Friday, October 18, 2019

It's All about Relating - to Ourself, Others, the Universe

     May these insights intrigue and inspire ...

     The most important question a human being needs to answer according to Einstein: " 'Is the universe a friendly place or not?' ... If we believe that the universe is unfriendly ... peace will be elusive at best." Joan Borysenko. “Fire in the Soul. A New Psychology of Spiritual Optimism.” Warner Books, 1993.

"A human being is part of the whole, called by us 'universe,' a part limited in time and space.
We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.
Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in all of its beauty.
The true value of a human being
is determined primarily by the measure and the sense
in which s/he has attained liberation
from the (separate) self....
We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking
if humanity is to survive."
Albert Einstein
1934

      “By giving ourselves unconditional kindness and comfort while embracing the human experience, difficult as it is, we avoid destructive patterns of fear, negativity, and isolation. At the same time, self-compassion fosters positive mind states such as happiness and optimism. The nurturing quality of self-compassion allows us to flourish, to appreciate the beauty and richness of life, even in hard times.
      ... you are only being asked to relax, allow life to be as it is, and open your heart to yourself. It’s easier than you might think, and it could change your life.” Kristin Neff. “Self-Compassion. The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.” HarperCollins, 2011.

      “I would define love very simply: as a potent blend of openness and warmth, which allows us to make real contact, to take delight in and appreciate, and to be at one with – ourselves, others, and life itself.
      ... love is the central force that holds our whole life together and allows it to function." John Welwood. "Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships. Healing the Wound of the Heart." Trumpeter, 2006. 


     "To be enlightened is to be intimate with all things." Zen Master Dogen 

      "I was born
       when all I once feared
       I could love.” Rabia Basri 


     "Once we are willing to be directly intimate with our life as it arises, joy emerges out of the simplest of life experiences." Roshi Pat Enkyo O'Hara

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

     "... everything yearns to be met. Everything yearns to resolve itself in love – that love being the open space of acceptance, of allowing, of staying resolutely present, and unconditionally open to every nuance of your inner experience." Amoda Maa. "Surfing the Heart of Darkness: Suffering as a Doorway to Liberation." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXlUsBYbv0w

     “Your task is not to seek for love,
      but merely to seek and find all of the barriers
      within yourself that you have built against it.” Helen Schueman


      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. Pat Enkyo O’Hara “Most Intimate: A Zen Approach to Life's Challenges.” Shambhala, 2014. 

     To see what a (spontaneous) shift from fear-based, survivalist self-centered, adversarial, fight / flight / freeze "ordinary mind" to an evolved tend & befriend "open heart-mind" level of consciousness looks like, listen to (or read the transcript of) this documentary: CBC Radio, The Current: “This B.C. woman lodged hundreds of 911 complaints about the homeless. Now she's advocating for them.” https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-may-28-2019-1.5148615/this-b-c-woman-lodged-hundreds-of-911-complaints-about-the-homeless-now-she-s-advocating-for-them-1.5148621

     An overview of Intimacy with the Real World: http://www.johnlovas.com/2018/11/intimacy-with-real-world.html

     With due respect to William James, most of our thoughts (self-referential internal narrative) are echos of our conditioning. Better thoughts cannot eliminate discretionary suffering.
     “We are here to find that dimension within ourselves that is deeper than thought.” Eckhart Tolle
     We can access, and can integrate, a deeper, far more evolved level of consciousness than the ordinary discursive thought level. 


Monday, October 14, 2019

Are you OK?

     After practicing mindfulness (both informally and formally) for a while, with a deep drive to understand what this one, short, precious life is about, we develop progressively more refined sensitivity towards what our body-mind actually experiences moment-to-moment. 
     It thus becomes obvious as soon as the felt sense of OK turns to NOT OK. Typically we immediately, automatically react by thinking, saying or doing something, anything, to try to escape NOT OK & try to get back to feeling OK again ASAP. ALL of us (not only addicts**) do this with surprising frequency. And we only appreciate this after becoming far more mindful. A fascinating (though a bit too scholarly IMHO) book analyzes the pivotal role of this sense of NOT OK or "lack": David R. Loy. “Lack & Transcendence. The Problem of Death and Life in Psychotherapy, Existentialism, and Buddhism.” Wisdom Publications, 2018.
     ** There's far less difference (according to May, a psychiatrist who specialized in addictions for 25yrs) between "addicts" and "clean & sober" folk. Gerald May. "Addiction and Grace. Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions." HarperCollins, 1988.

