Saturday, September 7, 2019

Feeling Our Way Back Home

     Under stress, we automatically rush to our head, quickly trying to figure out how to get rid of danger & find safety, security, comfort. Increasingly however, we're feeling stressed almost continuously. Not surprisingly, for most of us, our heads have become home - an unhappy home.
     Can you feel when your center of gravity is in your head? It's all thinking / self-talk / self-concern isn't it? Can you sense a heaviness between the ears, even a continuous mild headache, often with tightness in the jaw / neck / shoulder areas? While "in your head," you're disengaged from the here & now - "absent-minded", "spaced-out." Such inattentiveness creates the false impression of being uncaring, that you're ignoring & disrespecting people around you, and contributes to accidents - adding to our stress.
     So under stress, we habitually escape into our head, often making the situation worse. We easily recognize the feel of this in our head as well as in the rest of our body - trembling, increased heart rate, butterflies in our bellies etc. Such unbalanced thinking is clearly useless, harmful, and feels wrong. 
     Balanced thinking - intentionally planning a project, preparing a menu, designing a garden, solving a math problem etc - is being fully engaged, in a relaxed, sustained manner, with what we're doing & at home in our body and the present moment. 
     Full engagement means that our mind, heart & the rest of our body are working in harmony, in a relaxed, joyfully efficient manner! This feels good! "Flow" is one term used to describe the enjoyable state in which an activity is performed fully immersed in energized focus & full involvement.
     When we care for a beloved young child, puppy or kitten, we joyfully hold them in love & safety. This is the easiest way of remembering the feel of fully engaging all of our intelligences: mind (reason); heart (emotions & connection to others & environment); and body (physical power & groundedness or connection to the earth / reality). It's a fascinating combination of nurturing, interconnectedness, power & groundedness - like a mother grizzly with her cub. Other examples this felt sense: hugging a loved one or looking into their eyes (person or animal); doing work (or hobby) that we consider to be our calling; when we see, hear, or read about anything that deeply resonates or touches us.
     We ALL know this felt sense of intimacy with the present! We know & remember this! It's a matter of remembering to return home to our whole self and learn to trust that it's safe & infinitely more pleasant to live our authenticity.
     Mindfulness training very gently, very slowly, eases us back into trusting that it's safe to leave our disembodied stressed-out thought-world, and return to be grounded at home our balanced mind-heart-body.
     1) Learn to recognize the unpleasant feel of being in your head: stressful repetitive thoughts, often with the feel of stress in the rest of the body.
     2) Relax, allow, feel awareness descend from your head, down into the heart area. In the heart region, with infinitely patient practice, you will (sooner or later) feel warmth radiating in all directions, outside & within your body. No forcing, no impatience - patiently, gently, feel, sense your way along. This radiating warmth is the physical / energetic feel of your interconnectedness with others, the environment, life itself. This viscerally felt sense of connectedness is profoundly restorative & healthy (vs sad & unhealthy sense of isolation, "me against the world", loneliness).
     3) The warmth extends downward to include your belly, within which your "hara" resides. The hara is the energy center in the middle of the abdomen, 2 inches below the navel, deep along the body's vertical axis. This is your body's power center, from where meditators, martial artists, opera singers & weight-lifters cultivate & generate power, the point around which gymnasts & figure skaters twirl, etc. 
     Even if your abdominal area feels unsafe, the hara is in a protected place, deep within the vertical core of your body. Far from being vulnerable, it is your own power center, never harmed, always reliable. The hara connects & grounds or anchors us to our body, present-moment reality, sanity, stability, the earth.
     4) Keep noticing whenever you get lost in your head, and allow yourself repeatedly to sense your way back down to hang out in the heart & hara centers. See how it feels to perceive life from this balanced mind-heart-body perspective
     If this works better & feels healthier, saner & more joyous, then keep patiently, gently practicing - it just gets better & better, despite challenges along the way.

