There are a couple main reasons I meditate: to create less karma and to change my consciousness.
I believe there is a limit as to how much bad karma I can create while meditating. My only hazard is to meditate to escape reality, which is very easy to do, especially when I feel like my reality sucks. Meditating to escape reality only puts me in the same category as all those holy-roller type that go to church to escape from the drudgery of real life. Been there, done that. Not creating trouble is always a good idea, on the other hand.
And then there is the consciousness-changing aspect. I believe that consciousness is the interface between science and spirituality, the overlap of their respective circles in a Venn diagram. And I believe that our minds are ever-changing, going from and to various states. The ability to consciously determine which state I want to be in is a lofty goal. Also, I believe that two people in alpha or theta or whatever state have infinitely more in common than two people living under the same roof but in different brain states. I think one of the hazards of getting older is when one person in a relationship grows and the other does not. You can start out on the same page and end up in different libraries.
There is the Buddhist idea of annica, or so self. I still haven’t figured out if there actually is a real me or simply a conglomeration of temporary states and characteristics. I look forward to someday being able to find out, but that would require me to not have all of my needs drown out by care-taking responsibilities. Who am I when not the care-taking wife? I hope someday to find out who the real me is, if there is one.
I am reading two books right now: Stephen Levine’s A Year to Live and Ken Wilber’s Integral Meditation. I wonder if these two authors have read each other.
They both talk about the two tracks of growth, emotional and spiritual. We need both. We all know secular, emotionally mature people, people that prove conclusively that one can be good without any belief whatsoever in a transcendent deity. And many of us, including myself, are all too familiar with spiritually advanced people lacking basic emotional maturity (ego-maniacs, sleazy televangelists, child-like monastics, happy-clappy philanderers, etc.).
Wilber says that those of us who spend our time growing into the 7th and 8th level of emotional growth and who pursue an integrated spirituality are the leading edge of evolution.
If I am part of the leading edge of human evolution, humanity is in big trouble.
Perhaps I am just ridiculously cynical. Okay, I know I am. I just have a deep suspicion of trusting emotional states as reflecting anything other than an individual’s personal needs. I’ve had huge spiritual experiences in the past and am now convinced that they were just what I needed at that particular time. That doesn’t make them bad, just individualized and hard to assume that they apply to everyone. One of the more advanced stages is having feelings of profound unity with all things: non-duality, advaita, whatever you want to call it. What makes those feelings any more trustworthy than some of the more Pentecostal, holy-roller, ecstasy on display every Sunday in thousands of churches? Lots of Christians just know that the phony baloney they believe whole-heartedly in is the truth. They know it “in their heart.” I was one of them. Self-deception has no limit.
I’m just glad that various authors are finally agreeing that both are important: growing up and waking up. This is one of those missing pieces humanity has been looking for. As Wilber talks about, every phase includes and transcends the previous phase. Each progressive phase is more whole and comprehensive than its predecessor. People include organs, which include molecules, which include atoms. Nothing is negated. Everything is integrated.
I’ve always been interested in wholeness and healing. What is healing? The integration of the things that have been separated and/or rejected. I’ve learned to not be picky. Healing can come from New-Agey modalities, modern medicine, faith healing, personal experiences, and a gazillion other sources. I want as much healing as possible before I die and I don’t care where it comes from.
Today is very interesting time to live in. We have people from all the different levels fighting each other. And each of them feels they are representing the one and only truth.
The challenge is to accomplish this growth while keeping the boat afloat, so to speak. Meditation has to be scheduled around paying the bills, taking people to the doctor, doing yardwork, etc. People that don’t have to function in the real world can focus on experiencing various states of consciousness, but they may be falsely convinced that they have overcome various emotional issues that they have not actually touched on. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche even had a term for it: spiritual bypassing. It’s when we try to skip normal stages of emotional growth in favor of using spirituality as a way to impress people or ourselves. I know I’ve done it. The big thing I’ve learned over the years is that you don’t get to skip steps! You focus on growth in area A and make progress and go back to area B and find it exactly how you left it. The dishes didn’t do themselves.
Is one lifetime even enough to deal with everything? I know I can make progress, but holy crap, this is hard and time consuming. Use me as a role model at your own risk.
“You need courage to find out what you really want in life,and what you want might be dangerous. But life is dangerous anyway, and there is a beauty in becoming more and more fully who you are, as well as being pulled along by your red thread.” John Tarrant, Bring Me the Rhinoceros, p. 78
I don’t know who I am, but I might be obnoxious.
