What to do with your physical body

A client asked me recently what Adi Da had to say about the human body. Why do we have corporeal bodies? Is Adi Da for ‘em or agin ‘em? What should we do with the damn things? Why can’t we take them anywhere nice? To understand what Adi Da taught about physical embodiment we have to start from the big picture, which goes like this:

Adi Da – like other non-dual sages – teaches that all there is, is the One Divine Reality aka the Sea of Conscious Light. All manifest stuff – universes, worlds, dimensions, time, space, bodies – are merely “apparent modifications” of that One Sea of Conscious Light.

The Great One Is your Very being. You inhere in the Love-Blissful, Forceful Being of the Starry God—the Mystery, the Person of Love. This is your Situation and your Destiny.”

The Great One has Magnified Itself in the form of sexual beings, human beings, sexless beings, Earth-‘world’, form and fruit and wood and wall and space and star and sky and cloud and tree and life and death. The same Great One takes on all these forms—completely Indifferent, completely Free, completely Happy in all these excesses. This Is all the Great One. The Great One creates nothing. The Great One Is everything! What a Paradox! What a Mystery! What a Magnificent God!

 “This is My Message to you: How Magnificant is this obscene, absurd, ridiculous, paradoxical Being That Is everyone.

So that’s smashing good news. Except here’s the problem: you and I don’t know that all there is is the One Divine Reality. We can think it, read it, fervently believe it. We can have sublime intuitions that the Sea of Conscious Light is our Real Nature. We can even have overwhelming spiritual experiences where, for an hour or a day, we really know –self-evidently – that our true identity is the Infinite God Light. But those experiences pass. Temporary spiritual experiences, no matter how sublime, are not enlightenment.

Unless we are Divinely Awakened beings, our egos smithereened in God, our hearts boundlessly radiant with wild and ruinous love—unless we are as Awake as a Gautama Buddha, as a Jesus of Nazareth—we don’t actually know that our true nature is the Sea of Conscious Light. And that means that deep down, when push comes to shove, we think we are our physical bodies (and their nattering verbal minds). And this is not a happy belief.

The body-mind itself is a kind of virtual-reality machine, a game of illusions…[But] you presume to strap on this virtual-reality machine of the body-mindYou are completely wrapped up in the presumption of being the body-mind-complex, and wrapped up in the psycho-physical operations with which you presume to be identified.

You are suffering those operations, because they all seem to proceed through time—and there is all the difficulty, and the breakdown, and the anticipated death, and all the rest of it.

You are stuck with all of that.

You are caught on the ‘train,” and you cannot get off it.

—Adi Da Samraj, Notice This

Our identification with “the body-mind-complex” creates a primal anxiety in us because our body-minds know that they can and will die at any moment. And this is precisely where many seekers – and apparently entire esoteric traditions – go astray. They think, “This body-mind is going to die, and that knowledge feels bad, so plainly the solution is to get out of the body, into some sort of transcendent elsewhere.”

So people get involved in astral bodies, out of body experiences, trance states, ascending up out the top of the head into the God Light above. Or they take up meditative practices to identify with the deep consciousness aspect of the being and to (thereby) exclude the messy, phenomenological world and the eminently killable body (Adi Da calls this latter approach, “dissociative introversion” and “strategic detachment”).

All of these tactics can feel relieving – comparatively speaking – but, as Adi Da elucidated in breathtaking detail, none of them actually solve the “problem” (problem in quotes because our identification with the body-mind is evidently a total hallucination to begin with).

According to Adi Da, all of these dissociative strategies, even the most profound, are the strategies of the ego itself – the illusory separate entity. What else but the ego would attempt to become invulnerable (by recoiling, contracting, and dissociating from embodiment)?

The way of real ego transcendence,  Adi Da says, must involve the ever-deepening recognition that all there is, is God – including these brief sloppy bodies and all their brief sloppy relations. Awakening, then, requires not merely subjective, mentalized, meditative practices. Rather, we must learn to submit to the Divine Reality in and as the body!

Mindless embodiment

Consciousness without inwardness

Thus it becomes obvious,

Every object is only Light, the energy of Consciousness.

First transcend the mind, not the body.

Inwardness is flight from Life and Love.

Only the body is full of Consciousness.

Therefore, be the body only, feeling into Life.

Surrender the mind into Love, until the body dissolves in Light.

Dare this ecstasy, and never be made thoughtful by birth, and experience and death.”

And not only that but:

So it is only when the body—the literal body—becomes involved, you see, and is submitted to the Life Current, that this bio-physical transformation can take place…And you see it is the body itself that is the medium of spiritual transformation, not the internal mind. That is not the one. It is the whole body, the entire person is transformed by the Divine Radiance, the Life Current…”

The Way, then, is not merely about, “being inwardly quiet, mentally involved, self-involved.” Rather, he says, “…there must be a literal feeling-surrender of the body-mind…then the Radiant Force of the Divine communicates itself bodily…The Divine Life Current must become most intimate with your body-mind, obliging it to go through stages of purification and transformation. Without the transformation of the literal body there is no possible Enlightenment.”

But things get even trippier. Adi Da says that you—you as your ordinary, day-to-day personality—are only the body. The feeling of being a “separate me” is a sensation created by and within the body. Hence this strange statement Adi Da makes: “’I’ is the body.” And Adi Da says that to realize that the “I” is the body – rather than some wraith-like soul “within” the body – is to live in a radiant disposition. That realization, in fact, is a necessary one for mature levels of spiritual practice.

When I first read Adi Da’s teachings – that the “I” is the body – it sounded to me like some sort of materialism. Right? Because after all, if there is no “ghost in the machine,” no precious “me-essence” floating around inside my cranium, if there really is just this fleshy biological organism and that’s all “I” am – or is – doesn’t that sound like mechanistic reductionism?

Except it’s super not. Because – remember – all there is, according to Adi Da, is the one Sea of Conscious Light. There are no separate I’s, me’s, or you’s, no separate souls, no separate anythings, in it. That’s just smoke and mirrors. A trick of the Light. Yes, we each have a deeper, causal personality that reincarnates from life to life, and people have called that a soul. But it, too (like the body, the world, the cosmos) is only an “apparent modification” of the one infinite God Force. The upshot: the conventional “I” is only the body, but this I-body-organism arises in the Sea of Radiant Love and Being…and that is our only True Identity. And, if you know that your body is only a modification of the God Light, what could be wrong with it?

There is nothing wrong with the human body, with its genitals and hairs and talking and eyeballness and rotting fleshiness—not even the slightest thing wrong with it!

And when you’ve awakened to that True Identity – heck, when you’re even just beginning to awaken to that as your True Identity – how or why on earth would you seek to dissociate from the body or anxiously recoil from its organic life? If you are what the Buddha called the Unborn – the deathless condition – if that is self-evident to you, then you can afford to be juicy, un-withheld, radiantly alive as the physical body, abandoned into life. You can afford to allow the Shakti to suffuse the bodily being – while it lives – with life force and Spirit Force.

Even your body must be given over to this Freedom, this Glorious Happiness, so that your human relations become possible, so that your organic life—your human cellular form, this absurdity, this limited life such as it is—lives in the Great One and is animated by the Great One.

What is greater, the mind that separates itself in order to know and control the things of fear, or the body that is already one with the fearless Spirit-Breath of Truth? What is greater, the thought that ‘I know’?—or the body that surrenders in love? Therefore, any one who surrenders the self bodily to the Spirit-Breath of life also, by that totality of gift, surrenders the mind, and the feeling heart, and the every breath. Any one who transcends all knowledge in the Spirit-Breath of love has truly learned all there is to learn as a human being.

—Adi Da Samraj, My ‘Bright’ Sight

Stuff to do

1) Allow your spiritual practice to be expressed through your body. If your practice is about communion with the Infinite Life, and the magnification of that radiant Happiness, why wouldn’t you live that practice in and through your body, too? Adi Da used to speak often about whole bodily devotion, whole bodily communion, and so forth. So whatever your practice is—mindfulness, contemplative prayer, Zen, mantra, self-enquiry—notice if it is informing and affecting your whole body, if you are expressing it through your fleshy cellular being. Hold this as a question and an intention.

2) Radiate and feel from the heart boundlessly in all directions to infinity. This, Adi Da says, is the native disposition of the uncontracted human body-mind. It’s our natural state. So practice it, throughout the day, as many times as you can remember to do it.

3) Relax the body. The chronically tensed body is, plainly, a body that is not surrendered, not trusting the heart of Being. It is the result of a separated mind trying to be in control. So practice relaxing (one of these days I’ll do a whole post on this!).

To relax is, of course, the first thing a dancer has to learn. It is also the first thing a patient has to learn when he confronts the analyst. It is the first thing any one has to learn in order to live. It is extremely difficult, because it means surrender, full surrender.

—Henry Miller

5) Here are a bunch of cool quotes and excerpts (from the early Adi Da book, Conscious Exercise and the Transcendental Sun) on ways to work with the body. I made a recording of them and I sometimes listen to it when I walk around the lake. Highly recommended! You could also write one or two of them on a 3 X 5 card and just re-read it several times a day.

Relax and open into the flow and condition of energy with the whole physical body, through conscious moving.

 Open the body, unclench the body, allow it to breathe and to move and rest with ease.

 Feel [the body] as a whole and allow it to rest in its natural state, released and vulnerable in its natural relations.

 Allow the body to receive, pervade and be pervaded by the flow of energy that is always there, always available to it.

 Free the attention and allow the mind to be released from random thought or subjective obsession and make it usable as direct awareness and intention, active through feeling.

 Allow and intend the mind to feel and follow the body and breath, easily but intensely, as an act of free attention, observation and responsibility.

 Relax the thinking process, which is a form of contracted concentration, and feel with the whole body being.

 You’ll notice that your interest is always wandering into matters of chronic anxiety and concern. Simply but firmly return attention to the rhythm of the breathing and the bodily moving.

Feel with the heart in all directions to infinity.

 Always proceed with the sense of the body’s deepening relaxation and release into the all-pervading vibrant field of manifest energy.

 With the breath release all negative, tense, contracted, obstructed and sluggish conditions, of body, emotion, and mind. And with the breath, receive the enlivening, healing, transforming, fluid, and intensifying force of life itself in all dimensions of your being. Do this with conscious attention and deep feeling.

 With full observation and feeling in every part of the body and mind, feel that you are releasing all thought, all accumulated tension and negative emotional conditions and all toxic substances as you exhale.

 Exhale fully, but naturally and easily, with a feeling of elimination from every part and every cell.

 Feel that you are perpetually letting go of every kind of obstruction, and that you are always opening to and receiving infinite, pervasive, and blissful energy.

 When you inhale, do so consciously, with whole-body feeling and fully, and allow the universal energy to infill and permeate every function and every cell of your being.

