Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Juniper Trees

I just wrote this poem, called The Juniper Trees, from a hike I took this evening, where the sun went down while Lilah and I were still on the mountain, and we found our way through the cool air in the pitch dark with no moon for a couple of hours. Quite pleasurable. But before then, in the dusk, I passed through a village of birds so loud I could not believe it. Happiness seemed to radiate from the trees.

I passed through a secret
village on the mountainside
The air was drawn, hushed in
dusky light.
One hundred chatting birds
danced, unself-conscious, thinking
themselves alone.
A robin emerged from inside a
juniper singing with abandon.
He spotted me, and froze.
I smiled at him,
encouraged him to speak
freely, but he flew in a
circle to where I could not see him.
I continued my silent decent,
the red earth rich and dusty.
Soon, I had passed the village,
wishing I could stay
and transform into a bluejay,
sailing on the air
rife with joy

Things as they are

In illness, there is the profound opportunity to relate with things as they are and let go of the idea that we need to fix or change anything, precisely because illness can bring about the story that we won't survive unless we keep fixing things. I wrote this prose just today, about a moment some years ago:

Sometimes, as is life, things we want to last forever, break.
In one of these moments
as I stood in front of the mirror
I knew that time had moved on,
and I was swimming backwards.
This seeing brought me a vow:
That delight, would now be drawn from
things as they are.
Brokenness is a word that steals the
curves and branches of beauty
from the nowness of our souls.
Now, on the cusp of a brand new life,
where things live brightly
I give myself again to
the mysterious voices
so loving and tenderly

Friday, September 09, 2011

Getting Smushed

I have been contemplating anger, since I have my fair share of it. I have someone in my life who likes to put me down, and unfortunately for now, I am stuck dealing with this person. Lately I have been trying to look deeply into the situation of my response. Feeling the tightness in my being, the judgment toward this other person and also toward myself for judging, and for being angry, has been painful.
I just wanted to share about seeing into anger, and how intense it is. I have at times been very afraid of anger. It is difficult to see oneself in a positive light when one feels anger on a regular basis. Especially if you have low self esteem, or tend to beat yourself up, anger can be something that is hard to acknowledge or look at. This is understandable, especially if you grew up with an angry parent. But it really is safe to look at anger. It isn't a monster, it is just thought and energy, and when looked at deeply with awareness, one can see that it is okay to feel anger in oneself and other people.
For me my struggle has been with being put down by someone. I did not want another person to carry with them the belief that I was bad. In looking deeply I see that it is okay that they felt that way, and that I don't need to defend myself. Why don't we need to defend ourselves? Isn't it important that we stop other people from abusing us? Yes, that is in fact important. If someone is abusing us we have to tell them to stop. But it is not the abuse I am concerned with, since that can be stopped in an instant. It is the consecutive thoughts and feelings that linger in both people. And those are the things that can be left alone. It really is okay to let go of what someone else is thinking of you, even if they hate you, or believe that they do. Even if you will have to see them every day. This is because awareness is supreme over the ego. Even though ego feels that it is the center of the universe, it is like a pool with no reflection. Ego thinks that it is solid, and if it looks in the mirror it will see itself, solid, reflected back. But when one actually looks there is no reflection at all. So one can be put down, and smushed, and this is okay. We can focus on what is important which is our own connection, development of stillness and love. Part of that development is feeling everything including our own anger, rage, and hatred.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

What to do with loneliness and pain?