As a woman in today’s world, the expectations of family care taking fall fully upon my shoulders.Do I resent it? You bet. The concept of equality is a joke when burdened with all the responsibility and little recognition for it.
Who I am has frankly not mattered much over the years. Certain things had to get done and Barry was the only one with a job, so I did what I could. Then Barry retired and got cancer and Huntington’s and could not do much of anything. Now, I strongly suspect the cancer is back (there is a suspicious lump without a biopsy) and am looking at likely being single again within a year. And I discovered to my horror last year that the people I thought I could count on were only being polite. My “support system” has/had zero to offer.
I might be a nasty bitch. I don’t know. I’ve never had the opportunity to find out, given all the roles I’ve played: wife, step-mother, daughter, sister, sister-in-law, friend, student, volunteer, church member, etc.
I want to find out who I am, if there is such a thing. Sometimes I wonder if there are simply states of consciousness that we tap into. I’ve heard mediums say that a piece of a dead person’s anger has somehow detached itself from the remainder of the personality and taken on a life of its own, being fed by the anger of others in that location. So…the feelings are not necessarily who you are. Are we all just playing roles?
“Spiritual advisors exhort us to invest in our much more important bardo retirement plan. That’s our real future. Don’t worry so much about social security. Finance your karmic security. Invest in your future lives now. Investing so much in this life is like checking into a hotel for a few days and redecorating the room. What’s the point?” Preparing to Die by Andrew Holocek, page 126
This is how to escape the McMindfulness of living in an empty Eternal Now.
My current obsession is with glacial-paced change/deterioration. Nothing, as near as I can tell, ever changes for the better without some level of intentional effort. Without intervention, rocks roll downhill only. Think “turtle on a fencepost.” Go to any bookstore. Self-help/spirituality sections are filled with titles that include words like “deliberate”, “intentional”, “aware”, and “conscious”. We humans do have the radical ability to change our lives for the better. It’s this little concept I like to call “taking responsibility.”
My question is simple: How do you notice all the little micro-changes that will kick your butt in the future? Attention is necessarily selective. No one can pay attention to everything simultaneously. I am currently overwhelmed with consequences from slow-changing situations from the past decade, and I try very hard to notice changes around me. The future has a way of arriving rather unexpectedly. I am trying to let go of my need for financial security. I guess that is my challenge for this lifetime.
One thing I am rediscovering is Kaizen, the Japanese art of positive, intentional, glacial change. Perhaps I can get Barry to accept different changes if I go slowly enough. I am looking for non-traumatic ways to change things, to use slow change in positive way, instead of letting it kick my butt. What an idea.
I have made a decision. It sounds real obvious, but I decided to only do things as long as I understand what I am doing and why I am doing it. I have given myself permission to do whatever I want—as long as I can say to myself, “I am doing X, for reason Y.” No mindlessness allowed.
Mindlessness is a variation of sleepwalking. If I wish to take a nap, I’ll do it consciously and deliberately. Just no numbing out. Staying awake is tough for me at times in this frozen tundra. Even the word “Buddha” means “awakened one,” which is a direct challenge to my hibernatory tendencies. Staying awake is a worthy goal that I am not always successful at.
My real target regarding consciousness is all those normal social conventions that I’ve never succeeded at and am now evaluating the worth of maintaining. When I was growing up, nobody ever had a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome. If you weren’t full-blown autistic, you (I) could pass for normal. It has only been as an adult that I have met seriously Asperger-y people and done research on it. Looking at it, I realized, “Oh, my God. That’s me.” The shock of identification. When I thought of how I rock back and forth when stressed, it was like, “Wow. How autistic is that?”
I endlessly frustrated my poor mother. I continually retied my shoes to get my laces the exact same degree of tightness. I didn’t care how things looked, but they had to feel right. I am Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. A little less severe, but the same idea. I even admire Amy Farrah Fowler’s corduroy skirt collection. How wrong is that?
I have always felt like a freak, for good reason. I miss social cues. I have a really limited tolerance for physical touch and social contact. There is an episode of Big Bang Theory where Sheldon and Amy break up. Leonard asks Sheldon if he misses the social and physical contact with Amy. Sheldon’s response is perfect. “I’ve lived with you for seven years and can barely tolerate you.” That’s me.
My challenge is to figure out what social protocols I participate in that I can let go of. Just because I (or others) have always done something in no way implies that it is actually worth doing. I went to great lengths to get a degree so I can work anywhere and be at least semi-functional. This is the first time in my life I am seriously evaluating all the crap I have felt obligated to do. I have never felt comfortable with all the social etiquette, but I also never felt like I had a choice. I am giving myself that choice now. I am 47 years old and too old to be playing these games. There can be no new me without consciously letting go of those pieces of the old me that never fit in the first place. This in-between is a place of great pain, fear, and hope.