 Allow the life-energy, which is cycled by this process of reception and release, to permeate and pervade not only the whole body, but all arising phenomena, all space. Feel that the force of life spreads through and fills the universe beyond all that you see and seem to know.

 Simply radiate this happiness, or fullness of life, physically, emotionally, and mentally.

 And here’s a much longer chunk from the same book, but it makes me intoxicated every time I read it or listen to it, so I’m including it for you!

“Rest-abide as whole-bodily attention, not waiting within for changes, but in love. Radiate as whole-body Happiness. Be Happy as the body altogether. Radiate the whole body. Feel Radiance as the whole body, full of pleasure, in the feet and head, the eyes, all organs, the abdomen and sex organs. Be constantly aware of the Real Presence, and be submitted into it with every part of every breath. The feeling of bodily aliveness should be constant, under all conditions. The feeling of the strength of Life should always be in the navel.

 “Negativity and dilemma or doubt discharge the in-filled power of the body-being and weaken it. The head should perpetually feel. The mind is the feeling of Radiant Love, the Bright. Always feel as Radiance only, with and as the head, as the whole body. The physical body is always already full, fully permeated by all-pervading energy, or Life Force. It never becomes empty or filled, but it is only either more or less directly and presently in a condition of communication or Communion with the Universal Life.

 “When we breathe, we should breathe with the sense that the whole body rests or abides, always and already, in the Universal, All-Pervading, Life Field. Thus the vital center and the head are both, equally and always in perfect and constant contact with the Light of Life. When the cycle of breathing is generated, it should not be felt that Life only enters the nose, and then goes down to the vital center, but that the whole body breathes or Communes with the Universal Life.

 “On inhalation, the breathe or Life is to be felt as if drawn or intensified via the whole surface of the body. Secondarily, it also tends to be felt as if passing down through the nose, to the vital center. Likewise, on exhalation, the breath or Life is to be felt as if expanding, as intensity, throughout the whole body, and through the whole surface of the body to Infinity. We mus abide constantly in the sense that the whole body, from the feeling heart, from and to and through the whole surface or skin of the body, and via the vital center, is always already existing in an all-pervading, unqualified, and universal field of energy, Life, or Light. You must be fully present in the etheric dimension, so that your etheric body is strong, and full of Life pleasure, and so that your psyche will flower”

Lastly, my shameless requests for you to do more stuff!

* Know someone with a physical body? Maybe you should send them a link to this groovy post! Their toes will thank you! So will mine!

* Could your body want to subscribe to Spirit Mojo? It just might! I’ll give you a moment to ask it. Subscribing does a body good. Click the handy button on the top right of the page.

* What role does your body play—or not play—in your spiritual practice? Do you wear hair-shirts? Maybe yoga IS your practice? Let me know in the comments!

How To Dissolve Mental Rigidity

Zombies

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 “Ecstasy, or letting go of your hold on life, is paradoxically the Way of life, the Source of Life, an enlivening Source of life-practice.”

—Adi Da Samraj, Always Enact Fidelity To Me

There’s plenty to fear about aging—grizzly medical procedures, heinous nursing homes, those walkers with the tennis balls on the legs. But long before all of that, I fear turning into a zombie. That is, I fear my thinking getting stiff, predictable, rigid and repetitious.

 

Avoiding (or undoing) mental calcification is a crucial part of Spiritual practice. In his classic book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki tells us that, “The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner’s mind.” Similarly, Jesus said that we must become like little children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

When I was thirteen or so, I was captivated by the Spiritual teacher, Krishnamurti, who wrote and spoke eloquently about the need to think in pristine, unconditioned ways.

“It is only when the mind is free from the old that it meets everything anew, and in that there is joy.”

 “We carry about us the burden of what thousands of people have said and the memories of all our misfortunes. To abandon all that is to be alone, and the mind that is alone is not only innocent but young — not in time or age, but young, innocent, alive at whatever age — and only such a mind can see that which is truth and that which is not measurable by words.”

—Jiddu Krishnamurti

Here’s the first Krishnamurti book to blow me out of my THC-drenched, adolescent mind.41MdtYJ9ICL._SX308_BO1,204,203,200_

Stuff you can do

So how do we keep our thinking free, new and spontaneous? Or get it that way if it’s gotten old and boring? Let us count the ways.

Conventional ways to avoid mental rigidity

Conventional advice tells us to avoid mental ossification by introducing lots of new behaviors and experiences into our lives. Travel to exotic places. Try new things. Take up new hobbies – oil painting, violin, Salsa dancing. Learn a new language. Deliberately break up your routines and habits. Read widely. Meet new people. Take up juggling or a life of crime.

Another conventional—but often irreplaceable—way to break up our stiff mental programs can be therapy. Buried trauma creates tremendous rigidity in our thinking and feeling. And, in my opinion, most people have way more buried trauma than they’re aware of.

A third conventional way to break up our inner tape-loops is through the body. Mental fossilization is always expressed physically—in our tissues and movement patterns. Look at how freely children think. Then look at how freely they move. It’s not a coincidence. As Advanced Rolfer Jeffrey Maitland, PhD puts it:

“…our defenses are structured as conflicted spatializations. These muscular and neural fixations become our habitual ways of being…they can become all but cemented into place…[causing us to] become machine-like and maddeningly predictable in many situations.”

Spacious Body, Jeffrey Maitland

 

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So you can add more pliancy to your thinking by getting Rolfed. Experiment, too, with movement practices that open and free the body—Natural Movement (MovNat), Feldenkraise, Tai Chi, yoga, Brazilian Jiujitsu.

A forth conventional approach is to examine our beliefs and life-stories. These narratives can lock us into all sorts of lifeless, repetitious patterns. (This, too can come from undigested trauma.) Much mental agility can be gained by simply inspecting our core beliefs, life-stories and tacit presumptions about things. Byron Katie’s work can be helpful for this.

The non-conventional way: The ecstasy of transcending mind and thought

Adi Da says that our thinking gets arthritic over time simply because we are so identified with the mind. Consequently, we just accumulate more and more of it. As the years go by, experience builds up like layers of plaque over our true nature—the timeless radiance of pure, mindless Being. We become constipated with mind, freighted with the fossils of past experience that we never learned how to release.

No human being is new. All human beings are patterns of mostly unconscious memory (or pattern itself). The body itself is memory, for memory is not merely in the mind. All the forms that exist are conditioned by previous influences.

—Adi Da Samraj

So get into what is not mind, pattern, body, time and memory. The real secret (the non-conventional one) to keeping our thinking wild, is to spend as much time as we can in the free space of luminous mindlessness!

“Real and intense practice can and must be done at any age. Otherwise, you accumulate destiny and become fixed in it. As the years pass, you become more and more rigidified in your social-personality pattern, which you have manufactured by repetitions for decades.

            “Ecstasy, right practice, requires that you go beyond that. You cannot afford to let it rigidify. You cannot afford to allow patterns to become fixed. Real ego-transcending practice is an enlivening process…

            “That pattern is a persona, a character, a role…To be that pattern is non-ecstasy. To go beyond it is ecstasy. And doing so is a moment-to-moment matter. Otherwise, the pattern of your own ‘self’-contraction simply tightens around you, and eventually turns you into a corpse.

—Adi Da Samraj, Always Enact Fidelity To Me

I know a lot of you Zen folks don’t like words like ecstasy. They sound ostentatious and Makyo-ish to you guys. I was a Zen Buddhist for years. I get it. So forget about garish words like ecstasy and instead just consider the “mindless spontaneity”—the lack of mental rigidity—suggested by countless Zen exchanges like this one, from The Blue Cliff Record:

 Zen master Chung Kuo-shih calls upon his attendant. The attendant appears and the master says, “Thank you for coming, but I don’t need you now.” A little later, the same thing happens. The text reports:

“Since the attendant was a veteran monk, the second call was fresh and new and so was the third call. He never became dulled by repetition because he was no longer oriented to sequence. Every impulse from the vernal universe was of interest to him.”

Chung Kuo-shih’s seemingly purposeless calls to his attendant continue thus for eighteen years (!), until his attendant’s enlightenment! How can we become “no longer oriented to sequence?” How can we “never become dulled by repetition?” How can we “let go of our hold on life?”

William James said, “Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state.” But by living more and more in the mindless depths of being, we can stay ever “in the plastic state.”

You know who else really gets this stuff? David Bowie, that’s who really gets this stuff. “Things that happened in the past only happened in your mind, only in your mind. Forget your mind and you’ll be free…” (I know he didn’t write the song, but he brought it to life and imbued it forever with his most magnificent Bowie-ness.)

So hurl yourself into your meditation or prayer or visionary practice. Tumble into mindlessness as often and as deeply as you can. If your meditation or prayer practice is not moving you in this direction, why isn’t it? As the great poet Rilke told us, live in the question: How does the mind become or stay fresh, spontaneous, and new? There are worst questions to hang out with.

Incase you’ve not gotten enough music on this post, here’s Van Morrison singing to us about how he will never grow so old again:

You know one fine thing you could do to work against your mental rigidity? Why, you could subscribe to my email list! That’s what! I mean, how often do you sign up for Open Hand email lists? Amiright?

The Secrets of Releasing, Eliminating, and Letting Go

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“Un-Happiness is a retardation of the eliminative exercise….”

—Adi Da Samraj

For decades I thought I was not an “accumulator,” because I love getting rid of stuff—clothes, books, furniture, kitchen utensils. It drives my wife a little batty. There are trips out to IKEA to buy something like a new end-table because I threw out a perfectly good one that had been sitting harmlessly in our basement storage room.

But in recent years I’ve had to face the fact that I accumulate all kinds of shit. I hoard, for example, “insights” into my head. Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh compares collecting insights to collecting pebbles in our pants pockets. Before we know it, he says, we are weighted down with pounds of bulging pebbles. Word.

Also, I am constipated with baroque concepts of what psycho-spiritual growth is, what it looks like, how “it all” works, how it must and must not proceed, in what order, and where I stand in that tangled conceptual jungle. These “knowings”—the accretions of too much thinking and reading—clog up my psyche like vast landfills.

They’re all refusals to release. This kind of retention is a train wreck. It makes our thinking old and rigid. It is also central to unhappiness. Adi Da says:

“Un-happiness is the self-contraction itself, retention, the inability to release, to let go, to be continuous with the present moment of existence. The self-contraction [the ego] is the self-toxifying motive. It backs up all the forces of life…”

And according to Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart:

“Everything is meant to be lost, that the soul may stand in unhampered nothingness.”

Here is Steve Martin demonstrating the inability to release and let go.

Adi Da points out that although this allergy to release is inherent to the ego, it is also culturally reinforced. We are trained to live and think as consumers. All advertisers know the axiom of the Western psyche: “What’s in it for me? What do I get?”:

“[In conventional society] You are not supposed to think of yourself as an eliminative character. You are supposed to think of yourself as an acquisitive character—someone who acquires things, the consumer always stuffing itself, filling itself, consoling itself…

“The entire ‘Westernized’ society—which is basically the world-society today—is based on the consumer psychology, not the eliminative psychology of free being.”

