Thursday, July 28, 2016

What are We - Really?

     Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. 
     Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
     It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us.     Marianne Williamson 

The Living Fiery Essence

I am that living fiery essence of the divine substance that flows in the beauty of the fields.
I shine on the water;
I burn in the sun and moon and the stars.
The mysterious force of the invisible world is mine.
I sustain the breath of all living beings.
I breathe in the grass and in the flowers;
and when the waters flow like living things, it is I . . .
I am the force that lies hidden in the winds;
they take their source from me,
as a man may move because he breathes;
fire burns by my blast.
All these live because I am in them and am their life.
I am Wisdom.
The blaring thunder of the Word
by which all things were made is mine.
I permeate all things that they may not die;
I am life.     
                                                  Hildegard of Bingen

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Fresh Opportunities Many Times per Second

     Buddhist teachings from 500BCE state that the universe is born, lives and dies every 60th of a second. So we're ALWAYS free to choose a wiser, kinder, more wholesome, way of life! See:
     Amazingly, an LCD monitor’s frame rate (speed at which a video source can feed an entire frame of new data to a display) is often locked at 60 frames per second. (wiki)

     Someone once told Rupert Spira, "There’s a tendency to identify my quality of being by the thoughts that arise."
     Rupert Spira's response, using his favorite TV screen analogy:
     "No. Identify the quality of being just by the quality of being. The screen doesn’t derive its qualities from the image. Your relationship to thoughts and perceptions is the same as the relationship between the screen and an image. In other words, the screen is intimately one with the image. It’s closer than close (clasps hands together, fingers interlocking) to the image, but at the same time, it is completely independent of it. That is you. You – this experience of being aware – are totally intimate with all your experience. Every experience you have - that is every so called inside feeling (points to his own chest), but also so called outside perception (points away from himself) - are this close (clasps hands) to you, totally intimate, not even intimate because there are not two things there to begin with. There isn’t a screen and an image. It’s just you, just knowing. So in that sense, you are intimate with all experience, equally intimate. Not more intimate with this (touching to his own body), than you are with this (touching a glass of water) – equally intimate with all experience, and at the same time, you, the experiencer, simply being aware, are absolutely independent of all experience. So it’s this mixture of total intimacy (clasps hands) and total freedom (opens hands). 
     As we understand ourselves, so we see the world. So if we think (hands on his chest) ‘I am a finite, temporary self that shares the limits of the body’, if we think ‘I am a finite, temporary object’, then our experience will appear (one hand on his chest, other hand pointing outwards) in conformity with that belief. In other words, your experience will be a multiplicity and diversity of finite objects. You will feel that you are separate from everyone and everything, related to them through an act of knowing, feeling or perceiving. I know such and such, I love you, I see the tree. These are the three channels – knowing, feeling and perceiving – through which the inside self, the apparent subject, is connected to the outside object, other, or world. That’s if you believe that you are a temporary, finite subject, made of a mind, living in a body. But if you know that you are simply this unqualified, experience of being aware, then you find yourself equally pervading all experience. You cannot say ‘I am closer to my thoughts than I am to the sound of that car.’ Thoughts are made out of thinking. The sound of the car is made out of hearing. Both appear equally in me. And when I try to touch the stuff that they are made of, all I find is this empty knowing."

       Rupert Spira: Liberating Our Thoughts From the Tyranny of the Illusory Self

Friday, July 15, 2016

Happy, Happy, Happy all the time?

     Current society's idea of perfect happiness is living a continuous beer commercial: being one of the young (20's), beautiful, sexy people frolicking around a campfire on a beach (drinking the advertised product). 
     This is far removed from reality. Everyone is subject to constant change (anicca) & unsatisfactoriness (dukkha), but we don't need to take any of it personally (anatta). 

     Even the wise, spiritually-mature feel sympathetic pain when witnessing the suffering of others.

     “The sorrow, grief, and rage you feel is a measure of your humanity and your evolutionary maturity. As your heart breaks open there will be room for the world to heal.”          Joanna Macy    

     Life for an evolved human being is NOT about maximizing pleasure (craving) & minimizing discomfort (aversion). Our primitive brain stem can run that simple approach-avoidance program in the background (autopilot). 
     Our life is about consciously attending - waking up, learning what exactly is going on, who exactly we are, and living in harmony with that enlightened realization.



Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Towards Balanced Intelligence

     "In social science, disenchantment is the cultural rationalization and devaluation of mysticism apparent in modern society. The concept ... describes the character of modernized, bureaucratic, secularized Western society, where scientific understanding is more highly valued than belief, and where processes are oriented toward rational goals, as opposed to traditional society where ... 'the world remains a great enchanted garden'."

