Thursday, February 28, 2013

"Managing" Uncertainty, Re-creating Identity, Medicalizing & Pathologizing the Self

     "living under conditions of sustained uncertainty (can become) part of the fabric of the everyday life of (patients and their) families and (can) transform their taken-for-granted world.
     Uncertainty has always been a condition of human existence; it's pervasiveness in human societies is evident from the fact that expressions for varying degrees of certainty can be found in most languages. Attempts to reduce uncertainty through ritual acts, ceremonial rites, supplication, sacrifice, signification, and divination are practices deeply embedded in the history of the human race. The strategies that people in primitive societies used to manage uncertainty have remained surprisingly constant and modern-day correlates of these strategies are easily recognizable. Although the conditions that give rise to uncertainty have changed over time, 'to predict the historical future remains one of mankind's oldest yet unfulfillable desires.'
     Uncertainty varies in degree of magnitude, intensity, and saliency - from the overarching, existential issues of life and death to the inconsequential contingencies and probabilities that are the substance of everyday life."
     Cohen MH. The unknown and the unknowable - managing sustained uncertainty. West J Nurs Res 1993; 15(1): 77-96.

     "A key element to the new era of biomedicalisation involves the production of individual and collective identities constructed through technoscientific means. Developing an illness identity is common for those with chronic illnesses or disabilities. Individuals develop and reinforce personal and social characteristics to help them to accommodate aspects of the illness and integrate it into their lives and sense of self. Illness identities help people to manage the uncertainty of illness. In managing uncertainty, information (both lay and professional) is paramount. ... biomedicalisation and biomedical uncertainty together encourage the development of a new kind of illness identity that is based on one’s association with, and knowledge of, science and technology. A technoscientific identity (TSI) transfers biomedical information and characteristics directly to the person. Instead of acknowledging that one has a particular biomedical classification, the TSI encourages the person to become — think of oneself in terms of — the classification." 

       Sulik GA. Managing biomedical uncertainty: the technoscientific illness identity. Sociol Health Illn 2009; 31(7): 1059-76.

     See also:

Clock by Robert Pope

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Fantasy, Existential Attitude, and then ...

     "A sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world" is an essential "reality check" in one's maturation to adulthood. Before we experience this 'existential attitude', we're living a fantasy, not fully aware of existential realities: constant change, aging, sickness and death.
     Thousands of years after the Buddha, Soren Kierkegaard also realized that "each individual — not society or religion — is solely responsible for giving meaning to life and living it passionately and sincerely ('authentically')."
Photo: Ipinheiro

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sanity - Diligent Introspection in a Supportive Environment

     "I never think of myself as 'cured' or 'entirely free' of depression or the possibility of panic attacks and disabling anxiety. Rather than avoid these experiences in my dharma talks, I discuss them whenever appropriate, as the fear of (recurrence) diminishes when it's addressed in a supportive environment. And, similarly to my alcoholism and addiction, I view depression and anxiety as the inevitable results of a consciousness that doesn't take time to turn inward and listen to what needs acceptance. My sanity, like my sobriety, is a daily reprieve born of effort and diligence, rather than a birthright. And, quite frankly, I wouldn't have it any other way." Josh Korda

Shambhala Sun, March 2013

Photo: DigitalTed

Friday, February 22, 2013

Equanimity, No Preferences, No Worries, Life Remains Challenging

     It's interesting how some of us worry about becoming equanimous and having no preferences. Much like patients who worry that antidepressants might be a "chemical straight-jacket", some meditators fear they're heading for a dull, monotone life. However, as we continue practicing, we find that our path is not at all linear, but more spiral or onion-layered. 
     As challenges (barriers, buttons, demons) keep revisiting us, they seem less and less coarsely daunting. But since our perception is becoming more refined, and our protective armoring thinner, we feel these challenges with the acute sensitivity of sunburned skin. At the same time, these same challenges become less and less overpowering. So somehow, we appreciate life's traumas even more fully than before, so they're very clearly happening, yet we're able to accept them more objectively.
     Very importantly, these are happening to all of us, not only to me. It's less and less about me suffering, and more and more about "there is suffering."
     As we gradually drop all defenses: magical thinking, avoidance, suppression, anger, hatred, catastrophization etc, we embrace reality like a rose, thorns and petals.