This acquisitive mindset characterizes much ordinary religion, too.

“Conventional religion is just another consumer product for un-Happy people who cannot release and let go of things, and who (because they are in a self-toxified state physically, psychically, and altogether) need to console themselves with illusions. Conventional religion is a plastic hamburger for the mind…It is just a support for a living being that cannot be free, that cannot release itself.”

Here’s a man who plainly has not been a good eliminator for most of his life but who now seems to be getting the hang of it.

Stuff To Do

* List your accumulations. Brainstorm everything you think you might collect, acquire, own, curate, hoard and hold on to, including within the dusty museum of your mind. Write about them in a free-flowing, stream-of-consciousness way. Simply explore. Bring in some gentle awareness.

* Get into pooping. The physical, elemental aspect of elimination is not nothing. It can impact and inform your whole psyche. Do a round of colonics. Eat way more raw plant foods and fermented foods. Do an herbal colon cleanse. Make sure you’re having at least three bowel movements a day. Again, Adi Da:

“In order to be free…you must (among other things) somehow come to terms with the fact that you (as the body-mind) are an eliminative character, and you must begin to live as such. Get amused with it. Get strong with it. Somehow you must feel right with the idea that you are an eliminator. You must feel it as an expression of your strength, your freedom, your purity.”

“…(in your un-Happiness) you do not find others attractive as eliminators. You find others attractive as accumulators, or owners. This attitude has become the design of human consciousness everywhere, and human beings have become consumers and owners—associated with attributes, clinging to forms, substances, states, imageries. You release nothing and you are not free.”

“The body is a food bag, a food sheath, a big balloon, a vessel. It needs to communicate substances to itself to regenerate its cellular existence, but when it accumulates it goes out of balance. It must eliminate, most basically.”

(It’s not for nothing that Bertrand Russell said that the ultimate secret to happiness was two regular bowel movements per day.)

* Purge physical stuff. If you are the type who accumulates material things, do a purge of your home. For that, there’s no more inspiring a book than The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (though the author seems a bit on the OCD-ish side about getting rid of stuff). But try not to piss off your spouse. None of us need any extra trips to IKEA.51H8x07Fd7L._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_

* Feel and enjoy your exhalations. Get into them, emotionally. Yes, receive fully, with each inhalation, but allow and enjoy the small, mini-death-relinquishment of your exhalations. Notice how the exhalation feels more like surrender.

Lastly, you could release your fear of getting super awesome emails by subscribing to my email list. I’ll send you new posts as they go up, plus—occasionally—other cool stuff, which, to be honest, I’ve not thought up yet. But I will.

The Potent Belly

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Have you ever had the hunch that our (North American) obsession with “washboard abs” and “six pack abs” is demented? ‘Turns out you’re right. Spiritually speaking, the belly—rather than being smushed back and shrunken behind a tight, narrow plate of tissue that feels like corrugated steel—should be vital, potent, and full. Alive with presence, awareness, feeling, and power.

The belly area—especially the region just below and behind your navel—is called the Tan Tien in China and the Hara in Japan, and, in these cultures,it is a big deal. That’s why images of the Buddha portray Him with a full, round belly. Adi Da says,

A truly spiritual individual is very strong. Traditionally, in Japan and certain other places, the vital center is valued and protected. Wherever you want to pinpoint its center, in the navel, or just below, the vital area is that entire region of the body extending from the solar plexus, or even the heart and lungs, down to the anus. It should be strong, not weak. There should be force there.

To feel ourselves—our essence, our awareness, our sense of self—centered in the belly, is to be grounded in a much more spontaneous, intuitive, instinctual mode of being. Many Eastern systems of spirituality and development teach that an over-emphasis on the verbal, discursive intellect (ala most of us Westerners) “over heats” the mind and head. What you want, ideally, is a “cool,” quiet head and a great “fire in the belly.”

The generalised pathology of individuals in Western culture is an exclusive identification with their own head and upper body awareness—resulting in an incapacity to ground their self-awareness in their lower body, and centre it in the hara.

Head, Heart and Hara, Peter Wilberg

In Japan, when a person has cultivated a deep, rooted presence in the lower-belly region of the Hara, they say that he or she “has Hara.” And,

He who has Hara can be prepared for anything and everything, even for death, and keep calm in any situation…With Hara the world looks different, it is as it is, always different from what one wants it to be and yet always in harmony. Self-will causes suffering. Suffering denotes deviation from the Great Unity and reveals the truth of the Whole. The ordinary eye does not see this—the Hara sense apprehends it, and only when will, feeling and intellect are ‘comprehended’ in Hara do they cease to resist what is, and instead, through it, serve the ‘way’ in which all things are contained. To discover that way, to recognize it and thereafter never to lose it is tantamount to genuine striving for Hara.

Hara: The Vital Center of Man, Karlfried Graf Durekheim

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Graf Durekheim goes on to say that, “…in Hara there is a supernatural force which makes possible extraordinary natural achievement in the world.” And: “The practice of Hara is based on an insight into the region where Man’s deeper possibilities and powers have their roots, and consequently where, in the practice of any art, the physical centre of gravity should be.

In his book, Tan Tien Chi Kung, the great qigong master, Mantak Chia, concurs: “We can use the gut as a brain and allow the head brain to rest. Why is this important? Because the head brain is a ‘monkey mind,’ riddled with doubt, shame, guilt, and suspicion. It is always thinking, planning, or worrying…We should train the upper mind to be relaxed and to just observe when we do not need it to be involved in specific mental activity…When the upper brain is resting, brain repair and maintenance occur, and new brain cells can grow. This is the reason Taoism insists that we train the feeling and awareness brain in the gut…

So yes, centering our awareness in our Hara or Tan Tien or lower belly is a good, grounding practice. Cultivating strength, force, heat, energy there is a wise thing to do. These practices create health, calmness and equanimity; they quiet the mind.

But opening the belly can go far beyond that. In the esoteric Traditions of the East, it is understood that, when the being is radically opened to the Spirit Force, it can fill and open the “vital” so dramatically that actual, physical changes happen. The belly region actually gets huge and Buddha-like! Swami Nityananda, revered by millions in India, is a fine example.

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Adi Da Samraj says, “Look at Swami Nityananda—He severed heads all His life. Look at His belly—He is no mere celibate! He happened not to indulge in the sex act, but only because celibacy was His quality, not because He was incapable of sex or had some sort of moral preference not to have sex. No, he was stiff with life, Full of life, so much so that His belly became huge with Spiritual Force…

Here are some more. If you’ve grown up in the West and/or are just sceptical about certain unfamiliar spiritual possibilities, you’ll probably think these are just a bunch of fat guys who eat too much and need to do go to Crossfit. Maybe. But maybe not. See if you can intuitively feel, just by looking at them, that these cats might have something else entirely going on. The first is Neem Karoli Baba (the Guru of Ram Das and musician Krishna Das). You can’t actually see His belly in this photo (I couldn’t find one in which you could), but you can imagine it pretty easily.

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And here is Swami Rudrinanda.

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Rang Avadhoot:

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Upasani Baba

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And a photo of a very young Adi Da Samraj in India:

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So how do our tummies get unhappy—constricted, knotted, clenched? Adi Da says it is a symptom of what He calls “vital shock.” Vital shock is, “…the awakening of Consciousness Itself into apparent identification with the form of life…Birth is that shock, not merely the original physical event that may be remembered, but every moment’s cognition of being alive”—alive as an apparently separate, discreet, dying entity.

In other words, when the Infinite Field of Consciousness identifies Itself with a separate body and mind, it creates contraction throughout the whole being. This is the ego, which Adi Da calls the “self-contraction.” And we feel it most profoundly in “the vital.”

“This vital center is like the shutter of a camera. Like the shutter in a camera, it curls in on itself in order to close, or else it unfurls in order to open. It is like your hand. If you clench your fist and hold it together as tightly as you can, it begins to become painful. Just so, this vital center is alive, sentient,and when it contracts, like your hand, it causes a sensation. It causes not only a physical sensation, but also many other reflections in life and consciousness. Therefore, when this contraction occurs in the vital, you not only get a cramp in the stomach, but you have a whole life of suffering.”

“Every aspect of vital existence is controlled by this image, this state, this vital shock…what people are suffering is not their peculiar life-patterns, or strategies, in themselves, but this original shock, in the form of a primary reaction, this contraction…”

—Adi Da Samraj

The self-contraction—the chronic activity of doing egoity, of being the separate-self-sense—inherently contracts the entire vital region of the body. And, “Every person seeks by every means to be relieved of his or her suffering, but the suffering cannot be relieved, this contraction cannot be uncoiled, without the ‘me’, which is its center, dissolving.” And that, of course, is the work of our Spiritual practice. He says, “Real spiritual life involves the undermining of the whole point of view of vital shock.

“When the contraction unwinds, conductivity replaces obstruction…As long as this compulsive contraction, or shock, exists, there is no conductivity. There is only obstruction, or limitation and constriction, of the flow of life.”

Stuff to do

1) Simply put your awareness in your belly-region as often as you can remember to do it. Martial art legend Peter Ralston describes this in his book, Zen Body-Being:

Our usual tendency is to continually hold our awareness too high up, closer to the head…In locating the body’s center, an instant unification takes place…It’s useful to center your attention in the mid-section to increase your sense of body presence…but ‘centering’ isn’t something mystical, as some like to hold it. It is simply locating the place in the body that is middle to the mass. Physically sensing the area of the lower abdomen should do it.

2) Unwind the knots in your belly through direct, physical manipulation. Ideally, get yourself some bodywork, like Maya Abdominal Massage, Chi Nei Tsang or Rolfing. But, failing that, you can also do a lot of good work on yourself. The book to read is Unwinding the Belly.

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Or, here’s another cool approach:

3) Belly breathing. Throughout your day, whenever you think about it, breathe slowly and fully, into and out of your belly. Feel your breaths 3-dimensionally, too—expanding and relaxing your low back, the sides of your body, and so on.

4) Practice qigong (aka chi kung). My acupuncturist once told me to do this practice every night: put my feet in hot water, then, while standing there (I used a big metal pot, but a few inches of hot water in the bathtub would work, too) in the hot water, imagine a big ball of fire growing in my lower belly (Tan Tien or Hara). (There was some specific number I was supposed to count up to while imagining the fire-ball growing, and a different number to count down to while imagining it shrinking, but I can’t remember that part.) Manta Chia guides us to “smile into” the belly, as a practice.

5) Practice simply relaxing your belly. Soften the whole area. Allow yourself to feel there. Adi Da instructs us to relax and soften the entire “frontal line” of the body, to allow the ever-descending, incarnating life force to circulate down the whole front of the body.

