Archive for the ‘Chögyam Trungpa’ tag
It is another beautiful day here in Puerto Morelos. This morning I tried meditating in a different location other than tucked in a corner of the studio apartment. I was able to enjoy the sound of the breeze, the feel of the breeze, and the sound of the water lapping against the pylons of the pier. I sat at the far right corner which sticks out even further into the sea. Because of the hour and time of day, I did keep on my bathing suit while meditating. It was an experience worth repeating, only tomorrow [weather permitting] I will go there two hours earlier, before my morning coffee with my wife. While I meditate, she does yoga, so this is a shared experience in its own way.
Meditation is vital for me. Because of my history as a child and as a youth, I have lived in a self-imposed straight-jacket as I tried to contain the demons that haunted me. When it became too much to contain, it was in meditation where I first found the path to ease the strain and thus be able to move forward into another day of masking the psychic pain that wanted to swallow me. I needed meditation, but didn’t really know why.
“Well, meditation is dealing with purpose itself… Generally we have a purpose for whatever we do: something is going to happen in the future, therefore, whatever I am doing now is important — everything is related to that. But the whole idea of meditation is to develop an entirely different way of dealing with things, where you have no purpose at all. In fact, meditation is dealing with the question of whether or not there is a such thing as ‘purpose’.” [Trungpa, Meditation in Action]
Today, I know why I meditate. I know that this act of letting my ego consciousness give up control, in a way disappearing for a while, allows my body to feel the freedom from the prison of memories. While I meditate I don’t have any history of pain, of confusion, of betrayal or of being someone who has committed his fair share of betraying, confusing and of inflicting pain. I become a being, simply breath, sitting in my space which disappears leaving me freer than it is possible to imagine. I cease being a victim and a victimizer.
My body appreciates this momentary space where all is released, as does my spirit. I breath, I sit, I am. And, that is enough.
In Jungian psychology, the journey towards wholeness is called individuation. In alchemical terms, this wholeness is represented by the masculine and the feminine symbolism which takes the form of a holy wedding between the king and the queen. Knowing that the images are symbolic is vital for understanding of the psychological process. Within the psyche, the anima, or soul, is the feminine aspect; consciousness is the masculine aspect.
As to be expected, there are other symbols that are used to illustrate the idea of completion, of wholeness. One that finds it way into contemporary society is that of the sun and the moon contained together. As I walk down the street of my tiny town, I can see numerous examples of this image including several that are on my house. In Jungian terms, the sun is symbolic of consciousness, of the masculine principle; the moon is symbolic of the unconscious, or feminine principle. It is vital to differentiate the masculine and the feminine principles from biological males and females.
In social terms, the union of a man and a woman with the resulting creation of a child produces a wholeness that all societies embrace as family. This union of male and female has its roots in instinct, in the will to survive as a species. The union also has the impulse for completeness, for two to become one for a moment, a moment in which allows a transcendence of the painfully prosaic lives we live as individuals, even if we are in relationship with others.
With the act of union completed, it doesn’t take long for each to retreat within themselves and begin a grieving process for the loss of the other, for the loss of a sense of being at one with oneself. One returns to suffering.
“In talking about sex, we are getting into a very big topic. We are getting into the fact that every life situation has meaning behind it, or a process of communication in it. Communication can’y be established unless there are two parties, one of whom is the activator and the other the receiver. On that basis, any communication can be said to be sexual, although I’m not being Freudian here. The passionate quality of sex, doesn’t have to be involved necessarily. In order to communicate anything, however, you do have to have the true element of union. From the tantric point of view, everything is interpreted that way – in terms of union. There is the union of samsara ad nirvana, the union of phenomena and consciousness. We interpret it all in terms of the feminine and masculine principles. Everything is seen that way. (Trungpa, Work, Sex, Money, p. 106)
The union of masculine and feminine, the union of all dualities, polarities – the union of opposites and the achievement of wholeness, of one-ness.
I saw a number of these sand secretions, structures that had no meaning but were rather a product of simply living such as this sand worm cast which I found in Thailand. Simply living and being present and participating in life is all that is needed, but that is something I find quite hard to do. Rather than just letting life be as it is, I often escape either into the past or fantasize about the future.
