Monday, October 14, 2019

Are you OK?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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