July 29, 2016 - Comments Off on Chipping Away at the Glacier
Chipping Away at the Glacier
"All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms."
-Some Bard. That last sentence is my favorite. Going to find ways to use "Quit your mewling" more often.
I've been considering change recently, mostly in terms of my own life. This is because I'm selfish. And if I considered how much you are changing that would be weird and frankly none of my business.
A lot of the work and study we do here deals with heavy-duty self reflection and examination of the mind and all of it's nonsense. Ratna Ling is a very supportive environment for self-work, it's even integrated into our actual jobs via Skillful Means and daily meditation practices during work hours. If all that self-work doesn't have some sort of impact I feel like you're probably not paying attention. I certainly think I'm different than when I was dropped off here for example, and I am happy to say 99% are clearly positive changes.
I'm slowly learning to tolerate cats and that's pretty awful. Otherwise positive.
To be clear change is happening to all of us, constantly. Curiously it's by fighting our ever-changing nature that we tend get into trouble - "I am a Liberal, I'm no good at math, I like football and hate mornings." When you suddenly have to start waking up in the morning or realize you don't actually like football there's this massive drag and battle with the self (and in the case of football potentially your social circle and external factors at large). If we could make the mental switch to "Well I'm a morning person now" then theoretically mornings would become way easier. I'm terrible at this, by the way. I've just come to believe that flipping the switch is possible with hard work and willpower. It's a big, invisible, sticky switch.
Question: If you view life as an experiment, or a performance, how would you want to lead it? Either works, the scientific method allows for a methodical and playful approach. For example, you could try smiling more during your interactions with people for one week and note what happens. Or, if you have a flair for the theatrical, take the performance route and consider yourself the hero in your own personal movie. What does he or she do, if the film were starting right now?
I think both of these would fall under the Path of Transformation, which (and this is where I throw up my "I'm learning" disclaimer so bear with me) works with your experiences and the energies you encounter during daily life. This path exists next to (separate but not necessarily opposing) the so-called Gradual Path - where the approach is based on finding solutions or antidotes to problems that arise in order to create a "worthwhile" existence. As I understand it the Path of Transformation is a more participatory but also more challenging approach to that age old existential question, "What the Fuck Are We Doing and How the Fuck Am I Supposed to Do It?"
Our language isn't terribly well equipped to discuss internal experience - the Tibetans have a gang of words for mind-states, probably because the language arose (or was refined) in conjunction with Buddhist practice which delves deeply into consciousness and states of awareness. So I'll be using the word "energy" here and there, but sometimes as a catch-all for words we don't have. I'll try to elucidate it as much as possible, but my intention is to stay far away from the "woo woo" because I believe there are practical and effective insights to be learned.
So if we take this Path of Transformation approach then every experience in life becomes an opportunity. If you're the hero in that film or the scientist doing the lifelong experimentation, the decision to tip your barista or give $1 to the homeless man outside the the coffee shop are both opportunities for minute internal transformation. What's cool is that without judgement (you may not tip or give money to that man for a good reason), and simply through the act of noticing these things as an opportunity, a decision, you've already taken one step on this path.
But when you're on the path you should look up from your phone, dummy.
This is one example but it could apply to business decisions, how you interact with a romantic partner, or any other daily experience just as easily. Recently I had a fun little episode with jealousy, which, despite my being fully aware of what was happening insofar as it was a mental construct and not real or really consequential in any way, still managed to throw off my mental stability for a disturbing amount of time. In retrospect I like to interpret it as a good sign, that at least now I'm able to recognize just how messed up these thought patterns that I can't always control actually are. Used to be I would just assume my mind knew what it was doing and go along for the ride right off the cliff.
Now, where it gets challenging is when you apply the same approach to internal experiences that you do to some of these external experiences. It's not so easy to just "have a different perspective" on something like sadness or depression. And theoretically that's where a physical practice like Kum Nye (or really any practice that anchors you in the body, approached with proper mindfulness techniques) can help. It's particularly challenging because these mental conditions have an energetic or egoic quality that's difficult to shake because we identify so strongly with them. "I am depressed." "I am upset." "I can't believe people are so stupid."
