Friday, January 10, 2020

Power Phenomena in Meditation & Shamanism

     A pointer towards deepening meditation practice & liberation:

     “In Zen, if you buy into the content of 'makyo' experiences (power phenomena), it’s going to shunt you away from the direct path to liberation. 
     However, my take on it is informed by that, but also it’s a little broader. These power phenomena are basically the wish list for new age spirituality: encountering entities, gods, ghosts, ancestors, angels, remembering former lives. And they map onto a lot of shamanic experience culturally around the world. But the good news is that if those phenomena are happening, then that’s an indication that you’ve dropped into a deep level of consciousness, so that’s a good thing. It’s actually a kind of feedback to tell you that you’re going deep. 
     So in Native cultures, this would be called the Spirit World, and of course it’s very real to those cultures – so there are the Spirits let’s say. And then there’s what we might refer to as the Great Spirit or the Source, which in Buddhism would be called the Dharmakaya. And I would take that as that primordial perfection, that formless doing that molds ordinary and extraordinary experience, moment by moment. 
     So if you’re encountering spirits, it means that you’re getting close to the Great Spirit. That’s good. But the Great Spirit is formless, so by paying attention to the energy flow that envelops the manifestation of those unusual phenomena, you’re keeping yourself pointed towards the formless Source that is the Great Spirit. And so in terms of traditional Buddhist vocabulary, by observing the impermanence of the power realm experiences, that’s pointing you to the force that molds them. We can draw a metaphor from physics: force is proportional to acceleration. So as you’re watching how these things sort of vibrate and undulate, you can get a sense that there is a formless activity of consciousness that is molding these spirits. That’s the same thing that molds the ordinary so-called physical world. And by doing that, you ride the spirit world directly down to the Great Spirit. 
     But if you get either frightened or enchanted by the contents of the spirit realm, then you could go off in a horizontal direction and not realize it, and so you stop going deep – you just go out into the power realms. 
     Our remote ancestors practiced shamanism. And the spectrum of classical shamanism around the world is a spectrum of angles. One angle is you go out into the power realms and you don’t go any deeper into purification or get closer to the formless. Those people become one kind of shaman that’s sometimes called a Witch or a Sourceror or a Power person. Then at the other extreme are the people that just deconstruct, deconstruct, deconstruct, until they find the no-self, true self, formless Source of it all. And that extreme is sometimes traditionally called a Holy Person. And then there are an infinity of oblique angles, where your growth has a component of interest in the content of power realms, but also a component of movement towards the formless. 
     And so that spectrum is the real old time religion of this planet. It’s what most people did for their spirituality for most of human history. So it’s something to be honored from that point of view, but it’s also something to be understood.”
       Shinzen Young Buddha at the Gas Pump Interview #2:

Monday, January 6, 2020

Three Stages of the Meditative Journey

     “Most beginners start with the idea that meditation is supposed to be peaceful. If they feel peaceful, they conclude that they are doing things right. Soon enough a disturbing thought or emotion erupts, and this is identified as a problem. We do not like disturbances. We start off with this dualistic preference. We want smooth ocean waters with no waves. When the waves come, we say we cannot meditate; or we assume that the presence of the waves means we are not meditating correctly. But the waves keep coming anyway, always. It is how we perceive them that changes. We can relate to these waves as threatening monsters and try to push them away. We can apply certain mental techniques to subdue them; or we can pretend not to notice them or try to deny their presence. But there is no liberation in trying to get rid of the waves; and actually, if you examine the mind that is trying to get rid of the waves, you will discover that it’s stuck on the problem. It is making a mountain out of a molehill. We can also tell ourselves intellectually, These waves are essentially empty. We can play with the ideas and concepts of emptiness and use intellectual logic to convince ourselves that the wave is not really a monster. But our hearts still feel the threat, and react to protect ourselves from it. This describes the first stage of working with the mind.

     In the next stage, we are introduced to resting the mind in the spacious, nonconceptual aspect of mind that transcends the limited self. The waves might still be terrifying, but we begin to glimpse the boundless expanse of water beneath the surface, and this gives us more confidence to let them be. We do not yet see them as just waves, but our perspective has become so much bigger than the waves. Our personal stories of fear and loss, of rejection and self-recrimination are there – but they do not pervade every bit of space in our heads. Our fixed minds have loosened up a little; and once we recognize that our own version of reality exists within a vast impersonal experience of reality, these same stories do not disturb us as much. We might begin to think, Oh there’s a wave forming on the surface of my mind. Or, There’s a monster in my head. Okay, no problem. We can acknowledge the problem without reacting to it. We see it, but we do not feel it as much as we did earlier. The understanding of emptiness is dropping from the intellectual head to the experiential, feeling heart. The ratio is shifting: The more we rest in recognition of the spacious empty mind, and the more we embody the wisdom of emptiness, the less impact the disturbances have. The wave is there, but now it is just a tiny movement in the vastness of the ocean. But at this point, we still get stuck on the surface with the waves, and lose touch with the ocean beneath.