Lastly, think how your belly will relax and unwind knowing that you will not miss a single jolly post of Spirit Mojo! This you can do by subscribing! Also, while you’re at it, if you know someone who has a belly, why not send them this post! Their tummy will thank you.

Don’t Look Spiritual!

Do you ever try to look or act “spiritual?” When I was a little kid my family got involved in Transcendental Meditation. And right after we meditated we’d all act cartoonishly “blissed out” and mellow. Like we’d had frontal lobotomies. What made this especially comical (and head-explodingly ironic) is that our family was a war zone of alcoholic dysfunction and abuse; all of us were swimming in shame, pain, terror, and loathing. But there we were, floating out of our bedrooms, after having just done our little 20 minutes of TM, with these fake, daffy, beatific expressions of sublime peacefulness on our faces.

When I got into a Zen community at age 15 there was a different way to look and act spiritual – or more specifically, Zenny. To look and act Zenny you tried to appear really “present” and “mindful.” This usually amounted to moving and talking at a glacial pace, performing simple physical movements with geological slowness. You opened a book like you were defusing a bomb, lifted a cup of tea like it was filled with nitro glycerine.

Last anecdote: A guy recently freaked out on me because of my love of MMA (Mixed Martial Art). How, he demanded to know, could a man who professes to be so engaged in spiritual practice enjoy watching something as grotesquely unspiritual and barbaric as MMA?

Most of us who are “into spirituality” have a bunch of images and preconceptions in our heads about what’s spiritual and what’s not. And we often find ourselves trying to look, speak, and behave in accordance with those images and preconceptions – trying to appear (to others or just to ourselves) like they’re true of us. This undermines our actual practice. It also makes us full of shit.

Spiritual qualities either show up spontaneously or they’re bullshit

The truth is that when qualities we think of as spiritual genuinely manifest in a person, they show up spontaneously, mindlessly, unselfconsciously. Those sorts of so-called spiritual qualities are either free, native expressions, without our even noticing, or they’re not. So if you ask me, it’s best to just dump all those rose-tinted, sandalwood-besotted, Japanese-shakuhachi-flute accompanied (or Native American flute accompanied), or sitar-accompanied ideals.

About spiritual ideals

But – you say – aren’t ideals good? Don’t ideals of, say, selflessness, compassion, mindfulness, inner-peace, and so on help to make them manifest? What about “as a man think thinketh?” What about “act as if?”

So here’s what I think about spiritual ideals: They’re fine as long as, 1) You don’t pretend, to yourself or to others, that they’re true of you when they’re not (the “act as if” principle is not supposed to be delusional…you are supposed to know that you are acting as if). 2) You don’t beat yourself up for not living up to them; contrary to popular opinion, beating yourself up for not living up to an ideal does not actually propel you toward that ideal. 3) You hold your ideals very loosely indeed, for the simple reason that, most of the time, our spiritual ideals are infinitely more tiny, lifeless, desiccated, and boring than the real gifts of spiritual life, and if we fixate too rigidly on the waxy ideals we’ve cooked up, we can shut out the real gifts.

“Acting” spiritual comes from shame

The bottom line is that, if you’re “acting” or “looking” spiritual, it’s because of shame. You do not accept the person you are without those traits, qualities, or characteristics. And as the platitude goes, “If you’re not whole without it, you’re not whole with it.” You’re not willing to just be where you’re at, for real – the unmindful, lustful, greedy, agitated, worrying, uncompassionate (or whatever…pick your poison) person you actually, plain old, factually are, right now, right here, today.

My first antidote to shame-based idealism: Henry Miller

The first time I tasted exuberant liberation from my own constricting spiritual ideals was when I was 16 and discovered Henry Miller. He had countless qualities that healed and awakened new dimensions in me—his gusto, his robust joy, his insatiable appetite for life, his wildness. But the very first thing that swept me off my feet was his unapologetic, lusty, arms-thrown-wide embrace of his own imperfections. His lust, his selfishness, his lying, his cruelty, his laziness, his cowardice – it was all, to Miller, beautiful divine nonsense. It was all to be celebrated. The first book that I read, Tropic of Cancer, is filled with sentiments like: “I am not interested in perfecting my thoughts, nor my actions,” that were like nectar to my 16 year old self. He was revolutionary for me, sandblasting big, crusty gobs of spiritual perfectionism off of my soul.

 

Adi Da Samraj: What do you care what’s true of you?

Adi Da Samraj exhorts His devotees to a ruthless honesty and a reckless indifference to the harshest truths of ourselves, of where we’re really at.

“One of the things you should notice about Me, from reading the History of My ‘Sadhana Years’, is that I never cared one whit what was ‘wrong’ with the body-mind. I did not have the slightest inclination to dissociate Myself or protect Myself from whatever I might notice, whatever might be the case…

 “So you should be. Why should you care what the particular impediments of your own egoic design are, and what its contents are? Why should you be hiding about any of that?…Why should you care one whit about what your ego-patterning contains…? As My devotee, you should have no such concerns whatsoever.

—Adi Da Samraj, My ‘Bright’ Form, pp. 453-454

He drives home the same point on an old audio cassette (!) called Practice In Your Vulnerable Heart, addressing how reluctant we are to reveal our true, unflattering (un-“spiritual”) dimensions,

…all because everything’s so precious to you, you don’t want to talk about it, you don’t want to confess it, you don’t want to upset the boat, you don’t want to deal with it, you don’t want to notice anything about it, you don’t want to take responsibility for it…

Adi Da goes on to discuss the serious devotee, one who deeply intuits the Greater Reality, the Divine Reality. “Such a one,” He says, “can be profoundly liberal with consideration, able and willing to investigate anything, confess anything…What do you care what’s true of you? What obnoxiousness, what stupidity, what foulness, what crazyness? What do you care? It’s true in any case! So why should you be concerned about what the content is?

Then, my favorite turn in this delicious Talk, is where He equates the willingness to see and own our hidden flaws with adventurousness! He confronts the group He’s talking to with their self-protectiveness, pointing out that they are, “…not really willing to be truly vulnerable and go beyond. You have no adventure in you!”

Still crazy after all these years

It can be harder to accept our multifarious species of egoic ugliness when we’ve been at spiritual life for many years – maybe even decades. The voice in our head goes: “You’ve been doing all this meditating, praying, chanting, service, and studying for three (or however many) freaking decades and look at you, screaming psychotically at that driver (or holding onto this petty grudge, or judging that whole group of people, or ogling the body parts of that person, or binge watching reality TV, or struggling with anxiety, codependency, depression, OCD, or an addiction, yada, yada, yada).”

When that voice is yammering in your head, do like this: first, be open to the possibility that maybe you really have been going about your practice in some fundamentally wrong way. Know that even if that’s true, even after decades, it’s still not some terrible catastrophe. Spiritual life is largely a process of precisely such humbling, deconstructing realizations – not a preening progression of ever-increasing victories. Back to square one, back to the old drawing board, is the shit! That’s where it’s at! Even if you’re 90 years old!

If you think THIS is bad, you should see me if I had NOT been doing spiritual practice!

Plus, it’s often the case that, no matter how fucked up and unspiritual you may seem (or actually be), it’s quite possible that you would’ve been a gazillion times worst if you had not been doing your practice. For example, if I scream like a psycho at someone’s shitty driving, does that invalidate my spirituality? It might. From the conventional, popular perspective it’s certainly not a stellar advertisement for it. But, from my point of view, given the nuclear trainwreck of my childhood, I’m just lucky to not be living in a dumpster having heated arguments with rats. It’s all relative, baby.

You may need a new scale

Here’s another thought: if you’ve been practicing for years and years, and you think you should be, “further along the path” than you are, it may be because you’ve been programmed by Western, pop, consumer spirituality, which has taught you that advancement in spiritual practice is – or should be – a quick, easy, trifling thing—“Enlightenment from a weekend workshop,” and all that unmitigated horseshit. Real spiritual life is an infinitely more profound ordeal than most Westerners suspect. Few American seekers have even the remotest idea of the epic odyssey of authentic spiritual transformation.

The traditions that churn out awakened people like hot cakes – Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism, etc. – understand that reincarnation is simply how things work. Hence the great journey of liberation goes on lifetime after lifetime. From that wide perspective, your “grand 30 years of practice” is nothing! A drop in the bucket. Why else do you think Zen (and Adidam) have you take eternal vows? So be patient. Take the long view. Chill out. Sure, maybe you’re a steaming hot mess, but you’re probably purifying karmas of being a mass murderer or a member of a boy band in some past life.

A cosmic enema: Purification is an orgy of humility

It’s also quite possible that you’ve gotten more crazy, dickish, unloving, and dysfunctional since you began your spiritual practice. If so, congratulations! Because, my friends, spiritual practice done right purifies like a motherfucker.

Purification doesn’t mean that our Baroque neuroses and insecurities magically vanish. Quite the contrary. It means that all that stuff comes bubbling up into your face and spilling all over the damn place in our lives. Latent, once-dormant monsters of kookiness get roused from their slumbers. Very messy. Very unbecoming. In the talk, The Divine Does the Yoga (My “Bright” Sight, pp.34-35ish), Adi Da refers to the purification process as a “cosmic enema!” He also says,

“People imagine that, as soon as you contact the Guru, things all of a sudden become sweet and ’groovy’, and you are just smiling all the time…No—stuff immediately starts coming up within and without, at every level of your psycho-physical life.”

And this can certainly be equally true of NON-Guru-related spiritual practices. So the non-ideal traits that are horrifying you might well be signs that your practice is working exquisitely!

Or it could also be that you’re finally just seeing stuff that’s always been there, but you had blind spots the size of Idaho. (I am most definitely scheming a whole post on the topic of purification…big topic!)

And remember, if you berate yourself for falling short of a bunch of saintly, cartoonish ideals, your non-acceptance will act as a major blinder, making it almost impossible to see and take responsibility for these ostensibly unsavory parts of yourself. So welcome the crazy! Embrace that shit, like Henry Miller!

Stuff to do

1) Make a list of all the traits, qualities, and characteristics you think a “spiritual” person should embody. Visualize yourself acting out the exact opposite of all of them. Notice, in your day-to-day life, when you actually do act out the opposite of them. Then pretend that you dig the hell out of that person you’re visualizing (or being). Make believe that you adore that person (act as if!). Extra credit: deliberately act out some of those unspiritual traits in real life (if you can do that without hurting anyone). Excellent medicine!

Remember when George Costanza did the opposite of everything he would normally do? This is like that, but you do the opposite of everything a “spiritual” person would do. You might learn more from a week of this than you would from 10 years of trying to act spiritual.

2) When you see yourself falling short of some sort of quasi-spiritual ideal – you catch yourself being mean, or losing your temper, or binging on TV or pizza, or watching clips of MMA icon Nate Diaz on YouTube – use it. That is, instead of saying, “Dammit, I fucked up. Tomorrow I’m not going to fail like this. I’m going to turn over a new leaf and live up to how a spiritual person should be,” just soften and accept the humility your “unspiritual” behavior gives you.