It has come to me recently that we all have within us the knowledge of what our deepest desires are. Our deepest desires are obscured by things we believe we want for ourselves. Because we think that these things will bring happiness and will satiate our true inner desire for freedom. When we become quiet, it seems that we can see our deepest desire for freedom, and the things that will lead us there and the things that will not.
Loneliness is a pervasive suffering that has saturated our world. This is something we all feel at times, and some more than others. We have created so many barriers to love and acceptance that we feel cut off and separate in new ways. What to do about it? It appears that surrounding ourselves with people is not the answer. Nor is filling the space with television and radio, internet and phone. In fact, anything we do to try to escape it is actually making it worse, because it is like we are placing a bandage over a disease that cannot heal. And so the disease festers while we continue to look away.
An antidote is to acknowledge our truest desire to be free, and this way, every loneliness and pain can be used as an opportunity to practice awareness. Every moment that we think we are alone, we can use as a moment to be present without distraction, or to love without obscuration. So loneliness is actually of great benefit, and takes us closer to the freedom of our deepest heart's desire. Let us be the people we really are, and not conform to what societal pressure tells us to be.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

We Only Have As Much Power As We Are Willing To Give Up

We only have as much power as we are willing to give up. And at that point, we don't care about power anymore. I have been thinking about power dynamics, between couples, between men and women, children and adults, teachers and students, bosses and employees. There is enormous pain in the attempt to dominate or control. Because it is based solely, at it's core, on the desire to protect one's own survival at all costs. And as we know, the pursuit of survival is like trying to grip dry sand. It is impossible. We all die. Furthermore, our grip means the sand cannot stay, it falls away automatically.
I have realized over and over how society has trained me as a woman to feel powerless. The message is that I should objectify my body, make it an object for the enjoyment of others. The way I talk, walk, hold my head, brush my hair, my posture, my energetic innermost movements, should all be synchronized and illuminated in a sort of play. The male projection of the young, sensual woman, has become an archetype of pain in this culture, and many other cultures. She is found beautiful for her very imprisonment. She cannot be aware of her beauty, this would be threatening. She cannot ignore her beauty, this would be masculine. Her beauty must be unchanging, frozen. Not impacted by natural forces such as water, wind, cold, heat. Thus hair products, botox, surgery, airbrushing, and eternal youth. She must be timid and submissive, yet sexually ferocious. She must be willing to be dominated, yet unattainable. She must be the center of attention, but without her own perspective, for she must be living the image of your perspective. She must be mature and able to contain your emotional needs, yet never grow beyond the posturing of the young woman. She must be all contradictions, without complaint, without awareness, naturally, effervescently. She must be your emotional and physical servant, leaving time for herself only to groom.
This kind of deep inner contradiction causes one of two things, and sometimes both simultaneously: 1) Disassociation, and 2) Deep, inner tension eventually leading to disease. Women faced with the awareness of these cultural truths must make a choice to either give up the only option of power that they are given, or allow their psychological and physical bodies to be in essence, tortured.
Interestingly, in giving up the perceived power, we as women, along with all other beings placed in some cultural bind, find genuine power is released. In giving up all power, one finds instead that one has nothing to lose in being oneself, and in this way, has gained total freedom and joy, the thing of course we were seeking all along.
The problem of course in the process of giving up this kind of power, is the incredible loneliness that remains after this power dynamic has fallen away. In any power situation, there is the fear of abandonment. In a work situation, a boss fears being sold out by their employees. There is a kind of paranoia that if they lose control, there will be nothing to stop people from not doing their work, losing them money or simply making them look bad. This is an unfortunate mistake, based on the fear of abandonment. We are afraid, as the boss, that it will be shown that we were not loved, or cared for, but simply left to fail.
In romantic relationships, the power dynamics can be based on all kinds of motivations, but at the core, there is always loneliness. Being left to feel our existence without any barrier, or anyone to tell us that there is something else going on, or that we are okay, or that there is no impending death to be experienced alone.
It is the same with the issues and pressures I have experienced being a woman. The kind of power I am told to grasp is empty. To stay with those kind of inner contradictions is to put myself in a kind of bind, not able to ever free up the energy of my genuine self, and genuine life. I am caught in a house of mirrors, unable to see past other's expectations of me, unable to enjoy the wide expanse of the world and experience of life.
But to let go of those expectations is to risk losing the glue between myself and those who desire me to live out their projections. Perhaps once that glue is gone, they won't still be sitting there, but will have fallen away completely. Somehow though, we instinctively know as human beings that in being ourselves, our genuine selves beyond the projections and expectations of others, is a thing that trumps all relationship based on fear. We know somehow that there is something deep and great that will connect the real us to all things if we can simply get beyond those outside expectations that are impressed upon us by those who seek power for the avoidance of their own loneliness. These impressions are deep and profound, seeming to intertwine themselves with the very core of who we are. When we start to unravel that twine, a pure life force is allowed to unleash itself, making it hard to go back to a smaller, tighter or even tense and conflictual existence.
For myself I move in and out of this state. I play with the contracted self, it seems, to remind myself of how incredibly painful it really is. I seek out men and women who will validate a false self in me so that I can contract to the point of feeling acutely the ingenuineness and shell-like quality of that type of existence. The problem with this kind of game is that it creates the complexity of having to untangle the twine from the true self. Where does one end and the other begin? Then, when, usually with help, I manage to untangle them, and find my inner voice, my freedom beyond the pressures of the desires of others, I find a world alive and surrounding me.
Perhaps loneliness is simply the voice of truth. It says, "I am here, I exist, in apparent separation from all other existent things." Nothing can validate our existence fully, because our existence cannot be actually known by anyone, not fully anyway. It is a solitary act, to exist. There is something in this solitary-ness that begs attention. As Thoreau said, he wanted to "live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that is not life..." In other words, to be alone and feel loneliness is to see the bareness, and most final components of what is life, and what one is within life. How does one exist and how exactly does that existence connect with life? To live in an attempt to fulfill predictions, projections, fantasies of another person, is an aspect of life, but what Thoreau might have called "not life." For it lacks connection to the energy of life. Mathematically speaking, this implies that loneliness is the basic energy of life.

