Sunday, October 23, 2011

Be true to your own self, love yourself absolutely
~Nisargadatta; I am That

Some Buddhist teachers talk as though awakening were a form of dissociation. They describe feelings as patterns and energy, and relationships as sensations and pixels, as though dissolving the cognitive or emotional content of experience were a release from human suffering.

There is a kind of bloodlessness in this approach to practice that is chilling. I think this is because these teachers are disconnected from their own psychologies, rigidly defended against their feelings, and have cultivated practice as a blessed escape from the painful demands of everyday life. After all, everyday life is a series of risks: the risk of conflict in relationship, the risk of failure in getting a job, the risk of total humiliation in love, the risk of drudgery in raising a family. The list is endless.

But dissociation is an escape from suffering, not its transcendence. Practice is not about becoming dispassionate or disengaged or even about becoming more self-sufficient. Trying to master oneself is like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. As my own teacher likes to say, quoting an anonymous Buddhist nun: don't pull up the flower with the weed!

Passion is not the enemy. It is the flower and the weed, the poison and the cure. But we are so full of self-loathing and have forgotten our own basic goodness. We are embarrassed rather than fascinated by ourselves and shun our own image rather than look deeply into it. When Narcissus saw his own reflection, he fell in love, not with his face, but with his beauty. This is the luminous mind that shines through every human face, every beauty mark, every blemish. My old mentor Robert Misrahi used to call it l'universel particulier: toi (you).

Love is the answer:

When you realize the depth and fullness of yourself, you know that every living being and the entire universe are included in your affection. But when you look at anything as separate from you, you cannot love it for you are afraid of it. Alienation causes fear and fear deepens alienation. It is a vicious circle. Only self-realization can break it. Go for it resolutely.
(Nisargadatta; I am That)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains.
~ Rousseau;
The Social Contract

Vertigo is anguish to the extent that I am afraid, not of falling over the precipice, but of throwing myself over.
~ Sartre;
Being and Nothingness

This week three friends spoke to me about feeling released from some deeply rooted hindrance to the full expression of their being. The first person was released from a life-long sense of shame, the second experienced a kind of complete vanishing of herself during meditation, the third (a therapist) admitted needing help and actually asked for it, something he had never done before.

Although all of my friends felt liberated from their unhealthy self-representations, they all reported experiencing a terror they had never felt before. They described it as worse than a panic attack, a paralyzing apprehension, not of what might come next, but that what comes next is nothing at all. Sartre called it vertige, the dizzying sense you get standing on the edge of an abyss, the heart-stopping fear that catches in your throat as you imagine yourself taking that leap into the void. It feels like self-willed dissolution, insanity or suicide.

What happens is that we become wholly identified with our functions and characteristics, the parts that make up our “self” as persona. We forget that we are not them (the parts) and gradually invest our whole being in them, clinging to them as if our very life depended on them. We think “I am = I am x, y or z (attributes)”.

To alter what I am (even if it is to free myself from a great burden, like shame) feels like losing I am, i.e. feels like dying!

This is why a prisoner sometimes chooses to return to the prison. Over-identified with the ball and chain, the elation of freedom is eclipsed by the terror of feeling severed from what he is. But the prisoner has to die for the man to live.