago the ease with which I could feel the nuance in the environment around me, empathy, the depth of what I was experiencing from the people that I was with… it’s still there ,but it’s not as subtle as it was. And yet I’m meditating, I’m maintaining my faculty of direct perception. It’s breaking apart because the environments which we live in are so violent to us, energetically. So I have to work hard to maintain the real subtlety that makes the experience exquisite and it’s because we’ve lost that exquisite part of the experience through being desensitized that we need more and more to stimulate us.
Iain: Ok, let’s look at this… “Making the experience exquisite.” It has got different meanings to different people, but for me, if I look at that phrase, I start to slow down, I start to become more aware, I start to realise the effort that’s gone into creating a background for this interview. I start to become appreciative, I start to open and that’s in a way what needs to happen, we need to open.
Burgs: Exactly, because our openness to our experience is what exposes us to all the subtle texture that, as I said, makes it exquisite. When you are really attuned to what’s going on, life is utterly exquisite, it’s extraordinary, everywhere you look it’s extraordinary. It’s far more extraordinary than it just looks, do you understand? The real depth of it comes from how we feel when we enter into it and that’s what makes it exquisite and that capacity to feel what we are a part of, is the bit that we are losing in stages. And of course the other thing is that it’s understandable that we wouldn’t want to feel as deeply as we might have done because we are in an environment, so much of the time, where it isn’t exquisite. Being in an office that is shaking with electrical fields all the time, it stings to feel at that level, so of course we are retreating. So many things are happening to us that are bringing about this loss of connection to the exquisite, or the bit that makes it really moving.
Iain: Yes and one of the things you mentioned yesterday, which certainly connected with me was, that we take on too much in life. We’re too busy. Sometimes that’s a necessity, especially for periods, one has to be very busy, but we’ve somehow lost the art of slowing down and just taking time for ourselves. When I say ourselves, I don’t mean our selves, but just the wide picture of our self.
Burgs: Just to Be. Yes, because we‘ve crowded out our time. Now, two reasons for this. One is the fact [that] we have so many opportunities, everything is so extraordinary, the things we can have. We’re pursuing so much and we have the freedom to pursue everything we want, so we want as much as we can cram into our life. So first of all we are pulling too much into it to actually really enter into and appreciate any of it properly. The other thing is, because we feel so unsettled, if we did have the space, we need distraction to draw us out of how it actually feels. So the point is, one thing is to create the space buy bringing less into our life so that we have more space to enter into things; but the other thing is to settle ourselves enough, so that we can actually enjoy being there in the experience. All the stress and agitation and tension that we feel, the shaking in the heart and the tension in our nerves from being constantly over stimulated, means that we constantly need to be distracted from this feeling. And this is what’s happening with all the ADHD that young kids are developing, they can’t just be with themselves because they feel so disturbed.
Iain: Yes, and also their parents are probably very busy, they probably both have jobs and are getting stressed out at times. The kids aren’t learning from their parents to live in a responsible and open way. They are just perpetuating the patterns of their parents aren’t they?
Burgs: We are all so, so stimulated… I mean if you think, the human mechanism, the speed at which it’s had to adapt to the level that we are stimulated now, even ten years ago we were much less stimulated then, than we are now. And fifty years ago?
Iain: There’s no comparison.
Burgs: There’s no comparison. So the way our nervous system has had to adapt to the impulses that it’s exposed to, the stimulation that it’s exposed to, it can only cope by not paying attention. Are you with me? So this is why it’s a vicious cycle that folds in on itself. And you know, it can be quite uncomfortable the process of working ourselves out of that cycle to the point where we can really start to pay attention again and be really present within ourselves.
Iain: I remember a conversation we were having earlier today with someone on the retreat who was a monk for several years and he was saying - which I thought was quite fascinating - that he gets so much from just sitting on his cushion and meditating, he doesn’t understand all the attraction and drama of the outside world. Well, that’s one view and I can understand his view, but for so many of us we are somehow so hooked in to the dramas, it’s not so easy to have a clear space to see that life could be so simple and yet so rich and so satisfying.
I think we have about ten minutes left, so for people who are watching this, obviously some will already know about you and your retreats, but let’s say it’s ordinary people who aren’t necessarily that aware of meditation or living a conscious life, what are the initial steps that someone should take? What are the clues they should look for in their own life, their own path to find some kind of satisfaction and depth in their life?
Burgs: I think first of all we should look at the children because they are the future. What I would say to all the parents out there who are watching this in their children, this inability to settle, this constant restlessness, is try to encourage them to do things that really take concentration. Things that they have to engage in that don’t instantly bring a reward, because what’s happened is we are so locked now into the desire / reward. Seeking / reward, seeking / reward and getting the reward so quickly that we can’t bear not having the reward now. Really the depth of our experience most of the time is not going to come from the reward. It comes from being with the ordinary moment where the only reward is being there. Try to encourage, not just your children, but try to engage yourselves in things that take time to complete, and see if you can spot what happens to you when you find yourself deeply absorbed in just doing something. Whether it is making an Airfix model or painting a picture, whatever it is, see if you can see that the really moving part of the experience is when you are so absorbed with it that for a moment you lose all sense of yourself.