     "All profitable correction comes from a calm, peaceful mind.”  
                                                                                                                         St. Francis de Sales 

Btw, hurricane Dorian is barreling towards us as I type. The eye of the storm is expected to hit our small city in a few hours. It's raining, windy, and ~80,000 homes have already lost power.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Depth of Being

     A frequently-used metaphor for human nature is that of the ocean, with its obvious surface - from crashing waves to brilliant calm; and the hidden depths - dark, mysterious, silent, deep & still. 
     The surface easily grabs & can completely dominate our attention - and when it does, we are the stormy, salty, soggy "me, myself & I."
     Ultimately, we sense that there has to be more to life than splash, noise & self-concern. Indeed, if we relax, settle into stillness, and listen deeply with all our senses, we naturally sense, return home to, spacious, peaceful, silent wholeness.

     We are BOTH of these!

     When we're sweating in a storm, can we remember to embody our depth of stillness? 
     And when we encounter someone battling a storm, can we remember the fragile, soggy aspect of our own nature?

     "Everything is perfect, but there is always room for improvement." Shunryu Suzuki

     “Some years ago in London the Dalai Lama explained that '... there are two kinds of mindfulness: contrived and natural.' While we can 'practice' contrived mindfulness through effort and intention, 'natural mindfulness' is engaged simply by remaining 'naturally and gently in the essence of awareness itself.' He explained that as soon as the mind is disturbed by ordinary notions and reifications, we become lost in identifying with the contents of the contrived mind. Yet underlying this ever-changing creative display of mental activity is our true nature, or home, of natural mindfulness, an elusive though accessible quality of effortless, abiding, natural awareness (rigpa) that is the ever present dimension of awake awareness within each of us in every moment of our lives. The Dalai Lama acknowledges that this experience of natural mindfulness, or rigpa, 'is beyond words, thoughts, and expression and is difficult to communicate.'” 
        Joel & Michelle Levey 

     "When all the layers of false identity have been stripped off, there is no longer any version of that old self. What is left behind is pure consciousness (rigpa). That is our original being. That is our true identity. Our true nature is indestructible. No matter whether we are sick or healthy, poor or wealthy, it always remains divine and perfect as it is. When we realize our true nature, our life is transformed in a way we could not have imagined before. We realize the very meaning of our life and it puts an end to all searching right there." Anam Thubten

       “What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves?” Thomas Merton


Friday, August 23, 2019

What IS This? - a poem

Each cherished person, creature & possession

Only chaos
devastation, loss?

But awakened ones 
clearly see
'this cup is already broken'

When we awaken
will we experience the magic of unformed unity 
with joyful, childlike curiosity
morphing into infinite numbers & varieties
of observable mysteries?

And will we also experience 
every single mystery
bursting asunder
as it reverts back 
into vast, silent, majestic, pregnant emptiness
always & already
AND never ever

Monday, August 12, 2019

The Road Less Traveled

     As a species, we're deeply conditioned to stick to all that is safe & well-known. We have a powerful, genetic 'negativity bias.' 

     "All of life is but keeping away the thoughts of death." Samuel Johnson

     However, at a certain point in our life, some of us are drawn to, and are ready to take 'the road less traveled' - toward becoming intimate with the meaning of our own life, of life in general.

     “Yaksha:               What is the greatest wonder in the world?
      Yudhishthira:     Every day men see others called to their death, yet those who remain live as if they were immortal.” The Mahabharata

     “Just understand that birth-and-death is itself nirvana. There is nothing such as birth and death to be avoided; there is nothing such as nirvana to be sought. Only when you realize this are you free from birth and death.” Dogen

       David R. Loy. “Lack & Transcendence. The Problem of Death and Life in Psychotherapy, Existentialism, and Buddhism.” Wisdom Publications, 2018.

     “The word mysteries has long had religious connotations. In both ancient and modern cultures, there have always been priests and priestesses, nuns, monks, and shamans seeking to learn from the mysteries and thereby shift their relationship to themselves and others, to life and to death. This book is intended for those today who are drawn to these subtle realms. Emptiness is the theme, as it is a core teaching closely connected to the other mysteries. For the truth of emptiness to reveal itself fully in our hearts and minds will require inquiry and reflection, as well as a deep intuition born from meditation, which is simply another name we give to close observation. In truth the keys that unlock the mysteries of science also unlock the mysteries of spirit.”

