A re-creation of the talk I gave this morning:
Practice is like peeling an onion. We peel away one layer and then there's another one and another one. As we sit quietly, one thing and then another arises to awareness. We meet one thing with an open heart and mindfulness, it passes away and something else comes asking for attention.
Peeling an onion is usually not a pleasant experience. Our eyes often sting and there may be tears. Similarly, in practice as we sit quietly the mind or heart often gets stuck on something—a sensation, a thought, a memory—that is not so pleasant. Then the question is, how do we deal with this? How do we deal with the stinging eyes? How do we deal with this unpleasant visitor? This unpleasantness, whether the onion's effects or the visitor to our peaceful meditation, is what our life is in this moment. Are we able to just be this life? Or is there some resistance to it? Can we just meet it with an open heart and with clear seeing and knowing and then letting it go?
When we peel an onion layer by layer to its core, we find that at its center it is empty. It was simply layers grouped together. As we open to the visitors that come to our hearts and minds both on and off the cushion, we come to see that they too are lacking in any enduring core. They were just a set of conditions that came together in a particular way to create the unpleasantness we found.
After we've peeled layers from the onion we can use them to create something that is delicious. Something that brings us some moments of sensual happiness. When we meet, with mindfulness, acceptance, friendliness and courage, the unpleasantness that arrives in meditation, when we open fully to it, when we become intimate with it, it passes on through. And often one of the results is that our spirits are lightened, our hearts feel more open and our minds are more peaceful.