Sep 28

Sky-Gazing Meditation

Long time Tara Mandala resident Clinton Spence offers a blog post on his experience first learning Prajñaparamita

What does a Zen monk and an Astrologer have to do with Prajñaparamita?

These were two people I bonded with during my first retreat experience at Tara Mandala in August 2015. We also shared an early morning hike together on the last morning of retreat. While we rested on the mountain peak, with nothing but space around us, I really felt grounded in “emptiness”.

Early on in our retreat I frequently heard my two new friends talking about “sky-gazing”, a meditation we would be learning. It fascinated me. About three days into retreat Lopön Chandra taught us Prajñaparamita, a meditation that allowed one to experience the space that is “neither this nor that”, while resting our gaze upon the sky. Two elements that definitely appealed to a Zen monk and an Astrologer!

As a musician myself, Prajñaparamita felt like orchestrating the cosmos. The repetition of the simple meditation instructions I had been given was like the swelling of sounds: Turn, Watch, and Release. That is, as thoughts arise, turn them back into my awareness, notice what happens, and release them into space. Initially, it felt quite coarse, but over time quite free-floating. Just like the ever-changing sky that I rested my gaze on.

To gaze at the sky always makes me think of being a child, with infinite curiosities. With Prajñaparamita, we embody the Great Mother, which creates for me an additional presence that “watches over”. So there is both. I can watch over my playful children that are my thoughts, fully engaging in their playfulness, with joy and support. They are born from this space. And I can release them knowing that they eventually return to this space.

After only a few days of Prajñaparamita meditation I had glimpses into the short life span of thoughts, even as they were happening. Because we repeat something, we perfect something. Thus during walking, talking, or even within my mumbling inner dialogue, I saw the pattern. It was so simple. And as with the practice, repeatedly releasing arising thoughts became very soothing and calming.

There is a certain point in the meditation that always takes me by surprise, yet for me grounds the experience deeply. We begin slowly vocalizing a string of long drawn out sounds. After having rested in meditation for some time, for me it feels like it is being born out of emptiness. The sounds have a golden warmth to them, like the rising of the sun. They fill the space with sound, expanding out further and further. And the meaning of these sounds actually means to go beyond, to go beyond further, and to go beyond fully:


So now I was a legit “sky gazer”. On that last morning with my two friends, after gazing into space, I looked out across the land and noticed a bear in the distance. Today, it makes me think that we can be strong, protective, and warm, like a mama bear. We can offer that ground to those near and far. And we can always find each other by gazing up somewhere into the sky.

Learn about “sky-gazing” and receive this precious Prajñaparamita practice in the October 7-8 weekend virtual retreat The Great Wisdom Mother, Prajñaparamita: A Transmission and Teaching on the Nature of Mind Practice with Lopön Polly Ryan, MA, MFT. This will be a heart and mind-opening experience, giving us a valuable method in releasing ourselves to the greater expanse of reality. Click here to register.

Photos by Clinton Spence, during his morning hike on the last day of retreat. Header Photo by Bodhi Stroupe.
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