There is no Eden

August 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

There is no Eden without being cast out of paradise.  There is no Fountain of Youth without aging.  There is no Nirvana without Samsara.

It is understandable to seek relief from pain and suffering, to desire peace when confronted with chaos.  But Nirvana is not a state you enter where suffering no longer exists.  It is not an Eden you can go to and forget your problems.  To consider it so is just another concept that creates more difficulties and more suffering in your life.  To consider it so fosters more ignorance and further dualistic thinking that keeps you from knowing true nature.

If Nirvana is not the end of suffering then you may ask what benefit there is to realizing it.  But this question reflects a basic misunderstanding that Nirvana, or your true nature, exists apart from Samsara and the world of becoming.  In truth, all opposites arise together, complement each other, contrast each other and rest upon each other.  Nirvana and Samsara are not different.  And just as you know beauty within the context of ugliness so, too, can you know non-suffering within suffering.  So the real question to ask is, “How do I approach suffering in my life?”

It may seem paradoxical but the answer to that question is, “When suffering arises, do nothing”.

To do nothing means to stop avoiding suffering when it arises.  It means to stop trying to possess it by calling it “my suffering”.  It means to stop telling stories about it such as who is to blame for it.  It means not to dwell on how big (or small) it is or do any of the hundred other things we do to avoid suffering.

In its essence to do nothing means to just “be aware”.

Just being aware is to “just practice”.

To just practice means there are no goals to obtain, no future where there is no pain, no time when you’re better.  “Just practice” means to open up to whatever is facing you in the immediate moment.  It is mindfulness without purpose or goal, for these only separate you from what is.

Of course, it is difficult to give up the desire to end suffering.  So let me add that when you open to suffering you’ll likely find some fear behind it that you’ve been avoiding.  When encountering this fear do not run from it or try to suppress it.  Instead do nothing, meaning do not resist it.  When you stop resisting you’ll come to know the fear for what it is.  Energy.  Vastness.  The Cloud of Unknowing.

It’s this Vastness you’ve been afraid of all along; that you’ve been avoiding and resisting.  But this Vastness is really just you, your true nature.  In just being aware you come to know your true nature.

Having said this, throw it away and just practice.

The Clear Light

August 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Clear Light is unconditioned, pure Nirvanic Consciousness.  Being unconditioned and pure it is without qualities and without limits.  Having no limits or qualities it is formless.  Being Consciousness it is All-Pervading Intelligence.  The conscious realizing of the Clear Light is synonymous with the attainment of Buddhahood.

To completely realize the Clear Light takes great training under the guidance of a knowledgeable guru.  Practice involves the six Rules of Tilopa.  These are to “imagine not, think not, analyze not, meditate not, reflect not, keep in the Natural State”.

To “imagine not” means to neither be attracted nor repelled by whatever arises in the mind.

To “analyze not” means to not try to figure out whatever arises.

To “meditate not” means to stop trying to find, uncover or conceptualize (the nature of the Self or Reality).

To “think not” is to let go of whatever arises.

To “reflect not” means to let go of what was let go (what has passed out of mind).

To “keep in the Natural State” means, in its simplest sense, to stay relaxed in the present moment.

The Clear Light is experienced at the moment of death.  Its subtle radiance is also present between thoughts but more interestingly it can be glimpsed at the moment of falling asleep.  This requires letting the body fall asleep while maintaining consciousness, sometimes call “maintaining unbroken continuity of consciousness”.

To see the clear light as you fall asleep it is necessary to be neither too tired nor too alert.  As you fall asleep gently keep your awareness.  Doing so will eventually result in a bright flash of white light.  Next thing you know its morning.

I saw the Clear Light’s bright flash last night and that is why I’m writing about it today.  It flashed twice, like lightning.  So much like lightning, in fact, that I paused (conscious but asleep) to listen for thunder that never came.

In the morning I woke to a knocking on the bedroom door, but when I got up to see who it was no one was there.  That is the third time that’s happened this month.

I mention these experiences, small as they are, because I believe they reflect something positive going on in the unconscious and they encourage meditation.  If you need some encouragement you might try and glimpse the Clear Light tonight.  Just remember, though, that it’s only a glimpse.  Not the light of the sun, so much as its light reflecting off the moon off a pool of water you’re looking at in the night.

