Awakening the Heart
Welwood, John , Editor
Digest provided by unidentified Student
Psychiatry and the Sacred
" As man leaves childhood and affirms his socially conditioned identity, he is actually leaving behind the possible growth of his inner being."
The study of the psyche and human consciousness once the purview of theology has, in the last fifty years, come under the auspices of science. The scientific paradigm with its apparent mastery over mankind's visible world began to infiltrate the invisible arena, that of the psyche.
The academics of the "baby boom" generation were drawn to the burgeoning discipline of psychology and Western culture at large became saturated with scientific explanations as to the nature of the mind. Education, industry and business all became enmeshed as the new paradigm evolved. As the "science" of human nature gained favor the canonical grip continued to soften. The science of psychology became the new "Messiah".
Sadly, over the course of a relatively short evolution, the initial enthusiasm and expectation for the potency of this new model gave way to disappointment and dissolution, for the people were given a false redeemer. The discipline of psychology failed to satisfactorily delineate the complete nature of the human psyche and the meaning of life.
The serious existential questions, those regarding such issues as meaning as well as those of life and death, etc., are too often left unanswered by either psychology or Western theology. In fact, the very people (i.e. the psychologists) who are expected to have the answers find themselves, in vacuo. Man's true nature remains a mystery.
Because of this existential void people in ever greater numbers turn towards and embrace the teachings of the East, many within the discipline of psychology itself. Many argue that Eastern models have a far more comprehensive understanding of human consciousness than anything derived in the West. For many, this yo-yo-like paradigm shift: first theology, then psychology back to theology results in confusion. "Does one need a therapist or a priest, how does one discern?" Further, can one really discern a distinct demarcation between the two disciplines? Is there an authentic difference between the two?
Eastern teachings reflect a far more expansive understanding of consciousness than those of the West. The lexicon too, is far more capacious, using terms that describe individual facets of awareness as opposed to a word or two which attempt to confine consciousness to one convenient receptacle. This extended conceptualization may lead to greater understanding. But there is the potential for those unlettered in Eastern teachings, to find it confusing and latch on to the particular while missing the general(comprehensive). This is not unique to Eastern philosophy but also a phenomenon seen in psychology which accounts for much of the fragmentation witnessed in the discipline.
The Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu equivalent to the new testament, draws a distinction between consciousness and the contents of consciousness. Everything one normally speaks of as qualities of consciousness are described instead as "contents" of consciousness. This distinction suggests that everything thought to be reflective of one's fundamental nature is really only a fragment of a larger self. Thus, aspects of experience, one's perceptions, one's ego, emotions and thoughts etc. become content and not consciousness. One must find Consciousness (distinguishing content) and according to these teachings this requires constant practice and vigilance.
The fundamental task in understanding pure consciousness is a resolved and repeated effort, moving towards self-awareness, in every point in time. Discussions or explanations for behavior are irrelevant according to this model. Therapies either scientific or spiritual may push one off the intended course if presented in a way that is contrary to the effort of being. One must struggle to be aware of the completeness of self, here in the present moment, here in the "now".
Mental pathologies are recognized within the Eastern traditions and the intent of therapy is to bring back normative behavior without diluting the individuals impulse for self-realization. To accomplish this the "therapist" would have to be able to distinguish between psychological maladjustment and existential frustration. The same challenges face the modern therapist. He must be able to embrace the fact that there is something within more profound than the sum of the individual's experience, something empyrean!
Among the Eastern traditions there is not the marked distinction (as there is in the West) between a "normative" secular life and one regarded as spiritual, they are the two sides of the proverbial coin. Thus the patient is never faced with the fragmentation and confusion regarding which path to follow. The question as to how one should direct the course of his life is unnecessary when one learns that the secular and the spiritual are two footpaths of the same terrain. It is the task of the modern therapist to guide the counselee down both trails for both the well-adjusted and the neurotic experience the need for existential awakening and Transcendence does not necessarily comprise what Western science considers normative consciousness.
Eastern teachings argue that there is within humanity a divine spark which needs to be kindled, nurtured. This divine aspect requires sustenance different from that of the body and psyche, yet modern science has not recognized this difference and attempts to offer the body, psyche and soul the same pabulum; and then wonders why the client does not thrive. It is like offering warmth and milk to a baby bird and being puzzled when the hatchling does not flourish.
Self-realization does not evolve from psychological theory alone. Self-realization is the result of something much more profound, something more fundamental, more essential. It is more than self-esteem, more than ego development etc.; it is the integration, the harmonization of the whole: body, psyche, and spirit. In the West psychotherapy becomes a means towards an end, goal directed and limited. Soul-therapy, the concern of Eastern teachings, is a never ending process. It is life itself.
Psychotherapy and Spiritual Tradition
A.C. Robin Skynner
The most common and arguably the best motivation for becoming a psychotherapist is the desire to understand and deal with one's own shortcomings. That is if the therapist gains true insight and not one of the vicarious sort. The sages have always counseled "know thyself". That counsel has always been understood as a prerequisite to the development of the understanding of others. Self analysis in its many forms is known to lead to greater comprehension of the nature of humankind.
For some, psychedelic drugs have been used as the vehicle for expansive consciousness and sometimes in a particularly healthy vein. The expansion of consciousness with the assistance of lysergic acid has led some into realms of consciousness similar to those described in the mystical literature, states that may have otherwise been simply dismissed as fiction. This has often prompted further investigation; and for the rationalist -the scientist- this may have been the only invitation for an honest appraisal of the spiritual traditions.
The typical psychotherapist's course of therapy is to assist the maladjusted by bringing to their conscious awareness the causative factor(s) for the malady and then to design appropriate strategies for new and wiser behaviors. These strategies are devised after patients are broadly grouped into two categories; those seeking redress from life's secular complexities and those who develop a need to push well beyond the mundane into the existential arena. These two lines of investigation, i.e. the spiritual and the secular, require further consideration.
* Both psychotherapy and spiritual tradition suggest that underlying man's difficulty is a clouded perception, what the Hindus call maya or illusion. Man sees things as he wishes to see them or somehow not as they are, for example, mistaking a rope for a snake.
* Both disciplines suggest that man in general is fragmented. His problems stem from this disintegration of psyche with the world about him.
* Self-actualization or self-realization (that is the reintegration of the whole) results in a cure or in spiritual terms "deliverance/salvation". Here the sense of "I" or the ego-self becomes complete.
* Both schools concede that treatment is a painful and confusing process but vital to the ultimate survival of the organism. Both attempt to integrate the conscious and subconscious, to expand the individual's view of himself and the world around him to permit the disassociated parts to coalesce into a healthy whole.
* Both acknowledge latent talents and abilities within man which can not be realized without integrated self-awareness.
* Both suggest that man's pain and confusion are unnecessary and self- imposed, a product of ignorance or forgetfulness.
