A John began by instructing me to sit cross-legged on the ground, while he stuffed some straw just under the tip of my tailbone, but not too much - he cautioned that too much straw would surely cause my legs to fall sleep. Then he tucked my left heel between my legs and placed my right foot on top of my left calf while pushing both my knees down so that they remained on the ground, locking my legs in place and straightening my back into, what he said, was the correct posture for doing the inner work.

He then addressed Savaka, "Without the restraints of a physical body, you will, of course, be interested in only the mental aspects, which I will explain in detail later."

I glanced at my painful legs, wrapped up like a pretzel; I would never be able to stay in this position. Surprisingly, however, I remained steady for a few minutes before moving. A John reassured me that I would slowly get used to the position, and kindly suggested that I merely lay my legs out in front with my ankles crossed in whatever manner was comfortable for the time being.

"Now for the mental aspects," he said, as he lit a candle and placed it on a nearby rock. "The following procedures are for the king and his human body, and for you, Savaka, I will give you specialized information later." These instructions will suffice to move both of you very close to the key - if they are followed precisely."

He then looked at me and said, "Breathe through your nose and notice the air touching the inside of your nostrils or on the rim of your nose. Focus on the exact spot where you feel this. As your breath strikes this region, detect the sensation or feeling and remain focused on it. Pay undivided attention to this area and never move away from it. Do not create an image in your mind of the spot you are focusing on, focus on the actual area and the feeling, especially the feeling, of your breath touching it. Each time your breath comes in, establish the spot anew, and watch it as if for the first time."

I tried what a John suggested and could feel the area in my nose when inhaling, but lost it when I breathed out.

"Of course you can't feel it," said a John when I mentioned this. "The air has nothing to strike on the way out. You must establish the spot during the in-breath and then remember its location when you breathe out. Then re-establish it on the in-breath. Please try again. Oh, and two more things; I want you to stretch your neck up as you relax your shoulders, and tuck your chin in slightly, then breathe in normally when you inhale, but make your exhalation twice as long as your inhalation. Your strength and power to concentrate increases with the out breath."

He had me practice until I was able to remain concentrated on the spot. "You will be able to focus this way for just a short period of time," he continued, "before your untrained mind jumps around and begins thinking of many things. Sometimes you will become lost in thought for twenty minutes or more before you remember what it is you are supposed to be doing, which is concentrating on the feeling of your breath. Only then will you come back.

"This first stage of concentration involves applying attention. Here, you direct your mind to a certain concentration object, in this case the feeling of your breath in your nose, just as you would direct a hammer toward a bell and then you strike it. You strike the bell; you strike the object with your mind's attention. It rings for a while, which means that you maintain undivided attention on the object, and then the bell stops ringing, meaning that you lost your attention as your mind drifted here and there. Then you must strike it again repeatedly to reestablish your attention.

"Let me assure you that this back and forth is normal for someone new to the inner work. A beginner must constantly battle with his or her mind to remain concentrated, for you see, the mind is accustomed to daydreaming and entertaining itself with the past or future and is not at all interested in being restrained from this activity with the inner work. Therefore, it will be an on-going struggle to bring your mind back repeatedly to the spot in your nose.

"Remember these three important things: One: stay on the spot where your breath touches the inside of your nose, and if your attention strays, come back to it immediately. Two: always be completely ‘in the moment' and see everything as if for the first time. Three: watch the spot in your nose as you would watch a knife in the hand of an enemy, with the utmost attention."

A John then directed his attention to Savaka, "Because you are an immaterial being without senses of touch, taste or smell, you cannot use the feeling of the breath as a concentration point, you must use mental awareness by watching thoughts. Here you will see thoughts as merely passing phenomenon, as if you were perched in a tree watching water buffalo coming up the trail, passing below, and finally continuing down the trail until they are out of sight. Just as you would not jump from the tree onto the backs of these water buffalo, you should not let thoughts carry you away either. Simply watch each thought until it disappears on its own, always being cautious not to lose your awareness that you are watching each thought. Just being aware that a thought is present is usually enough to dissolve it. If you are not fully conscious of your thoughts, however, you will become caught up them and taken for a ride."

"What if I am so good at this that there are no thoughts?" she asked.

"Then be completely in each moment and concentrate on the blank screen of the mind where thoughts appear. Be very observant and watch carefully, however, for you must be always prepared to ambush the first thought that dares to appear. Be careful, because subtle thoughts are very clever. They hide. ‘I'm waiting to ambush a thought!" is a good example of a clever, subtle thought. Since they can become exceptionally fine and seemingly non-existent when they know they are being observed, you must try with great effort to discern these extremely refined and incredibly subtle levels of thought, for these are the subliminal undercurrents of your loud, everyday mind."

With the inner work, we become familiar with Reality. Reality is pure consciousness, and therefore Reality is really all of us. But the pure consciousness of Reality becomes muddied by our thoughts and emotions. Therefore, it's simply a matter of allowing that muddiness to settle, to transcend our various thoughts and emotions that make up our "selves." Then we become familiar with Reality, and with practice, we become that Reality of pure consciousness. Then the key reveals itself."