A good example of that would be how I try to understand the past events that have landed me in analysis or looking towards a future day when analysis is over. Somehow, engaging in these polarity positions, I don’t have to face the fact of what I am doing in the present, looking at how I am in the present. It is a hard habit to break and one that causes some sense of fear. Why fear? Well, what if in paying attention, being present, I fail? What if I am rejected even by my analyst, my family, my friends and acquaintances? Better to bury the fear in telling tales in which I look better that I was, to paint a future that shows me as an accomplished and successful person, perhaps even somewhat famous. Being stuck in the now leaves me so ordinary, less than ordinary in my own eyes. And so I become defensive stuck in fear.
“Fear does not allow fundamental tenderness to enter into us. When tenderness tinged by sadness touches our heart, we know that we are in contact with reality. We feel . That contact is genuine, fresh, and quite raw. . . .
Sometimes people find that being tender and raw is threatening and seemingly exhausting. Openness seems demanding and energy-consuming, so they prefer to cover up their tender heart. Vulnerability can sometimes make you nervous, It is uncomfortable to feel so real, so you want to numb yourself. You look for some kind of anesthetic, anything that will provide you with entertainment. Then you can forget the discomfort of reality. People don’t want to live with their basic rawness for even fifteen minutes. When people say they are bored, often they mean that they don’t want to experience the sense of emptiness, which is also an expression of openness and vulnerability. So they pick up the newspaper or read anything else that’s lying around the room – even reading what is says on a cereal box to keep themselves entertained.” (Trungpa, Smile at Fear, pp 58-59)
I find myself doing this too much, finding creative ways to distract me from being present in life: problems with sitting still in my meditation, drifting into a mindless experience with Netflix, surfing the Internet to read almost anything just so that I can be distracted from my self. Being present is too much hard work. Being able to actually hold emptiness, to hold the idea of vulnerability, to hold onto the fact that even the idea of who I am is a fiction leaves me feeling very raw indeed. So, like almost everyone else I find some way to avoid all of this, even if it is just to once again do a statistics check to see meaningless data about this blog site. I don’t like coming face to face with shit, with my shit, and calling it shit. It is best to flush it away and pretend that it never existed, better to imaginary castles and kingdoms inhabited by heros and villains and gods and goddesses. Or, so I try to convince myself.
But in the end, I can’t escape the rawness, the vulnerability, the emptiness.
The first words of the photo’s caption are taken from a song called Suzanne. Earlier this morning I was playing this song on my guitar, working on the fingering for the melody between verses. This song by Leonard Cohen is one of my favorite songs along with a few others by him and by another Canadian singer, Gordon Lightfoot. Both of these men came to my attention when I was a teenager so many years ago. Both men wrestled with what it is to be human, the human condition of suffering which is the first of the four noble truths in Buddhism. My current reading of Chogyam Trungpa’s book, Smile at Fear, is allowing me to look at the nature of suffering and in doing so, allowing me to come to accept the naturalness of my own suffering as a child and youth, not accepting the suffering in terms of being a victim of that suffering, but accepting the fact that I am a human, not a superhuman as I had hoped for in my desperate desires to escape life as it was given to me.
Like everyone else, I was afraid and I did my best to hide my fear, to hide from the broken and bruised parts of my self as I knew me. I pushed back at the shadows and the darkness that was lurking within the depths of whoever it is that I was. Like everyone else I invested in the outer world, in work, in activity, in relationships and in trying my best to grasp at happiness in any form in which happiness decided to present itself. I played music and sang for others hoping to not only create a sense of happiness but also a sense of being confirmed through their listening and their positive responses. I wrote and sought the same result when others would read the words, a result that said that I was worthy of relationship, worthy of happiness. I invested in my work, in my play, in my athletic pursuits, in parenting, in loving, in teaching, in counselling, in listening to the suffering of others. Somewhere in all of that engagement with the outer world I had hoped that the inner world of darkness would simply disappear or somehow be transformed into a place of pure light and joy. But, now I find that I must finally face my fear of that inner darkness if I am to be whole. And, as Trungpa counsels, I must “smile” at that fear.