* Lastly, both require the personal guidance of a spiritual director or therapist.
While there are many similarities between the spiritual and the scientific paths, it could be argued that there really exists a large degree of divergence, particularly in their subtle aspects. The study of psyche and spirit differ in the following manners:
* Spiritual traditions suggest that there is some kind of purpose and ordered intelligence
responsible for the universe.
* Spiritual tradition suggests that man has a choice in following a secular or spiritual path and that choice
influences how well the individual adjusts to his circumstance and environment. By walking the "higher ground", the spiritual path, man will find meaning and purpose.
* Psychological models do not embrace this higher intelligence, man himself becomes the focal point. There is no Transcendent Reality and there is no recognition of a secondary purpose.
* Psychology does not distinguish between the ordinary and the extra-ordinary, the exoteric and esoteric.
It is the desire, the quest for the extraordinary that leads to the sacred and to self-realization.
* Psychology concentrates on refining the existing personality with its attended desires and ambitions,
spirituality seeks to transcend ordinary personality.
* Psychology and the sacred traditions differ with respect to their points of origin. The sacred traditions
have always accompanied man on his evolutionary journey and have been handed down from generation to generation. Psychology's "genesis" begins with the scientific revolution and continues to be passed "up" rather than down .
* The spiritual preceptor is seen as a minor manifestation of the divine principle and therefore it is not unexpected for the relationship to be life-long; whereas the psychologist/client relationship is predicated on their eventual parting.
* The spiritual traditions recognize degrees of consciousness and offer methodologies for unlayering these various states. Psychology on the other hand sees consciousness as simply consciousness and describes no graduation of awareness.
While the similarities between the two approaches are interesting the differences in aggregate seem to carve an enormous chasm, one that is difficult if not impossible to negotiate. The goals of the two schools are quite different; psychology attempts to balance ordinary living and the intention of spirituality is instead the transcendence of the ordinary. Therapists who misunderstand the scope and intent of these two different approaches lead the risk of derailing spiritual development and simply reinforcing the attachments to the ordinary self. The psychologist thinks his job finished when the patient becomes more adjusted to ordinary life. It is these very attachments ( well adjusted or otherwise) that the spiritual counselor seeks to eliminate.
Both approaches of course can be misunderstood or misapplied. Practitioners of both methods bring with them their own biases and their therapies can lead to either expansive or constrictive consciousness; science as well as religion can become dogmatic and fundamentalistic. Fundamentalism whether based on theology or psychology can produce a mind-set immune to therapy and in fixed opposition to true self-development.
Psychological Adjustment is not Liberation:
A symposium with Jack Kornfield, Ram Dass and Mokusen Miyuki.
Moderator: Is spiritual and psychological growth synonymous?
Kornfield: Buddhist philosophy delineates three components of the human psyche. The first is the ability to discriminate between different objects. The second is the perception(s) of the senses; the mind is included in this category, it too considered a sense organ. Finally, is the aspect of how the individual relates to each sensory experience. Buddhist psychology aims at shifting the individual's response to the sensory input so that each is viewed with dispassion, equanimity and non-attachment. This changes the way in which the individual responds moment to moment. From this perspective there is no difference between psychological and spiritual growth. One important distinction, however, is that the qualities of any particular mind will influence the way in which the individual responds to a particular sensory input.
Miyuki: It is most important to understand where the individual is in the self-transformation process. The question: "Where am I" is paramount. Western psychology may not be applicable in this context, i.e. from the Buddhist perspective. Spiritual growth is more encompassing... it includes aspects of human experience not embraced by Western psychology. Spiritual practices recognize the irrational as well as the rational nature of being.
Ram Dass: There is a need to distinguish between the concepts implied by the terms spiritual and psychological. It has been suggested that psychological growth does not stand in opposition to spiritual growth, however, the current Western paradigm is something very different from the Eastern concept of spirituality. Psychotherapy does not concern itself with issues of transcendence. It is instead concerned with developing a functional ego; the goal being the assimilation into cultural norms. Psychology concerns itself with worldly adjustment, spirituality seeks to adjust as well as transcend worldly affairs.
Kornfield: Confusion exists between the two approaches because of the similarity in methodology. Psychology fails to pursue self-understanding to the same depth as the spiritual schools. Psychology emphasizes analysis and investigation but stops short of the samadhi [transcendental consciousness] obtained in meditation. Therefore, many of the techniques employed in psychotherapy do not penetrate deep enough; nor do they lend to equanimity, tranquillity and concentration.
Moderator: Isn't there a danger of developing a preoccupation with transcendental consciousness (samadhi) and subsequently the avoidance of the issues of personality, is samadhi merely an escape?
Kornfield: A competent and sincere spiritual teacher will not permit the unrivaled pursuit of transcendent states. He(she) will promote (balance) both personal and transpersonal concerns. The West has focused too much on analysis and not on depth and the East has emphasized tranquillity and to some degree ignored investigation, balance is required.
Miyuki: In Zen, one is encouraged to bring to everyday situations (i.e. washing dishes, cooking etc.) a transcendental outlook. There is no [should not be] any distinction between ordinary and non-ordinary consciousness. This state of transcendental awareness may be obtained through other activity besides meditative samadhi.
Kornfield: Because of the cross-dialogue between these two approaches to personal development, many advocates of psychotherapy conclude that psychology can lead one to the same end as the spiritual traditions, that is a dangerous assumption. Although psychology can be helpful in personal development, it does not have the potency to bore into the layers of personality to finally reach self-realization. Psychology also does not possess the ability to introduce nor explain human experience that takes place within the mystical.
Ram Dass: By focusing individual(s) attention more toward the mundane, psychology actually deflects true growth. People are lead to believe that they have achieved a state of awareness that is transcendent yet it is not quite there. One must be vigilant and retain perspective on the breach between disciplines.
Moderator: What about the disparity of views with respect to sanity? Many Eastern teachers when viewed from the Western perspective would not be regarded as sound-minded.
Ram Dass: Spiritual disciplines care little about psychological health. Sanity or neurosis for that matter, is seen as an element of the attachment to secular consciousness. [ By implication, transcendental consciousness will also permit transcendence of the neurosis (at least during the time of meditation et. al.)] This is a very different view of a healthy mind.
Miyuki: Sanity like so many other things must be judged in cultural context. What seems so clear in one culture may not seem so in another. In Japan there is a different awareness regarding mental health. Esoterically, mental illness is spoken of in terms of energy (ki) . Mental illness is thought to be an abnormal condensation of energy.
Moderator: Professor Miyuki suggested that it was dangerous for Westerners to practice meditation[Zen], could you expound?