Thursday, September 02, 2010


Recently, a friend asked me the question, “What do you think the Buddha would say about losing someone?” He is really struggling with the loss of someone he is attached to. They haven't died, but they have gone away. Something has changed, and there is a lot of grief. I wanted to think about it for a bit before I answered. And after contemplating the question, this is what came to me:

I don't know what the Buddha would say about basically anything. But I will share what I would say about loss, and losing someone rather than some thing, in particular. Loss, is half of our experience. Gain, the other half. The Buddha talked about this a lot: All things born, are subject to death. It is the ripening of the karmic seed of birth for something to die. This includes everything. Ideas, fantasies, feelings, people, rocks (which seem so permanent, only because they last so incredibly long), dirt, the earth, etc and so forth. This is something we will never accept. Not because we are stubborn, or incapable. We cannot accept this because we ourselves continue to exist out of our own attachment to the permanence of things we want. In fact, the act of wanting, craving, attachment itself cannot be separated from the birth of things, and thus from the death of things. Death would not happen without our attachment. Death does not happen without birth. If we were not attached, there would be nothing to die.

How is this helpful when we lose something, something important to us, something we love? I think that what it tells us is that grief cannot be avoided. In fact, as we age and grow through life, the losses we experience begin to point to something much vaster and deeper than the individual or thing we have lost, or our attachment to them. These losses begin to point to the loss of the dreaming. The dream is what we have been spinning since we knew we existed. In this dream we feel that we are the creator, and that our experiences are the created. This is a mistake, though as long as we enjoy the dream, it is a mistake that we enjoy. As we continue through life to lose more and more things, we start to realize that there is a dream, but we are not the dreamer. There is no dreamer. This is what loss is pointing to. The dream without a dreamer. Without a dreamer there is no way to avoid loss or to bring about gain. We cannot take control of the dream. So in one loss, is all losses. This is how grief expands, grows, and begins to permeate all things, and all experiences. This is the basis of compassion for other people. When we truly see and experience our own pain, it unveils the commonality that we share with other people. It awakens our compassionate heart, our non-judgmental mind, and the love and connection we so crave with other people becomes obvious. So though we are losing something, there is something revealed.