     The moment we feel NOT OK, it's as if the earth's gravitational hold on us is lost - we no longer feel "grounded" - some degree of "free-floating" anxiety emerges. The "illusion of control" has just evaporated! How do I reclaim some sense of control & groundedness ASAP?

     "Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less." Marie Curie 

     "The next time you encounter fear, consider yourself lucky. This is where the courage comes in. Usually, we think that brave people have no fear. The truth is that they are intimate with fear. When I was first married, my husband said I was one of the bravest people he knew. When I asked him why, he said because I was a complete coward but went ahead and did things anyhow." Pema Chödrön

     So first & foremost, in what HEALTHY manner can I "get a grip on reality"? Becoming intentionally aware of our immediate location in our own body with feet securely held by the floor, lungs breathing; physically on solid ground, and intentionally checking-in with our immediate surroundings eg the walls, windows, etc. Check, check, yes, we're here, safe & physically on solid earth. This works as an emergency stop-gap maneuver. It can return us to "consensus reality" - Freud's "ordinary unhappiness."
     However, if we live long enough, or even if we're young but have experienced at least one "shipwreck" we'll require a major perspective or consciousness upgrade, well beyond consensus reality. Shipwrecks are serious traumas: end of a long meaningful relationship, betrayal, job loss / retirement, serious illness / death of a loved one, our own aging, illnesses & ultimately, death.
     “To undergo shipwreck is to be threatened in a total and primary way. … what has dependably served as shelter and protection and held and carried one where one wanted to go comes apart. What once promised trustworthiness vanishes.” Sharon Danloz Parks. “Big Questions, Worthy Dreams. Mentoring Young Adults in their Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Faith.” John Wiley & Sons, 2000.
      "‘ontological security’ ... refers to the important need to maintain a sense of security in a context of constant change and potential threat. Ontological security is what is lost when, at times of experiencing a major loss or a trauma, we lose our sense of who we are." Thompson N, Pascal J. “Reflective Practice: An Existentialist Perspective.” Reflective Practice 2011; 12(1): 15—26. 


     So, how can we seriously upgrade our perspective / consciousness so we may not just survive but thrive, becoming as independent as possible** of constantly changing, mostly uncontrollable circumstances, which always include at least one shipwreck? 
     It's not quick! And it's easier for some than for others. The only effective way I personally know of, & have been following for over two decades, is meditation practice. Here's how one very committed meditation practitioner described the process: 
     "... simply the organic process whereby you learn to get out of your own way so that the life you were meant to live can fully emerge. I can truthfully say that this approach ... has utterly transformed me. It has also nearly driven me batshit with frustration and despair. Although I’ve been doing this work full-time for close to a decade now, I am no expert. I am simply someone who has had his resistance to reality thoroughly worn down ..."
     Referring to processing "emotional baggage" that does come up during sustained meditation practice: 
     "You deal with your shit by sitting with it. By breathing right into it. You don’t try to ignore it with pleasant thoughts or lofty ideas, and you don’t try to bury it with solutions. You deal with it, you work with it, one breath at a time. You hold it right there, in your hara, or breathing center. You don’t try to breathe it out; you don’t try to breathe it in. You keep it suspended in your diaphragm like a burning-hot coin. Your problems won’t change; only you can change. That’s the point." Shozan Jack Haubner. “Zen Confidential. Confessions of a Wayward Monk.” Shambhala, 2013.

    
And with meditation practice our perspective / consciousness does evolve & change, we're progressively better able to relate to ourselves & others in a way that is more satisfactory for ourselves & those around us. This evolution or shift is a DIY process - it has to be experienced for oneself through committed formal meditation practice. Reading & self-reflection are beneficial supplements to formal meditation, but not sufficient.