Playing music such as the songs of Cohen and Lightfoot were and remain authentic ways in which I have looked my own fear and darkness in the eyes without realising exactly what I was doing. Picking up my guitar off and on over the years to gently approach this inner sense of self has kept the darkness from overwhelming and possessing me. And now, thanks to daring to smile at fear through a combination of analysis, self-reflection, music and Buddhist meditation, I am beginning to learn that there really is light as well as darkness in the depths of whoever it is that I am.
I know that I am more than my ego, more than the bits and pieces of thoughts, emotions, feelings, sensations and physical aspects of Robert. I am not any of these things. These things are hints or signs of a deeper, fuller Self. It somehow gives a sense of relief to not be limited and defined by my ego, to have the freedom to be more, much more than the conjurings of my thoughts, my complexes, my fears and hopes. Like everyone else, I am a human and it is okay to be afraid. The trick is to acknowledge that fear and to smile at it rather than flee from it.
I’ve picked up another of Chogyam Trungpa’s books, this one called Smile at Fear. And, as with other books by Trungpa, I am finding this book both easy to read and packed with thoughts that challenge my way of seeing and understanding the world. I am also fascinated at how so many of the basic approaches to the human condition match the Jungian approach to the human condition. The opening chapter is called Facing Yourself, an idea that is at the centre of engagement with Jungian therapy and analysis. Trunga talks about the journey towards enlightenment, the journey of individuation as a journey in which one becomes a warrior as one must face one’s fears and one’s cowardice because of the fears. It takes courage to look at oneself with honesty in order to find out the truth about oneself.
“Warriorship is based on overcoming cowardice and our sense of being wounded. If we feel fundamentally wounded, we may be afraid that somebody is going to put stitches in us to heal our wound. Or maybe we have already had the stitches put in, but we dare not let anyone take them out. The approach of the warrior is to face all those situations of fear or cowardice. The general goal of warriorship is to have no fear. But the ground of warriorship is fear itself. In order to be fearless, first we have to find out what fear is.
Fear is nervousness; fear is anxiety; fear is the sense of inadequacy, a fear that we may not be able to deal with the challenges of everyday life at all. We feel that life is overwhelming.” (Trungpa, pp 3-4)
Fear. I know this word, this feeling; and, I suspect that so does everyone else who stops for a moment and looks within. It seems there is a lot to be fearful about. I fear many things such as getting sick, getting lost, being alone, losing loved ones, too much responsibility, and meaninglessness are just a few of the things that evoke some measure of fear within me. But without doubt, it is my own inner darkness that is the most fearful thing. Will this inner darkness possess me and rob me of my sense of self; will this inner darkness convince others that I am not worthy of relationship with them leaving me utterly alone; will this darkness plunge me into a world of insanity where I am no more? Yes, this is an existential fear and thus is a fear that is pervasive and strips a lot of colour from the world.
“One of the main obstacles to fearlessness is the habitual patterns that allow us to deceive ourselves. Ordinarily, we don’t let ourselves experience ourselves fully. That is to say, we have a fear of facing ourselves. Experiencing the innermost core of their existence is embarrassing to a lot of people. Many people try to find a spiritual path where they do not have to face themselves but where they can still liberate themselves – liberate themselves from themselves, in fact. In truth, that is impossible. We cannot do that. We have to be honest with ourselves. We have to see our gut; our real shit; our most undesirable parts. We have to see that . . . We have to face our fear; we have to look at it, study it, work with it . . .
We also have to give up the notion of a divine savior, which has nothing to do with what religion we belong to, but refers to the idea of someone or something who will save us without our having to go through any pain. In fact, giving up that kind of false hope is the first step. We have to be with ourselves. We have to be real people. There is no way of beating around the bush, hoping for the best. If you are really interested in working with yourself, you can’t lead that kind of double life, adopting ideas, techniques, and concepts of all kinds, simply in order to get away from yourself. . . .