Meditation & PTSD

August 26, 2012 § 2 Comments

Perhaps the strongest “not me” thought arises in Post-traumatic Stress Disorder where a survival mechanism of the brain acts to suppress all behavior long after the traumatic event has passed.  This mechanism is one of three an organism uses when presented with life threatening danger.  These are to attack, take flight or play dead (“freeze”).  It is the latter that’s active in PTSD.

Essentially, the freeze mechanism is the brain sending commands to the body to suppress activity and feign death when faced with a threat that it can neither attack nor run from.  In PTSD this mechanism continues to send these commands long after the threat has passed.

As might be expected from something that suppresses bodily activity, the freeze mechanism is related to PTSD depression.  It is the source of various avoidance symptoms such as emotional numbing, feelings of detachment, showing less of ones moods, and avoiding places, people and thoughts that remind one of the traumatic event.  It is involved in PTSD hyper-vigilance, insomnia, feeling irritable and difficulty concentrating.  These and other symptoms are all the result of a neural mechanism that acts to negate all individual activity on the false directive that to act is to die.  The range of suppression is not limited to physical but psychological activity as well, such as simply being assertive or affirming your own worth.  In this way it is an ultimate “not me” directive or thought.

Naturally, one suffering from PTSD would be attracted to the meditative technique of inhibiting thoughts believing the cure lies in suppressing symptoms.  But attempts to inhibit thoughts only lead to more thoughts and attempts to suppress PTSD symptoms only reinforce the neural suppression mechanism.  When using meditation to alleviate PTSD it therefore becomes necessary to face thoughts and symptoms with the intent of seeing their unreality and essential emptiness.

It is, of course, not possible here to investigate meditation and PTSD in its entirety.  But there are two simple methods I can suggest that may be of help.

First, as activity is the antithesis of the freeze mechanism it is necessary to start making decisions and taking action on those choices.  It does not matter how big or small the activity or whether it is a good decision or bad.  In fact, stopping to consider an action’s rightness is itself a symptom of the freeze mechanism.  With PTSD, just acting is part of the cure.

Second, when faced with PTSD symptoms it helps to affirm that it is just your brain reacting to a threat that does not exist.  Of course, the first reaction to this statement is that the threat did exist or might exist.  But what was or might be again are, after all, just thoughts in the head.  And even if the events that traumatized an individual exist somewhere in the world today, they still only exist to one suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as thoughts in that person’s head.

Affirming that PTSD is a neural activity, or just “the brain”, takes the apparent reality of the trauma out of the surrounding environment where it has been projected and places it squarely back where it belongs, in the brain.  Building on this affirmation leads to the realization that if all the reasons for PTSD exist only in the head, then they have no basis in reality.  Building further on this one realizes it isn’t “as if” the brain is reacting to nothing.  It is the brain reacting to nothing.  This realization enables the progressive release of the reactions and symptoms of PTSD.

Incorporating the above two recommendations into their daily thinking will help PTSD sufferers.  The benefits of this retraining may not be immediately apparent but neuroscience has shown that it is possible for stroke victims to rewire the brain via the process of neuroplasticity.  If this is true with irreparable brain damage then how much more so is it when there is no brain damage, as with those that suffer from PTSD.

A final note, the everyday meditator should know that avoiding “not me” thoughts will eventually lead to inaction and a frozen view of themselves and the world.  Negating the self via denial is a road to unconsciousness, not a royal road to Consciousness.

A Hawk Hovers With Open Talons

August 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

Ego is a collection of thoughts we identify as “me” and thoughts we identify as “not me”.  A healthy ego is one that neither clings to “me” nor “not me” thoughts.  An unhealthy ego clings to “me” thoughts and fears the “not me”.

We cling to thoughts that are clear and bright, to the idea that we are sharp and clever.  We are averse to being dim and weak, dull and stupid.  We desire to be purposeful and happy and abhor the aimless and depressed.  But no one is always ahead.  No one is always up.  Our lives are not always easy.  We are all stupid in some area.  To believe otherwise is to cling to a lie.  He who is attached to a lie will suffer much.