      ** We can eliminate most of our suffering by living more consciously & wisely.



Saturday, October 12, 2019

Balanced Spaciousness

     The word "spacious" or "spaciousness" might be off-putting to some, if associated with being spaced-out or lost in space - loosing touch with reason or the solidity of the earth. 
     However the term, as used in Buddhist and Buddhist-derived secular meditation eg MBSR, refers to the opposite of, or corrective for the cramped, claustrophobic feeling of being trapped inside a repetitive, negative-thought world in our head.  

     “The basic meaning of emptiness, in the Buddhist context, is that the world, which includes us, is not as solid or as substantial as we normally take it to be. And the understanding of that, properly integrated into our life, into our hearts, into our minds, leads to a lot of spaciousness & freedom. There’s a way in which we haven’t quite understood the world or ourselves.
     First, this pointing to emptiness, even with this jarring & provocative title, is meant to be a wakeup call. It’s meant to provoke us to wonder ‘What’s going on here? What is it we’re not quite seeing? And what is it that we could understand differently about ourselves and the world?’
     The second thing is that (in mindfulness meditation, our primary objective is) ‘to see things as they are.’ The idea (behind emptiness) is that we haven’t quite fully seen the way they are, and because of that, we’re caught up in unhappiness & suffering. So this is not just a philosophical or intellectual exercise. The purpose of looking into emptiness, the purpose of talking & reading about it, is to free our hearts and minds so that we are on a path moving away from suffering and into greater happiness.” Guy Armstrong 2017-05-01 Emptiness: A Practical Introduction for Meditators (Drop-in at Spirit Rock) 62:55 https://dharmaseed.org/teacher/79/?page=4

     (As our mindfulness meditation practice matures), “there is less and less to do in meditation. Due to the strength of the concentrated mind, the afflictive emotions are largely held in abeyance and don’t require much attention. Thought activity slows down. Even when thoughts arise, they are felt to come and go within a spacious field that is undisturbed by their appearance. One still knows what is present at the sense doors, which continue to function capably and efficiently, but there is no avoiding, grasping, lingering, or seeking to perpetuate what has arisen. Things come and go on their own and are seen with equanimity. There is a pervasive sense of stillness and peace.
     If asked to describe the overall flavor of such an experience, the meditator might say that she is resting, but the attention is alert, neither dull nor sleepy. The peace of meditation is hard to find through other means. As Suzuki Roshi said to his Western students, ‘You know how to rest physically. You do not know how to rest mentally.’ Meditation provides a reliable avenue to rest mentally.” 
       Guy Armstrong. “Emptiness. A Practical Guide for Meditators.” Wisdom Publications, 2017.

     “My clouds, sorrowing in the dark,
forget that they themselves have hidden the sun.” Rabindranath Tagore 

     “We are here to find that dimension within ourselves that is deeper than thought.” Eckhart Tolle 

     “You are the sky. Everything else — it’s just the weather.” Pema Chödrön



Monday, October 7, 2019

Spacious Possibilities Overflowing

     During his first week-long meditation retreat in the 1970s, Guy Armstrong experienced: 
     “so much space in the mind, that anything that isn’t working right, I can eventually figure out a way to be free of it. I just gained that confidence from that very first retreat. 
     The amount of openness that was in the mind had the capacity to settle or understand whatever unhappiness was there. There was nothing in my whole experience that was fixed and had to continue the way it was, which meant that my unhappiness wasn’t fixed. Whatever got built up there could also be taken down. 
     It’s like the first time you move into a new apartment, everything’s empty, and then you bring in the furniture piece by piece. Whatever furniture we brought in, can also be taken out. Well I think largely, whatever conditioning we’ve grown up with, it all came in piece by piece. And whatever has been done and planted there, can also be removed. It’s through the capacity for spaciousness and emptiness that we come to know that.