We have to face quite a lot. We have to give up a lot. You may not want to, but you still have to, if you want to be kind to yourself. It boils down to that. . . . Nobody can save you from yourself.” (Trungpa, pp 5-6)
Now, of all the things I wanted to learn, this is what I didn’t want to hear. This is the same message I get from my analyst, the same message I have given to my own clients in the past, the message that we teach our children as they grow into their own strengths. Know yourself, be yourself, honour yourself. These are easy words to say, but at the same time, they are the most difficult words to actually hear and use to serve as our guide to wholeness. It’s time for me to look in the mirror.
I am turning for a bit to some of my Buddhist readings, especially the work of Chogyam Trungpa, The Path is the Goal. The title of the book reminded me of the path of individuation. The more I study, the more and more I am finding that “fits” to make a whole. In the sixth chapter of Trungpa’s book, the topic is “loneliness.” I will bring some of the words here, words that address the topic of loneliness and meditation.
“I think we should realize that the practice of meditation takes us on a journey that is very personal and very lonely. Only the individual meditator knows what he or she is doing, and it is a very lonely journey.” (Trungpa, p. 126)
A journey of one person. There is a guide/teacher that helps with orientation from time to time, but the journey is still a journey of one person. And, it is a very serious journey.
“The only thing that is visible, that apparently exists, is the journey, the loneliness itself. . . . . On this path, we are not looking for the grace of God or any other kind of saving grace. There is no sense that we are going to be saved, that someone is going to keep an eye on us so that if we are just about to make a mistake, someone will fish us out. . . . Nobody is going to save us and nobody is going to protect us, so this journey has to be a very personal journey. (pp 127-128)
As I sit in my meditation each morning, it is just me, myself and I working at taming my mind, trying to find a bit more light, awareness, consciousness. As I sit in analysis, even with my analyst, I am still wrestling with myself. The analyst, like the meditation teacher is there invested with care, compassion and even love; but, neither can take any of my steps for me on my journey. When I move through the rest of the hours either alone or in the company of others, my sense of individualness continues to assert itself within me.
This separateness is easily understood as a parent. I love all three of my children with an unbelievable intensity and would move every rock on their journeys so that their lives could be gentler. But is spite of all my efforts and love, they must walk their individual journeys separate from me as a parent, separate from their siblings, separate from their own children and their spouses. It is almost overwhelming to realise this. Yet, that is the way of being human, the way of being in life. We live our individual journeys in loneliness. And, we are graced to find others seeing us, loving us, touching us and being with us as best they can as they also make their individual journeys.
Sometimes I find an image on the Internet without going in search of it. Sometimes the image comes to me through a “Tweet” or flashing passed my screen as I search for some unrelated information. Today’s image is one of those gifts that appear as it was passed from one viewer to the next to the next – a dynamic found on Tumblr. I was sent to the site of Aphrodite where I found the photo with an accompanying text:
“…We leave our homeland, our property and our friends. We give up the familiar ground that supports our ego, admit the helplessness of ego to control its world and secure itself. We give up our clingings to superiority and self-preservation…It means giving up searching for a home, becoming a refugee, a lonely person who must depend on himself…Fundamentally, no one can help us. If we seek to relieve our loneliness, we will be distracted from the path. Instead, we must make a relationship with loneliness until it becomes aloneness.” (Chögyam Trungpa, The Myth Of Freedom And The Way Of Meditation)
These are heavy words, the words of the “Hero’s Journey” that C.G. Jung calls individuation. The image is perfect in terms of showing the isolation of one on a path for only one. In a previous post I talked about the idea of the “crooked road” that is the only way to get from here to there which is curiously the straightest path through the wilderness, the swamplands. As I read these words I wonder at what losses must yet come on my own journey to healing.
Like most people, I am a lonely person even though I am surrounded by people who love me and whom I love. I am lonely because I am trapped in a body, a mind and inner shadows that hide the essence of who I am from myself as well as those around me. The only way through loneliness is to become one with my body, my mind and my inner shadows rather than be isolated from these key aspects of self. Then as Chögyam Trungpa tells us, I become alone rather than lonely.
Because I am in a separate body with a separate mind and heart I can never bridge the distance to lose this “aloneness.” I try, as do most others, by falling in love, making love, becoming a spouse, a parent and a grandparent – but the distance remains.
When I finally reach the goal of “aloneness” then, and only then, will relationship with others be full and nourishing to both myself and to those others.