I realized a few weeks ago that sitting and watching TV in no way constituted “having a life.” As I look, I see more and more similarities between watching TV and death.
There is the altered state of consciousness. Did you know that most people are in an alpha brain state within two minutes of watching TV? I got that from Eldon Taylor’s Mind Programming. The alpha state is a more relaxed state than our normal beta state. It is more susceptible (gullible) because the internal censors of rational thinking and logic have been turned off. That’s why it feels so good. One has ditched the burden of independent, rational thought. This should frighten anyone aware that the average American watches 6-8 hours of TV every day, 365 days a year.
Then there is the sedentariness factor. Sit down. Relax. Take a load off. Stop trying so hard. It seems like almost weekly a new study comes out warning about the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle. Right now, it is hard for me to imagine living a more sedentary life. The weather does not help. Some days, it is so cold I don’t even want to open my front door. The TV cannot be blamed for Michigan’s weather in February, but it doesn’t help, either.
I also consider falling asleep to be practice for death. Lie down. Exhale. Relax. Enter into another dimension in your mind.
I have been reading a book about the death of Hindu and Zen masters. It is fascinating. I would love to be counted among them.
There is nothing wrong with any of this. We will all die. That much we can be sure of.
But let us practice consciously.
Let us not pretend that killing ourselves with TV is a substitute for living a meaningful life.
“The truth about childhood is stored up in our body, and although we can repress it, we can never alter it. Our intellect can be deceived, our feelings manipulated, and conceptions confused, and our body tricked with medication. But someday our body will present its bill, for it is as incorruptible as a child, who, still whole in spirit, will accept no compromises or excuses, and it will not stop tormenting us until we stop evading the truth.” Alice Miller, quoted in “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry” by Jack Kornfield, p. 177
I read Alice Miller books twenty years ago, including and especially “The Drama of the Gifted Child,” recommended to me by my shrink back then. Her insights are powerful. She might be European. I remember how she described German pedagogy and showed how Hitler was no anomaly. What Americans considered inexplicable, she revealed as inevitable, given early-twentieth century childrearing techniques across the pond.
Enter American Buddhism. And Buddhism-lite. I’m talking about not just long, intensive meditation retreats, but also such things as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Mindfulness is entering corporate America.
My suspicion is that we have opened a can of worms. We will have to finish what we start. Because there is NO going back.
You sit down to meditate. And issues immediately surface: anger suppressed for decades, fear never listened to, long-standing resentments, pent-up physical/emotional exhaustion from decades of caregiving, you name it. The idea of stress reduction now seems ridiculous.
Think of mindfulness in a work environment. The thin veneer of professionalism is stripped away and suddenly a worker realizes that they hate their job with a passion or perhaps they were sexually abused as a child and the memories come flooding in. The boss should do what exactly about any of this? Things could get ugly quickly.
Our culture is obsessed with distraction. I am part of it myself. The downside of it is the superficiality of life and the worthlessness of the activities so much time and energy are spent on. The upside is that these distractions keep us at least semi-functional drones in the professional arena.
But once the body is awakened, the pretense is over. If you hate your job, you can never pretend as effectively as before that all is A-OK. Once you feel that repressed rage, going home and having a nice, normal meal with the family is now out of the question. The issues must be dealt with. The toothpaste is out of the tube. Things will never be the same again.
But this could be a good thing. When one person deals with their issues, many issues can now be addressed. Problems now have the hope of being solved instead of denial ruling the day. Once things have permanently changed, it behooves all involved to make the changes as positive as possible. Now is the time for personal evolution. Not revolution—evolution. Growth. Development. Learning. Once one assumption perceived as permanent changes, they are all up for grabs. It starts individually, but it is hard to imagine the changes as remaining in the solely personal realm.
I’m starting to see acknowledgment of such things. I saw an article in a Buddhist magazine about Edward Brown’s first attempts to meditate and how he had physical shaking. Suzuki Roshi even confronted him about it. When Brown explained that he was trying to observe the movements with curiosity, Roshi was suddenly fine with Brown’s attempts to meditate. I have also seen a book for sale by a Buddhist author called “The Trauma of Everyday Life.” Buddhists are starting to realize that something is going on that must be addressed.
I get the impression that a whole lot more needs to be done. There need to be more Buddhist therapists. More re-integration emphasis after retreats. That kind of thing.
