Ango Week 5: Continuing Returning to Our Senses, and Beginning to Contemplate Conditioning

October 23, 2022

A weekly message from teachers Sarah Dōjin Emerson and Charlie Korin Pokorny in support of the 2022 Fall Practice Period.

A long loving look at the real…

from The Inner Work of Racial Justice by Rhonda Magee

Image: Buddha Eyes on Swayambhunath Stupa-Kathmandu

This week, we wanted to offer to continue grounding awareness in the senses, since there are a number of them and so many ways to attune. We will also add some contemplations of and possible practices for attuning to the sense gate of sight. Acknowledging that not everyone has sight through their eyes, or has sight in equal measure, we all have ways of “seeing” and our dominant or preferred habits of perceiving the world.

Sight is a powerful sense-gate, and even an energetic experience. From Sarah: when I was a child I had a game I liked to play where I would lie in bed in the morning and close my eyes and see if I could feel, in my body, when my parents were looking in at me. Pretty consistently, I had a sensation when they would look in, and if I opened my eyes right then, there they were looking at me. I am not sure that I shared this with anyone at the time, because I thought no one would believe me! But now I know this is a common experience for human beings. Have you ever been looking at someone, and they turn toward your gaze? Or vice versa, you look up and it’s because someone is looking at you? To some extent we have probably all developed a sense of how long we can look at someone before it sets off their I’m-being-looked-at radar. My guess is that this sensation probably has old roots as a protection against predation, a feeling people describe as the “hairs on my neck go up,” a feeling of being watched. I am sure there are interesting scientific explanations for this sensation, but for this week, just feel into this as a way to engage the potency of sight. It’s also interesting to consider that by most measures, the eyes are a visible part of the brain, and in that sense also very powerfully connected to brain and mind and awareness.


– Honoring what a powerful sense-gate sight is, this week experiment with what happens when you pour your full awareness into seeing, and see what happens. One way to do this is to spend some time really regarding something you technically “see” often, but don’t fully see with your whole presence. I recommend pigeons and house sparrows, or other birds with such ubiquitous presences some of us may not even fully register they are there. What happens if you spend a few minutes giving them your full-hearted, sight-centered regard? Or a plant or a tree in your daily life that you “see” but don’t fully see. What happens when you give it your full attention? Or the face of someone you see everyday? If the conditions are right (because many people get uncomfortable when being looked at for “too long”…see defense mechanism above!), if circumstances support fully regarding someone you see often, can you notice things you haven’t noticed before? What are other ways to infuse your sight with your full awareness? Can you be open to being surprised by noticing something new even while it may be very familiar?

– Read/ listen to, or revisit if you have before: The Inner Work of Racial Justice by Rhonda Magee and My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menalem. Both books offer embodied somatic practices every chapter or section for grounding awareness and mindful attention in the body and investigating our experience as racialized beings in the Dharma of mindful attention.

This week we also want to introduce a new section to the weekly emails…

Investigating cultural and karmic conditioning

This week, and in the coming weeks, we want to offer a practice around inquiring into our conditioning around different concepts related to “Repose & Bliss, Engagement & Liberation.” We want to start off with a gentle, non-grasping inquiry into what have each of us have inherited around the concept of “work.”

When you can, take a few minutes to consider: What were you taught about work in your developing life? What it is and what it isn’t? Who taught you, implicitly and explicitly, about what work meant and how it was supposed to look? Who exemplified “work,” who “didn’t?” How valuable was work in your life and family? What messages were internalized and shaped you? Where did work fall in the hierarchies of values? For example, how valuable were activities considered “work” compared with “play,” compared with “family,” compared with “time for yourself”…compared with “vacation”?!

Considering all that, what’s your conception of work now, in your present life? What of your early conditioning still resonates? What doesn’t? Maybe talk this through with your Dharma buddy, or in dokusan, or with family members and loved ones who were a part of helping form what “work” meant in your early life. What are other people’s ideas about work? Where do they line up with yours, where do they not?

The idea here is not to get some right answers, but just to open a conversation within ourselves and with one another in sangha about our conditioning- to pull into a Dharma-infused inquiry: what we have inherited, culturally and karmically, around work? And to inquire into how all of this shapes and impacts us and our communities and our sangha; and how these conceptions align, or don’t, with our deepest values and heart request as Bodhisattva practitioners, and as human beings at this point in our lives.