Adi Da often spoke of how spiritual life is—always and constantly—a process of losing face, in ever more squirmy, uncomfortable, mortifying ways. Allow that humility to open you, to tenderize you, to make you more available, porous, teachable; to put you in touch with your totally embarrassing but strangely delectable need for grace.

3) View your images of what’s spiritual and what’s not spiritual with grave suspicion. There are good reasons that countless great spiritual masters – including Adi Da Samraj – worked ceaselessly to demolish people’s fixed preconceptions about spirituality and virtue. That’s what the Crazy Wise Masters were all about. Zen masters, Tibetan Drukpas, Sufi mystics, Taoist sages, Christian fools, all of them took atomic sledgehammers to people’s pious, righteous, dualistic images and beliefs about spirituality. They did this because we all tend to cling – our egos tend to cling – to those images and certainties so that we can stay in control—so that our egos can stay in control. Those images are our egos’ idolatrous teddy bears.

And, ironically enough, we use them – these images and ideals – to avoid the formless, mad, ontological freefall of real dissolution in God. If the conceptual mind doesn’t know what “spiritual” is, then we are forced to surrender into the wild silence and mysteries of the heart. That surrender, that dissolution in Radiant Consciousness, is the only place from which true virtue, true saintly ways of being, flower and shine. And apparently, we won’t even notice when that’s happening.

4) Sometimes it can be good to try to oppose or discipline some of our nastiness, craziness, and neuroses. If you’re into McDonald’s food or Internet porn or people in octagonal cages trying to cause grievous bodily harm to each other while a stadium full of drunken, douchey bros scream for blood, you stop doing that thing, or try to stop. In Adidam we call this counter-egoic action.

The crucial point when it comes to counter egoic action is to know why you’re doing it. In Adidam we do it because (or at least were supposed to do it because) by “working against the grain” of our tendencies and patterns, our self understanding deepens and this, in turn, allows us to turn to the Guru more fully.

The idea is that our every little outbreak of nastiness, kookiness, addiction, and neuroses comes from a place in our being where we are withholding from the God Light, a place where we are contracting from the bliss of Being, a place where we are clinging to unhappiness. It’s so useful to become sensitized to these unhappy rituals and patterns, to find out what we’re really up to. To excavate the clench of egoic pain beneath all our little crazinesses. So we take on various counter egoic disciplines to magnify our practice.

But that is a radically different thing than taking them on arbitrarily to be a “good boy” or a “good girl,” to live up to some generalized image or ideal. It’s a radically different thing than trying to look or act spiritual, virtuous, or saintly in the eyes of others, or even just in the eyes of the inner-critic in our own heads.

While there are easily 10,000 disciplines I could try to take on, disciplines that might make me look more Dalai Lama-ish, that would be idiotic. Instead, in Adidam, we try to be highly targeted, picking those targeted, heat-seeking disciplines that are most leveraged, that give us the most bang for our buck, that most push us up against our edge. The ones that really make us squirm.

For example, being much more emotionally vulnerable with my wife, and not dramatizing with her the “mood of you don’t love me,” but, instead, assuming the adult responsibility of being love. Or like not indulging in my lifelong addiction to alter my mood by filling my head with future-hope images (my favorite drug). Or like not complaining, or in any way dramatizing the disposition of victim, or self-pity. Those kinds of disciplines are challenging af. They get at the heart of some real shit. They press me up against my limits, hard. But quitting silly, dumbass MMA? Not so much. It would please that critical guy, I guess, but it wouldn’t do much else. So if you think taking on some counter egoic disciplines might deepen your practice—but without playing the game of trying to look spiritual, together, whatever—give it a try.

Lastly, just think how unspiritual it will make you look to subscribe to another time-wasting blog online, like, say, this one! Feel the burn of humility! Mmmmm. So yummy.

Also, consider the excellent procrastinating you could accomplish by leaving a comment! (Spiritual people don’t procrastinate, right?) Do you ever find yourself “acting” spiritual? Or beating yourself up for not living up to some sort of quasi-spiritual ideal? Leave a comment and let the world know! Or at least the ten people who read this blog. You’ll feel better (that is not a legally binding claim).

Do you think you’re inferior or superior?

 

Are you a self-inflator or a self-deflator? Do you tend to think you’re better or worst than other people? I know. The “appropriate” part of your brain says, “Oh, well, I’m neither inferior nor superior, because in our essence we’re all equal. In fact, we’re all one.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever. I’m not talking to that part of your brain. I’m talking to your Cro-Magnon brain. Your drooling, uncouth “id.” So what do you think? As you walk around, in your day-to-day life, do you tend to feel superior or inferior to others? Are you Sterling Archer or Cyril Figgis?

I know it can be more convoluted than that. For example, deep down inside, self-inflating types feel soul-curdlingly inferior. Self-inflating is—notoriously—a compensation. Psych 101. Conversely, if you do a little excavating, you find that self-deflating types secretly feel superior to others, in weasley, furtive ways. Or something. I don’t know. It’s like the layers of an onion, but a deeply fucked up, MC Escher-ish onion. Like the Upanishads say, “This maya is epically FUBAR” (actually, if you want to get nitpicky, it says, “This maya cannot be comprehended”).

For most of us, some degree of inferiority and superiority phase chaotically in and out. When I was a teenager I heard the Zen priest Reb Anderson give a talk at the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center about how everyone goes through cycles of “puffing up” and “leaking out.” He said that the more puffed up we get, the more likely we are to have a dramatic deflation, a sudden “popping” of our personal balloon of self-imagery.

Nevertheless, for most people, one of those tendencies—either inferiority or superiority—does seem to predominate. Sometimes these tendencies even manifest bodily. In Rolfing Structural Integration, they teach that the inflated character often has a broader, bigger chest, because their ribcage is “inspiration fixed,” puffed up, locked in the gesture of inhalation, shoulders molded into a pulled-back asana. They frequently have high, fixed arches in their feet, too. In Rolfing parlance, they, “can’t get down to earth.”

Conversely, deflated character-types tend to have more collapsed ribcages, fixed perpetually in the gesture of exhalation. They frequently have lower or non-existent arches. They “can’t get up off the earth.”

Adi Da says that it makes not the slightest difference which one you are. They’re both bullshit. They’re both—according not just to Adi Da but to many teachers and teachings—the gaudy ephemera of a subjective persona that in no way actually exists. They’re both the doofus somersaults of a self-enchanted mirage. The glorious-or-horrific “me” I parade around as all day just isn’t a thing.

“[Some have] an idealized sense of [themselves.] Others are chronically double-minded, or full of doubt, and obsessed with failure. In other words, some individuals feel superior, and others feel inferior, and some alternate between the two. Whatever your characteristic strategy of reluctance, it is not [the practice.] [The practice]…has nothing to do with an idealized self-image or with self-doubt. All of that is to be relinquished and not felt to be important by one who is given over to [the practice.]”

—Adi Da Samraj

Nevertheless, it is useful to know which one you tend toward. Not in hopes of fixing the damn thing. It’s just a homely piece of basic self-understanding. It simply gives you some basic discrimination and clarity about the distortions you tend to introduce into your practice. Having this bit of knowledge about yourself is like that phrase on your car’s side-view mirror that says, “objects are closer than they appear”—it helps you make adjustments and allowances for your silly antics. It supplies a bracing sense of suspicion toward your own perceptions and interpretations.

Knowing this about yourself is also deliciously humbling and that’s always excellent for spiritual practice because it makes you teachable. Lastly, your little dog-and-pony act—“I’m so lowly” or “I’m so amazing,” either one—becomes an endless source of amusement and hilarity at parties. You could turn it into an outstanding drinking game.

Here, in one 4-second clip, Kramer captures the essence of the inferior, self-deprecatory type.

On the other hand, the self-inflating, superior type can receive even the most humbling “reality feedback” in life and somehow still remain inflated and in denial. Just like the Black Knight.

Stuff To Do

As I suggested above, the game here is merely to get clear about which tendency you most embody. Here are some ways to do that.

1) Throw yourself into community. Or, if you already practice in community, engage with it more closely and energetically. I already wrote a post about this. Really observe how people interact with you and the effect you have on them. Notice if you feel better or worst than people.

2) Take this simple quiz: Is the whole topic of this post not that interesting to you? Does it kind of make you shrug? Can’t see the point? Not concerned about it? You, my friend, are the self-inflatey, superior type! No charge. You’re welcome.

Here’s what I’m getting at. The inferiority tendency hurts more, so it automatically inspires you to want to transcend it. Or integrate it. Or for fuck’s sake do something with it. On the other hand, walking around subtly (or even not-subtly) feeling better than everyone else feels (or sure seems to feel) pretty awesome. So neither is “better” than the other—they’re both just arbitrary plasticene shapes smooshed into the clay—but the self-deprecating tendency is in this sense “better:” self-inflating, superior-types have zero motivation to do anything about their pattern, or even to notice that they’re trapped in a pattern, because it feels (superficially) great.

3) Harkening back to my Rolfing descriptions, above, of how the superior, inflated type and the inferior, deflated character-types can manifest bodily, play with these breathing options:

If you’re the deflated, inferior, collapsed type, experiment with emphasizing the inhalation side of your breaths. Feel that more. “Get into” that more. Your type (my type, fyi), needs more inspiration. Literally.

If you’re the inflated, superior type (and you’ve miraculously realized that it’s a pattern that holds you back in your practice), explore emphasizing the exhalation side of your breathing. Really let yourself fully release and let go with each breath.

Do good things for Spirit Mojo!

Of course, both types will benefit exponentially by urgently heeding my usual calls of action, to wit: 1) Subscribe to this blog! Use the handy button at the top right of the page! Yay! 2) Connect to Spirit Mojo on Facebook. 3) Comment below! So many exclamation points…

Fear no more!

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Two fucked up things about fear

There are two fucked up things about fear. One is that fear creates the urgent sense that it—the fear itself—is actually keeping you safe. When fear’s really got you by the throat, you believe, way down in your hissing reptile brain, that if you let go of fear you will be more vulnerable to the “feared thing”—whatever that thing is for you. Fear always argues for itself. Kind of the opposite of the famous Churchill quote because, in this case, it’s more like, “We have nothing to fear but the absence of fear itself.”

Shortly after the election I ran into a friend of mine at a party, and he was jacked on Trump-fear. At some point I suggested that our responses to a Trump presidency might be more effective, wise, and creative if we can move out of fear and come from a different mindset entirely.

The dude freaked out. He was terrified and enraged by the very idea of not being in terror and rage. And, at some point in his rant (about his absolute certainty that we’re hurtling into a repeat of Nazi Germany, but at a massively accelerated rate due to the internet), he said something startling. He said that, at first, right after the election, he HAD been into a lot of fear, but that now he WASN’T! Now he was—and I quote—“in a really clear, centered space.” Gulp. That brings us to the second fucked up thing about fear: you can be virtually drowning in the stuff and not even know it.