The Dalai Lama:

To the extent that our experience of suffering reminds us of what everyone else also endures, it serves as a powerful inspiration to practice compassion and avoid causing others pain. And to the extent that suffering awakens our empathy and causes us to connect with others, it serves as the basis of compassion and love.” In this way, our grief becomes a well of compassion that we can draw on.

It is our work to continue to experience things as they are, knowing each time we do, that those experiences will die and more experiences will be born. As we move through these experiences they turn more toward the deeper, more continuous experience of birth and death, and less about the particular birth and death.

But this feeling of attachment is difficult, of course. Imagine a small child, new still to the world, and the way it works. Imagine their surprise and pain at knowing that the people they love will die. How would you treat this child in the face of their grief? We must approach ourselves this same way, with the same kindness. Because until we no longer are born, we are attached to life. This is natural, and so grief is natural.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


I have been contemplating for many years the nature of the teachings on generosity that are found in all the wisdom traditions. Most of them say the same thing. In Buddhism, compassion is the highest state, and the most fruitful for all. In Tibetan Buddhism, the practice of tonglen, or exchanging one's self for others, in all situations, is said - if one can accomplish this completely - to bring total and complete enlightenment, and the most benefit for all beings. AsDilgo Khyentse Rinpoche said, "For those who can practice generosity like this, there is no suffering at all." (Taken from his teachings on Logong slogans from the comprehensive website,
In Christianity, Jesus was clear, generosity is the key to the finding of one's genuine life, and connection to God, "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39).
Rumi, the Sufi poet, said it succinctly for anyone who has ever owned a dog: "There are love-dogs no one knows the names of. Give your life to be one of them." In watching my dog, she embodies an incredible generosity that I cannot even begin to imagine in myself...
And as the Bhagavad Gita says, in the passage that Gandhi meditated on morning and night for the entirety of his adult life, "They are forever free who have broken out of the ego-cage of "I" and "mine" to be united with the Lord of Love. This is the supreme state. Attain thou this and pass from death to immortality."
In the reality of our daily lives, to practice this level of generosity is quite difficult. Our identities are so strong, and the fear of what will happen to us if we sacrifice our most dearly held qualities, can be too strong to overcome. In fact, the line between more ego clinging to a "selfless self" which is a form of aggression, and actual self exchange, can be quite blurry at times. And make no mistake, in exchanging self for other, there is an actual sacrifice. It is not that we will be so immediately rewarded for generosity that our ego will be sufficiently fed. It is true that in certain moments of exchange, when we realize that we actually have the power to help another being, at the expense of ourselves, we do stand to lose something. And perhaps the point is that the "something" that we stand to lose, must be examined more closely.
But also, there is an important point about generosity. To make this exchange, to trust so completely in the emptiness of the self, can be tricky. We don't really know how much we have integrated emptiness, sometimes, until we freak out about a perceived loss. Dilgo Khyentsesays it this way:
"Now, when training in giving away your happiness to others, it is unwise to try to give to all beings right from the start. For beings are countless and your meditation will not be stable, with the result that you will derive no benefit from the practice."