Miyuki: The people in Japan and the people in the United States have fundamentally two different ego structures, it is here where the problem arises. Americans are individualists, and this has greater importance when discussing the psyche that with the rugged individualism which the society prides itself. The ego, too, has become individual, separated from the collective ego (unconscious) spoken of by Jung. In meditative states one gains access to the collective unconscious and therefore is exposed to states beyond those which the individual ego is used to functioning. This has the potential for creating imbalance in the Western practitioner. The Japanese have a greater sense of collective ego and therefore do not face this danger.
Kornfield: It is true that there are dangers which accompany a meditative practice, the ability to function in everyday life must be maintained and there are avenues available to do just that. These dangers, however, are not to be thought of as inevitable. Not everyone will experience difficulty. A by-product of the meditative experience is the strengthening or conditioning of the mental faculties and the mind becomes prepared in a natural way to deal with the contents of the unconscious as well as the feelings which may arise as a result of the practice. An equally important consideration is not simply the recognition of differing ego structures but of the individual contents in each unconscious. The goal of a meditative practice is to balance these two perspectives.
Ram Dass: Cultural differences in ego structure is very important. The narrow confines of the individual ego does lead to problems for the Western seeker because he is ill prepared for the trials of an intense spiritual practice. Other cultures which embrace a larger dimension of ego have an important history and link to the rigors of spiritual practice. There are very few people in the West who are prepared for this discipline. What the Western psychology has done is embraced only those aspects of spiritual practice which reinforce the individuality of the ego.
Moderator: Psychology may be responsible for misunderstanding or misapplying aspects of spiritual disciplines, do you think the reverse is also true?
Kornfield: There is concern that the language of psychology does not adequately address the upper limits of human experience and in fact may even diminish experience of the spirit. However, science and psychology are in effect part of this culture's "religion". While these disciplines need not be abandoned one needs to be mindful in the application of both.
Miyuki: There has always been a period of transmission, a period where the spiritual teachings are introduced and interpreted. It is up to the teachers to see that the teachings are understood and correctly applied.
Kornfield: This transmission of spiritual teachings historically has taken some time. In each case there have been abuses and misunderstandings, and degraded to some extent by people who have not been able to take the teachings to the fullest depth. Spiritual teachings will ultimately evolve on their own in the United States. There are a few masters of each tradition in this country and they will be able to successfully transmit the teachings so that they will continue to thrive and grow.
Psychology and Meditation
With the greater influence of Eastern psychologies and meditative practices there exists a level of confusion regarding the appropriateness of one therapy or one meditative practice over another. Is one more efficacious? Should one begin with psychotherapy and then turn to meditation? Which will transport one the greatest distance towards personal growth?
There is no clear consensus on this issue. The confusion is compounded by the loose interpretation of both meditation and psychology. Both are used to refer to a broad range of therapeutic practices which may have little meaning beyond broad generalizations.
Therapeutic Change and Unfolding
One approach to therapy called Focusing, is to open for the client the contents of immediate experience. The goal is to obtain the ability to articulate what one is truly feeling at the moment and not simply comparing it to past or familiar experience. The therapist then gently guides the client in assigning meaning.
Most issues requiring therapeutic attention have both obvious and hidden components with attendant obvious and not so obvious consequences, yet the client has an overall sense (a feel ) for the quality or nature of the problem. It is the investigation and subsequent broadening of the "sense" of the situation that often leads to growth. An individual feeling anger is encouraged to "feel" it rather than intellectualize it. This exercise in felt sense is often one of the most important in therapy of this kind. By developing the meaning behind these sensations the client will experience what is termed a felt shift and he/she is released from the emotion (anger). By developing the meaning of the experience, the not so obvious dimensions of emotion become comprehensible. This comprehension leads to an expansive awareness and a disentanglement from the emotion or problem. This approach (Focusing specifically) can serve as a bridge to meditation.
Psychotherapy and Meditation: Differences
On the surface Focusing seems akin to Zen meditation, the felt sense seemingly equivalent to what Zen refers to as emptiness and a felt shift equating to satori [ moment of personal revelation or clarity]. However, the similarities in these two approaches are not nearly as tantamount as first suspected and the differences are actually quite remarkable.
Psychotherapy is primarily concerned with "shoring up" the individual's sense of I (ego). This approach is important and valuable in developing stable personality but meditation goes one step further; it seeks to "qualify" this I-ness.
Mindfulness meditation is the technique where one sits quietly and observes the nature of the thoughts which arise, unattached; surrendering to the process, not attempting to force or direct content- simply observing. Once control of the thought process is relinquished, observable trends develop. These trends then give insight into those areas of life which tend to emote. The practice eventually allows one through unattached observation, to get to the heart of troubling issues. One learns how to develop the skill to remain undisturbed by the content and perceive other ways of being. Instead of being unduly influenced by the thoughts the individual regains control and redirects his energies. Meditation provides direct experience, direct insight, illuminating individual defense mechanisms, which are constructed and replayed in habitual response to the challenges of life.
These defense mechanisms are strong elements in individual personality, i.e. in the individual's sense of himself. From the Buddhist perspective the struggle for a strong personality, which require all of these defenses, are the result of what is termed kleshas, [universal tendencies which produce those things which plague humanity's psyche] hatred, greed, envy, pride and ignorance. While psychotherapy attempts to address some of the manifestations of these kleshas, it does not take the client to the source, to the composite "self".
The meditative practice digs deeper and reveals what lies behind the ego. Psychotherapy begins to redress splits or fragmentation of personality but meditation redresses splits or fragmentation from the unified order of things. This process enables one to see life in a much broader context, what is termed Vipassana [literally a posture/position of insight]. Psychotherapy can be helpful in sorting through self-defeating behavior once these behaviors are addressed, however, it fails to move into the realm of existential consciousness; meditation becomes the bridge from the personal to the transpersonal.
Another important distinction between the two approaches is that psychology is goal oriented whereas meditation is not. Without some goal in therapy a "treatment" is impossible. Meditation on the other hand is goal-less. Meditation is not directed by "doing" but rather by "being" and the practitioner is encouraged to be content in that design. The uncovering of one's basic or true nature and not the facade of individual personality is the end product of a meditative practice.
Maitri: The common ground of psychotherapy and meditation
The confusion that stems from these two different approaches to personal development is in part due to the fact that each on occasion may affect the same end. Meditation can and often does help the individual become grounded and better able to function in everyday life activities. The psychotherapist given the right approach can lead the client towards transpersonal awareness. Each discipline can guide the seeker into many areas of personal growth.
One area where the two disciplines overlap is spoken of as maitri, the Buddhist term for "unconditional friendliness or acceptance of the self". Generally, people embrace aspects of themselves that they like or that fits the image of "likable"; maitri however, requires no pacification of individual sensibilities. Maitri is the unconditional acceptance of all aspects of personality irrespective of "likes and dislikes".
