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?