If there is fear without physical danger ask if the danger is not to your ego. When there is unnecessary suffering ask how this comes about.  If you go deep into the suffering you will find it arises from a resistance to a “not me” thought. You will find the fear arises from trying to escape and deny a thought.  But it is possible to know the white but keep the black by neither accepting nor rejecting concepts of self.  This is why it is said, “Because the sage always confronts difficulties, he never experiences them”.

The thought that you resist will typically be found to be one buried in stories of why you are this and not that.  But when these stories are stripped away you will find that it is a thought that negates a “me” thought and so, at a deeper level, it represents a fear of your own death.  But as this fear is based upon a lie of who and what you truly are, it, too, is a lie.

When we pretend to be this and not that, we fear the nothingness that reveals itself when these two meet and cancel each other out.  Yet the emptiness that remains is our true nature.  It is for these reasons Sages of old tell us we gain by losing and lose by gaining.  That “He who grasps loses.”

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The hawk hovers over the ocean with open talons.
Grasping at nothing, being open to all things.
Alert and watchful.
Remaining still until the moment of action
Nothing is left undone.
This is the way of heaven.

Happiness

August 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

Developing a sense of identity is a process of determining who you are and who you are not.  Much of this goes on in your formative years of childhood and is learnt from parents, siblings, culture, and religion, and then later from your own experiences as you meet the world head on.  During these latter experiences some earlier beliefs will fall to the wayside as untenable.  This is natural as it becomes necessary to deal with the world through the eyes of an adult instead of a child.  Images of yourself that are no longer workable may, however, be hard to dislodge when you are particularly fond of them, such as being “good”, “right” or “popular” and “attractive”.

When you hold onto a cherished ideal that doesn’t really work you eventually bang straight up into reality.  This is a logical consequence of using unworkable ideas.  And if you insist that it is the world that has to change to suit you, then you’ll eventually find that banging sound you hear is that of your own head against a brick wall.  Of course, with our present technological society it does appear we can shape the world to our liking.  But if you look closer at the ecological disaster awaiting us you’ll see the fallacy of our present way of thinking.

The ability to accept the world for what it is and adapt to it is a necessary physiological and psychological survival mechanism.  If our ancestors didn’t adapt humanity wouldn’t be around today.  When you don’t adapt you suffer psychologically.  The extent of the suffering is dependent on how out of whack you are with the universe and how out of harmony you are with your Self.

On a societal level it could be argued that each one of us has a responsibility to ensure we and our neighbors live in harmony.  For this reason laws were created and rules of society enforced.  When those rules and laws are equitable and fair then society gets along and people flourish.  When they are not, society becomes oppressive and people suffer.  A society must live in harmony with itself as much as with the world if it is to survive.

On an individual level it could be said the responsibility to self lies in being happy within society.  That is to say, outer happiness should not be at the expense of others, where others include people, animals, plants and the planet at large.  Socially and psychologically this level of happiness is also dependent upon how healthy the ego is.  It is dependent on whether ideas about your self are realistic and work in dealings with others and the world at large.

Conversely, on a spiritual and mystical level inner happiness is dependent on letting go of the ego altogether.  It is a direct consequence of giving up all ideas of self in order to realize Self.  Although outer and inner happiness appear to be incompatible, closer examination shows there is no inconsistency.  Outer happiness depends on a willingness and ability to change the self-image when old ideas no longer work.  Inner happiness just takes this process of adaptation to its logical end where it is realized that all ideas about self are false and therefore ultimately unworkable. The spiritually evolving person therefore lets go of all views of self.  She lets go of the ego.

The Dream

August 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

This morning I awoke from a dream where I was trying to open the front door but it was being held shut from the other side.  I considered turning on the porch light to see who was holding the door but it was clear if I did so the intruder would scamper away.  At the same time in the dream there was nothing on the other side of the door.  Literally nothing.  But as dreams follow a different kind of reasoning from waking logic, there was also an intelligence or force of some kind that lay behind the door.  It was not a beneficent force but seemed indifferently judgmental.

This dream has a strong after effect.  Even now, several hours latter, when I walk past the front door I seem to sense that whatever’s behind it can’t be comprehended by the mind.  It is not conceptual.

Now when it comes to dream interpretation the best book I ever read is Ann Faraday’s, “The Dream Game”.  In it she writes that unlocking the hidden meaning of your dreams first involves ascertaining the theme of the dream, then associating it to some event within the past 24 to 48 hours of your life.  The theme in my dream is trying to discover the nature of an intruder but being blocked by an unseen force.  In Ann Faraday’s thinking this is a “saboteur dream” because my effort to uncover something is being sabotaged.