This unconditional acceptance is an important step in true psycho-spiritual growth and both disciplines can assist the individual in developing an appreciation or affection for him/herself, ultimately impacting the quality of life.
Both disciplines encourage the inclusion of the perceived negativities within the boundaries of personality. They encourage the sublimation of feelings that appear negative or unworthy, to embrace even "undesirable" aspects, recognizing that they are part of the whole, the entirety of personality. Sparing with those aspects which one dislikes actually gives them greater strength. It is with the surrendering and the recognition that both are bona fide aspects of self; it is then that they become impotent. Both disciplines suggest that the individual be attentive to the barbs which accompany the preoccupation with so-called negative emotions, for once the hook is set, it is difficult to extract. Psychology and meditation both advise to let the thoughts and emotions pass softly by, to observe but not to become attached.
Managing to give up the struggle, frees one from the habitual patterns of thought, emotion and behavior. Free from habitual responses to emotion one gains greater clarity and insight into new ways of living, one learns the practice of maitri. This practice of friendliness to the self, this detached observation, of all aspects of personality will lead one to a more inclusive and positive view of the self which lays beneath the perceived shadow of negativity.
Recognizing the Whole Range of Human Development
Eastern teachings have expanded the model of human experience now used by Western psychology. It has demonstrated that the existing understanding in the West is inadequate to address all aspects of human experience. That there is need to give credence to human experience that lays beyond the ego. The Western model has contributed to greater clarity by pointing out that a strong personal identity is a prerequisite to transpersonal development. Eastern discussions on transcendental awareness may be confusing or unapproachable to those who are not yet comfortable or familiar with mundane awareness. This is evidenced by the many people who turn to Eastern spiritual teachings as a means of avoiding normal personal development.
Eastern philosophies presume that the seeker already has a healthy sense of self. In modern Western culture this may be a unhealthy presumption. The pressures of modern culture leave many without healthy intra or interpersonal skills and psychotherapy may be the best first step in overall personal development. To avoid or vault over personal development directly into practices leading towards transcendence may not be the wisest. Psychotherapy and meditation have their own distinct applications, to mix the two may ultimately prove damaging.
Psychotherapy and meditation should be viewed as distinct approaches to personal transformation. Each with its own appreciation for the nature and unfolding of human potential which is influenced by the degree of understanding of both client and therapist. Psychotherapy is clearly effective in resolving fragmentation and integrating the ego, thereby offering healthier strategies in dealing with the ordinary demands of life. It may serve as a preparation for a meditative practice which may then lead the healthy ego to the trans-ego states.
The Nature of Being
By Eric Fromm.
From its' beginning, much like the medical sciences, psychoanalysis has been concerned with the treatment of "symptoms"; and while the contemporary approach remains essentially the same the symptomatology has not. Psychologists and psychiatrists are consulted less by patients with "hard" pathologies, they are instead seeing more and more clients with complaints of a less obvious nature. They present with nebulous and non-specific symptoms apparently relating to dissatisfaction with life in general, perhaps with career, marriage, etc. However, these non-specific complaints really underlie a more serious condition which is expressed by these lessor symptoms.
This pervasive condition common to modern man is a sense of alienation, alienated from nature, from a feeling of connectedness to a greater humanity, the cosmos etc., alienated from meaning.
For individuals suffering from this alienation syndrome the treatment must be different than that prescribed for individuals with hard pathologies. Alienation does not lend itself to a cure but more to the uncovering of meaning or a sense of well-being. Well-being, however, is a relative term and may be defined differently depending on individual or cultural context. Psychoanalytic interpretations for example would differ significantly from that of Zen Buddhism.
Well-being might be thought of as mankind living in accord with man's nature. This is a difficult task. Man is ill prepared. He does not possess the instincts for such a task, unlike his relatives in the animal kingdom. Humanity possessing higher intellect and will, lives apart from nature and life becomes a greater struggle as a consequence.
Man's unique position within nature provides the perspective of separateness and at the same time a sense of powerlessness and aloneness. The quintessential riddle for humanity then is to solve the issue of separateness, to resolve the suffering of existence.
This fundamental existential question is the same for everyone, but the approach to the perplexity may vary. The solution also seems to be universal, that is, eliminating this separateness , somehow discovering the sense of completeness, the sense of connectedness. For some, this may be accomplished through growth beyond the personal confines of ego, developing transpersonal awareness which fosters a connected worldview. Others, unfortunately, tend to solve this problem through regression, moving towards a state of unity that existed before humanity recognized its separateness.
Life is a continual process not a single event. The aim of life is to become fully realized yet few of us will ever reach this realized state. Many start and do not complete the quest, others never really begin. The regressive attempt at unity inevitably leads to failure. It is through reckoning with the world (reality) on its own terms with expansive consciousness that leads to unity not the narcissistic fancy (constrictive consciousness) of the pre-personal state of the child or the neurotic.
Well-being can be spoken of as the state of reasoned maturity. Recognizing life as it is not as one wishes it were, or worded in the modern vernacular: "going with the flow". Well-being is possible only to the degree that one has transcended his own ego, developing an expansive awareness, developing an appreciation for the interconnectedness of all things. Well-being becomes the experience of being rather than doing; of surrendering to the processes of life rather than attempting to manipulate life.
The difficulty is that the average person is only partially aware of the nature of reality. Reality for the average person becomes the result of individual constructs and fictions. One is aware only to the degree that it is necessary to function within the social context, to the degree necessary to survive. What he is not aware of is the true nature of things, although he has the potential to break through the fictitious into the underlying reality. This delusionary state is responsible for man's disconnected feelings and prevents him from the totality of human experience.
Self-realization is the recognition of the fictitious constructs as fictitious, seeing them for what they are. Self-realization is the augmentation of one's consciousness through experiencing the unconscious - by experiencing truth. It is what is termed in Zen as satori , the moment of personal clarity or enlightenment. As Suzuki (1949) stated, " All your mental activities will now be working in a different key, which will be more satisfying, more peaceful, more full of joy than anything you have ever experienced before. The tone of life will be altered... The spring flower will look prettier, and the mountain stream will run cooler and more transparent." Satori is the fulfillment of the true nature of well-being, where man is connected to nature, to himself, to the cosmos. The state where man is fully aware.
This pursuit of enlightenment is of course different from the goals of psychotherapy. For one thing the effort needed to achieve such a state is generally beyond the efforts most Westerners are willing to exercise. But beyond this the psychological framework necessary to undergo such work is also very different. The journey to enlightenment requires a different attitude, a different mental supposition regarding the state of well-being. Returning to the premise that well-being is more than the absence of disease, the absence of symptoms; satori, self-realization, proceeds from the state where psychology considers its' job finished. It must be recognized that the elimination of the symptoms or the individual neurotic tendencies can not be possible without the total transformation of the personality.