     In the third stage, the wave no longer appears as a problem. It’s still a wave – big or small – but we don’t get stuck in it. We have become comfortable resting within the ocean itself.
     The ocean does not become calm and still. That is not the nature of the ocean. But now we have become so familiar with the full expanse of the ocean that even the biggest waves no longer bother us. This is how we can now experience our thoughts and emotions – even those we have spent our lives trying to be free of. Every movement of the mind, and every emotional reaction, is still just a small wave on the vast surface of the awakened mind.
     Although the mind is always free, it remains imprisoned in constraints of its own making. Concentrating on a sense object can protect the mind from feeling overpowered by the waves. For example, focusing the mind on a flower, or on watching the smoke from a stick of incense, can protect the mind from obsessing on marital discord, or on a business scheme. This type of focus may provide temporary relief. Still, it does not allow us to experience freedom. When we connect to our own awareness, then we can accommodate whatever arises: the big waves of loved ones dying and relationships ending, and the ripples of crashed computers and delayed flights. No wave stays the same shape: all crests fall. Let it be. Let it pass. Become bigger than the thought, bigger than the emotion. Everything is always in flux; by letting it be we simply allow for inherent movement. We can notice preference and desire, but chasing after them blocks the flow of change. Awareness contains impermanence, not the other way around. But they have this in common: Our liberation comes from recognition.
     Let it be makes it possible to see that our true nature is free from problems, distress, and suffering – and that it always has been. When we stop trying to make the surface calm – and accept that the very nature of ocean is change – we begin to experience this inner freedom.
     But this is not freedom from distress and anxiety. It is freedom that can be experienced with stress and anxiety. We are liberated from suffering by correctly perceiving reality; this means that we have the insight and experience to know that our minds are so much vaster than we generally think they are. We are not the size and shape of our worries. To recognize reality as-it-is makes recognition and liberation simultaneous." 
       Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, Helen Tworkov. “In Love with the World. A Monk’s Journey through the Bardos of Living and Dying.” Spiegel & Grau, 2019. A well-written, practical book for serious meditators.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Metabolizing Emotions in Real Time

     This helps explain why in mindfulness meditation we practice physical processing: 'leaning into' challenging physical sensations with curiosity, interest & equanimity and watch how what seemed like solid aversive objects unravel into their harmless constituents.

     “Most people don’t maintain a continuous mindful relationship with their subjective thoughts and feelings, so most people do not have the ability to experience anger, fear, sadness, shame, and confusion without suffering. When an objective problem presents itself, it produces uncomfortable subjective mental and emotional states, and you suffer. A salient feature of suffering is that it distorts behavior. You cannot perform the delicate act of threading a needle while somebody is holding a flame to your body. Your whole body shakes; the objective functioning is distorted because of the internal suffering. In the same way, the delicate act of human interaction is frequently subjected to the distorting influences of (perhaps subliminal) suffering. Because of this subjective suffering, our objective responses to objective situations are often less than optimal, and sometimes horribly distorted.

     When objective responses are nonoptimal, they sow the seeds for new problems – new objective situations that cause distress. Then we respond suboptimally to that new situation. This can create a feedback loop that has the potential to spin out of control at any time.
     Even in situations where the suffering appears to be quite small, the distorting influences can add up. For example, a current cultural norm in the United States is to go from passionate love to acrimonious divorce in just five or ten short years. How does this happen? It happens in dozens and dozens of small daily interactions, some of them a little bit emotionally charged and a few of them charged in big ways. When interactions that are unpleasantly charged are not experienced completely in the moment, they are not metabolized. They leave a ghost, a remnant suffering that haunts the cellar of our own mind. That remnant suffering sinks into the subconscious and distorts our subsequent responses. We make cutting remarks when we merely need to reply. We yell when we merely need to be emphatic. We bite when we merely need to bark.
     The same cycle destroys a relationship here, a career there; leads to a war here, a rampage there; a repressive dictatorship here; an ethnic cleansing there. That is the basic pattern on this planet: People do not understand how to experience pain fully, that is, without suffering. Suffering distorts their response to the source of the pain, and this distorted response can easily lead to more pain and, hence, more suffering.
     Here’s a diagram that sums up the problem.  