       Guy Armstrong. “Emptiness. A Practical Guide for Meditators.” Wisdom Publications, 2017.

Morning Meditation

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Meditation, Thoughts & Emotions

     After years of serious meditation practice, many of us expect to reach a stable state of equanimity, if not pure bliss. When this doesn't happen, we wonder if we've messed up somehow.
     Thoughts, emotions & body sensations will always continue to change (anicca), and will continue, at times, to be unpleasant (dukkha). However, self-inquiry & meditative experience tells us that these things are not who / what we are (anatta). 
     It takes a LOT of wise, continuous practice - on AND off the cushion - to let go of being so thoroughly identified with our thoughts (self-referential internal narrative), emotions & body, and start to hold ourselves much more lightly.
     A few Buddhist perspectives on this common dilemma:

     “The meditator’s path is not about trying to become perfect. It is a path that leads to inner freedom. I have found meditators to be some of the most idealistic people in the world. It makes sense that we would be; after all, we are aiming for the highest happiness. But when idealism is self-centered – as in ‘I’ have to be perfect – it is debilitating and exhausting, certainly for ourselves but also for those around us upon whom we are projecting our need for perfection. As the Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki reminds us, practice is making one mistake after another. 

     … Aiming for perfection can be seductive and compelling. Given that the society in which we live supports the idea that perfection is attainable, it can feel like our own personal fault if we are not.” 
       Narayan Helen Liebenson. “The Magnanimous Heart. Compassion and Love, Loss and Grief, Joy and Liberation.” Wisdom Publications, 2018.

     When practitioners complain about suffering, Zen teachers would ask them: "WHO is suffering?" The intention is to nudge the practitioner toward the direct experience of not being able to find any trace of a solid, fixed, unchanging "I". 
     If we ask ourselves this question, we immediately leave the victim role, and assume an observer role, which is MUCH more spacious, free & clear.

     “The fundamental change, the turning of the page from illusion to clarity and understanding in my process of nondual awakening, occurred after many, many hours of self-inquiry and yoga while working with ‘I am not this body’ and ‘Am I this body?’ …” 
       Gary Weber. “Evolving Beyond Thought. Updating Your Brain’s Software.” CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017.

     For a deeper insight into this essential topic: 
• Guy Armstrong. “Emptiness. A Practical Guide for Meditators.” Wisdom Publications, 2017. 
• Buddhadasa Bhikkhu. “Heartwood of the Bodhi Tree. The Buddha’s Teachings on Voidness.” Wisdom Publications, 1994.

Morning meditation

Thursday, August 8, 2019


     Many, perhaps most people are detail- or specifics-oriented. Their comfort zone is in dealing with widely-agreed-upon factual details, specific, familiar places & situations, immediate, tangible, material concerns. They're not comfortable engaging with general principles, broad concepts, & 30,000ft overviews. Particularly foreign, disorienting, even threatening are spirituality, mysticism, wisdom, etc.
     This is in sharp contrast to a small group of folks with a rare (<1%, "Advocate") personality type, whose real passion is getting to the very heart of issues, ideally to help prevent serious problems. These folks may have a facility for & interest in focusing less on individual trees, and more on the basic principles of forestry, in order to prevent catastrophic forest fires.

     Each of us is pretty well stuck with one personality type. Nevertheless, it's becoming terrifyingly obvious to most that human behavior is rapidly destroying the earth. Arguably, this is because most modern humans are ignoring spirituality:
     “our modern worldly values (desire for fame, money, etc.) acquire their compulsiveness from a misdirected spiritual drive.” 
        David R. Loy. “Lack & Transcendence. The Problem of Death and Life in Psychotherapy, Existentialism, and Buddhism.” Wisdom Publications, 2018. 

     So an innate aversion to spirituality does not eliminate our spiritual drive, but may actually ramp it up in a distorted manner. That's why so many of us are addictively "looking for [depth of meaning, community & fulfillment] in all the wrong places": electronic devices, alcohol, food, shopping, drugs, gambling, work, porn, etc, etc).

     But what exactly is spirituality?