      ... we’re all familiar with the 5 senses: seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling & touching. But the Buddha talked about a 6th sense, which is the mind. And the objects of the mind are basically our thoughts & our feelings. So in Buddhist meditation, thoughts & feelings are taken up as just another sense object, just like sight, smell, taste, sound & touch are. 

     And the wonderful thing about the quality of mindfulness is that it has this ability to pay attention to those mental experiences in exactly the same way as we can pay attention to physical experiences, like sound etc
     When I came to meditation, I was so wrapped up in the world of thinking that I didn’t think it was possible to step out of it. But mindfulness is outside of the thought process, and can observe thoughts, just like it can observe a sound or a breath. So it gives an incredible power when the workings of the mind themselves can be observed just like other sense phenomena. 
     So the implication for meditators is we spend a lot of our time thinking about our life as happening with these concepts of the past: What’s happening to my career? Family? How did I get into the situation? Where does all this sadness come from? But what’s radical about mindfulness practice is it’s only about the present moment, and seeing well what’s creating the suffering or the peace or ease, right now?

     Emptiness is kind of an off-putting word. When you think that you’re going to draw people to meditation practice by talking about emptiness – I don’t think so. I think a lot of people have ideas of not just ego death, but also coming into something that is vacant, a loss of meaning, connected with some kind of despair. 
     But that isn’t the way that it feels when you actually start to sense what it is pointing to. What is pointed to is an absence of fixedness. It’s empty of anything that’s fixed or solid
     And what that opens us to is number one, a great sense of space, openness, freedom – freedom to move around, and also, as you get more into the moment, and out of the stories about the past & future, it opens to the great beauty of what we’re witnessing. Obviously, when we first come into practice, there often is a lot of emotional conditioning to open to and come to understand and work through, but it opens us to the beauty of the wonderful qualities of heart & mind, of loving-kindness, of compassion, the wisdom that’s possible, balance of mind, equilibrium, not to mention the beauty of nature and the physical world.”
Metta Hour with Sharon Salzberg
Ep. 90 – Guy Armstrong 
https://www.sharonsalzberg.com/metta-hour-podcast-episode-90-guy-armstrong/

Saturday, October 5, 2019

A Couple of Insights

     As I was starting to make homemade granola a few hours ago, some very old thoughts / heavy feelings (feel physically heavy; and like gloom & doom emotionally) spontaneously returned. I've wrestled with these old aches on & off since early childhood, mercifully less & less over the past decade or two. 
     This time, however, I (finally) had the insight that these 'objects' of mind are 'empty' - not even close to being solid as I had always felt, but completely dependent on many causes & conditions, the most important of which was my focusing attention on them and thus magnifying, & (almost) solidifying them! When something like a sad (or anxious, angry, etc) thought is enlarged & (almost) turned into a solid unmovable mountain, there's no room left for anything else in our consciousness.
     But when we experience thoughts & emotions as empty, we recognize their true transient, ephemeral nature, so they take up no space at all, and can't weigh us down. The spaciousness we now enjoy allows relief, perspective, freedom, choice, wise decisions, peace & joy!
     The legendary meditation teacher, Ajahn Chah used to say to his students on retreat: "Are you suffering? Good!!" The classical follow-up question is: "Who is suffering?" 
     My second insight was that I am not a solid, unchangeable lump of meat, permanently damaged by life's circumstances. My 'self' also is empty. It takes study and meditative insight to really get this - a superb book on the subject: Guy Armstrong. “Emptiness. A Practical Guide for Meditators.” Wisdom Publications, 2017. But the insight of 'not-self' (anatta) really is a huge, welcome relief. 
     See also: http://www.johnlovas.com/2019/10/spacious-freedom-from-difficult-emotions.html
     To delve a bit deeper into 'emptiness': http://www.johnlovas.com/2019/10/spacious-possibilities-overflowing.html
 
     Most of us have a fair bit of 'baggage,' and the future holds "10,000 joys AND 10,000 sorrows" for all of us, AND YET most of our suffering is preventable.