He is making a point that we must actually benefit from practice. Benefiting ourselves is actually an aspect of exchanging self for others. Self development, or rather, self-less development, which could also be called the accumulation of wisdom, is necessary as well. In my own life, there have been times when I did much more for the good of all, by ignoring the cries of suffering of certain people whom I loved very much, in exchange for healing my own being, so that I have a hope of possibly being available to them sometime in the future.
What happens, though, when we feel bereft of wisdom? Do we cease to feel that we can give? Rumi said,
"Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment. Cleverness is mere opinion, bewilderment is intuition." Certainly the wisdom that Buddhists talk about is not akin to cleverness, however, Buddhists are clear that bewilderment is a klesha, a defilement, one that is replaced in enlightenment (enlightenment in the momentary sense, not the permanent) by non-conceptual knowing. I bring this up, because inevitably, an aspect of the path of awareness and awakening, will bring to light, just how confused we really are. This can feel overwhelming at times, the extent of our own ignorance!! How in light of this, and the immense fear that can come from knowing how unable we are to help ourselves and others, do we practice generosity? Could Rumi be right, that our very bewilderment, is an opening to others, to ourselves?
In contemplating the Buddha's words in the Nikaya -
"This Bhikkhus [this was how the Buddha addressed his monks, literally meaning, "one who sits with fear"], is The Noble Truth of the Cause of Suffering: It is that craving - compelling, intoxicating - which causes us to be born into things again and again, ever seeking fresh delight now here, now there; it is namely the craving for sensual delight, the craving to be something, and the craving to feel nothing."
- I am forced to step a tentative foot out onto the ice pond of my new found confidence in this teaching. It does seem true, that actually suffering, ALL suffering, is a result of attachment, specifically attachment to an illusory self, and therefore illusory accumulation of a pleasureful experience of self. And in light of this, any way that I can act on the illusory nature of the self, and experience, and this CONSTANT craving feel for pleasure can be seen as the cause of SUFFERING rather than the cause of joy, as the craving itself would have me ("me" - or the craving and craver as one) believe, that this would be a good thing.
But let's not cut off desire at the root. There will be some way, as the Tibetans say, that desire's root hairs will sprout again, stronger, as the one's left growing were more able to survive. In addition, desire is in truth our connection to the movement of things, how we move, flow, grow, expand, shift into non-dual awareness ultimately. I think the point is is to actual see how suffering comes about, the simple truth of it. Suffering is from craving, attachment, wanting. The subtle "no"; the subtle "please." And so we watch ourselves choose this suffering over and over again, living a lie that someday we will have what we want.
Looking more deeply at what we want, we find that it may have nothing to do with what we continuously crave, what we are addicted to grasping at. We all want the same thing: happiness, peace, freedom, release. So I am suggesting that in having contemplated these teachings on generosity and overcoming selfishness, that there is a key, a golden key, one that unlocks the door which we have been knocking on, as Rumi says, for a long time, as long as we can remember. "It opens. I have been knocking from the inside." It isn't that we want to be free from grasping, from attachment, or desire. It's that ultimately, we are free from these things, because we don't want delusion, we want reality. Real, ultimate truth. It is the only thing that satisfies. This is an aha moment. One that comes when we see how day in and day out, we want to become something else, and we never will be anything other than what we are.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Is Buddhism Scared of Reality?