     "Spirituality is a broad concept with room for many perspectives. In general, it includes a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves, and it typically involves a search for meaning in life. As such, it is a universal human experience — something that touches us all. People may describe a spiritual experience as sacred or transcendent or simply a deep sense of aliveness and interconnectedness.
     Some may find that their spiritual life is intricately linked to their association with a church, temple, mosque, or synagogue. Others may pray or find comfort in a personal relationship with God or a higher power. Still others seek meaning through their connections to nature or art. Like your sense of purpose, your personal definition of spirituality may change throughout your life, adapting to your own experiences and relationships."

     "Spirituality addresses qualities of the human spirit that include love, compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, a sense of responsibility, which brings happiness to self and others. It as well includes a basic concern for the well-being of others. And it has an emphasis on contemplative practices cultivating ethics, stability, and prosocial mental qualities." Dalai Lama 

     “Politics and spirituality are the two sides of the same coin. Politics is the driving force visible to the outside; spirituality is the internal force driving the consciousness to open up to the world and conjoin it. Politics bared of spiritual awareness always leads to violence and the abuse of power. Spirituality without political engagement resembles an escape from the world.” Gundula Schatz

     "Spirituality is about getting out of the conceptual realm of spiritual fantasy and theology. It’s a deep exploration of the direct experience of being. It’s not an attempt to escape the direct experience of being, which is often what’s happening." Adyashanti

     “Religion is for people who're afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for those who've already been there.” Vine Deloria Jr.

     In the following, "soul" IMHO is used very much like "spirituality":
     “I don’t use soul in a religious sense but rather the way psychologists Carl Jung and James Hillman and the Romantic poets like Keats, Wordsworth, and Blake use it: to speak of the experience of depth in our lives. Soul invites the marginal, the excluded, and the unwelcome pieces of ourselves into our attention. Soul is often found at the edges, both in the culture and in our lives. Soul takes us down into the places of our shared humanity, such as sorrow and longing, suffering and death. Soul requires that we be authentic, revealing what lies behind the image we try to show the world, including our flaws and peculiarities. Soul doesn’t care at all about perfection or getting it right. It cares about participation. Soul is revealed in dreams and images, in our most intimate conversations, and in our desire to live a life of meaning and purpose.” Francis Weller 
Morning breaks on Eagle Lake

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Three Wonderful Books

     Short quotes from 3 exceptionally useful books:

     “When nothing is needed from the object* to fill up my lack, it can be just what it is … no longer frustrating because there is no longer anything lacking in me that I need to project as something lacking in my world.” 
        David R. Loy. “Lack & Transcendence. The Problem of Death and Life in Psychotherapy, Existentialism, and Buddhism." Wisdom Publications, 2018.

     Loy's book is a detailed, slightly scholarly examination of our universal gnawing sense of "lack" - not being enough in some irritatingly impossible-to-resolve way: not good enough, not smart enough, not rich enough, not attractive enough, not happy enough, not secure enough, etc, etc. BUT Loy explains what, from a Buddhist perspective, we can effectively do about this.
     *"Object" can refer to people, animals, things, activities etc. we crave for, try to possess, try to hang onto, etc. in a futile (materialistic) attempt to resolve this sense of lack.

     A series of simple exercises presented in the next book, by Weber, show us how:
“a) thoughts are about the past and future,
b) thoughts are unpredictable and beyond your control,
c) most thoughts contain the I,
d) trying to not think is difficult,
e) thoughts are continuous,
f) you can’t predict your thoughts,
g) you have thousands of random thoughts,
h) your thoughts come from and go to emptiness,
i) your 'I' is a changing cast of ad-hoc characters.
     These insights are critical to having the mind see its nature and, amazingly, and fortunately, begin to unravel itself from its craziness.”

       Gary Weber. “Happiness Beyond Thought. A Practical Guide to Awakening.” iUniverse Inc, 2007.

     Weber's book is super-concise, straight-to-the-point. It's especially useful if you've already done a fair bit of reading about awakening, yet remain identified with your thoughts ("self-talk"). There are useful, beneficial types of thinking: such as for problem-solving, planning (vs catastrophizing), etc. The type Weber advises we learn to release is by far the most common form: self-referential internal narrative (SRIN) - obsessive, excessive self-concern - all about "me" "myself" & "I".

