Monthly Archives: November 2016

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?