Saturday, December 8, 2018

Shifting from Isolation towards Wholeness

     At around two years of age, we create the idea of a "self" that is separate from other people & everything else ("individuation").
     With a "quiet ego" the individual can competently pursue meaningful short- & long-term goals, equally valued by herself (appropriate self-care), society (allocentric), and the natural world (ecocentric). This self-concept & associated worldview appears to be optimal, and in fact is one secular definition of "wisdom." Exemplars include wise, loving grandparents; the many "unsung heroes" - solid, decent, completely trustworthy people who quietly go about their business without ever drawing attention to themselves; mystics & saints.
     With a "noisy ego" the individual is primarily driven by self-concern, disregarding the welfare of others & the environment. This is the opposite end of the spectrum. The most extreme form of this is Antisocial Personality Disorder, exemplified by amoral political & business leaders, serial killers etc.
     As we mature, our egos naturally tend to quieten, as we become somewhat less rigidly, fearfully self-centered, and become increasingly outwardly-focused, generous, concerned for the welfare of others & the natural world. This shift in self-concept & worldview is markedly disrupted, or even prevented by attachment injury & other forms of major trauma. Profound transformation from a somewhat fearful "me-alone-against-a-hostile-world" identity, towards an open mind-hearted, loving, nurturing embrace of everyone & everything - of life itself, is normally slow, gradual & tentative even if we were spared from major trauma, and even if we're working towards this full-time (eg as a monk or nun).
     Perhaps the ultimate level of psychosocialspiritual evolution is "awakening" or "enlightenment" - the Zen understanding of "wisdom." Enlightenment has been defined as "intimacy with all things."
     Buddhist meditation practice is one of a number of ways to achieve this clarity of experiential understanding of ultimate reality. Regardless of one's chosen path of maturation - another wisdom tradition or a purely secular path - I suspect that the profound shift in self-concept & worldview is key. Given the disturbing prevalence of major trauma, many of us need psychotherapy to allow this shift to happen at all. Instead of merely "getting by," we then have the chance to flourish, expressing our full human potential.

     “When we sit in meditation, we can discover a way of being that is very different from our typical interactions with the world. For the period of time that we sit, we agree within ourselves to quiet the familiar internal chatter that goes on most of the time. We sit so that we can discover in ourselves this capability for stillness, for intimacy with our self. We can uncover the heart.
     This process of stilling the mind and opening the heart brings a great feeling of ease that courses through the body, releasing the sensation of holding back, of fragility or tightness, and freeing us to work with the challenges of life. I call that true intimacy. When we can actually feel what we are feeling, experience what we are experiencing, and recognize what we are thinking, then we become intimate with ourselves. This intimacy is a closeness, a quality of interiority, a nearness. To be intimate with yourself is to be so attuned to your own feeling-state and mind-state and perception-state that nothing is hidden, your whole being is available to your life. In this intimacy with self, we begin to recognize the habits of thinking that stop us from living confidently, generously, and vigorously. And we begin to trust ourselves.
     ... To me, intimacy is the underlying liberation of Zen. When I talk about intimacy, I’m talking first about intimacy with ourselves, then about intimacy with our lovers, partners, and close friends. I’m talking about intimacy with the work we do and the colleagues with whom we work, intimacy with our community and with the great earth – intimacy with everyone.” 
        Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara. “Most Intimate. A Zen Approach to Life’s Challenges.” Shambhala, 2014. 



Friday, December 7, 2018

How to Honor what One has Learned?

     After completing an 8-week Mindfulness (MBSR) course the challenge, as one recent MBSR graduate eloquently stated, is "to continue to honor what one has learned." On finishing a meditation retreat we face the exact same challenge. 
     So how does an immersive mindfulness experience compare to normal daily life? How do we differ during these two, often very different sets of circumstances?