The analytic process in its many forms awakens the individual to the aspects of him/herself that are perhaps less admirable. These aspects of the self are contrary to the individual's perception of himself. They are painful and frightening. But this awareness permits him to stop projecting these qualities onto others and repressing them in himself. He becomes fully aware of the various aspects of personality, the good and the not-so-good, the masculine and feminine etc. and he develops a healthy ego while at the same time learning to grow beyond it. He becomes whole. These are all sudden and spontaneous consequences of the journey towards truth, but they are experienced not intellectualized. They come from the soma rather than the psyche. It leaves the person who experiences this a clearly different person and subsequently his perceptions of the world about him change accordingly. He his freer, healthier and happier.
The approach to wholeness, to enlightenment, as taught in the Zen tradition can provide meaningful insight on the potentialities of human existence. It elegantly reveals the false personality and opens the individual to more expansive views of human experience, the focus becomes total well-being not simply the lack of symptoms Wellness becomes more than a measure or degree of illness.
Where is the Self?
By: Joshu Sasaki Roshi
The human being is comprised of two fundamental aspects, the absolute self and the individual self. These are sometimes referred to as the self and the Self. The absolute self is that aspect which most often remains hidden from view, revealed only during moments of peak experience. The individual self is that aspect which objectifies the world around us. Both "selves" are necessary to the successful human experience. Life may be thought of as the endless cycle of the forgetting and the rediscovering of the Self.
Every individual when focused on the individual self, when expressing the ego, (me, mine, I) is exhibiting their individual center of gravity. Every person, sentient being, and material object has a center of gravity- a fundamental essence. This fundamental essence is the prime integrative force, the essential manifestation of individual form. Buddhist teachings mandate that the individual learn to recognize his essential nature, learn to understand from where this center of gravity emanates; to "know thyself".
It is through the cognizance of the individuals self that it may be transcended and the hidden absolute self is revealed. The individual self is dissolved into the greater aspect of the absolute, like a drop of water uniting with the sea. Without this dissolution the absolute may not be obtained; since the absolute is one's true nature, functioning only on the aspect of the individual self, conflict will inevitably arise.
It is through the recognition and familiarity with one's true nature (center of gravity) that one begins to recognize the true nature of other human and non-human beings. One's relationship with all the offspring of creation shifts along with this heightened awareness of self. One gains a new respect, appreciation and affection for all beings as the individual centers of gravity become more balanced, more harmonized. The same awareness which leads to an understanding of the Self also leads to respect for all life.
This assimilation of the two "selves" seems to be particularly difficult for the Western mind. The concept of an absolute self is not one that is taught to Westerners, rather it is the individual self, the ego, which is center of the Western paradigm. The absolute self remains unrecognized and as a result fails to thrive in the West. Those who do recognize the absolute self, fear it requires some special apparatus for excavation- but Buddhism teaches that there are no special tools required.
The tragedy of Western emphasis on the ego is by affirming the individual rather than the absolute self, one approaches the problems of the world in terms of events outside the self, separate and distinct. The difficulty with such a skewed perspective is that one will forever be mired in the duality of self and not-self. One who continually sees oneself apart from the world will never experience Universal Consciousness- one will always see the world external to oneself and never unified with it. As such one continues to seek solace, happiness from the world and this becomes an endless quest. Real joy, bliss and truth are never found.
Satori (moment of pure personal awarness/insight) occurs when the individual is centered in his/her absolute self. The absolute view of the nature of things becomes the individual view. When the absolute is experienced there is no lure from things outside the self. The individual is liberated from the world. There is a recognition of the continuity and interconnectedness of the cosmos.
As human beings we have the innate ability to realize the absolute. It is the human species alone which possess this capability; it is profoundly human. This is the human quest, learning to distinguish between the individual and the absolute and then learning to function in both individual and absolute terms. Buddhism teaches that there is no constant experience of self, no human being travels through life experiencing only the ego. The ego, like all things of this world is not permanent, it arises as an aspect of the absolute. To attach to the apparent fixedness of the ego is actually impossible since the individual self has no fixed nature. Therefore attempting to satisfy the desires of the self is also impossible.
An individual's true nature is often revealed when he becomes a human being rather than a human "doing". The true-self is revealed in the calming of the daily anarchy, when all the aspects of doing are silenced, it is the "being" which brings clarity. The encumbrances, those things interfering with the transition from doing to being have been termed psychotherapeutic materialism.
The Buddhists describe a similar process witnessed among those on the spiritual path. The difficulty with this process of transition is that the ego has the capacity to transform every experience into something for its own use. Chogyam Trungpa suggests, "Our vast collection of knowledge and experience is just part of the ego's display, part of the grandiose quality of the ego. we display them to the world and in so doing reassure ourselves that we exist safe and secure, as spiritual people." Another way to view this is that one displays personal insight and growth experiences to the world reaffirming existence and self worth; displaying one's peak experiences as if red badges of courage.
The difficulty is that peak experiences do not last. There are always challenges to experience by those witnessed in others and because the identification with self-acualizing events requires constant reinforcement. Since this is a quest and not a single event, one begins to yearn for repetitive experience, one begins to need and desire more and more( i.e. confirmations of growth). Without these confirmation the identity as such begins to whither. All striving, that of spiritual or psychological growth is the function of the ego. The ego is disenchanted with the status quo striving to be something other than what it is, needing to reaffirm itself as genuine! Psychotherapeutic materialism is the seeming contradiction of the ego's attempt to transcend itself.
This particular perspective of "being" is also important for the therapist. He or she also needs to transcend credentials, title and ego and become one with the client. It is again in the being rather than the doing that real understanding, real intimacy comes to the fore. It is only when the therapist's ego is transcended and the need to be a "good " therapist is laid aside that therapy in a pure state can be affected. During these ego-free moments there is a connectedness between therapist and patient that can not exist otherwise. True communication, compassion and empathy exists unimpeded by ego.
It may appear to be quite the predicament; if the desire for self-realization is merely the function of the clever ego, how is one to self-realize if the means, in this case, proves to be the obstacle to the desired end? Many authors have suggested that the subtle pressure experienced as part of the human condition, towards self-actualization is natural and not unexpected. However, many of the ego identifications in and of themselves stand as impediments to growth. Where there is judgment, evaluation or appraisal there is ego and separateness; there is no unity, no oneness, no realization of the Self.
Psychotherapeutic materialism is the sum total of the various ego identifications which stand as obstacles to integration of experience and personal growth. When these obstacles are overcome through being rather than doing one sees that there is nothing to overcome. The sense of separateness is illusion. There is no need to reinforce the various images of the perfect self because one learns that the Self is already perfect in perfect being.