     So where does meditation come in? Meditation allows us to experience pain without suffering and pleasure without neediness. The difference between pain and suffering may seem subtle, but it is highly significant. When physical or emotional pain is experienced in a state of concentration, clarity, and equanimity, it still hurts but in a way that bothers you less. You actually feel it more deeply. It’s more poignant but, at the same time, less problematic. More poignant means it motivates and directs action. Less problematic means it stops driving and distorting actions. I appreciate that merely hearing these words may not be enough to clarify the concept. But look back; perhaps you’ve experienced something like this in the past. If not, having read these words here will help you know what to look for in the future.”

       Shinzen Young. “The Science of Enlightenment. How Meditation Works.” Sounds True, 2016.
       *** HIGHLY recommended ***

Saturday, December 28, 2019

View and Behavior

     It's easy - for some, automatic - to react unwisely to other's unwise words and behaviors. Both parties then quickly rationalize their own bad behavior, blaming the other (delusional ego-defending). This helps perpetuate endless cycles of unnecessary suffering. 
     A surprisingly wise question to ask at this point: 'Would I rather be right or happy?' Of course both parties are wrong to harm the other. However, when they both admit their error and apologize, both are wiser & happier.

     “ 'Keep the view as vast as space. Keep your actions as fine as flour.'
     The quality of emptiness that we are referring to was never born; likewise, it cannot die. This essential nature of our lives is unborn – like space itself. Space provides no place to abide, no foothold in which to secure our steps. In skylike emptiness, we cannot be stuck. Yet here we are, alive in this wondrous world of appearances, which can always benefit from wise discernment. With particularity as fine as flour, we discriminate between actions that intend to relieve suffering for ourselves and others and those that intend to cause harm.”
       Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, Helen Tworkov. “In Love with the World. A Monk’s Journey through the Bardos of Living and Dying.” Spiegel & Grau, 2019.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Awkward Path to Peace, Equanimity & Joy

     If you're seriously committed to meditation practice, your noble quest to see clearly and find peace, equanimity & joy independent of circumstances might be smooth & easy, but more likely will have some ups & downs.

     “Depending upon various factors – such as psychological disposition, early conditioning, genetics, random chance – some people experience significant instability along the journey from surface to Source.

     Understand that your ordinary ordering principle is being ripped away – the body cannot get comfortable, the mind cannot get answers – but a new ordering principle, which is much deeper, is in the process of revealing itself.

     The awkward intermediate zone is a stage that some meditators pass through wherein the old coping mechanism (tighten up & turn away) is in the process of being shed, but the new coping mechanism (open up & turn toward) is not yet strong enough to provide abiding safety and fulfillment.”
       Shinzen Young. “The Science of Enlightenment. How Meditation Works.” Sounds True, 2016. 

Friday, December 13, 2019

Complete Experiencing - Healing Trauma

     To be held in safety & unconditional love is one of the most fundamental of human needs. But life's paradoxical. A part of us longs for, while another part resists intimate connection.
     Meditation practice helps us to clearly see ourselves, others & the rest of reality, accept and re-establish intimate relationship with everything - "life's 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows." Shinzen Young's book (below) clearly explains how to achieve this through regular meditation practice.

     "Every time we identify with feeling separate from life, that’s a very subtle trauma. It’s the trauma of the perception of isolation." Caverly Morgan

      "... 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

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

     "If trauma is defined as ‘inescapably stressful event that overwhelms people’s existing coping mechanisms’ and that in its psychological sense overwhelms the integrity and continuity of the self because its damage to the internalized links between self and other, then for a great many people there can be many small traumas, generating many areas of sequestered, dissociated, and partially dissociated experience. This is in addition to vulnerability to severe trauma.
     ... most crucially at issue in dissociatively-based psychopathology is the collapse of relationality – both interpersonal and intrapersonal (or interstate). Dissociation, as a state of being divided and as a chronic process, is ultimately a barrier to relationality, both within and between selves.
     ... I believe (most of us have) an addictive proprietorship over dissociative solutions ... The way we do this and how much we do it may differ, but I think we do it all the same.”
     Elizabeth F. Howell. “The Dissociative Mind.” Routledge, 2008