Faraday writes that saboteurs can be either a psychological topdog or underdog, terms coined by the late Fritz Perls of Gestalt therapy fame.  The topdog is an internalized authority figure trying to impose its will on the rest of the personality that then becomes the underdog trying to outwardly please the topdog while still trying to get its own needs met.  At first glance this might seem similar to Freud’s notions of the superego and the id, however, Faraday points out that while the topdog usually equates to superego functions it does not always do so.  Sometimes elements of the id may become a topdog authority figure that tries to impose its will on the superego that then becomes the underdog.

Returning to my dream, as I mentioned the force behind the door was “indifferently judgmental” I suspect a judgmental topdog aspect of my personality is being projected onto the non-conceptual (i.e., “indifferent”) Self.  As that Self is also seen as an intruder this suggests I see the Self in some way as a threat, not surprising considering the Self is a threat to the ego’s position of authority in the personality.

As to the event in the past 24 to 48 hours the dream is commenting upon, it’s likely this is last night’s meditation wherein I continued to seek to do nothing: a reference to the Tao Te Ching where it says, “If nothing is done, then all will be well.”  This is similar to Gangaji’s admonishment to “stop” seeking the Self.  This would seem to be confirmed by the reference in the dream that if I turned on the porch light the intruder would scamper away.  This is a clear reference to how attempting to conceptualize the Self, i.e., turn on the porch light, separates one from the Self.

Putting this together, last night’s dream is telling me that my fear of being judged and my tendency to judge is sabotaging my efforts to know Self.  But more importantly, the dream is presenting an image that I can use when conceptualizing that which is beyond concepts.  That image is of the Self as “nothing on the other side of the door”.

One final note, in Patricia Garfield’s “Creative Dreaming” she writes that the Malaysian tribe known as the Senoi encourage dreamers to “achieve a positive outcome”.  To me, this image of Self as “nothing on the other side of the door” is one of the most positive outcomes I can think of to end this interpretation of the dream.

Consciousness, Awareness and the Unconscious

August 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

What do we mean by the terms “consciousness”, “unconsciousness”, and “awareness”?  The answer to this question would fill volumes so it becomes necessary to consider these in everyday terms.  For this I refer to the understanding given them by Franklin Merrell-Wolff in his book “Pathways Through to Space”.

In its immediate sense consciousness is the state of being aware.  In the general everyday sense it is the state we’re in when not asleep.  However, a close examination of these descriptions shows that they do not tell us much.

To say we are conscious when aware would make sense if “to be aware” were not defined as “to be conscious”.  And to say when we are awake we are conscious would make sense except that we’re comparing it to the sleep state that we’re calling “unconsciousness”.  This means we’re defining the everyday sense of consciousness as the state of not being unconsciousness and that is equivalent to saying a fish is not a not fish.

In truth, we all know what we mean when we speak of consciousness, awareness and the unconscious, but this understanding is not readily put into words without resorting to tautologies.  So let’s refer back to Merrell-Wolff’s definition of the conscious and unconscious state as I think you’ll find it interesting.

Simple put, Merrell-Wolff states that the difference between the conscious and the unconscious is one of awareness only.  That is, unconsciousness is a state of consciousness that is not aware it is conscious.  While the conscious state is a state of consciousness that is aware it is conscious.

To give an example of Merrell-Wolff’s meaning, while you are reading this turn you attention to your feet.  Note if they are sore, warm, cold, the feel of the skin.  Now ask yourself, “Were you unconscious of these sensations before you turned your attention to them?”  Chances are you’ll answer that you were aware of these sensations in some part of your mind.  Likewise, there are other sensations, sounds, sights in your peripheral vision, thoughts going through your mind, etc., that you can assert you were conscious of prior to turning your attention to them.

We can apply Merrell-Wolff’s description of the conscious and unconscious state to every part of our experience but that would be quite time consuming.  My intent here was only to give his view that you are never “unconscious” but always conscious, just not necessarily aware of the fact.  And to ask you consider that the power of awareness is, itself, consciousness that is focused.

Where Am I?

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