Emotions are some of the most powerful influences in the lives of human-beings and the failure to deal with them, in an honest and forthright manner, is often the greatest threat to stability and sanity. Therefore, emotions and our understanding of them is vital in any genuine attempt at personal growth. Western psychology has often proved itself an inadequate vehicle for understanding emotion. The literature abounds with conflicting interpretations of its' nature and origin.
Generally, the West has attempted to separate the individual from his emotions. The emotions are viewed as something associated with man's lower nature, something to be avoided or outgrown. This makes it very difficult to embrace them and accept them has part and parcel of the human experience. This also is in complete contrast to Eastern teachings which conclude that it is the alienation from emotion that makes them often become domineering and uncontrollable. The Western interpretation often ends in either acting out or suppressing emotion and neither strategy is effective in utilizing emotion as a tool for growth.
Anatomy of Emotion
Emotions, like light, may be spoken of in terms of a spectrum. There are emotions which seem all consuming, diffuse, perhaps sharp. They run a wide range. Emotions are at the core of human existence and seem to flow from the very act of living. Emotion is the natural quality of the human experience, it is the source of human sensitivity and tenderness. Emotions are actually a response to the complexities of human experience, of "letting the world in" and these emotions are the response to this process. Emotion is so fundamental to the human experience that by cutting or separating oneself from them separates one from living itself. It is in the connecting with the emotions which allows one to truly live.
The spectra of human feeling is bounded by basic aliveness and peak emotions, sandwiched in between are many kinds of "felt senses". One may sense a degree of sadness yet that sadness is only a symptom of a greater underlying process. There remains something deeper and more fundamental which says more about the individual than the particular emotion. One may learn more about himself by seeking to understand the feeling in context of the whole. By probing and analyzing the specific feeling, one may learn to return to the fundamental feeling of aliveness and become liberated from the immediacy of the symptoms of a particular emotion.
There is a subtle distinction between feeling and emotion. Feelings give rise to emotions, they are more familiar perhaps(i.e. sadness, anger, gladness) and once these feelings sink their teeth, they emote or move the individual into specific behaviors. These then become very intense and dominate the individual's attention, feelings remain less obtrusive.
Therapy provides the means for the individual to move beyond the emotion and connect with the larger felt sense, which provides the individual with an appreciation for the whole of the situation in which the client finds him/herself. The recognition of what lies beyond the particular emotion liberates one from the ligatures accompanying that emotion. By shifting from thinking to feeling, by peering into the emotion, listening to what the emotion is attempting to say about a particular life situation; one may gain insight leading to an awareness shift and a subsequent resolution to the troublesome situation. It is helpful to separate from the emotion. To personify it and give it a voice. The subsequent dialogue then may lead to clarity and resolution or at the very least better understanding. One of the limitations of traditional therapy however, is that the expanded awareness that results from a guided shift in perspective and the subsequent liberation from emotional snares, usually fails to address or recognize the larger existential issues that often accompany emotional emancipation.
Meditation is a technique which does address the larger life issues. In meditation one does not attempt at assigning meaning to emotional content. The meditator simply recognizes the presence of emotion and returns to his/her particular technique. By remaining "unmoved" (emoted) one begins to see underneath the emotion and recognize the greater drama of life surrounding a particular emotion or feeling. Meditation leads one to perspective, recognizing that in context of the totality of human experience the emotion which at one moment seemed so significant, relative to the whole of life, is not as significant as first suspected. This in itself is particularly useful first step in the resolution of emotional conflict.
Unprejudiced recognition of emotion, that neither suppresses or assigns meaning but simply observes and accepts, is a process termed transmutation by many Eastern traditions. This is an approach admonished by many sages, the act of "knowing thyself" is a vital step towards transcendence. The emotions become vehicles for growth rather than impediments. Self judgment is suspended and emotion is embraced for the energy it brings to or reflects of life/living. This is accomplished through the act of meditation where all judgments are suspended and one learns to accept all the conditions of the mind and sees them for what they are rather than what we assign to them. The act of transmutation is experiencing emotional turbulence as it is, using the turbulent energy to propel one forward rather than permitting it to effect emotional paralysis.
Transmutation avoids the paradox of control. The emotions themselves become controlling as one attempts to control them; the controller becomes the controlled. By accepting, actually befriending the emotion they become tamed and understood ; this is the paradox of power, first learning to surrender. The Buddhists teachings direct one to embrace the emotions to identify with them and to become one with them. In so doing the emotions loosen their grip and drop their inherent judgments.
This is a difficult process because it is generally feared that one will be consumed by the emotion(s) and that is why emotions are kept under such strict control. Since being in control is so vital to the preservation of the ego it is difficult to let go, the ego wishes to thwart anything which threatens its control. By loosening the grip however, the emotions can bath the individual in pure feeling and dissolve the need for control permitting for the first time a completion of human experience, of really being alive.
So if one may find the courage to face the shadow, it will disappear when fully illuminated. In this process one is opened to a broader interpretation of what it means to be human, a being, a participant in the drama of life, interdependent and connected to all things. One may travel through life without judgments and the proverbial baggage. This shift in consciousness, this healing is what relieves emotional pain and develops compassion and an appreciation for life. Emotions as conceptualized in the West are something separate and distinct from oneself; in the East they are considered part of the human dynamic. Transmuting emotion requires the recognition and acceptance of this energy without permitting the individual emotion to sink its teeth into the person experiencing it.
The teachings of Buddhism suggests concentrating fully on the particular emotion, not permitting any other thoughts to intrude. One must focus on the feeling and not the objects of the emotion, no judgments or reactions are permitted. One is encouraged to concentrate on the center of feeling to enter that specific space. In so doing one will soon learn to recognize that there is energy at the point of experience and the emotion will become quite clear and focused. This energy can be quite potent and when viewed in this way can prove very illuminating. To transform the "negative" energies one only need learn to genuinely embrace them and handle them with kindness and compassion.
This is admittedly a difficult process. We are easily drawn back into "old recordings". This may be overcome however, through the process of meditation which helps to dull the teeth of the emotional brute. But if one insists on battling the emotional beast; if one insists on reacting to/against one's feelings they become not only more potent but they become encysted and fester draining one's vital life force. But by staying centered through meditation, releasing old judgmental patterns and opening to the powerful energy inherent in the emotion...by befriending the emotion; this process makes emotional energy available for growth (transmutation) rather than psycho-spiritual contraction.
Anger and the Gentle Life
Adrian van Kaam
Gentleness as a construct implies a prevailing attitude of sensitivity and tenderness. Gentleness as a component of character suggests a kindly and tender approach to life in all its aspects. It has been suggested that it is the aspect of vulnerability, as well as its beloved nature, that elicits the act of tenderness for example, the butterfly who just emerged from the cocoon or the newborne kitten. Things small and helpless are not the only things to elicit feelings of gentleness, sometimes large and powerful things or people elicit a feeling of gentleness when the underlying vulnerability of each becomes apparent. Few would deny a feeling of tenderness upon seeing the lioness (which is surely anything but helpless) lick clean her newborn cub.