This post is not done (not un-done...not done, but I could not wait to post it for the final edit, so apologies for any non-sensical-ness):

It is true that as Buddhism says, things both appear to exist, and also do not have any self-existing, and inherently existing nature. That both these things are true is something that the meditator must grapple with as they traverse daily live in the world of the grasping ego, infused with the experience of emptiness. This paradox is what makes it possible for us to practice at all, really, because if it was simple, like “well nothing really exists at all,” then we would think we were insane for being so attached to things. The part that says “things appear,” well, that saves us really. Because, of course, they do. Things appear. And we believe in their existence. We believe in our own existence. It is a habit, it is said, that has no beginning, nor an end. And yet, freedom is possible. And no tradition shies away from defining in utterly definitive terms what that freedom is, even if the words used have the meaning, “ineffable.” In my opinion, freedom is in the eye of the beholder, whoever or whatever that may be.
For the devout buddhist, freedom is total freedom from all grasping. The ungrasping mind is completely open, unobstructed, free. This is the jack pot, so to speak, and though most of us just get glimpses of this here and there, there are those who are said to live in such a state for the duration of the life of their body. And so the Buddhist goes on hoping. “Maybe, this will happen to me!”
But until then, one starts to wonder. What about all this suffering along the way? Is there some way to ameliorate this? Especially for those of us with “psychological problems” that blip above the norm of emotional fluctuation. Those of us who find ourselves curled up in a ball crying, unable to interact with our partner because a particularly heinous memory from childhood has been triggered. (For example). Buddhism has an answer for that, too. The answer is to see everything as unreal, as impermanent, and to not grasp at it. “Go for the gold.”
This can work in a certain sense. When I am having a particularly difficult emotion, I may be thinking that I am this emotion, that my existence is in fact defined by this emotion. To see it as unreal, to see myself as unreal, may in fact be very comforting. It may release me just enough so that I can see this emotional experience and its constituent parts as not defining me or my entire life. I may be able to work through the experience temporarily. I may in fact be able to create a new mental habit of relating to this particular emotional event without as much of a charge. This may in time, release this “knot' in my psyche and I may cease to experience this traumatic trigger at all.
This is the best possible outcome. But what about when it does not happen that way? Here is an example of this scenario, which I have experienced:
I have an emotional trigger which is very strong, and bowls me over, reducing me to a child like state. I work with it in terms of sensation and thought in meditation, observing it and reassuring myself of its impermanence and lack of inherent existence, and then it somehow dissolves in the light of my continued awareness. Over time it ceases to arise, at least in my conscious awareness. At some point I believe I have “conquered” this particular emotional fixation. But then something unexpected happens. I have another triggering experience and this intense emotional reaction that I used to have, suddenly comes back, stronger than ever before, so strong in fact that meditation is impossible. This is most likely because I had not “conquered it,” I had only moved it from one form to another - from conscious to unconscious. How could this happen? How could a conscious thought and emotion, through awareness practice, become unconscious? Well, there are many explanations possible for that. Here is one.
Whatever emotion/thought/sensation miasm that one experiences as an “emotional trigger” or outburst of the mind, is not an isolated thing. It has many thoughts feelings and associated belief systems that aid it in its arising in your mind. These other associated thoughts, feelings, and belief systems, may be partially conscious, and partially unconscious. It is quite a process unpeeling the layers of the mind, is it not?
The other relevant thing is that - as Freud made apparent in his discovery of the relevance of the unconscious mind and all it contains – the mind will hide what it cannot endure from the conscious mind. And it will do whatever it needs to in order to accomplish this. It is the mechanism of self-preservation. Our brain is designed this way. The Buddhists call this the “ego” (the thing that wants to believe it exists, and will do whatever it has to in order to uphold this belief), and psychologists call this “repression.” Whatever you call it, it happens. Furthermore, thoughts/feelings/beliefs that cause great distress often develop during a time when we do not have language (i.e. between the ages of 1 and 3), and so take on a backdrop sort of flavor, one which is very hard to identify with the conscious mind. And so when you dissolve the constituent parts of an emotional reaction using mindfulness and awareness, you may not be dissolving all of the thoughts, feelings, and belief systems that brought about that emotional response. You may have, however, sent the message (unconsciously of course) to your mind that that particular “tip of the iceberg” is unwelcome in your mind. “No Problem,” says the mind, “we will do our best to hide whatever else is going on here. That way you can feel in control, and your identity can remain unthreatened! Yay!” (The mind is generally pretty happy when this happens, at least for a very brief amount of time). (Thus the blissed out young meditators). Unfortunately, when some part of this unconscious thought, feeling, belief system gets triggered again, what happens? The house of cards falls again, and this time, it is even scarier because you “thought you were over that!”