One reason some people cling to their fear (and rage) is that they think a lack of fear (and rage) equals apathy or complacency—a minimization of the terrible potentials of a Trump administration. In other words: Fear keeps us safe,

A bunch more fucked up things about fear

Fear, however, does not keep us safe. I began this post saying that there were two fucked up things about fear, but let’s get real: there are a hell of a lot more than two. Fear—and the anger with which we often cover it up—makes us wildly inefficient, unclear, reactive, and knee-jerkily reflexive. Fear and anger create a tiny, narrow, static view of things—things that, in real life, are fluid, dynamic and complex. They create repetitive thought-loops as well as small thinking and predictable behaviors. They generate imprecise, compulsive, and non-proportional actions, because in fear and anger we lose wisdom, perspective, and potency.

Fear and anger also make us think, feel, look, speak and act in ways that increase fear and anger in our political opponents (so-called opponents). Compare this to Gandhi, who, in his fearlessness, was always making friends out of supposed “enemies,” and thereby winning the bigger games. As Zen teacher Cheri Huber simply puts it:

“…fear does not help us, does not protect us, does not take care of us.”

 Dr. Stephen Porges writes extensively on the research showing that physiological feelings of safety are the prerequisite for bold, creative thought, innovation, and new ideas. On a You Tube video he said, “You perceive the world differently based on your physiological state.”  In addition, fear and anger create atomization, splintering, schisms and separateness within a given group, undermining cooperation and sabotaging coalitions with those who should be our allies.

Fear and anger even destroy our body. The fear and anger hormones—cortisol, adrenalin, epinephrine, etc.—are massively inflammatory. They age us, tear our cells apart, create plaque in our brain, and destroy our endocrine system. Yes, for brief moments, fear and anger can be natural and appropriate mobilizing impulses. Beyond those brief moments, they vastly screw up everything.

Some cool comments from Adi Da Samraj about fear

In these quotes from a talk in the 1991 version of Easy Death, Adi Da Samraj speaks to the arbitrary and mechanical nature of fear.

“The mechanism of fear is a contraction, like the reflex that occurs when the hand touches fire. The mechanism of fear is as useful to the body-mind as the reflex that keeps you from getting burned. But it is an arbitrary mechanism, not deep in your consciousness somewhere, but just a superficial little mechanism at the peripheral levels of the nervous system to save you from being attacked by a wild lion…”

 Then He moves into the intriguing idea that fear is not some profound and meaningful “message from the cosmos,” but is just an arbitrary “activity,” an emotional asana; something we ourselves actually do. And we can learn to do otherwise. His position here is a curious echo of Dr. Porges, in that he frames fear on the level of biological reflex rather than philosophical meaning.

 “Fear is just an ordinary mechanism that you must master, an attitude of the body. It is something that you are doing. It has no ultimate philosophical significance. You can breathe and feel and relax beyond it. You need take nothing into account philosophically. Just breathe and feel and relax beyond it…”

 That quote (above) contains another echo of Dr. Porges, in that Porges, too, speaks a lot about the importance of breath in shifting the body out of fear networks and loops. In the next chunk, Adi Da Samraj raises the provocative idea that we are addicted to fear, simply as a modus operandi, a chronic disposition—a really shitty habit, which He contrasts with a cat, who has no such “addiction.”

 “Observe the cat, for instance, who uses fear to control threatening events. The cat is neither addicted to fear nor existing as fear, as you tend to be. In contrast to the cat—and almost all vital creatures, by the way—the human being is addicted to psychological fear. Human beings have transformed the mechanism of fear that is natural to the vital state of any animal into a chronic response of the physical being. The animal’s sudden moment of fearful excitement is stimulated chemically for a specific purpose. Fear is just a recoil, but you tend to prolong its effectiveness, as if waiting indefinitely to withdraw a finger from the flame.”

 Next, Adi Da goes far beyond Dr. Porges, because He asserts that the reason fear is not our natural state is that our true identity is, “The Very Divine Being, the Eternally Living One,” which is not contracted by fear, ever, but is pure, boundless radiance.

 “…In your natural state, you are like the cat, which, although it may become afraid and roll into a ball when it is attacked, is not at all chronically afraid. The Very Divine Being, the Eternally Living One, Which exists as the cat and as every conditionally manifested being, is not contracted by fear. And just as the cat has not accomplished any great, profound, philosophical cycle of investigations of the universe to be free of fear, so you need have no great knowledge to be liberated from your fear.”

 Then Adi Da affirms that we can be free of fear immediately, and how doing so equips us to deal far more effectively with challenges. He also offers the exciting possibility that our entire world view—our “interpretation of existence”—comes from our contracted, chronically frightened state…the fear-goggles we’ve grown so used to looking through.

 “You can be free of fear in this very moment, in any moment, even in a moment when some degree of fear seems conventionally appropriate. Fear collapses attention. Therefore, even when fear might seem appropriate, it is still better to be without fear, so that you may have complete attention in the moment to deal with the threat. Fear is plainly and simply inappropriate, except in the flash of comprehending imminent danger. But even then, in the very next moment, you are dealing with the danger rather than with the fear. Fear has only the most minute significance as a practical necessity in your life, and yet you are completely overwhelmed by it! You have made fear so chronic a mood that now you interpret your existence, even all existence, through the medium of that fear.”

The Sufi poet Hafiz has a poem that speaks to me about this fear dynamic, as I experience it.

Just Looking For Trouble

I once had a student

Who would sit alone in his house at night

Shivering with worries

And fears

 

And, come morning,

He would often look as though

He had been raped

By a ghost

 

Then one day my pity

Crafted for him a knife

From my own divine sword

 

Since then,

I have become very proud

Of this student

 

For now, come night,

Not only has he lost all his fear,

 

Now he goes out

 

Just looking for Trouble.

Stuff to do

1)  Meditate, pray, and/or chant. But, as I mentioned in this post, be wary not to use your meditation, prayer, or chant as a means to suppress, numb-out, or dissociate from your fearful (and/or rageful) emotions and (therefore) your body. Rather, try to—as Adi Da says—”feel through and beyond” the fear, sorrow or anger. Hold those emotions in the feeling-context of your practice. Neither “meditate on” the emotions nor try to avoid them.

2) Dr. Stephen Porges, who I mentioned above, frequently mentions how yogic breathing (and the breathing required to sing, chant, or play a wind instrument) encourages the brain, gut, and nervous system to shift into feelings of regulation, safety, comfort and well-being. The key is very long, slow exhalations.

3) Inner-child work. This is big. If the fear, grief, or rage feels bigger than you, if it feels overwhelming or paralyzing, if it persists as a chronic mood, if it generates in you feelings of dread, helplessness or willingness to hurt other beings, you are in a “trauma system” (also called a “memory network” or a “trauma vortex”).

That means that old, stored, painful emotions—usually from childhood—have been activated and you are swimming in them, while unknowingly projecting them out onto the world scene. You don’t think, “I am in a fear state,” rather, you think, “The situation out there actually IS this fearful, and my feelings are simply the only, natural, appropriate response.” Don’t buy it.

This is worth emphasizing: If you feel small, helpless, impotent, overwhelmed, future-fixated, and like the emotions will last forever, those are little kid emotions, and you are in a trauma system. And, though it makes grizzled, political activist-types want to reach for their revolvers, this means that the most potent sociopolitical action may require that we do some real inner-child work! Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh says,

“The little boy or girl in you is still alive, and maybe still deeply wounded. That child is calling for your attention…We can…tell the suffering, wounded child inside us that she doesn’t have to suffer any more. We can take her hand and invite her to come into the present moment and to witness all the wonders of life that are available here and now: ‘Come with me, dear one. We have grown up. We no longer need to be afraid. We are no longer vulnerable. We are no longer fragile. We don’t have to be afraid anymore.’ You have to teach the child in you.”

—Thich Nhat Hanh, Fear: Essential Wisdom For Getting Through the Storm

 This wisdom can seem confusing when there are real, inarguable threats “out there”—as now. But just because there are real threats doesn’t mean you’re not also swimming in a memory network that has been triggered or activated by the outer circumstances. (Just because they’re actually out to get you doesn’t mean you’re not paranoid.) There’s the actual threat, but then there’s the phantasmagorical hallucinations of our own unconscious, emotional memories. It is most excellent to separate the two.

And the more you work directly with the old trauma system, the more clarity you gain about what exactly is “old stuff,” and what is real, current threat. The difference is like night and day. For one thing, adult fear—“here-and-now” fear—switches, in moments, into strength, potency, clear energy and bold action.

When I snap out of the hypnotic trance-state of a trauma network, it’s like waking from a dream, and suddenly everything—even the garish nightmare of a Trump presidency—looks indescribably different. It’s not that I feel less motivated to act; in fact, I feel much more motivated. But it’s an unrecognizably altered circumstance. When I’ve snapped out of a childhood memory state, it’s as if my previous fear-projections were wildly irrational. No matter how rational they seemed, I might as well have been terrified of fresh fruit. Like John Cleese!

4) Consciously and deliberately bond and connect intimately with others. Human connection and intimacy heals. Even bonding and cuddling with animals—our dogs, cats, horses—heals. There is tons of research on this. But we knew this instinctively, even without the science, amiright?

5) Use mindfulness to explore fear. Again, Cheri Huber:

“…we have never examined the experience [of fear] itself, never taken a step toward it and looked to see exactly what it is, never considered that it might not mean what we think it means.”

To bodily explore emotions (and thereby move them through), my favorite book is the classic, Focusing, by Eugene Gendlin.

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6) Invite gratitude into yourself. Again Dr. Porges: “When you’re in a state of gratitude, you are bathed in a sense of the cues of of a state of safety…”

7) Realize God. I’m being a little silly, but, from the books I’ve spent my life reading, it does seem to be the case that the only way to complete freedom from fear is God Realization. Divine Enlightenment. Absolute ego-death. Nirvana. The big enchilada. Because, as Adi Da says, the ego IS fear. Here’s a 15 minute clip of him speaking on this topic:

And lastly, as always, my shameless plugs, to wit: Maybe subscribing to this blog will liberate you from all fear forever! I mean, I guess it’s pretty unlikely, now that I think about it. But wouldn’t it be super weird if it did? Only one way to find out!

And if you’re looking for yet another action that could quite possibly benefit nobody but me, you could also send a link to this post to someone. Maybe someone who is scared? (Not me; I’ve already read it, and frankly, it’s way too long.)

How To Be Strong Enough For Spiritual Practice

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In professional fighting—boxing or MMA—you hear this phrase: “Everyone’s got a ‘strategic game plan’ in the ring…until they get punched in the face.” Then “strategic game plans” go out the window. You find yourself resorting to really primitive shit. Spirituality is not all that different.