Beauty too, may elicit the feeling of tenderness. Witnessing the beauty and fragility of the spring flower or the profound impermanence of the sunset for example, are each capable of eliciting gentleness in all but the hardest hearts. These feelings of gentleness can be extended to the self if one can learn to see oneself as beautiful, valuable or vulnerable. Many people view themselves with disappointment when they fail to meet the high standards they have set for themselves; and they find it difficult if not impossible to react with gentleness in the face of anger and disappointment. They fail to recognize the value of imperfection and approach the self without gentleness.
Leading a gentle life, that is, holding "gentleness" as an ideal in which to conduct one's life, can have profound ramifications. By living gently one begins to attune to the natural flow of events; to return to our butterfly image once again, the butterfly emerges at the appointed time, the appropriate time as determined by natural law. The butterfly is attuned to the cosmic cycle. One can not force the caterpillar into the Swallowtail. Yet that is just the way many people attempt to lead their lives, by forcing life and circumstance, by manipulating life.
By learning to trust in natural law, by forgoing manipulation, by surrendering to life and thereby living gently one soon learns that life too becomes more gentle. Life simply seems to unfold just like the flower blossom, it no longer remains mechanical, coerced or obligatory. By leading a quiet and gentle life, by listening and opening to the possibilities of existence, they are all simply revealed. Daily living and the daily experiences of life (including the work life) from the mundane to the extraordinary seem to issue forth with little effort, they simply happen.
The key is learning to let go, by surrendering life to life. It must become a new way of thinking, of approaching life, it is the paradox of power first learning to surrender. Even in the middle of an important and pressing decision one may learn to remain gentle and extract all the benefits of gentility from the process. The outcome too, will probably unfold more to the person practiced in gentility than otherwise. The gentle person is loosened from the bonds of non-gentle living. It is much like the proverbial paddling against the current. One does not need to force himself to advance nor restrain forward progress- simply "go with the flow". A further benefit of approaching life with a gentle hand is that it attenuates the ego. It dilutes the ego's sense of exclusivity and self-importance and allows one to be more attuned to events and their significance.
GENTILITY and ANGER
It is commonly assumed that a gentle person or one working towards living gently would never demonstrate anger or aggressiveness, each seeming so contrary to the other. However, anger and aggression are just as valid to the human experience as gentility and patience. Anger and aggression are included in the panoply of emotion because they do serve a useful function. To deny them is unhealthy and doing so will exact a painful toll. By assuming then that a gentle person never gets angry or aggressive suggests a suppression rather than a sublimation of those feelings. Suppression of course does not do away with those feelings and they may surface at a later time, misapplied or misdirected.
Gentleness does not ignore anger and aggression. If, as just stated, that these emotions are as genuine as any other; to deny these feelings would certainly not reflect gentleness to oneself. In fact, suppressed anger can result in physical and psychological illness. One should accept these emotions and learn to work through them, which will permit one to paradoxically lead a more gentle life. This more realistic or wholistic understanding of the human spectrum of emotion will lead to a healthier life on all three planes of existence(physical, mental and spiritual).
All people, no matter how advanced get angry or vexatious. The difference is how one addresses these emotions. Mature souls do not let these emotions dominate their thinking or behavior. They seem to know how to better channel their aggressiveness. Personal growth does not negate or remove feelings of hostility or aggression but growth does provide perspective and the context of anger shifts, making it easier to channel feelings of anger in a healthier, more appropriate fashion.
In order to sublimate anger it is first necessary to recognize and embrace these feelings, not to place them under lock and key. This is suppression which will not lead to a greater perspective. It will only keep them tightly bound. If the binding should weaken or break, the anger will manifest with an inflated vengeance. Sublimation occurs by recognizing the feeling at its inception and understanding why one if experiencing this particular emotion. It can be a difficult process, Western culture is conditioned to deny anger or to be embarrassed or made to feel guilty by its expression. It may also be difficult to locate the true source of these feelings. It takes effort to tease them out, it takes patience and contemplation.
Everyone has the innate capacity for anger as well as gentleness. These are behaviors learned very early on from those around us. Without even having to be told, in fact, prior to becoming verbal, one learns to recognize how to be gentle or angry. If one has the good fortune of growing up in an environment of open and free expression, anger may be expressed early in its genesis, indicating that something is beginning to build up. Anger's supported expression can prevent the angry storm of suppression. Most people, however, are not so fortunate. Feelings of any kind are often not supported and one learns to suppress all feeling, not just anger but gentleness as well.
One must learn to express feelings openly and honestly at their inception. One need not sweetly smile when the feelings are just the opposite. By learning to express one's feelings thoughtfully and honestly, one avoids the storm of emotion and may actually return one to a posture of gentleness. It is in the denying of emotion that the feeling takes on a larger than life proportion. By expressing it before it becomes rebellious, it can be expressed in a constructive manner.
Feelings of anger when expressed thoughtfully and honestly can let the recipient of the anger respond appropriately and thoughtfully taking one's mood into account. This will also lead to greater trust in the relationship because the other party is appreciative of both the angry and gentle side and this becomes a means by which to avoid the storm. The relationship will prove more even keeled.
In those instances where intense anger arises, it still needs to be expressed in a straight forward manner but best done so again, thoughtfully. If circumstances prevent this from occurring, one may journal it out, run , walk or exercise it out, but it should not remain restrained or bottled up, contaminating the aura of gentleness and jeopardizing the trust of gentleness.
Once anger is expressed it can be analyzed through the greater perspective of personal growth. From this new perspective the anger may dissolve away, particularly if the anger is viewed in relation to the ego, particularly when one discerns the true source of the angry feelings. If the anger is based on a restrictive or insecure sense of self, once understood in this light, it becomes another matter completely.
One must exercise wisdom, however, because there is no difference between suppressing the anger to kicking the dog or the furniture. The open thoughtless expression of anger is as harmful (perhaps more so) than the repression of anger. The outburst may vent the anger but does not develop gentility. It actually may develop greater and greater hostility and aggressiveness. Each time aggression is vented in this way, the inner mechanisms of restraint are weakened and the aggression escalates. This process continues and the degree of anger required to provoke an outburst also becomes lessened and one finds oneself acting less and less appropriately.
The mature person neither represses or unnaturally acts out the feelings of anger and aggression. These feelings should not be repressed or acted out unwisely but channeled in more appropriate ways. Exercise, meditation, massage etc. are all appropriate avenues to express or release the very real feelings of anger and aggression. One must always remember to draw the distinction between the appropriate and inappropriate expression of anger. It is an important distinction and appropriate venting is clearly distinct from repression.