     At an MBSR course (or retreat), we feel held in safety, nonjudgment & unconditional kindness, and are continuously reminded to hold ourselves likewise. This makes it possible to very gradually, at our individual pace, safely shed a few layers of protective armoring. Some of us have been through, and sometimes continue to be subjected to, so much trauma that in addition to meditation, therapy is also essential to become adequately unburdened. The ultimate task of our life's journey is to fully reconnect with and embody authenticity, which is always present, but hidden under all the layers of conditioning.
     When normal daily life meets our conditioning, we tend feel unsafe, judged (perhaps most severely by our self), and, unless we measure up to certain standards (our own are often so unrealistically high as to be unattainable) we'll worry about being fired, unloved, shunned, etc. So it's pretty easy to retain, or even progressively accumulate layers of armoring under adversarial conditions, whether these be real or imagined. 
     Clearly, the more consistently we're able to hold ourselves in mindfulness and its essential associated attitudes (plus psychotherapy as required), the more we set ourselves free to live a genuinely authentic life. Richard Schwartz, founder of Internal Family Systems (IFS), describes the vital importance of liberating our young, sensitive / hurt 'parts': "Your most sensitive parts are also, when they’re not hurt, your most playful, joyful, creative, spontaneous, fun-loving, intimacy-seeking parts. They’re your juice – these inner children."

     Meditation, wisely practiced, is “a way of being in touch with our wholeness – our self without the overlay of what may have crept through in our history, without the stories we make about our life, without the defensiveness or delusions that we have built up to protect ourselves. Too often what we consciously or unconsciously use as ‘protection’ can become a frame through which we view all of life; it is a distorted frame – a prison actually. And in that prison it is very difficult to function from the heart or even to find the heart. By clearing the space in our mind, we open our life to appreciation of and confidence in whatever shows up." Pat Enkyo O’Hara

     We honor, maintain, and build on what we've learned in MBSR & retreats by continuing to practice meditation in a wise, consistent manner.





Monday, December 3, 2018

Individuals and the Whole

     Perhaps the most profound & most important question we ponder is: 'How do I personally, as an individual, relate to the big picture, the whole of life, the transpersonal realm?

     “In ancient times, various holistic sciences were developed by highly evolved beings to enable their own evolution and that of others. These subtle arts were created through the linking of individual minds with the universal mind. They are still taught by traditional teachers to those who display virtue and desire to assist others. The student who seeks out and studies these teachings furthers the evolution of mankind as well as her own spiritual unfolding. The student who ignores them hinders the development of all beings.” Lao Tzu 


     Indra’s Net (see below) is a metaphor for the Buddhist understanding of the profound (holograph-like?) interconnection and interdependence between each individual and all else. Thich Nhat Hanh calls it “interbeing.” Zen refers to the relationship between an individual and the whole as "not one, not two."
 
     “Everything in Nature contains all the powers of Nature. Everything is made of one hidden stuff.” Ralph Waldo Emerson 


     “I live on Earth at present, and I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing — a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process – an integral function of the universe.
     My own working assumption is that we are here as local Universe information gatherers. We are given access to the divine design principles so that from them we can invent the tools that qualify us as problem solvers in support of the integrity of an eternally regenerative Universe." R. Buckminster Fuller 

     Humanity is experiencing on a collective level, a shift in consciousness similar to what happened ~2,500 years ago with individuals such as the Buddha, Jesus, Lao Tzu, Confucius, or the philosophers of ancient Greece. The individual's task is to shift their consciousness from identification with the ego self, to a liberated and awakened consciousness. Eckhart Tolle

     “You are not IN the universe, you ARE the universe,
an intrinsic part of it. 

Ultimately you are not a person,
but a focal point 

where the universe is becoming conscious of itself. 
What an amazing miracle.” Eckhart Tolle
 
       “If you don’t become the ocean you’ll be seasick every day.” Leonard Cohen

Indra's Net - Stress Engineering Services, Cincinnati, OH

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Be Still, Listen Deeply ...

     Many of us do not follow meditation instructions - for decades! Instead, the momentum of our lives keeps us ardently striving to escape the reality of this very life!

     “Let’s consider ‘enlightenment’ or ‘wisdom’ to simply mean seeing things as they really are. If you’re setting a goal for things to be different than they are, you have already missed the point.
     The truth is right in front of us at all times. We’re not trying to change it; we’re simply trying to connect to it. This is much less about attaining something, and much more about removing obstacles. When in doubt, simplify. Perhaps the goal can be better understood as a moment of silence. It doesn’t sound as fancy as ‘enlightenment,’ but even one moment of true silence can have a profound impact. When you are truly silent, there are no obstacles between you and the truth. In the space of that moment, what you seek can reveal itself. Just be careful not to attach to that idea either, for the moment you realize you have reached that moment is the moment that you have fallen out of it.” Miguel Chen

      While meditating, “you are not escaping the world; you are getting ready to fully embrace it.” Christine Skarda 

     "Truth is not found by knowledge, it is found by silence." Osho



Sunday, November 18, 2018

Self-Compassion Mantra


     “Whenever I notice something about myself I don’t like, or whenever something goes wrong in my life, I silently repeat the following phrases: 

This is a moment of suffering.
Suffering is a part of life.
May I be kind to myself in this moment.
 