Now just to be clear, there is no problem with this according to Buddhism. In fact, according to Buddhism, there is no problem with anything. Because of the non-dual reality, that though things appear, they also lack inherent existence. Furthermore, some schools of thought name this process as traversion closer to the truth, as it were.
But even if you wholeheartedly, with your best Buddhist outfit on, agree with this, and perhaps have even seen it to be so, “with your own eyes,” you may still feel that things, in particular your emotional life, are a problem sometimes. A big problem in fact.
Deep emotional habits that lay in the psyche in such a way that the conscious mind has only minimal contact with them, often are traumatic energies of emotion that lay dormant, waiting for triggers and events which can be interpreted as the initial cause of the emotional reaction. Take, for example, a Vietnam veteran who checks cans of food in the grocery store with great anxiety to see if they are booby trapped to explode and kill someone. This is an example of a traumatic emotional response looking for a trigger in the present moment. There is no doubt that the very energy of loving mindfulness can have a great impact on this kind of intense emotional experience.
In addition, however, it is often necessary to validate emotions. As Alice Miller (the psychoanalyst who in my opinion saved psychoanalysis by refuting parts of Freud's drive theory as a fearful response to authority in her book Thou Shalt Not Be Aware), says, many of our emotional responses become repressed during childhood, due to the fact that the adults around us, did not want us to have those emotions. (I.e., when an abusing adult hits a child, they do not want that child to cry in physical and emotional pain, for that will remind the adult of their guilty conscience. So instead, abused children are often chastised and punished further for their emotional responses to the abuse and the abuser.) In order to heal the wounds of repressed emotion, and in order for access to unconscious thoughts, feelings, and belief systems to be allowed by the conscious mind, often feelings must be validated. This idea of validation is an important part of psychoanalysis, which has as its aim, access to unconscious thoughts, feelings, and belief systems, in order to liberate repressed emotions so that an individual can experience autonomy and, well, (dare I say it?) “freedom.”
Yet, in Buddhism, validation can be a problem. At least, for the devout Buddhist. For the devout Buddhist, the instructions are to see all things as unreal, lacking inherent existence, and totally impermanent. So when a feeling arises, such as hatred, don't think of it as real, ok? Think of it as a passing dream. Think of its' lack of inherent existence. Not quite the same as validation. Validation assumes the relevance of an origin. For instance, one might be feeling intense hatred for someone they do not know, and this may be because it is safer than feeling it toward someone in their family. If that is the case, than no matter how many times you see the emotion as unreal, and it dissolves in the space of awareness, it will return until its actual origin is validated.
Many will dispute this point. In fact, in the case of Buddhism, it is said that when one glimpses the actual full nature of reality, that everything falls away, and there is no self at all to reconcile. I may in fact actually believe this totally, and also practice meditation in order to increase my ability to see this nature. In terms of my habitual emotional patterns, however, seeing them as unreal, by either slogans, or the vipassana technique of breaking them down to their constituent parts and “loving” them “to death” with mindfulness, does not help me to understand why they arise again and again.
The truth is, there is no value necessarily in this kind of understanding of the past and how it relates to the present. Except for the fact that it aids in deeply healing wounds which we may not even know we carry, but which contain within them psychic pain that may be so profound that they have crippling effects in our daily life. I for one do not want to wait around for total and complete enlightenment (and/or death) to experience freedom. By validating emotions that my mind believes are wrong and must be subjugated to other, lesser experiences, I may in fact heal primary relationships in my life, unburden myself from fears of being myself, and allow access to my own unconscious mind to be more fluid and open. This may in fact help my ability to meditate more effectively and accurately.
But then, I will have to reconcile the conflicts that psychoanalysis has with traditions such as Buddhism. I will have to recognize and acknowledge the value in relating deeply with my emotional life as something very real. I will have to trust that the ultimate non-dual awareness will neither go away nor be offended by this. This may sound silly but perhaps you would be surprised to know the great resistance to this kind of talk about emotions within Buddhist circles.