      “To recognize an emotion as an emotion is itself a wise response. This awareness of the truth of things, that an emotion is a mental state, offers a little bit of light. This light allows us to view the emotion wisely instead of through the eyes of delusion and ignorance. Awareness offers a pause. When we observe and accept, ‘Ah, anxiety is like this,’ for instance, we can experience an intimacy with the raw actuality of the experience instead of papering it over with thought.
     Because all conditioned things are impermanent, painful emotions are subject to change. We practice sustaining the awareness that an emotion is happening here and now. There is the object – the painful emotion – and there is the knowing of the object. Because the pain is happening here and now, it is workable here and now. The story of self begins to ease and dissolve: how I was in the past, what happened when I previously experienced this, why it is this way now, given it is this way now it will be this way into the future … all of this is just the arising of thoughts that are inherently empty and occurring here and now.” 
        Narayan Helen Liebenson. “The Magnanimous Heart. Compassion and Love, Loss and Grief, Joy and Liberation.” Wisdom Publications, 2018.

     Liebenson's book is warm, gentle AND wise. Emotional reactivity reminds us when our behavior is not quite as psychosociospiritually-evolved as we would like it to be. Maturation is a life-long journey - one step at a time ...

Fogo Island, Newfoundland

Friday, July 5, 2019

Why Cling to Bubbles in a Stream?

     It's very common, especially in our youth, not to acknowledge our limited & uncertain lifespan, and instead pretend we all live forever. Then, as acquaintances, friends & loved ones become ill & die, each one is a shock - as if death were a huge, tragic mistake, a grossly unnatural surprise. But the Buddha advised:

Thus shall you think of this fleeting world:
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.          Buddha, Diamond Sutra

     The Buddha also advised regularly reciting and contemplating "The Five Recollections":

I am of the nature to age.
Aging is unavoidable.

I am of the nature to get ill.

Illness is unavoidable.

I am of the nature to die.

Death is unavoidable.

All that is dear to me and everyone I love
are of the nature to change.
There is no way to escape being separated from them.

My actions are my only true belongings.
I cannot avoid the consequences of my actions.
My actions are the ground on which I stand.

     "Contemplating these recollections encourages us to awaken from denial and avoidance. The recollections offer a pathway of nonattachment and equanimity and a deeper, more sustained appreciation of this moment, now. A lightness of being emerges when we face what is undeniably so. If we take these recollections up as a practice, we are deliberately calling these realities forth instead of simply being at their mercy, overwhelmed by the thoughts and emotions they activate. 
     ... it is not a fault to get sick and to age. We are not separate from nature.
     All sentient beings, without exception, are subject to these natural laws. This body is not ultimately in our control. This body belongs to nature. Even this mind isn't in our control. We cannot choose what arises. This mind belongs to nature. What happens when a deeper understanding of how little control we really do have leads to a diminishing or dropping out of the sense of self? Old age, sickness, and death are not dukkha {stressful / unsatisfactory / suffering} if they are not clung to as I or me or mine. When we see clearly that illness and death are not I, me, or mine, the dukkha that they ordinarily cause may lessen a great deal or even cease altogether."

       Narayan Helen Liebenson. “The Magnanimous Heart. Compassion and Love, Loss and Grief, Joy and Liberation.” Wisdom Publications, 2018.

Jetty - photo by P. Michael Lovas

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Ready to Start Meditating?

     Would YOU benefit NOW from starting a meditation practice eg by taking an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course? 

     "Timing" ("readiness for change") really is everything! In broad terms, if you're happy & feel that life will remain rosy, you probably don't want anything to change. If, however, you're somewhat unhappy & sense that genuine happiness is obtainable, you may be motivated to actively change your life. 
     An important timing issue to consider is recent major trauma: death of a loved one, or the recent end of an important relationship. It's best to give yourself adequate time to heal from such trauma before taking on the challenge of learning to meditate. 
     “Any experience that is stressful enough to leave us feeling helpless, frightened, overwhelmed, or profoundly unsafe is considered a trauma.” Pat Ogden To benefit from meditation, one has to be able to feel safe, relax, & play just past one's comfort zone, in their zone of learning. I use the word 'play' because the quality of effort required for meditation is much like looking after a beloved 3-year old child. It's kind, playful awareness, flexibility & curiosity (instead of struggling to drag a heavy suitcase up flights of stairs). 
     So, is this the right time for you to start meditating? Maybe the following can help you decide:

     1) For some, life is rolling along nicely and feel that if they just keep doing their part, life will continue to be satisfactory. While life is not always perfect, short of winning a lottery, they really can't see how life could be much better than it is now. 
     These folks tend not to be motivated to start, nor complete, an 8-week MBSR program. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"
     2) For some, life is tolerable - "ordinary unhappiness" - but they're certain, even dogmatic, that nothing can be done to substantially improve things.
     These folks are rarely interested in meditation.

     3) Some do not settle for "ordinary unhappiness" and are certain, even dogmatic, that they are markedly improving their lives by engaging in a specific path, practice, discipline, philosophy etc.
     These folks might be open to meditation IF they realize that their current seemingly successful path is not interfered with AND IF they believe that meditation can supplement or boost the depth & effectiveness of their current path, practice, discipline, philosophy etc.

     4) Some do not settle for "ordinary unhappiness" and seek a path towards genuine peace & profound happiness. They're ready to gradually let go of fearful (egocentric) self-concern, and shift to (allocentric, ecocentric) openness & loving curiosity about all aspects of life, including death. Such a shift clearly requires maturity in the form of self-compassion, self-acceptance, & acceptance of all manner of life's difficulties, complexities & apparent paradoxes.
     Folks like this are uncommon, BUT tend to be deeply interested in meditation practices.

     When the time is right, most people benefit from meditation.

     I've received VERY diverse, wise email responses to this post, which I will share by early July - stay tuned! 
     If you haven't already, please consider adding your unique perspective.

Kentville Ravine Trail

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Clear Perception

     Can I appreciate the "one taste" of reality?:

     Perhaps the ultimate level of psychosocialspiritual evolution, awakening or enlightenment can be defined as "intimacy with all things."

     "enlightenment ... only occurs as we reach a particular degree of sensitivity or openness to life." 
       Judith Blackstone. “The Enlightenment Process. A Guide to Embodied Spiritual Awakening.” Paragon House, 2008.

     "The Great Way is not difficult
       for those who have no preferences..."     Sengstan

      “When preferences for a particular experience fade, the myriad things come forward to play, shimmering with suchness. Obviously, flowers and trees do this, but so do beer cans and microwaves. They’re all waiting for our embrace. It is enormously empowering to inhabit a world so vibrant with singularity.” 
       Darlene Cohen, Buddhadharma: The practioner’s quarterly, Spring 2007

     "The mind creates the abyss
       and the heart crosses it."                         Nisargadatta

     “The apparently objective world is unconsciously structured by the ways we seek to secure ourselves within it. … precisely this attempt to ground ourselves in the world is what separates us from it.” 
        David R. Loy. “Lack & Transcendence. The Problem of Death and Life in Psychotherapy, Existentialism, and Buddhism.” Wisdom Publications, 2018.

     "When we give our hearts to whatever we do, to whatever we experience, or to what is happening around us, without personal agendas or preferences taking over ... the space of awareness, is exactly the same."
       Amaro Bikkhu "Small boat, great mountain." 2003 

Sunday, May 26, 2019

"Busy, busy, busy"?

     "To commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to the violence of modern times."       Thomas Merton 

     "Saying 'yes' to more things than we can actually manage to be present for with integrity and ease of being is in effect saying 'no' to all those things and people and places we have already said 'yes' to.

     We may be betraying what is deepest and best in ourselves, and we may be betraying our relationships to others, even those we most love, and even our connectedness to places, to being at home where we are and fully in touch with what is most important and required in any moment. We might be losing touch, unknowingly, with our very relationship to the possibilities and the impossibilities of time."
     Jon Kabat-Zinn. "The Infidelity of Busyness." Mindfulness 2019; 10: 588–589.