Friday, October 4, 2019

Spacious Freedom from Difficult Emotions

     Fear & anxiety can completely take over our life, squeezing out clarity, perspective & judgment.  
     Genetics & environmental factors clearly play a large role.  
AND ALSO
     “one’s happiness or unhappiness depends on one’s habits of mind.” Guy Armstrong. “Emptiness. A Practical Guide for Meditators.” Wisdom Publications, 2017.
     The context in which we hold our 'self,' experiences (past, present & future), thoughts & emotions is surprisingly influential. Two experienced meditation teachers - Guy Armstrong (GA) and Sharon Salzberg (SS) - elaborate on this:

     GA “I think emptiness is a really practical concept, although it takes a while to understand what makes it work. The (Buddhist) idea of emptiness, very briefly, is that the world is not as solid as we think it is, and we as humans are not as fixed as we tend to think that we are. And so once we start getting into the direct experience of ourselves and of the things we find in life, we find they’re characterized by impermanence – none of them last long enough to be satisfying. And there’s this interesting kind of mystery that in the center of it all is not a solid entity that we would call a me or self, but it more opens into space. So emptiness, as we start looking into it, opens into this feeling that we first probably contact in meditation, that really our experience is made up of a lot of space. You can see this in the outside world – you look out a window and things are there but there’s mostly space. And you start to look internally, and yeah there are body sensations, thoughts, moods and everything, but there’s a lot of inner space too. So as we start to open up into that inner space, emptiness really opens us up into being more grounded. And opening to space leads us into relaxation, ease & settledness. So I think if we can find avenues into feeling the extent of space that’s in our experience, that really leads to a settling of our whole being.”

     SS “Space is like a relief. In my own experience, mindfully looking at my own fear, and by mindful I mean seeing what we’re looking at in a certain way – not holding on, not pushing it away, not trying to explain it, not trying to make it go somewhere else, but just being with – so in being with my own fear in that way, I realize that I’m largely afraid when I think like I do know and it’s going to be really bad. And lots of stories that I’m telling myself ‘this is going to happen, & this is going to happen.’ And then when I remind myself that I don’t know what’s going to happen, I feel space. And in that space, which is a kind of emptiness, I don’t have that sense of dread, because I don’t know, and it’s like many things are possible. I don’t know what’s going to happen and it’s kind of a mystery. It’s such a relief to be in that space, because it’s also true.”

     GA “One of the things we find when we come into the moment, is that things as they are in the moment are mostly bearable. Even an emotion like fear, which is one of the hardest things for people to bear, if you are not in a physically-threatening situation at that moment, and you can allow yourself just to feel what the feeling of fear is, it doesn’t have to feel overwhelming, it doesn’t even have to feel threatening. And so that very openness and acceptance of it, creates a lot of space around it. And we find that the present moment isn’t as scary as all the stories we make up. And so it kind of gets into this interesting exploration of well, why are we telling ourselves all these scary stories, or wanting stories, or sad stories? One of the interesting things about coming into meditation is we start to see what the mind is doing most of the time, that we normally don’t pay attention to because we’re doing something else. But when we become still with our body and look inward, we start to see 'Oh, there’s a really strong habit of thinking, mostly about the past & future, and that fills us with fear on the one hand, or sadness, or wanting on the other hand. And it’s all that activity that keeps us feeling stirred-up.' And so when we can put some space around that, it really helps to let those thoughts & emotions settle down.”
 
Metta Hour with Sharon Salzberg Ep. 90 – Guy Armstrong https://www.sharonsalzberg.com/metta-hour-podcast-episode-90-guy-armstrong/




Coming Back Home

     Many of us are chronically stressed, anxious ± depressed, so we're prone to react to people & situations with the 3 Fs: flight, fight or freeze.
     “Freud identified what he called ‘the repetition compulsion,’ the drive within us to replicate the old, even if it is painful and leads us to predictable but familiar dead ends.
     Sooner or later, we are each called to face what we fear, respond to our summons to show up, and overcome the vast lethargic powers within us. This is what is asked of us, to show up as the person we really are, as best we can manage, under circumstances over which we may have no control. This showing up as best we can is growing up. That is all that life really asks of us: to show up as best we can.” 
       James Hollis. “Living an Examined Life. Wisdom for the Second Half of the Journey.” Sounds True, 2018.