Photo: Steve McCurry

Monday, February 18, 2013

Thriving in the River of Life

     There's a marked difference between someone who enjoys the water, and is a competent swimmer - versus - someone who hates being in water and can't swim. The former is "one with" water - is literally "going with the flow," while the latter is fighting what they perceive to be a dangerous environment in order to preserve themselves. Fearful, inward-, self-directed tightness, withdrawing from the environment - versus - open-hearted, loving embrace of the environment, self being a minor consideration.
     We have no choice about being in the river of life. Our only choice is our attitude. This is entirely under our direction, and attitude strikingly affects perception and quality of life.

Photo: Steve McCurry

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Drowning, Caught in the Torrent, OR Surfing? What is This? Rebirths

     Even intelligent, well-educated folks may not be able to distinguish between being swept away by the torrential river of life from surfing the waves. The story of our life has a momentum, one with which we start out being cognitively fused - fully identified. Even when we get a bit of insight, letting go of this massive momentum is difficult. We're not just abandoning an idea or concept of who we are (ego), we're unplugging from an ego-associated energy source we've learned to rely on - ego death. There's a massive chasm - the distance between heaven & hell - between understanding concepts and fully integrating them into our lives.
     Like snakes shedding their skins, we must repeatedly shed self-concepts & associated worldviews that we've transcended. We are reborn, not just "one day at a time" but every fraction of the second according to much wiser folks than I.

Buck 65 & Jenn Grant singing Paper Airplane

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Open Heart Embraces Barrier

     What's the middle-way to deal with barriers? What are barriers if not gates to the next level of being?
     "Wallowing" is being stuck in prolonged episodes of hopeless doom and despair, circular thinking, spiraling downwards. This appears as a formidable barrier. There's a sickening familiarity to wallowing - the very thought of it is depressing. Yet at the same time, familiarity is comforting, even magnetically attractive. There's a huge tendency to set up camp on the familiar side of this "impenetrable barrier".
     Letting the familiar go, even when the familiar is miserable. Going towards the unknown, is daunting - we reflexively resist it. The momentum of our lives tends to be on the side of inertia - to remain in the camp, or try to go back. Going forward, through, beyond a barrier may not even be considered.
     Intentionally opening ourselves fully to the physical feel of the barrier, with an open, "don't know mind" - no preconceptions, hopes, nor expectations - requires some bravery, and being fed-up with the old circular thought patterns. When an honest fearless open heart embraces a barrier, only the open heart remains.

Blackie and the Rodeo Kings with Serena Ryder perform "Black Sheep"

Monday, February 11, 2013

Interpersonal Suffering, Hunger, Fears

     “When I came to understand suffering as including interpersonal suffering and saw the origin of this suffering as interpersonal hunger, the Buddha’s teaching on the three hungers came alive for me. And once I saw how these three hungers (for sensual pleasures, for being, & for non-being) worked in the interpersonal realm, my understanding of them as personal hungers deepened also. I came to understand the craving for interpersonal pleasure as both the urge for pleasant stimulation by other people and the fear of loneliness this pleasure often masks. I saw that the hunger for being was also the hunger to ‘be’ relationally – that is, the hunger to be seen, and its obverse, the fear of invisibility. The hunger for nonbeing, I came to understand, was not only the urge to escape this crazy and painful life but also the urge to escape existing in relationship. Inherent in this urge, I saw, is the fear of being seen, the fear of intimacy.
     I came to understand these hungers as almost elemental forces that, sustained by my ignorance of their operation, had kept me locked in confusion and stress. I sensed that beneath their murk, clarity and calm had always existed, even if I didn’t know how to access them. It seemed that each of these hungers had somehow prepared a campsite in my heart, even before parental conditioning or cognition meddled with my essentially luminous awareness.”

Kramer, G. “Insight dialogue. The interpersonal path to freedom.” Shambhala, Boston, 2007. 