After he was certain that we both understood the instructions, he told us to begin practicing. Then he walked over to a nearby tree to begin his own inner work.

I gazed at the moon hanging in the mysterious sky. I could distinguish the "rabbit in the moon" that the villagers were always keen to point out with its head toward the top of the disc and its ears to the right. In the moons afterglow, I could see red ants scurrying on the grass, forming bridges with their bodies so that the rest of the colony could walk from leaf to leaf. My thoughts drifted back to those selfless beings that likewise formed bridges for me; my father, Ariya, the sorcerer, a John, and I struggled to hold back tears. Something in a John's talk went directly to my pure heart, even though my muddied mind could not discern what it was. I simply felt emotional.

He once told me that a particular type of emotion would come up regularly and would alert me that the inner work was becoming effective, seemingly arising from nowhere and for no apparent reason. I asked what the feeling would be like and he replied that it would be a happy sadness; similar to the emotion a father feels when his daughter takes her marriage vows, knowing both that he is losing her, but also that she must fulfill her destiny.

I could see the familiar star patterns that had become my constant companions during my solitary years in the forest, and with just a small taste of this inner work, the stars already seemed so much sharper and real. Then my mind drifted back to my kingdom. I wished that I could go back in time and change some of those moments when my selfish ambition destroyed so many lives. I looked around and saw that Savaka was already involved with her inner work, silently floating above the grass with her eyes closed. A John was sitting as solid as a rock underneath his tree. And me? . . . My mind was going non-stop!

But it was finally time to begin my inner work and I was certain that I would be a great warrior of the spirit. I sat down, packed some grass under my tailbone and began.

Well . . . not quite began. There was not enough grass. I ran around gathering more, and then there was too much. After thirty minutes of this, I thought that, at last, I had it right and could now start.

Right . . . but my legs were uncomfortable. And I spent another half hour getting them perfect. Of course, by now, the grass had matted down and I had to adjust my seat all over again. Finally, I just threw all the grass away and sat there with my legs sprawled out in front of me. Now I was ready!

I experienced some limited success with my original practice of I AM THAT, but this was different. There were no words to concentrate on now, only my breath, and after a few minutes of watching the spot in my nose, my mind drifted off to the night a John faced the tiger. I re-lived the whole episode, and by the time I remembered what I was supposed to be doing; which was watching the breath in my nose, the candle was burned halfway down! I began again, but now my legs were numb so I stood up for a while. Then I sat back down, crossed my legs, and watched closely to see if they would go to sleep again.

I tried once more to concentrate, but now mosquitoes were pestering me so I draped my robe over my head to ward them off. But the robe made my head hot, leaving me with no choice but to either sweat, or surrender to the mosquitoes. To further complicate my life, my knees were aching from sitting cross-legged so I straightened them out and just sat against the tree for a while watching a John who had not budged from his sitting position. Savaka had not moved either. She was so lucky, having no body to worry about. She could probably sit with the inner work forever!

Again I made a valiant effort, but the noises in the forest were driving me crazy. I never noticed before how annoying they were! How could I concentrate with this racket going on, geckos and locusts and things scurrying everywhere?

While fighting the din, I noticed that my arm was itching. I tried to ignore it at first, but it was an unusually persistent itch that wouldn't let up. The more I tried to concentrate on my nose, the itchier it got until I finally scratched it. Then my head began to itch, and my back and my legs, until finally I stood up, threw off my robe and scratched all over.

I could see that this inner work wasn't going to be as easy as I thought it might be.

Between the itching and the mosquitoes, my legs aching and the noise, I persevered until about three o'clock in the morning when I then found myself fighting sleepiness. I fought heroically with my head bobbing up and down until finally it proved too much for the great warrior, and I was soon fast asleep.

I awoke just before dawn finding myself collapsed against the tree. I noticed that Savaka had disappeared, while a John remained as still as the tree he was sitting under. This little man fascinated me. Was he only a key seeker, or was he perhaps really a key keeper? It was quite an eventful night in that quiet meadow.

We continued our wanderings, traveling about this part of the forest for six months, and all the while, I slowly became more skillful at the inner work, but now an occasional thunderstorm reminded us that the rainy season was upon us. One day, a John announced it was time to begin walking to the community of key seekers that Moosawa had mentioned, a place in the forest where villagers had constructed a large hall and a number of small huts to shelter key seekers during the monsoon.

So we bid farewell to our friend Savaka on the next full moon night, and the following morning two robed men and a white horse started walking south in a downpour. (To be continued)

Author's Bio: 

E. Raymond Rock of Fort Myers, Florida is cofounder and principal teacher at the Southwest Florida Insight Center, www.SouthwestFloridaInsightCenter.com His twenty-nine years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents, including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk. His book, A Year to Enlightenment (Career Press/New Page Books) is now available at major bookstores and online retailers. Visit www.AYearToEnlightenment.com