      “Paradoxically, the more we try to change ourselves, the more we prevent change from occurring. On the other hand, the more we allow ourselves to fully experience who we are, the greater the possibility of change.
      Every identification we hold about ourselves disconnects us from the fluidity of our core nature. Our identifications – that is, all the fixed beliefs we take to be our true self – along with the associated patterns of nervous systems dysregulation separate us from ourselves and the experience of being present and engaged. As much as we may feel constrained by our survival styles, we are afraid to, or do not know how to, move beyond them.
      Our survival styles are reflected in our bodies in two ways: as areas of tension (hypertonicity) and as areas of weakness or disconnection (hypotonicity). Patterns of tension and weakness reveal the ways we have learned to compensate for the disconnection from our needs, core self, and life force.

     All of us are somewhere on the continuum of connection to disconnection from our core selves and our bodies.”
       Laurence Heller, Aline LaPierre. "Healing Developmental Trauma: How Early Trauma Affects Self-Regulation, Self-Image, and the Capacity for Relationship.” North Atlantic Books, 2012.

     “The basic premise of mindfulness meditation is that consistently infusing the qualities of concentration, clarity, and equanimity into ordinary experience over time causes a fundamental shift in our paradigm. It is for this reason that mindfulness is sometimes called insight meditation.

     If you want to be happy independent of conditions, you’ll need to learn how to have a complete experience of each basic type of body sensation. On the spiritual path, we have to learn how to have a complete experience of anger, so that anger does not cause suffering which then distorts our behavior. For the same reason, we have to learn how to have a complete experience of fear, sadness, and so on. We even have to learn how to have a complete experience of physical pain, as well as other unpleasant feelings in the body such as fatigue and nausea. When I say, ‘Have a complete experience of x,’ its’ just a quick way of saying, ‘Experience x with so much concentration, clarity, and equanimity that there’s no time to coagulate x – or yourself – into a thing.’ You and x become an integrated flow of energy and spaciousness.
     Learning how to have a complete experience of discomfort sets us free. Learning how to have a complete experience of pleasure deeply fulfills. … The body sensations of making love are spiritual to the extent that they are complete, that is, experienced in a state of concentration, sensory clarity, and equanimity. To know what true love is, we need to experience it as it truly is. In Tibet, that’s called the oneness of bliss and void.” 
       Shinzen Young. “The Science of Enlightenment. How Meditation Works.” Sounds True, 2016.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Fruits of Meditation

      Busyness, restlessness, distraction, intolerance to discomfort, and impatience energizes searching, but results in a lot of shallow, dry wells, exacerbating a chronic sense of 'lack.' 
     Those who persevere, 'delving deep,' achieve all that meditation has to offer. Lifelong committed meditation practice yields profound benefits, far beyond stress reduction.

      “Often when we meditate, we are not consciously aware of much happening. It just seems like we are sitting there. Much of the time, our mind may be wandering, and when our mind is not wandering, it goes to sleep. After a while, we become aware that we are physically uncomfortable, and then we come back to our object of meditation for a couple of seconds. Sometimes meditation practice goes on and on like this, and it doesn’t seem as if anything of real value is taking place. When we tell our friends what we experienced at a meditation retreat – mostly pain, sleepiness, and confusion – they may well say, ‘You paid good money for that?’
     But all the while, clarity and equanimity are slowly but surely trickling down into the subconscious. They rewire us at the most fundamental levels without us necessarily knowing it at the time. How do we know that it’s happening? We notice that things are changing in daily life. Our behavior and perception seem to be improving spontaneously. … In meditation, a lot of the learning that takes place is of this type. Meditation can clean out stored materials without necessarily requiring that you recall specific memories, traumas, and such.
     We might refer to this paradigm as the ‘trickle down’ model for reaching the subconscious. This contrasts with the ‘dredge up’ model used in much of psychotherapy. In the dredge up model, we reach down and explore a specific complex. This leads to a specific personal insight that then improves our quality of life. Dredge up and trickle down could be looked upon as mutually complementary processes. For some meditators, trickle down purification may be sufficient. But when that’s not the case, they can utilize the services of dredge up experts, that is, competent mental health professionals. It’s important to appreciate the awesome power of meditation practice, but it’s also important to realize its limitations. Sometimes other elements are required – therapy, 12-step programs, openness to social feedback, having a list of explicitly stated ethical guidelines, and so forth.” 
        Shinzen Young. “The Science of Enlightenment. How Meditation Works.” Sounds True, 2016.