Photo: Steve McCurry

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Resilient Practice

     “If your practice only works when things go well – if you turn away from it when things fall apart, if you don’t know how to turn your difficulties into strength and wisdom, then your work probably won’t be very effective. If, on the other hand, you are able to increase your forbearance and open you heart even more in the face of serious setbacks, you will have achieved the most prized of all spiritual accomplishments: the ability to continuously deepen your strength and love, no matter what happens.”           Norman Fischer, Shambhala Sun, March 2013

Photo: Steve McCurry

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Say YES to it all, NEVER give up, Practice continuously forever

     "Bow to your own weakness, your own craziness, your own resistance. Congratulate yourself for them. Truly it is a marvel, the extent to which we are selfish, confused, lazy, resentful, and so on. We come by these things honestly. We have been well trained to manifest them at every turn. This is the prodigy of human life bursting forth at its seams, it is the effect of our upbringing, our society, which we appreciate even as we are trying to tame it and bring it gently round to the good. So we make offerings to the demons inside us and we develop a sense of humorous appreciation for our own stupidity. We are in good company! We can laugh at ourselves and everyone else.” 

       Norman Fischer, Shambhala Sun, March 2013

      “When I find myself full of fear or desire, I remember that I am dealing with a brain and nervous system that has been hard-wired for millions of years for these emotions. Then I apply one of my favorite mantras, ‘I’m perfectly human.’ When I sit in meditation as a human being rather than as an individual, I feel I am part of a collective effort on the part of our species to right itself, to find a new sanity. As Robert Thurman says of meditation, ‘It’s evolutionary sport.’ In the light of that big perspective, I thank you for being on my team.”      Wes Nisker 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Patience - Makes Severe Challenges Workable

       Patience is the capacity to welcome difficulty when it comes, with a spirit of strength, endurance, forbearance, and dignity rather than fear, anxiety, and avoidance. None of us likes to be oppressed or defeated, yet if we can endure oppression and defeat with strength, without whining, we are ennobled by it. Patience makes this possible. In our culture, we think of patience as passive and unglamorous; other qualities like love or compassion or insight are much more popular. But when tough times cause our love to fray into annoyance, our compassion to be overwhelmed by our fear, and our insight to evaporate, then patience begins to make sense. To me it is the most substantial, most serviceable, and most reliable of all spiritual qualities. Without it, all other qualities are shaky.”

       Norman Fischer, Shambhala Sun, March 2013

Photo: Charles Baxter

Unconditional Presence, Grounded in Humanness, Willingness to Feel, Wallowing

     "JW: The word 'com-passion' literally means 'feeling with.' You can’t have compassion unless you’re first willing to feel what you feel. This opens up a certain rawness and tenderness— what Trungpa Rinpoche spoke of as the 'soft spot,' which is the seed of bodhicitta.

     TF: It’s vulnerable.

     JW: Yes. That’s the sign that you’re getting close to bodhicitta. That rawness is also quite humbling. Even if we’ve been doing spiritual practice for decades, we still find these big, raw, messy feelings coming up --- maybe a deep reservoir of sorrow or helplessness. But if we can acknowledge these feelings, and open ourselves nakedly to them, we’re moving toward greater openness, in a way that is grounded in our humanness. We ripen into a genuine person through learning to make room for the full range of experiences we go through.

      TF: How do you know when you’re indulging or wallowing in feelings?

     JW: That question always comes up. Wallowing in feelings is being stuck in fixation fed by going over and over stories in your mind. Unconditional presence, on the other hand, is about opening nakedly to a feeling instead of becoming caught up in stories about the feeling."

        HUMAN NATURE, BUDDHA NATURE. On Spiritual Bypassing, Relationship, and the Dharma: An interview with John Welwood by Tina Fossella

     See also:

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Processing Karma Now & Spiritual Bypassing

     "Spiritual bypassing is a term I coined to describe a process I saw happening in the Buddhist community I was in, and also in myself. Although most of us were sincerely trying to work on ourselves, I noticed a widespread tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.
     When we are spiritually bypassing, we often use the goal of awakening or liberation to rationalize what I call premature transcendence: trying to rise above the raw and messy side of our humanness before we have fully faced and made peace with it. And then we tend to use absolute truth to disparage or dismiss relative human needs, feelings, psychological problems, relational difficulties, and developmental deficits. I see this as an 'occupational hazard' of the spiritual path, in that spirituality does involve a vision of going beyond our current karmic situation."