     A clearly more evolved, effective alternative to reacting with the 3 Fs is responding with the fourth F: form friendships ie co-operation, 'pulling together,' working for the common good. Unfortunately, many of us may also feel, to some extent, 'alone in a hostile world,' lacking a solid social support network of extended family, partner, meaningful friendships or meaningful spiritual organizations.

     “Feelings of connectedness, like feelings of kindness, activate the brain’s attachment system. The ‘befriend’ part of the ‘tend and befriend’ instinct has to do with the human tendency to affiliate, to come together in groups in order to feel secure. For this reason, people who feel connected to others are not as frightened by difficult life circumstances and are more readily able to roll with the punches.
     Of course, it’s wonderful when we can get our need to belong met by loved ones such as friends or family. But if you’re someone who has trouble sustaining good relationships, this type of social support may be missing in your life. And even in the best of circumstances, other people aren’t always able to make us feel that we belong and are accepted. In the cavernous halls of our own minds, we may feel isolated in any moment, even if this isn’t the way things actually are. Our fears and self-judgments are like blinders that often prevent us from seeing the hands that are being held out to help us. We may also be ashamed to admit our feelings of inadequacy to those we love, for fear that they wouldn’t love us anymore if they knew the way we really were. Hiding our true selves from others then makes us feel even more alone.
     That’s why it’s so important to transform our relationship with ourselves by recognizing our inherent interconnectedness. If we can compassionately remind ourselves in moments of falling down that failure is part of the shared human experience, then that moment becomes one of togetherness rather than isolation. When our troubled, painful experiences are framed by the recognition that countless others have undergone similar hardships, the blow is softened. The pain still hurts, but it doesn’t become compounded by feelings of separation. Sadly, however, our culture tells us to notice how we are unique from others, not how we are the same.” 
       Kristin Neff. “Self-Compassion. The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.” HarperCollins, 2011.

      "As we learn to balance and harmonize our mindbody, and to become more still within ourselves, and more awake and clear minded within this stillness - we become more empathically attuned to the people we share our lives with and more capable of harmonizing with their state of being in ways that bring greater harmony and balance alive in the field of our relationships, families, teams, organizations, and communities. And, if we find ourselves overwhelmed by our empathic resonance with the inner pain and needs of others that we experience through being in their presence or through encountering media that conveys their state of being, then the greatest protection from that empathic distress will be found in responding to them with actions, words, thoughts, energy, and prayers that flow from compassion and genuine intention to help to ease their pain or to reduce the causes of their suffering." Joel Levey PhD


     “Occasionally we feel movements of pure, awakened consciousness – free of conditioned thought – and we are fully present without separation. This may happen during meditation when the mind chatter stops, when we feel a silent and deep state of intimacy with life and nature, or in a crisis demanding our full attention and immediate response. Awakened consciousness responds from an immediacy that is unaffected by personal history. It is intuitive, spontaneous and direct. Awakened, pure consciousness exists before and continues beyond personal identifications. In this state, we may:
     • have multi-dimensional experiences and also see the simplest creation, like a flower or a child, as wondrous and miraculous;
     • know ourselves as profound stillness; and
     • sense presence without any attachment to the one who is present; it is something that has always been with us, but we have been unaware of it because of the many distractions of the mind and emotions.

     Consciousness can wake up under many circumstances. Before and after an awakening, many of us experience a state that is free of ego, as if there is no ‘me.’ It is a sense of vastness and space, which is commonly described as emptiness. Emptiness can cause us to feel lost and ungrounded because the sense of ‘I’ is gone, but this emptiness is pregnant with potential. Releasing ego-identity is essential as consciousness becomes ready to realize the truth of itself.” 
       Bonnie L. Greenwell. “When Spirit Leaps. Navigating the Process of Spiritual Awakening.” Non-Duality Press, 2018.

Don Penz "Long Point, Green Bay" www.fogforestgallery.ca