     "'How is your heart?' I recently asked a friend going through a trying period of overwork and romantic tumult, circling the event horizon of burnout while trying to bring a colossal labor of love to life. His answer, beautiful and heartbreaking, came swiftly, unreservedly, the way words leave children’s lips simple, sincere, and poetic, before adulthood has learned to complicate them out of the poetry and the sincerity with considerations of reason and self-consciousness: 'My heart is too busy to be a heart,' he replied."
       Maria Popova 

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Processing Suffering

     We all sense varying degrees of chronic dys-ease: anxiety, lack, hunger, inadequacy, guilt. We never seem to be able to clearly identify the specific cause. Therefore not surprisingly, despite our constant striving towards comfort, lasting relief remains elusive. A "low-grade neurosis called normality" or "ordinary unhappiness" is obviously a central, universal human itch. Many of us mistakenly assume that everyone else is fairly consistently happy, and if we were only "normal" we too would be living a life-long river boat cruise commercial.
     Below is a surprisingly helpful (if a tad scholarly) insight derived from Western psychology, Western philosophy, and thousands of years of Buddhist meditation experience. 
     In summary, what can actually help us with this universal dys-ease is seeing our situation as clearly as possible, fully accepting and staying with unavoidable discomfort until it resolves. In fully meeting ('physically processing' or 'being intimate with') life's constant, mostly uncontrollable, often uncomfortable & at times frightening aspects, we learn to release our many illusions (of control, of certainty, of solidity, of identity, of everything) and instead, learn to peacefully abide in not-knowing, in groundlessness. 
     "Finally, the mind comes to rest in its natural state: the ground from which both conscious and ordinary subconscious events arise." B. Alan Wallace

     “… the Buddhist path is nothing other than a way to resolve our sense of lack. Since there was no primeval offense and no expulsion from the Garden, there is nothing that needs to be gained. Our lack turns out to be the sense that there is a lack, which does not mean we can simply deny or try to ignore that sense. For Buddhism our problem turns out to be paradoxical. The actual problem is our deeply repressed fear that our groundlessness / nothing-ness is a problem. When I stop trying to fill up that hole at my core by vindicating or realizing myself in some symbolic way, something can happen to it, and to me.  
     This is easy to misunderstand, for the letting go that is necessary is not directly accessible to consciousness. The ego cannot absolve its own lack because the ego is the other side of that lack. In terms of life and death, the ego is that which believes itself to be alive and fears death; hence the ego, although only a mental construction, will face its imminent disappearance with horror. Uncovering that repression, recovering the denial of death for consciousness, requires the courage to suffer. Our struggle against death is usually redirected into symbolic games of competition, as the urge to defeat our opponent or at least be a little better than our neighbor. To free us from the paralysis of death-in-life, the energy that is distorted into such symptomatic activities must be translated back into its more original form, the terror of death, and that terror endured (there’s nothing one can do with it except be conscious of it and bear it.). … the Buddhist path is not resoluteness but simple awareness, which Buddhist meditation cultivates. One does not do anything with that anguish except develop the ability to dwell in it or rather as it; then the anguish, having nowhere else to direct itself, consumes the sense of self. Since the sense of lack is the other pole of the sense of self – tails to its head, but one coin – primordial lack-as-anguish devours not only the ego-self but itself.  

     The point is neither to flee from the pure-guilt-as-anguish by objectifying it in some fashion, nor to identify with it by abasing oneself, but to let it burn itself out, like a fire that exhausts its fuel, which in this case is the sense of self. If we cultivate the ability to dwell as it, then ontological guilt, finding nothing else to be guilty for, consumes the sense of self and thereby itself as well. Since this devours one’s compensatory self-importance, one becomes a completely ordinary person, who feels no different from anyone else and no need to be different from anyone else. … this is the end of experiencing our existence as a burden to be shouldered, inasmuch as the heavy weight of life originates in the need to secure or vindicate ourselves. According to Buddhism, the ego-as-lack dissolves in the experience of one’s true nature as a groundlessness that has nothing to gain and nothing to lose, and is therefore free.”

       David R. Loy. “Lack & Transcendence. The Problem of Death and Life in Psychotherapy, Existentialism, and Buddhism.” Wisdom Publications, 2018.