       HUMAN NATURE, BUDDHA NATURE. On Spiritual Bypassing, Relationship, and the Dharma: An interview with John Welwood by Tina Fossella

     Have you come here to play Jesus
     To the lepers in your head?
                     One by U2

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Unconditional Love for Self Exercise - John Welwood

     “relationships cannot in and of themselves fill the hole of love created in childhood. In (his excellent book) 'Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships,' John Welwood teaches that we need to learn how to be there for ourselves and recognize that our lives are held in an absolute love. To tap into this love, he offers this six-step exercise

     (1) Settle into your body. Sitting or lying down, take a few deep breaths.

     (2) Turn your attention toward some way in which you feel cut off from love in your life right now and see how that lack feels in your body.

     (3) Without trying to get anything from anybody in particular, open to the pure energy of your longing to feel more connected. Deeply feel the energy in this longing.

     (4) See if you can feel the longing in your heart center and soften your crown center, which is at the top and back of your head.

     (5) Notice if there is any presence of love available now. Don’t think about it too hard or fabricate what isn’t there. But if there is some love or warmth at hand, let it enter you. Give yourself ample time to be with whatever you’re experiencing and keep in mind that the presence of absolute love may be very subtle, like being held in a gentle embrace.

     (6) Instead of holding yourself up, let love be your ground. Allow yourself to melt.”                                       Shambhala Sun, March 2013

Photo: fathernature

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Expectations, Perceptions, Science, Hypnosis & Meditation

     Meditation teachers advise "only have no expectations" - be curious, open and flexible (instead of judgmental & rigid). These appear to be prerequisites for clear perception. 
     It's quite remarkable how preconceptions and judgments influence perceptions and behaviors, even under scientific experimental conditions. Listen to / read Charles Tart's fascinating interview on Buddhist Geeks:

Photo: Arijit Banerjee

Monday, February 4, 2013

Suffering - Avoidance; Freedom - Curious

     "The whole of the ancient, master teachings on suffering come down to this: Suffering is the notion 'This isn't it,' and its variants, such as 'I can't bear this, it shouldn't be happening,' and 'I have to know how this will turn out,' and 'What if it gets worse?' When we want something to be over, we lose compassion for ourselves, now.

     Freedom, or waking up, and fearlessness come down to the simplicity of 'Wait a minute, what if this is it?' and its variants ... 'I don't know.'"     John Tarrant Roshi  Shambhala Sun, March 2013

Photo: Ekaterina Negoda

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Awareness - the "Glaze of Panoptic Attention"

     The phrase "glaze of panoptic attention" was used to describe basketball legend Bill Bradley's extraordinary level of awareness on the court by John McPhee.
     Dreyfus H, Kelly SD. All things shining. Reading Western classics to find meaning in a secular age. Free Press, NY, 2011.

     Panoptic is defined as "including everything visible in one view."

     Open-awareness meditation instructions advise keeping the eyes open, with eyelids half to two-third closed, with a soft gaze encompassing the entire visual field.

     Everything is "hidden in plain sight" - in plain sight because it's all right here; hidden when we fail to appreciate the relevance ie it's connection to us, and to everyone & everything else, right now. "Be here, right now!"

Photo: Nick0las

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Awareness of the Process - our Executive Function

     Therapists are “warned that it is easy to get sidetracked from the main issue at hand and (that they) must not get so involved in the content of the story or problem that the process of what is going on is missed.”

        Lundberg G, Lundberg J. I Don’t Have to Make Everything All Better. Six Practical Principles that Empower Others to Solve their Own Problems while Enriching your Relationships. Penguin Books, 1995. 

     See also:

Photo: antleong