May I give myself the compassion I need.

     I find these phrases particularly useful, not only because they’re short and easily memorized, but because they invoke all three aspects of self-compassion simultaneously

     The first phrase, ‘This is a moment of suffering,’ is important because it brings mindfulness to the fact that you’re in pain. If you’re upset because you notice you’ve gained a few pounds, or if you get pulled over for a traffic violation, it’s often hard to remember that these are moments of suffering worthy of compassion.
     The second phrase, ‘Suffering is a part of life,’ reminds you that imperfection is part of the shared human experience. You don’t need to fight against the fact that things aren’t exactly as you want them to be, because this is a normal natural state of affairs. More than that, it’s one that every other person on the planet also experiences, and you’re certainly not alone in your predicament.
     The third phrase, ‘May I be kind to myself in this moment,’ helps bring a sense of caring concern to your present experience. Your heart starts to soften when you soothe and comfort yourself for the pain you’re going through.
     The final phrase, ‘May I give myself the compassion I need,’ firmly sets your intention to be self-compassionate and reminds you that you are worthy of receiving compassionate care.”

     After a few weeks of practicing this self-compassion mantra, you may start to get a small taste of freedom from your habitual mind-set. You may become more objectively aware of & less lost in your thought patterns. You may become less self-critical and less negative about your life.
     We can learn to "accept and acknowledge the fact that sometimes, life does suck. But we don't have to make things worse than they already are. The key to self-compassion is not to deny suffering, but to recognize that it's perfectly normal. There isn't anything wrong with the imperfection of life as long as we don't expect it to be other than it is.
     Once we remember to be self-compassionate, we can appreciate the half of the glass that's full as well as noticing the half that's empty."

       Kristin Neff. “Self-Compassion. The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.” HarperCollins Publishers, 2011.

* a valuable, wise, wonderfully well-written book *

AwakeningArtsAcademy.com


Saturday, November 17, 2018

Quality of Attention, Understanding, and Intimacy

     “Love is the quality of attention we pay to things.” J.D. McClatchy

     “In essence, mindfulness – being about attention, awareness, relationality, and caring – is a universal human capacity akin to our capacity for language acquisition. It is a way of being in wise and purposeful relationship with one’s experience, both inwardly and outwardly, with oneself and with others. Thus there is an intrinsic social dimension to its cultivation as well. It usually involves cultivating familiarity and intimacy with aspects of everyday experience that we often take for granted." Jon Kabat Zinn

     During meditation “you are not escaping the world; you are getting ready to fully embrace it.” Christine Skarda

     “Mindfulness is a kind of balanced awareness — we're open to things as they are, with acceptance and nonjudgment. But when it's incomplete we can open to things as they are and not see the bigger picture of the pain in the world. When we understand and open to that pain, our own and others’, the only thing that makes sense is compassion. Compassion means we use our clear seeing in the service of the alleviation of suffering.” Michelle Becker https://www.eomega.org/article/being-kind-wont-make-you-weak

     "Mindfulness does not reject experience. It lets experience be the teacher. With mindfulness, we can enter the difficulties in our life and find healing and freedom." Jack Kornfield


     "Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough." George Washington Carver

      "Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.” Claude Monet

      “One learns through the heart, not the eyes or the intellect.” Mark Twain

      "You learn about a thing ... by opening yourself wholeheartedly to it. You learn about a thing by loving it." 
Barbara McClintock - Nobel prize-winning geneticist

      "The truth is, what one really needs is not Nobel prizes but love. How do you think one gets to be a Nobel laureate? Wanting love, that's how. Wanting it so bad one works all the time and ends up a Nobel laureate. It's a consolation prize. 

     What matters is love." George Wald - Nobel prize-winning biologist from Harvard

     Intimacy is what practice is all about: the realization of the essential lack of distinction between self and other that inevitably leads to wisdom and compassionate action. Intimacy with the depth of our being – authenticity – is the essential first step. Then, with the help of loving-kindness meditation, we bring intimacy into our relationships with others, starting with those dearest to us and moving on to those who don’t seem dear at all. We can grow in intimacy to include everyone around us, all of society, the whole world and all the beings it contains.