A cross mind/body discipline such as Kum Nye (don't mean to keep hawking it but I'm doing it every day here so give me a break) helps to create space for those conditions to loosen a bit. I don't think we're purely mental organisms (floating brains), nor are we just electrical impulses attached to walking meat bumping around until we turn into worm food. We're something in between, sort of like consciousness expressing itself via walking meat for some purpose which, clearly for some reason, we're not supposed to quite figure out (or maybe the figuring out is the process/purpose). Our internal events cause actions that take place in the external world, and it reflects back to us in a very real way. This is going down the road of karma a bit, but by beginning to be aware and work on these mental patterns and events we can actually adjust not only our perspective on life but affect the actual shape that our life takes.
I've been working with this practice almost every day for about four months now, and the best way I can think to describe the overall experience is like a glacier. You take something like the 'heart', which starts from a place of:
"What is the heart besides an organ that pumps blood and who gives a shit, shut up hippy" and then you stand with your arms out at your sides for a while and just tell your mind "heart, heart, heart, heart heart heart heartheartheart" and eventually a chunk of ice comes loose.
Now this ice chunk doesn't just disappear, it slams down into the water of emotions, energy, that time someone threw acorns at my head when I was 10 years old - whatever - and causes waves that manifest in my life in various ways. For example sometimes I'll get really sleepy for no good reason during meditation, or I'll have a really terrifying image of a clown pop into my mind's eye, or I'll get nauseous, or suddenly come to in the middle of a jealous episode where I realize I'm acting like an ass.
Seriously, you may see some fucked up things if you meditate enough. I think it's fine though. I dunno.
Slowly over time more and more pieces come off the glacier, the pieces get smaller and before you know it 'heart' starts to make more sense. It's not the kind of thing that could have ever been explained to me, it seems to be something that requires experience and showing up over and over while being nonjudgemental. Now when I hear someone talk about "heart" I don't immediately react from a place of ignorance, confusion or smug confidence in my perspective on reality. I still don't fully "get" it, but by experimenting with the experiences of "heart" I've broadened my experience and now have a more measured reaction.
That's also why this particular path can be considered esoteric or experiential, in that if you just do the practice (holla Nike) - whether it be yoga, meditation, mindfulness, prayer, running, whatever - it will happen, your perspective will change. And like I said earlier, this change is going to happen anyway, but to me it's preferable to direct it in a way of my choosing as opposed to rolling the life dice every time.
A lot of this can be thought of as a combination of creative imagination and useful metaphor, but what's interesting is that the more you allow for that to happen the more the mind adjusts to allow for those possibilities to actually exist. Over time this develops into a very real level of insight, perspective and intuition that has been drastic and clear in my experience. Of course this is difficult to prove because ultimately it's a subjective experience. But there is an objective observation I would point to - lifelong meditators or luminaries like the Dalai Lama, Ram Das, even the new Pope. Is it true they generally seem like pretty happy, grounded people? They're difficult to offend, have a good sense of humor, and life around them seems to have an effortless, yet energetic quality.
Smart human, good point.
In the Joy of Being book the recurring theme Tarthang Tulku uses is inner completeness, or the idea that we are actually already fine but unable to just be, which has us grasping for entertainment, fried food, bad relationships, and so on. While my clunky glacier metaphor doesn't quite match up it works for me as it carries a sense of revealing, or uncovering what is already there underneath the surface. This Path of Transformation is appealing to me because every moment can become an opportunity to change or a challenge if you allow for it, and you can also kind of just turn it off when it becomes too much. Watch some TV, read a book, whatever. And it can also remain entirely secular and be just as effective - if we view events and internal processes like sadness or depression as opportunities for growth at a bare minimum we'll become a more aware, loving person. And I think that's something we could sorely use right now as a species.