It is interesting that Buddhism actually shies away from this type of relationship with the emotional life. In general, the tradition views this type of psychological work as being a reification of the false idea of self. One wonders if this avoidance of the relative experience on the part of buddhism is in fact a fear of the unconscious mind, the mind fearing itself, another manifestation of the self-preservation of the ego at work, and thus a vicious circle for the devout buddhist. For surely an avoidance of the relative experience of the reality of the emotional life is nothing to fear, but only, especially if empty, another vehicle to the great awakening to true non-duality?
I guess if I have a point, it would be to say that I do not think it is enough that modern Western Buddhist teachers make the grand and gracious gesture of endorsing medication and therapy “where it is useful” which many have, in fact. This is a great and important step for Western and hopefully Eastern Buddhism. However, where is psychoanalysis in all this? Where is the trip to the unconscious mind through misplaced emotional experiences? Most importantly, where is the acknowledgment of the most important thing that psychoanalysis has to offer? That is, while looking deeply at links to the unconscious through dreams, associations, and psychological patterns, that we have with us a compassionate witness who acts as a true parental figure who allows us to overcome the training we may have experienced to avoid the emotional reactions that may have been uncomfortable for the authority figures in our childhood?
Part of the problem is that Buddhism includes the possibility of reincarnation, insists upon it, in fact. This puts a chink in trusting analysis that concludes definitively that anything in the present is the absolute result of the past within this lifetime. In fact, it is said within the tradition that “only a fully enlightened Buddha can see karma” which rules out all possibility of truly “knowing” anything about the origins of the present. I can get behind this. But to throw out the brilliang conclusion that when the body and mind actually remember something that relates directly to the present, and through this remembering in the presence of a non-judgemental, validating figure, this emotional distress can actually deeply heal, would be not just a shame. It would be suspicious. It would be suspiciously another “poisenous pedagogy.” In other words, it would call into question the reason for dismissing such deeply felt truths.
If one sees Buddhism as a religion (and now I am really committing blasphemy) then one cannot rule out the possibility that it has an authoritarian element. Authoritarian elements must in order to survive, use their pedagogy to reify their own authority. In other words, does the dogma of reincarnation purposely rule out the possibility of the empowerment of individual and unique realizations of freedom? To some this may seem a leap. But lets take another look.
In psychoanalysis the trip into the unconscious does lead to an understanding of one's own development, and the reality of unconscious defense mechanisms built in the past, due to the fear of authority. (This fear of authority is not the ultimate end, for the abuse, whether large or small is viewed by a child as the loss of love, and so it is the loss of love, or abandonment that is feared, not the authority itself, except in cases of extreme abuse, and even then, this is up for debate). In any case, when this fear is removed, by the understanding in the adult that they can in fact experience freely the emotions they may not have been allowed to feel freely as children, their fear of abandonment by others is lessened. This is due to the trade off. When the self learns about the freedom that ensues from expressing oneself without reservation, there is no comparison, and the fear is slowly let go of. This “freedom” is something that Buddhism does not speak of. However, is it not linked to the ultimate freedom? I hear the chorus of “no” 's from the devout Buddhists. But hear me out.
In the story of Naropa, who is a learned scholar of Buddhists texts, he is visited by an old hag, a dakini, an enlightened woman. She tells him he understands the words of the texts, but he does not understand their true meaning. She tells him to go study with her brother, Tilopa, a true master. So Naropa does just this. He spends years with Tilopa as Tilopa humiliates him in every way imagineable. Naropa is stripped, as Chogyam Trungpa says in Illusion's Game, (his accessible book looking at the life of Naropa) from every aspect of his socialized self.
In this story there is revealed a truth that is seldom discussed by Buddhist practitioners. This truth is that the relative personality, in all of its detail, not only must be dealt with thoroughly and completely on the path, but is also who we are. It may not be who we are ultimately, but it is who we are relatively. And in this sense, there is nothing to fear from looking into our emotional experience as we interpret it. In fact, there is everything to gain. For without autonomy and knowledge of our unconscious mind, we cannot know real, true, freedom. We cannot be freed from things we do not understand. This would be impossible. And for Buddhism or any other religion to tell us that understanding ourselves is impossible, can only be a way to limit our experience of freedom. Why this limitation? Well, maybe Buddhism should look into its childhood....