I am often full of passion for spiritual practice…until I get punched in the face. That is, until some gnarly purification happens—old traumas get reactivated. Implausibly painful emotions stage a fucking coup in my limbic system. And then all my game plans go out the window. Not exactly the noble spiritual hero on his grand quest I’d been just hours before. Here’s me, in those circumstances:

The thing is, real spiritual practice will always bring that shit up. And when it does, what you need—aside from oceanic Grace and unseemly amounts of help from your fellow humanoids—is strength. Lots of it. Strength then, in this context, is the ability to stay in the process, even when immensely hard stuff is coming up.

Strength has gone out of fashion in popular spirituality. Lots of other stuff is “in.” Compassion is in. Teachers telling us to allow, accept, and trust what is, is way in. And I swear, if one more author tells me to stay in the present moment I’m gonna reach for my revolver. (Don’t even get me started on the law of attraction.)

But modern Spiritual teachers seem fairly mum on the topic of strength. Adi Da was not. In one early talk he said that everyone has the capability for authentic Spiritual life. “But,” he added, “not everyone has the balls for it.”

“To do sadhana [Spiritual practice] is to pass tests. It is not to make an arrangement or a bargain with life or the Divine. It is not to persist in mediocrity. It is to pass tests, such that the body-mind goes through changes (progressively) and makes an always greater and new demonstration. It is a hard school. It is a difficult life, based upon the commitment of life to the Great Purpose of transcending life, transcending the body-mind, transcending the cosmic domain, transcending limitations.”

—Adi Da Samraj

Yes, surrender is the essence of Spiritual life, and it requires the starkest knowledge of our egoic insufficiency, of our ruinous need for Grace. But when we’re living a life of surrender, the egoic construct—the machine of the everyday me—is definitely going to freak the fuck out. It doesn’t (I don’t) like being out of control, or becoming searingly sensitive, or the messy indignities of purification. Disillusionment of our most cherished fantasies—about ourselves, about life, about Spirituality itself—is tough medicine. The rigors of being undone in the Spiritual process are no joke. That’s why in the East they call it the razor’s edge. And to endure all of that we must become strong. Adi Da says,

 “Paradoxically, the basic self-force, or ego-force, must be strong in you if you are to Realize the Event of ego-death. This is because ego-death is not the ultimate suppression or negation of the basic force of the individual being, but it is the release of that force from limiting identification with the body-mind.”

Paul Brunton echoes the sentiment:

“Such is the strange paradox of the quest that on the one hand he must foster determined self-reliance but on the other yield to a feeling of utter reliance on the higher powers.”

Adi Da says that only with this strength can we go through the “crises” of the spiritual process and keep on moving forward.

“The individual who is really using this process can be enduring this crisis almost continually, with great frequency and intensity—and, yet, like a soldier on the march, the person never misses a step, never becomes outwardly reactive. Such a person continues to function, and apparently only enjoys life. He or she does not get involved in an entire drama of upset.”

He or she keeps on walking through the fire of purification. Just like Buffy.

Stuff you can do

1) Psychological healing. Most of our apparent weakness was overlaid onto us in childhood. It is learned helplessness. Our little-kid minds made up beliefs that we were weak, impotent, even cowards when, in fact, the only real problem was that we were five and being overwhelmed by a full-grown adult (or larger sibling). We internalized all sorts of prohibitions against knowing and embodying our own strength and power.

So yep, you guessed it. I am—as usual—recommending therapy, as an adjunct to Spiritual practice. What can I say? I’m a fan. What I’m learning in therapy is that—maybe paradoxically—inner strength grows out of the soil of human connection, trust, and intimacy. That’s how the brain and nervous system rewires itself for rad safety and non-shameyness.

2) Imagining and visualizing strength, courage, bravery, tenacity and potency. Because you become what you meditate on. When you do this, see if you can feel any emotional resistance to your visualizations. Lord knows I can. (To mine, I mean. Not to yours.) Bring boatloads of unreasonable kindness to these parts of you.

3) Notice when you ARE strong. Don’t look for grand gestures. Let yourself fully acknowledge, receive and celebrate even small choices of bravery, tiny movements of tenacity. This makes them grow.

4) Just doing it. No matter how much your strength has gotten buried under historical baggage, it is actually still there, the proverbial slumbering giant. That’s why people are so often shocked at the wellsprings of strength they discover during times of crisis. Sometimes you just spontaneously decide to be strong. You just reach down and do it. I don’t know how exactly. But when it happens, write it down! That way you affirm your own strength. Again, you acknowledge it, claim it, receive it, and make it more real. And that, my friends, makes it grow stronger. So do like that. Sweet.

5) Practice not minding that it hurts. Adi Da used to say that yes, “sadhana hurts.” The trick, He said—quoting from the film, Lawrence of Arabia—is not minding that it hurts.

Speaking of strength, are you strong enough to subscribe to my email list? Prove it!

How To Use Community To Deepen Your Practice

Women Splash Around In Mud Pit Of Obstacle Course Run

“Community is the natural condition of all true spiritual activity.”
—Adi Da Samraj, My “Bright” Word

Before I became a devotee of Adi Da, I did my spiritual practice alone in my bedroom, reading books and meditating until my knees exploded. For me, practicing in relative isolation was a fertile breeding ground for delusion. And, unconsciously, that’s precisely why I liked it.

I liked practicing on my own because that way no one would interfere with me. For example, no one would deflate my secret fantasies that I was a great practitioner, like Siddhartha in Herman Hesse’s book (inexplicably, neither my wife nor any of my friends had the eyes to see my greatness, poor blind fools). Also, no one would puncture my Disney-like idealism and romanticism about spirituality.

Don’t get me wrong. I also tried to practice “out in the world” as I went about my busy day. I bestowed compassion upon cashiers at the co-op through beatific acts of hyper-politeness. I tried to be mindfully present whilst waiting for the red light to change (having just screamed psychotically at the subhuman fuck who’d made me miss the damn light in the first place.)

Also, having devoured spirituality books since I was a kid, I was masterful at talking about my spiritual practice at hipster coffee shops—usually with people who also read a lot of books and practiced alone in their bedrooms. We traded delusionary notes. Adi Da Samraj addresses what I was (unwittingly) up to here:

 “People who are moved to approach spiritual things are generally motivated by their own delusions. They use what they gather through reading and the usual meditation to isolate themselves further, to console themselves, to generate forms of self-imagery, good feelings, immunity, various narcissistic qualities.”

—Adi Da Samraj, My “Bright” Word

Then, at the age of 29, I became a devotee of Adi Da and suddenly, for the first time, I was thrown into community. I mean, I didn’t move into community—it was still just me and my wife in our little condo. But I went on many month-long meditation retreats. I also met several times a week with local devotees for meditation, study, service, and these diabolical things called devotional groups. In devotional groups, everybody straps on pith helmets and digs into each others’ practice and craziness.

All this messy interaction with my fellow students—combined with the Guru’s Spiritual transmission—was a crash course in humility. Metric tons of illusions about myself and spirituality got sandblasted off me. The shit was brutal. Still is. But my practice got grounded in a way it never could have otherwise.

Traditionally, serious aspirants would never try to engage spiritual practice on their own. It would be like a modern-day athlete trying to train for the Olympics alone in her kitchen. Community has always been understood to be crucial for spiritual practice. There’s a reason the Triple Treasure of Buddhism includes community (the Triple Treasure of Buddhism is Buddha, Dharma, Sangha—the Realized Being, the Teaching, and the community of practitioners).

I’ve always loved the picture of community painted in The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. Soon after Ramakrishna has passed away, his closest devotees rent a small house, the rent paid for be a wealthier devotee.

“He [Narendra—the young Vivekananda] and his brother disciples, filled with an ascetic spirit, devoted themselves day and night to the practice of spiritual discipline. Their one goal in life was the realization of God. They followed to their hearts’ content the injunctions prescribed in the Vedas, Puranas, and Tantras for an austere life. They spent their time in japa and meditation and study of the scriptures. Whenever they would fail to experience the Divine Presence, they would feel as if they were on the rack. They practiced austerity, sometimes alone under trees, sometimes in a cremation ground, sometimes on the bank of the Ganges. Again, sometimes they spent the entire day in the meditation room of the monastery in japa and contemplation; sometimes they gathered to sing and dance in a rapture of delight. All of them, and Narendra particularly, were consumed with the desire to see God.”

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Yes, we read about yogis in caves. But the overwhelming majority of serious aspirants practice intimately with other people—in ashrams, monasteries, temples, hermitages, or some other creative form of engaged, collective community.

Four Reasons Adi Da Emphasizes Community

1) Egoity is all about separateness; community works against separateness.

“People commonly have negative and resistive feelings toward all forms of community and human relationships. And the reason, the ultimate roots of these feelings, is the tendency towards separation itself…Truth is manifested only in this relational condition…Therefore, the community of Truth, the community that lives this Teaching, is absolutely necessary.”

 “The ordinary person is avoiding relationship in complex ways. Therefore, it is necessary…for relationship to be the condition. There must be living, working, functional relationship.…”

—Adi Da Samraj, My “Bright” Word

2) Self-reflection. We don’t just have blind spots. We basically are blind spots—walking, talking, ambulatory blind spots. We only come to see and understand ourselves in relationship. We all do zany, neurotic things—lots of them—that are obvious to everyone who knows us, but that we simply have no clue we are doing. Much like Elaine Benis’ dancing.

For the most part, my practice is a spiritual version of Elaine’s dancing. But unlike Elaine’s friends and co-workers, when we work and practice with other serious students of the Way, they reflect us back to ourselves.

When we engage with people closely, we see how petulant, fearful, inflated, moody, invulnerable, manipulative, placating or flirtatious we really are. And every instance in which we are not simple and happy with others, points to a place in ourselves where we are contracted—dramatizing the spasm of separateness. As Jungian maverick Edward Whitmont put it,

“Ask someone to give a description of the personality type which he finds most despicable, most unbearable and hateful, and most impossible to get along with, and he will produce a description of his own repressed characteristics….These very qualities are so unacceptable to him precisely because they represent his own repressed side; only that which we cannot accept within ourselves do we find impossible to live with in others.”

Yes, our spouses, kids, friends, family and coworkers also reflect us back to ourselves. But we tend to have a lot of unspoken agreements in our ordinary, day-to-day relationships. We wear a “social face.” Consciously or unconsciously, we avoid rocking the boat. These relationships are mostly purposed toward comfort, pleasure, security, and satisfaction. They are not usually purposed solely toward the deconstruction of our bullshit. Ergo no one tells Elaine about her dancing.

In authentic community, everyone loses face. When it’s working right, everyone is humbled, undone, porous, together. Everybody comes to know what they’re made of, what they are “all about” as egoic characters. This difficult knowledge creates in us a profound availability to the process of Awakening.