     "... Freud was essentially a moralist - not in the popular sense of the person who gets a rush from attacking others for engaging in specific sins, but in the more philosophical sense of being ultimately concerned with what is true:
     '... Psychoanalysis ... demands a special capacity for candor which not only distinguishes it as a healing movement but also connects it with the drive toward disenchantment characteristic of modern literature and of life among the intellectuals.' "  
     Nancy McWilliams. "Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy. A Practitioners Guide." The Guilford Press, NY, 2004.

     From the extreme of "magical thinking", the pendulum has now swung all the way to "hyper-rationality":
     Hyper-rationality is the unquestioning faith in the efficacy of reason. This is something of an irony, since those who take the hyper-rational approach to reason are violently opposed to "faith" of any sort. They (rightly) condemn "faith" as "irrational," but they then go to the opposite extreme of making reason supreme. In so doing, they inadvertently turn reason into a sort of surrogate God, to whom they must pay homage at all costs. This is rationality carried to the extreme, beyond rational limits, hence the term "hyper-rationality.
     In his book Descartes' Error, Antonio Damasio has amassed an impressive body of neurological evidence to show that at the biological level of brain processing, reason cannot, and does not, function on its own. Emotions are inextricably interwoven into our most "rational" decisions and thoughts." 
     Michael Mendis

     Isn't it most reasonable to assume that there is an appropriate time & context for ALL our ways of knowing: logical reasoning, contemplation, intuition, spirituality etc. Relying exclusively on only one of these, in the wrong context, is recklessly unreasonable.
     Intentionally cultivating all our ways of knowing, in a balanced manner, would seem to be optimal.

     "Contemplation is a third way of knowing – a missing link – that complements & enhances the rational & sensory. The contemplative mind is opened and activated through a wide range of approaches – from pondering to poetry to meditation – that are designed to shift states of mind in order to cultivate such capacities as deepened awareness, concentration and insight. Historically, the contemplative has been used throughout the wisdom traditions as fundamental for developing interiority and understanding the most essential knowledge, yet it is almost entirely absent from contemporary education."
     Hart T. "From information to transformation. Education for the evolution of consciousness." Peter Lang Publishing, NY, 2009.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Common Factors - for Meditation Teachers?

     "Common factors" play a very important role in all forms of psychotherapy & counseling. I suggest that they're equally important in teaching meditation.
     Perhaps the most detailed analysis of common factors is found in: Nancy McWilliams. "Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy. A Practitioners Guide." The Guilford Press, NY, 2004. Below is a long but valuable series of quotes from McWilliams' excellent text, which should startle meditation teachers, especially those without formal training in mental-health care. I found that almost every point (with perhaps one notable exception), is equally applicable to teaching meditation:

"People who seek psychotherapy are generally looking both for specific expertise and for the kind of relationship that will allow them to unburden themselves and grow in a more general way.

     'We must not forget that the analytic relationship is based on a love of truth - that is, on a recognition of reality - and that it precludes any kind of sham or deceit.' Sigmund Freud

... The overarching theme among psychodynamic approaches to helping people is that the more honest we are with ourselves, the better our chances for living a satisfying and useful life. Moreover, a psychoanalytic sensibility appreciates the fact that honesty about our own motives does not come easily to us. The diverse therapeutic approaches within the psychotherapeutic pantheon share the aim of cultivating an increased capacity to acknowledge what is not conscious - that is, to admit what is difficult or painful to see in ourselves.

Psychoanalytic clinical and theoretical writing has always specialized in exposing motives that are not obvious to us, on the premise that becoming aware of disavowed aspects of our psychologies will relieve us of the time and effort required to keep them unconscious. Thus, more of our attention and energy can be liberated for the complex task of living realistically, productively, and joyfully. Motives that tend to be relegated to unconsciousness vary from individual to individual, from culture to culture, and from one time period to another. It is probably no accident that in contemporary Western cultures, where individual mobility is assumed, where extended and even nuclear families are geographically disparate, and where the assumed solution to most relationship problems is separation - in other words, where longings to cling are unwelcome and signs of dependency inspire scorn - psychoanalytic researchers and theorists are emphasizing attachment, relationship, mutuality, and intersubjectivity.

If this account sounds somewhat moralistic, that is also not accidental. Several decades ago, the sociologist Philip Rieff made a scholarly and persuasive argument that Freud was essentially a moralist - not in the popular sense of the person who gets a rush from attacking others for engaging in specific sins, but in the more philosophical sense of being ultimately concerned with what is true:
     '... Psychoanalysis ... demands a special capacity for candor which not only distinguishes it as a healing movement but also connects it with the drive toward disenchantment characteristic of modern literature and of life among the intellectuals.'