A very important consideration in the appropriate venting of angry feelings is that the unthoughtful attack creates an environment of aggression for all parties concerned. This aggressive attack breeds aggression and the conflict can escalate. The thoughtful expression of anger often dissipates an aggressive situation through understanding. The feelings can be then dealt with in a healthier non-aggressive fashion.
The best strategy for managing anger and aggression is by elevating them to the transpersonal perspective. This maneuver places the objects of the emotions in greater perspective and they will unquestionably take on a different hue. It is only this transpersonal elevation which has the potency to transmute when the individual incorporates this philosophy into his own for some time. Finding the meaning in life has a way of balancing the mole-hills and the mountains. This transpersonal perspective develops from repeated excursions into transcendental or ineffable truths.
Concomitant with this, one must cultivate another growth quality and that is evaluating all the arising emotions in context of this greater world view. In this context the emotions are no longer able to sink their teeth. One is less inclined to respond with anger and aggression , nor is it necessary to deny the feelings.
Things Are Not As They Seemed
There are times in everyone's life when their comfortable worldview is challenged. Often all the elements of a serene belief system are battered by the storm of uncertainty. The result is the fabrication of a new and expanded worldview but one which may soon prove, again, too narrow. One is forced to admit that one simply does not really know. One does not genuinely know if their assumptions about the workings of the universe, the mind, other peoples minds, the actual limits on reality, are even approaching exactness. Many people do know, however, that they have underestimated all of these things, conditioned by education and culture.
One of the goals and/or subsequent outcomes is the embellishment of the belief system. To lead one to a broader understanding of the mechanics of human experience. One such approach is to emphasize the significance of individual inner experience and to foster appreciation and respect for these experiences. With the heightened awareness and inspection of inner experience one may gain important or profound insight into the exact nature of feelings and experience, moment by moment. These feelings may then lead to somatic or physical sensation and the awareness of the interconnectedness to the two may also lead to further growth. This new awareness and appreciation for the inner experience can lead to the more wholesome realization that the inner feelings are not demons to be avoided but devas to be embraced.
With this new realization one is able to further probe one's underlying assumptions and break through the cultural and social myths which structure the individuals worldview. In so doing one learns to take more responsibility for the events in one's life, for it becomes evident that one is not the victim but instead, the author of his own script. One begins to see how one creates circumstance by how one perceives the world. Through growth of perception, through growth of individual worldview, the sense of self matures and consequently individual circumstance evolves as well.
Being open to challenge, to question one's cherished beliefs requires a certain level of maturity. One may find himself reacting to challenges by either vehemently defending against the challenge or simply blocking out the information in the first place, that is, not being able to entertain or even see or hear an opposing or contradictory view. In most cases the normal state of awareness is a contracted and limiting view of the nature of things: of the self, the universe, of life.
Meditation: a Tool for Expansive Thinking
Meditation is an important tool, useful for understanding the workings of the mind. In the attempt of silencing the mind, one is faced with undisciplined ranting; what the sages often refer to as the caged monkey. As meditation becomes more formalized and the student more skilled, he becomes more likely to recognize patterns or trends in the monkey's behavior. The meditation student may observe that the monkey does in fact follow a set routine. The monkey constantly attempts to break from its cage accompanied by raucous cries and howls. The mind, even during periods of presumed creativity or productive cognition, is still dominated by that raucous primate. The monkey demands a great deal of attention both consciously and subconsciously. The power of the monkey is often surprising and the inability to recognize or distinguish the rantings of the crazed simian, is what Eastern masters referred to as maya or all consuming illusion.
Meditation is useful in alerting one to the kind of material that seems to forcibly introduce itself into everyday awareness. These thoughts which may abruptly appear are often items of attachment, fantasies, addictive thoughts etc. Ironically, the need or attempt to rid oneself of this type of thinking can often result in it becoming even more solidified. Meditation is the art of simply letting these thoughts be, allowing them to trail off as if a wisp of smoke.
With persistent and dedicated practice, the monkey begins to rest. There are more frequent and more protracted periods of quiet and therefore peace. For some this can be a mixed blessing. At first glance a period of quietude seems like an unparalleled boon. However, for some these periods of quiet can transform into disquiet, because without the mental chatter of categorization, identification and compartmentalization, the familiar becomes the less- familiar. With the monkey silenced and the bars of the cage removed, one may actually find these periods uncomfortable, becoming so used to the fantasies and loud thoughts that their demise proves unsettling.
With continued meditative practice one learns to release the need for categorization and learns to focus not so much on the absence of the familiar or comfortable. With continued practice one begins to distinguish between emotion/fantasy and the exact locus and texture of the experience. The need to categorize and to habitually respond or identify with the emotion is eradicated. This is an important distinction between most psychologies and meditation; while therapy attempts to change the nature of the experience, for example, changing depression to positive affect or anger to calm, meditation will modify the cognitive process by which the psyche creates such a condition in the first place.
Meditation also seems to make one more perceptually sensitive. Sensitivity and lucidity seem to follow after a meditative session. Empathy, patience, tolerance and understanding also ensue. This might occur because all the usual background "noise" is dampened during the meditative process.
Personal exploration can be a frightening proposition (in meditation or otherwise). The uncertainty of confronting one's shadow is a daunting challenge. Facing the legions of internal demons, imagined and real, requires great courage. However with perseverance one finds that the fears are truly unfounded, and in company with the demons, reside the devas of character, joy, compassion, love and empathy. It is the fear of the shadow which is the greatest impediment to finding the light, paradoxically however, the shadow augurs the light.
Aside from the fear of what one may find upon inner-exploration, is the fear of making the quest alone. One may find few friends and acquaintances choosing the same byway and this may leave one with a sense of isolation. However, generally it is not a isolated journey but one accompanied by a contradistinct group of intimates, people who have also found the courage to explore; the Marco Polos of the inner world.
Western culture has collectively dismissed or ignored the great teachings of the East with respect to meditation and inner exploration. Western culture believes that the inner recesses are frightening that it is better to let sleeping dogs... remain asleep. The inner demons must not be disturbed. Yet it is this very fear which prevents one from investigating whether there is any substance to these fears. So the higher aspects of character remain unseen because one refuses to look at or beyond the shadow thrown by the light.
The Eastern Sages admit the path of inner exploration is tedious and exacting but they also teach that the benefits are unparalleled. One can invalidate the inner demons, discern one's higher nature, and as a result relationships improve or evolve, and one becomes more connected to other people and to life itself. Compassion and connectedness are wonderful by-products of inner-growth and one generally feels compelled to act upon these new realizations to the benefit of self as well as to others. This new realization seems to promote a self perpetuating compassionate involvement with life. The journey itself becomes more and more a priority and as the Sages once again admonish...the journey is the path.