Iain: You lose all sense of yourself...
Burgs: Because you’re so present with what you are doing, the mind has dropped away completely and there is nothing but the doing of what you are doing. And that‘s when we start to connect back to the heart. So, for the kids, things like building things, making things, games that don’t get finished in five minutes, get them absorbed in what they are doing again, rather than just stimulated by what they are doing. That’s for all of us, because at the end of the day, it’s not about sitting cross legged on a cushion with your eyes closed. The point is, that if you can be utterly, utterly satisfied just being with yourself with nothing going on, then that becomes the cause for the arising of joy within you and everything else you do out there is a gift. By all means do it, enter utterly into it and you will learn to appreciate it when it’s there, but you won’t miss it when it’s not. So what I would say, even if it absolutely comes to you to learn to meditate, putting forth the effort - which is hard at the beginning, even if you don’t do that - find things to do in your life that engage you completely for sustained periods so that our ability to be there, just be there, starts to return.
Iain: You see it’s ironical when you say, “Utterly being yourself,” when you’re utterly being yourself, in effect…
Burgs: All sense of self is gone.
Iain: Exactly, that’s a dilemma isn’t it?
Burgs: Yes, it’s just the doing, it’s the being. It’s complete when you turn up for it. Anything is complete, everything. Whether you’re cooking a dish, or painting a masterpiece, or making a bed, the coolness that comes upon you when you just engage utterly in that and let everything else fall away. You’ll realise that you don’t need anything more than what’s before you right now, whatever it is.
Iain: One of the things I enjoyed you telling me when we were chatting earlier was that every year you say to yourself you are going to find a new hobby in the winter, something you haven’t done before. You mentioned you got and old motorcycle that you’re gradually rebuilding just for the art of doing it and learning something you haven’t done before and the engagement that brings you, the pleasure that brings you, just for doing it, not for ultimately selling the bike or anything else.
Burgs: No not at all. I mean, every winter I’ll reflect upon, “What would it be nice to do that you haven’t done before?” Not an experience I want, but something to actually engage in and last year I learned to play the Armenian Duduk. A couple of years before that, I learned to strip down and put a motor cycle back together. Things that I didn’t know, that I had to really apply myself and absorb myself in and the doing of it being the point. Knowing that it wasn’t going to be done tomorrow, or the next day, or the next day and that if I kept my eyes on the end I was only going to get frustrated. So we lose sight of the end. We lost sight of the goal or any sense of the reward that comes from completion and we immerse ourselves utterly in the simple doing of it. Making Airfix models – we were in Wales for a month in the spring and we found this classic old toy shop with all these old Airfix models and three of us, we bought these Airfix models and we spent a week doing this thing I hadn’t done since I was a kid. Such fun! And of course it’s of no purpose when it’s finished. It’s just the doing of it. So, yes, it’s not about sitting on your cushion, it’s about finding a stillness within yourself that means you are able to enter into everything, whatever it is you choose to do.
Iain: So this word stillness. We think traditionally the word stillness means everything stops and we’re just listening or whatever, but you’re using it in a context where actually you can be active, but you still feel stillness.
Burgs: That stillness comes when you are utterly immersed in what you are doing that your mind is not arising to disturb what? The stillness of your heart. We say that if you want to know stillness, move until you’re unmoved by it, are you with me? So the stillness is just being there, it’s the mind that becomes still and stops disturbing you. You are still fully engaged, riding a motorbike down a mountain road, the noise of the engine, the wind, it’s extremely noisy and yet there’s utter stillness in that moment of complete absorption. It’s the same stillness when you sit down quietly to play the Duduk. Behind the music, utter stillness. Or when you’re polishing an engine case, or painting the wing of a plastic aeroplane: undisturbed by what you are doing, but deeply immersed in it.
Iain: And is that stillness always there with you?
Burgs: Right up until the point I get vexed by everybody’s questions. [laughing] Yes, it’s mostly there, it’s not often not there now. There are times when there are just lots of things to do. I try to avoid having too much to do, but occasionally… But the thing is not being disturbed by the fact that there are disturbances. Even then, there’s a stillness. Don’t expect to be undisturbed all the time; just learn not to be disturbed by being disturbed.
Iain: Ok Burgs, I think that’s a great place to finish. I really appreciate not only the retreat, but also you taking the time to do this interview with me.
Burgs: I’m delighted that you came and delighted that you enjoyed yourself.
Iain: And thank you everyone for watching conscious.tv again, this special outside broadcast here at Burg’s retreat and I hope we see you again soon. Good bye.
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