Also, businesses need to be more careful before opening that whole mindfulness can of worms. A corporate therapist (or at least a highly-trained HR professional with access to resources) needs to be on hand. If companies don’t want to deal with the human issues that will unavoidably arise, then they should build robots. Being human is messy.
“The misuse of absorption can lead to denial.” Jack Kornfield, “Bringing the Dharma Home”, page 19
I’m not sure if there is a difference between absorption and concentration, but everyone I have ever known, including myself, has misused concentration/absorption for the purposes of maintaining denial.
How can you not? Sometimes, reality sucks and there isn’t much that a person can do about it. Focusing on the problem does not necessarily empower a person to implement a solution, particularly if the problem belongs to someone else. Compassion makes a person care about others, but it doesn’t always enable the carer to fix the concern.
I have obsession issues, not that anyone could tell. (Ha ha.) Once my brain figures something out, then I want to understand how that thing impacts every other area of my life and the lives of others I care about. In other words, once I find a new dot, I want to see how it connects to all the others. And then I’m off….I’m living in my head. And sometimes, particularly when my reality is unpalatable, living in my head is a relief.
But that’s the problem. I’m living in my head, not dealing with my current situation (by distracting myself with some issue of irrelevance to my daily life), and time is going by. My life is slipping through my fingers because I’d rather focus on anything else rather than dealing with the current reality.
Reading female self-help authors is revelatory. A woman will write a book about empowering other women and realize that they are not practicing what they preach. The next thing you know, they are divorced. I am thinking specifically about Melody Beattie and Sarah Ban Breathnach (sorry if I mangled the spellings, it’s been a while). They feel time passing and are not willing to let their life slip by being unhappily married or in a relationship with a practicing addict or whatever. Divorce isn’t a guarantee of happiness, but if you’re already unhappy, there may not be a lot to lose through divorce. At some point, it becomes time to take your own advice. Integrity demands it.
Sometimes I wonder if OCD is the ultimate absorption/distraction. People think they want to let go of their obsessions, but their obsessions serve a purpose—distracting them from their current misery.
I saw it as a Christian. I saw churches obsessed with politics and abortion while their young people fled the icky, manipulative political sermons of the pastor. I saw one woman go to Joyce Meyer events, ignoring the fact that her son was flamingly gay. I have a sister-in-law that will tell you all about the evils of diet pop, while her husband (my brother) kills himself one beer at a time.
I don’t want to fall into the same ditch as a Buddhist. I don’t want to use any religion as an escape from reality. Mindfulness has been my savior at times. Feeling my breath. Listening to what people are saying and comparing/contrasting that with their actual behavior. Feeling the sun on my skin. Taking my husband’s no’s seriously. I want to deal with reality, not develop supernatural concentrative powers. Escape is easy and time (life) slips away minute by minute.
Maybe when your options are gone and you can’t do anything anymore, concentration can be handy. Distraction may not be such a bad thing when someone else is changing your diapers. I don’t know. I just know that I don’t want to live like that now.
“Make the soil where you’ve been stuck a more beautiful place.” by Dave Bruno
I was looking at a preview of a book that I may purchase (when I am more progressed on the pile of books I am reading now). This resonates with me. We simply cannot always move forward when we wish. Life does not work like that. I don’t believe in plans; I believe in preparation. We can make ourselves into what we want or need to be. Others notice. When they need someone with our skills or traits, lo and behold, our name comes to mind. We can’t always find a job, but we can always make ourselves more employable and, when circumstances allow, perhaps we can move to somewhere there are jobs.
Right now, I’m having a tough time accepting where I am stuck. Barry watches a lot of TV, because that is about all he is capable of. I have a limited tolerance for TV, a fairly high tolerance, but even I have my limit. Before I came to Biggby tonight, some tabloid news show was asking if John Travolta was dyslexic. Who cares? If he wants a reading tutor, he can pay for one himself.
Part of why I feel so stuck is that the weather is just starting to get a tiny bit warmer and I have a raging case of cabin fever. I have to get out or risk going crazy. Watching Barry decline and sitting at home is taking a serious toll on me. I feel like this is a “deathstyle”, not a lifestyle. Life is about movement. If you see something on the road not moving, what do you do? You might assume it is dead, poke it with a stick (to see if it moves in response), or check for a pulse. Movement is a sign of life and being stuck is the opposite of movement. I found myself thinking today, “Is this what it’s like watching someone die?” This is rough. A part of me is dying day by day and I’m unsure there is anything I can do about it.