      Modified from the description of Pat Enkyo O’Hara’s book: “Most Intimate: A Zen Approach to Life's Challenges.” Shambhala, 2014.

 
awakeningartsacademy.com


Intimacy with the Real World

     Many consider "the real world" to be at least a little frightening, hostile. Despite all our technological advancements, a part of us still cowers in a cave for safety, fearing the dark unknown outside. There are valid causes for this: the existential facts of life (constant change, sickness, aging & death); our hard-wired negativity bias; the news & entertainment medias' exploitation of our hard-wired negativity bias; the high incidence of "trauma & attachment injury"; forms of ongoing trauma such as poverty, racism & sexism; current society's minimal interest in emotional intelligence & wisdom, etc.

     Not surprisingly, many live an essentially fear-based, self-centered, transactional or even adversarial relationship with life. A transactional relationship is one in which all parties are in it for themselves, and do things for each other with the expectation of reciprocation. In adversarial relationships, one party wins only when others lose. Isolationism, cut-throat business practices & politics, environmental destruction, racism, colonialism, dictatorships & wars are the result. The primitive "fight, flight or freeze instinct" that energizes this level of being, resides in all of us, at least as a potential.

     Nevertheless, at times most of us, if only briefly, do experience a loving, nurturing relationship with life. Nurturing relationships are exemplified by a wise grandparent's relationship with her grandchild, whom she loves unconditionally, attentively holding her in safety & kindness, providing wholesome nutrition for her body, heart & mind - everything she needs to flourish. Another metaphor is that of a skilled gardener, who lovingly plants the best available seeds, with optimal soil, sunshine, water, fertilizer, careful weeding etc. In nurturing relationships, instead of being afraid, alone & needy, we are unconditional love & spacious wisdom. This much more highly-evolved state of being, due in part to the "tend & befriend instinct", also resides in all of us, at least as a potential.
     Fear and the closely-related emotions of anxiety, anger, rage, despair, cynicism, depression, apathy etc usually suppress our innate nurturing capacity. When we feel desperately miserable, isolated & utterly worthless, it may be a struggle just to stay alive. Before we're able to embody unconditional generosity towards all, we require if not equanimity, then at least some wise spaciousness which can hold our fearful emotions. Equanimity & wise spaciousness are also innate human potentials, and one important way of cultivating these is by way of mindfulness meditation.

     So how can we possibly embody the relatively tender, nurturing side of our nature in the "real world"? There appear to be two general pathways.

     Extreme circumstances can abruptly force us to respond with either fear (self-preservation) or love (altruism). During natural disasters, not all but many, suddenly become heroically nurturing, altruistic, even at the risk or certain loss of their own life. When interviewed afterwards, altruistic heroes uniformly insist that their actions were done spontaneously, naturally, were nothing out of the ordinary, and that anyone else would have done the same thing - suggesting that altruism is an innate natural human capacity. Similarly, when suddenly learning that they have incurable cancer with a few months to live, roughly 40% of these people radically change their way of being and enjoy the best quality of life they ever had ("post-traumatic growth"). Because of this, they claim that this diagnosis was the best thing that ever happened to them. These folks report that they drop all that's meaningless from their very short remaining lives, and engage wholeheartedly with only people & activities that are deeply meaningful for them.
     Why anyone would do extreme sports like rock-climbing is incomprehensible for the majority, who tend to be safety-conscious. Climbing a 400ft rock face, without safety equipment, demands perfect continuous focused awareness of "just this, right here, right now" for the entire ascent (hours). Such prolonged, unshakable quality of awareness is (I've read) so pleasant to experience, that climbers eagerly risk their lives repeatedly for it.

     Whereas altruism, post-traumatic growth & extreme sports all occur suddenly, under extreme circumstances, mindfulness meditation training takes place intentionally, very slowly, gradually, in safety & comfort. While the facilitator holds participants in unconditional love, compassion, empathy, gentleness, patience & perseverance, participants are guided & trained to hold themselves in these very same wholesome attitudes of mind. In doing so, they observe, accept & very gradually release all the barriers within that separate them from authenticity, who they truly are: unconditional love & spacious wisdom. See also: http://www.johnlovas.com/2018/11/quality-of-attention-understanding-and.html
     Like altruism, post-traumatic growth & extreme sports, mindfulness meditation can take us well beyond our usual fear-based relationship with life, to one of complete engagement, deep connection - intimacy with all of life - with its 10,000 joys & 10,000 sorrows.