3) Inspiration and Expectation. That’s a phrase the Guru used often—“a culture of inspiration and expectation.” We receive great inspiration from practitioners who are more mature in their practice than we are. It is invaluable to see what seasoned practice actually looks like, in the flesh.

We also grow through challenge and demand. That’s the expectation part of “inspiration and expectation.” Being surrounded by people who truly expect you to be a strong practitioner (or even just a grown-up!) is irreplaceable even if, at times, their demands can seem unreasonable. 

4) Magnifying the Field. Anyone who’s ever meditated or prayed with a group of people knows how potent it is. It’s usually a much more powerful experience than meditating or praying by one’s self. It just is. Go figure.

5) Practicalities. Lastly, Adi Da calls for his devotees to live in some form of cooperative community, when it’s doable, for very practical reasons. You can pool resources and thereby free up a lot of time, money, and energy for spiritual practice—for meditation, service, study, and devotional and sacramental occasions. Just like Ramakrishna’s devotees.

Stuff you can do

If your practice of, say, Sufism, or A Course in Miracles, or anthroposophy or Wicca has been mostly just you and books (or video, podcasts, chat rooms), try to find a local practice group or study group. Obviously look online, but also look at old-timey things like actual physical bulliten boards and kiosks for fliers…y’know, out there in the world of 3D buildings and stuff (Google it).

If you’re already part of a community, ask yourself: can you engage with them more, get more involved, participate more? Could you maybe find two or three people with whom you could meet regularly and talk about intensifying your practice? Face-to-face is best, but you could create this sort of group on the phone or via Skype if you had to.

If there are simply no local groups of any kind that work, consider joining a 12-step group, as an adjunct to your practice. There you will at least find people who are working with “the wound,” with their “shadow material,” and attempting to live by good principles—humility, integrity, honesty, service, surrender, transparency, a power greater than one’s own silly little mind.

There are 12-step groups around addictions to pretty much anything you could think of (alcohol, drugs, food, work, spending, gambling, emotions, sex, porn, codependency, and many others). And if you’ve miraculously gotten through this life without any of those addictive tendencies, well done:

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In summary, community can be a massive pain-in-the-ass. But if you want to take your practice into whole new territories, there are few disciplines that will do it quicker.

Oh, and how could you make a highly communal gesture immediately? By subscribing to my email list, of course!

Feel Your Pit of Snakes

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“Divine Self-Realization is not the avoidance of the pain of life but it is to suffer it to the nth degree, to the point of Awakening, to the point of Freedom, to the point of being utterly transformed, in effect, by love…”

                                                            —Adi Da Samraj

Doesn’t it seem like everyone is suffering their asses off these days? Like maybe Thoreau was onto something when he said most people live lives of quiet desperation? Adi Da says that we may be able to keep our buried pain out of awareness most of the time, but eventually…

“…circumstance, or moments of weakness, or the phases of your hormonal system, and so on, cause you, from time to time, to fall into the ‘pit of snakes’ that is your reactive, non-social, even anti-social, personality…Although you live in that reactive dimension all the time, it is only sometimes that you feel in that dimension.”

—Adi Da Samraj

He goes on to say that, “…in order to avoid suffering this ‘pit of snakes’, all human beings must become superficial robots, loveless beings, beings who do not exist in the realm of feeling.”

In short: If my heart is armored against pain it is also armored against Joy, against Aliveness, against the Radiance of Free Being. Conversely, the more I open to feel my woundedness—while I’m also becoming more and more sensitive to that Infinite Life which Transcends my woundedness—the more my pain is sublimed, transmuted. It becomes a beatitude beyond mind. More on this:

“The love which is the active principle of real Spiritual life in all realms, high or low, is alive only where fear, sorrow, and anger are presently and fully encountered and transformed in the individual. Love is alive only in one who is completely in touch with his or her fear, sorrow, and anger. One who cannot permit, encounter, and face these tendencies in the contracted body-mind cannot transform them at the heart.”

                                                                        —Adi Da Samraj

In David Richo’s beautiful book, When Love Meets Fear, he gets at this same truth.

“To fear grief, to refuse to open to that inner program, is therefore to refuse to open ourselves, the heart of the fear of love. These feelings are also the foundations of our lively energy, which diminshes when we refuse to feel grief.”

“Only those honest and brave enough to feel these uncomforting feelings can make room for the joyous feelings that spring from love when grief has passed.”

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In those quotes it sounds like Dr. Richo is speaking only about grief, but, as you proceed through the book, he makes it clear he’s talking about any rejected, suppressed emotions.

“Every single feeling, including the fear of aloneness, if experienced fully, is ultimately a form of bliss, because every single feeling turns on the lively energy that is inside you.”

 “The armor I use to protect myself actually prevents me from having full access to my powers.”

 “Enlightened means spaced to make room for light. You do this by waking up to the criers: your feelings.”

Louis CK gets at this same elemental truth in this clip (at about 0:50) from one of his Conan appearances.

Many of us misuse our Spiritual practices to dissociate from our pain—the “spiritual bypass,” as psychologists call it. I have fifteen ninja black belts in this. But, with time, and absurd quantities of help, I am starting to allow my pain to just be there. I’m learning to feel it bodily, viscerally, within the transforming fire of my practice. It’s an entirely different orientation to practice.

Now for a few friendly warnings.

First, neither David Richo nor Adi Da is saying that deep Spiritual practice is “all about” feeling our pain. And our Spiritual practice should definitely not be about “meditating on” our pain. Attention should stay on whatever your practice is all about—your breath, compassionate service, your mantra, your Guru. But if you really do that—a lot—it will definitely excavate all sorts of painful stuff. And when it does, just let that shit be there. It’s a trippy discipline.

Second, as we open to the painful emotions inside us, it’s easy to think that, if you can just “process through” enough of them, you will finally, one day, be happy. From the Spiritual point of view, this is a grave error. No amount of tinkering with the bodymind or integrating old wounds will ever become true Freedom. Happiness comes from realizing that we are not the separate, meaty bodymind; it does not come from somehow “fixing” the damn thing.

Plus, apparently, we could never fix our psychologies anyway. I remember my old Zen Master, Katagiri Roshi, saying, in his thick Japanese accent (and I’m paraphrasing here), “You are always trying to sew up all the rips in the fabric of yourselves. You will never do it! There are too many rips.” I may not recall his exact words, but I remember the growling gusto with which he said, “never.”

So we don’t bring our wounds into consciousness to become free. We do it because when those wounds are unconscious they bind our our energy and attention; then there’s very little left over for our Spiritual practice. Becoming sensitive to our pain doesn’t Liberate us, but it does free up our energy and attention, thereby equipping us to live the practice that does Liberate us.

In the song Air, from the Talking Heads album Fear of Music, David Byrne sings about a person who is becoming so sensitive that even the air is painful.

What is happening to my skin?

Where is that protection that I needed?

Air can hurt you too

Air can hurt you too

Some people say not to worry about the air

Some people never had experience with…

Air…Air

It can break your heart

So remember when the weather gets rough

(You’ll say to yourself)

What is happening to my skin?

Where is that protection that I needed?

Air can hurt you too

Air can hurt you too

Some people say not to worry about the air

Some people don’t know shit about the…Air

The Buddha is said to have had this extraordinary sensitivity to his pain. The first time Siddhartha discovered the reality of  old age, illness and death He was completely undone. Instead of just medicating and distracting himself from the pain, via some ancient version of His iPhone (maybe concubines and figs?), He abandoned His entire princely life and vanished into the wilderness, where He hurled himself into extreme Spiritual disciplines. Finally, after six years, He sat down under a Bodhi tree, vowing not to stop meditating until He attained Enlightenment, Awakening from the insane and vicious dream of being a fleshy, highly-killable, separate self.

After the shocking revelation of our impermanence and fragility, Siddhartha couldn’t understand why no one else was as shattered as he was. Looking with incomprehension at the bustling city, he said to his charioteer, “How is it that everyone is not afraid? Their hearts must be very hard, for I see everyone going about their business as though nothing was the matter.” In speaking about his younger self, the Buddha said, “I was delicate, most delicate, supremely delicate.” Do I dare to become delicate, supremely delicate?

Stuff To Do

1) Become intensely curious about whether you’re using your practice as a way to run from your pain. When you’re feeling down, or fretful, or whatever, notice if you look forward to your practice as one might look forward to a martini.

2) Experiment with some self-disciplines. If you use food as a drug, play with a super clean diet. If you use work as a narcotic, insert big swaths of time laying at the beach, staring at the clouds. If the internet is your opium, put drastic limits on it, with lots of accountability from friends. Remember, the goal is not to be some ideal “pure” person (ugh). It’s just to open your heart for a deeper and more passionate life and practice. Here Adi Da addresses our tendencies to self-medicate our fundamental egoic fear:

“In any moment of your conditional existence, you do have the power somehow to prolong your insensitivity to fear by consoling yourself, immunizing yourself, fooling yourself, occupying yourself, distracting yourself with this, that, or the other object—always selecting the objects that are the most consoling, that enable you to…feel immune the most. You are basically seeking immunity, not self-transcendence.”

3) Adi Da teaches His devotees to “feel through and beyond” painful emotions, to Him (because He is our “point of contact” with the Spiritual and Transcendent). Play with “feeling through and beyond” whatever painful emotions come up for you, “toward” whatever point of contact with the Spiritual and Transcendent you’re into. Include the bodily sensation of the emotional pain in your meditation, prayer, or whatever. This can turn into a sublime surrender of the whole being. He says,

“The best thing that could possibly happen to you is for you to become a raw nerve-end, a broken heart, unconsolable, with sorrow on your face and ecstasy as well, no longer a conventional man or woman…It is about transcending yourself, not fulfilling yourself. It is passionate and it is terrible.”

4) Many of us have a very young part of ourselves that feels (often unconsciously) like, if we allow our buried pain into our awareness, it will swallow us whole. Like it will take us over and never stop pouring out of us. Just like what happened to Jerry Seinfeld when he opened the Pandora’s Box (“Endora’s Box,” as Kramer called it, exquisitely confusing the mythical repository of cosmic badness with Samantha’s mother on Bewitched) of his emotions. This clip just captures the very beginning of the process:

If you can detect that sort of fear—of being overwhelmed, flooded, swallowed-up—remember that the emotions you fear are little kid emotions, and you have a totally different brain and nervous system now. You have strengths, knowledge, resources, tools, and abilities you didn’t have then. That means you can do some compassionate “inner-parenting” of the part of you that feels like your pain can overwhelm you.

Hey, want to have some pain to allow, feel beyond and work with right now, this very moment? How about the lovely pain that comes from subscribing to a blog? It’ll only hurt for a moment! Also, if you have a friend, or an enemy, who you think might find this post useful, send a link to them! Who doesn’t like reminders to get in touch with their core angst?