I feel like everything in our culture is meant to get us to do something, anything at all, to not feel what we are feeling. Religion is an opiate for the masses, but not the only one by far. Let us also include marketing, sex, alcohol, gambling, and whatever else you can think of. The last thing religious authority figures or marketers want is for is to think for ourselves and question the pabulum they’ve been feeding us. Do you care if Travolta is dyslexic? I know I don’t. But as long as people sit around, letting their brains turn into oatmeal, the powers that be can rest assured that the masses are well controlled.
I need to find a way to move something (emotionally, spiritually, and/or intellectually) so I don’t feel like I am dying inside, regardless of the weather. I cannot continue to live like this. I don’t just want to pretty up my emotional grave.
Somewhere, it might be Penney Peirce the intuitive expert, I heard the Be-Do-Have concept. The idea is that you start at the beginning (Be) and one step naturally leads to the next. Given my tendencies towards minimalism lately, I am now contemplating the whole cycle more lately.
What do I want to be? I want to be the person that helps people/organizations to know what they really want to be/do. In other words, I want to be a consciousness-raiser.
I believe that we are raised to be unconscious, to be driven by societal expectations. When I was growing up, the expected sequence of events was thus: go to school, get married, get a house, and start a family. There are too many assumptions in this sequence to even count. Not everyone is suited for a college education. Also, if you wait until you are finished with your education, you may never end up getting married. The house concept only works if someone makes enough money and someone (else, probably) has the time to take care of it. What if your prospects for marriage are dim, but you still want kids? It goes on and on.
My particular situation has forced many re-evaluations in my life. One reality is that of student loan debt. I cannot afford a lot of stuff and pay off Sallie Mae in a reasonable period of time. I personally believe that student loan debt is slowing/preventing any real economic recovery. We are the only “developed” nation that expects its young people to foot the bill for their own education. This forces young people to move to cities because no one can afford to commute when gas prices are pushing $4/gallon. Owning a car is just not practical. Or buying a house. Or eating out. Sallie Mae has dibs on our tax refunds, if we are fortunate enough to qualify for one.
Another aspect of my situation is that I cannot care for the possessions I have. There is no point in acquiring more. I never thought I would say this, but I want to vacuum, but can’t in a real way. Huntington’s makes Barry less tolerant of variation/change. Moving the furniture around to do a decent job of vacuuming would drive him batty. I do what I can, but have been forced to rethink the idea of spring cleaning. What can I do or not do? This requires thought. When I eventually stop shoveling, I will start spring cleaning.
Becoming more conscious is difficult, but life has ways of jolting you into reality. One thing I have heard, and believe, is that, beyond $50k/year, more money does not add to one’s quality of life. Once you have food, clothing, shelter, transportation, communication, and health care, more money does not help. At that point, you are supporting the 1% at your own expense. Marketers are amazing at blurring the line between needs and wants. Stressed? Just watch TV and be marketed to endlessly.
Speaking of unconsciousness, I have made friends with a Protestant minister. He is a wonderful person and an awesome listener. However, like many Protestants, I suspect his intellect is slowly declining. He and I were emailing back-and-forth. I quoted the Buddha regarding not trusting anything simply because it is in a scripture or because someone else says it is true. This is his response:
“There is actually a lot of knowledge I accept based on other people’s credentials. I’ve never actually scene a quark, but I trust that some scientists really have “seen” one. I don’t have the time or energy to fully explore it myself. I take it on trust. I think that’s a kind of “proper confidence” in the source of the knowledge. It seems to me that at times the question really is more “what is proper to have confidence in and what is not proper to have confidence in”?”
My response was instant: “Check things out for yourself or you will fall behind intellectually very quickly. You will find yourself in a conversation with someone that has done their homework and be flabbergasted at just how far behind you have fallen. I don’t want you to fall behind. Check everything out for yourself.” He hasn’t responded. I am not surprised. I believe that a person can have a 180 IQ, become a Protestant, live in that Christian Bubble, and be an idiot within a decade. I’ve seen it. He’s a very fine family man and has a lot of integrity, but will lose IQ points just like anyone else if he maintains the attitude that some things are trustworthy simply because of someone’s credentials. Such an attitude is discernment-free. He has made himself an unwary target for the unscrupulous. Credentials do not equal good judgment or wisdom. I’m sure he will learn, the hard way, of course, as we all do.
Our culture is unconscious. Barry’s cancer woke me up. It takes something different for everyone. Being unconscious is easy, but costly. Someone will always be willing to take responsibility for your life—for their own benefit. Taking responsibility is hard, but once you do it, it becomes impossible to imagine any other way of life.