... Psychoanalysis as a field has ... embraced an ethic of honesty that has precedence over other aims and regards therapeutic goals, including symptom relief, as by-products of the achievement of honest discourse. ... For many decades, the ethic of honesty was personified in the image of a therapist who had presumably attained unflinching self-awareness in a personal analysis and who bore the responsibility for fostering the same achievement in the patient. In current analytic writing, there is more acknowledgement that participation in a therapeutic partnership requires both analyst and patient to become progressively more honest with themselves in the context of that relationship.

... psychoanalysis is located at the intersection of two vertices: the medical and the religious. By 'medical' (Bion) referred to the more objective, rational, technocratic, authoritative stance of the person trying to offer practical help to those suffering from mental and emotional disorders. The medical vertex is characterized by validated techniques, applied by an expert, intended to have specific, replicable effects. Recent efforts ... to develop manualized treatments for borderline personality organization exemplify this face of psychodynamic practice. Current writing on the neurology and brain chemistry of subjectivity and the changes that occur in analytic therapy also belong to the medical axis. In noting the equally important 'religious' vertex, Bion was calling attention to a dimension that is often depicted as existential, experiential, humanistic, romantic, collaborative, or discovery-oriented ways of seeking answers to (unanswerable) human questions."

      Nancy McWilliams. "Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy. A Practitioners Guide." The Guilford Press, NY, 2004.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Trump's Revolution?

     "The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all."       John F. Kennedy

     14 million Trump supporters could potentially inflict a Cultural Revolution on the US. The rest of the world cannot escape the fallout.

     “… Inner Mongolia was not spared the excesses of the disastrous (Chinese) Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), when the nation was on war footing, arrayed against domestic enemies of the state and international enemies of the nation, real and imagined. The ‘four olds’ (old thought, old culture, old customs, and old practices) were under attack, targeting, in particular, ideologically ‘backward’ members of superstitious** and conservative rural societies. When they weren’t working to bring down important political, military, and cultural figures, Red Guard factions spent their time tormenting ordinary citizens. Military organizational schemes replaced traditional tribal order, military terminology was in vogue, and military commanders, competent or not, were placed in charge of production activities. … it was an onerous time for people whose lives were centered on respecting the ways and superstitions** of their ancestors.”

       Jiang Rong. “Wolf Totem.” Penguin Books, 2004.

** superstition - the pejorative materialistic societies use for wisdom traditions, particularly Native Spirituality

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Emptiness is Good News?

     I suspect most of us hunger & thirst almost continuously for something, anything to make & keep us happy or at least satisfied. This is despite the fact that deep down we realize that there is absolutely nothing out there that can reliably do it for us. 
     Everything is "empty" - not in a nihilistic sense, but in that everything 1) lacks essence - there's no intrinsic quality that makes a thing what it is; and 2) lacks independence - does not exist on its own, apart from conditions, relations or cognition.
     The Buddha found that all phenomena, including our very own body, are empty!

"Thus shall ye look on all this fleeting world:
A star at dawn, a bubble in the stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream."
Gautama the Buddha 

      Everything being empty, constantly changing with prevailing causes & conditions sounds rather unsatisfactory - no?
     But the Buddha also found that everything changes when we completely let go of clinging - when we stop trying to find happiness in empty, conditioned stuff. 
     So, can we take empty stuff a lot more lightly, and instead, turn serious attention to the unconditioned - awareness itself?

     “All formations are transient; all formations are subject to suffering; all things are without a self.
     Therefore, whatever they be of form, of feeling, perception, mental formations, or consciousness, whether past, present, or future, one’s own or external, gross or subtle, lofty or low, far or near, one should understand according to reality and true wisdom: 
‘This does not belong to me; this am I not; this is not my Self.’
      adapted from the Anguttara Nikaya and Samyutta Nikaya, translated by Nyanatiloka
      Jack Kornfield, Gil Fronsdal eds. “Teachings of the Buddha.” Shambhala, Boston, 2007.
     And the good news is that despite the "full catastrophe" of life, we can nevertheless develop progressively increasing levels of peace & equanimity. Simultaneously we develop greater compassion & do more to relieve suffering, when no longer anxiously craving for empty phantoms & dreams.

Bumper Sticker

Monday, July 4, 2016

Concentration & Awareness Meditation

     "We access the mind of calm abiding through recognition. What do we recognize? 
     Awareness: the ever-present knowing quality of mind, from which we are never separated for an instant. Even though normally we do not recognize awareness, we can no more live without it than we can live without breathing. For this reason, I often use the terms shamatha and awareness meditation interchangeably. Discovering our own awareness allows us to access the natural steadiness and clarity of the mind, which exist independent of conditions and circumstances, and independent of our emotions and moods."         Mingyur Rinpoche

     shamatha meditation - concentration or tranquility meditation to help stabilize the mind 
     awareness meditation - vipassana or insight meditation to see things clearly, as they are

Maddy's Chair