What is ‘enlightenment,’ really?

Here’s a new quote I just added to my Favorite quotes page:

One idea that really hampers us is to believe that people get ‘enlightened,’ and then they’re that way forever and ever. We may have our moments, and if we get sick and have lots of things happening, we may fall back. But a person who practices consistently over years and years is more that way, more of the time, all the time. And that’s enough. There is no such thing as getting it. ~ Charlotte Joko Beck

Courtesy of Tricycle Daily Dharma. Click here to link to an interview with her in which she shares more about how to practice.

For more quotes from Joko Beck, click this link to read what I posted right after her death.

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Become a living question for Halloween!

 

 

I’m adding this to my Favorite Quotes page here on my blog:

 

 

 

The most important part of the practice is for the question to remain alive and for your whole body and mind to become a question. In Zen they say that you have to ask with the pores of your skin and the marrow of your bones. A Zen saying points out: Great questioning, great awakening; little questioning, little awakening; no questioning, no awakening. ~ Martine Batchelor (from Tricycle Daily Dharma)

 

Try this: Sit in an upright posture. Chair, zafu, floor, doesn’t matter. Spine straight but not rigid. Breathe. Get yourself centered.

 

Zafu. Roma

Zafu. Roma (Photo credit: Roberto Poveda)

 

Ask yourself this question:

 

 

 

Who am I?

 

Ask very slowly and don’t expect an answer, but really, really listen.

 

 

 

What do you notice?

 

 

 

Positive and negative emotions and enlightenment

Came across this quote today from Adyashanti.

It is important that we know what awakening is not, so that we no longer chase the by-products of awakening. We must give up the pursuit of positive emotional states through spiritual practice. The path of awakening is not about positive emotions. On the contrary, enlightenment may not be easy or positive at all. ~ Adyashanti, “

Over the last year or so, I have been slowly coming around to this point of view.

The bliss and joy that meditators can experience are seductive. It’s easy to believe that this is what you should feel, that this is the goal of meditation, to feel good, to feel love, joy, and bliss. It’s easy to desire — and become attached to — positive emotional states.

That’s identification.

We can use EFT to tap away negative emotions, believing them undesirable, wanting them to go away. Yet we experience them. They are part of “life as it is.”

Rather than putting so much energy into avoiding them, I am at the point (most of the time) where I am willing to experience and explore them — the feeling component in my body, the mental component of the story I tell myself, and what’s true.

If emotional states only last a couple of minutes at most, I think I can bear that. Avoiding them gives them power. Allowing them to exist just lets them be what they are, transient conditions of being human and having a nervous system, seeking to make meaning out of what we experience.

That’s disidentification.

I notice I am tempted to add that while I am willing to experience negative emotions and explore them, please, I don’t want too many!

I say feel emotional states when they arise, and notice that they too are transitory. Without a story, what happens?

Pema Chodron advises:

When you refrain from habitual thoughts and behavior, the uncomfortable feelings will still be there. They don’t magically disappear. Over the years, I’ve come to call resting with the discomfort “the detox period,” because when you don’t act on your habitual patterns, it’s like giving up an addiction. You’re left with the feelings you were trying to escape. The practice is to make a wholehearted relationship with that.

Bliss, discomfort, part of the path of accepting what is. 

A quote that ties NLP and Buddhism together: loving negativity to death

Remember ‘Divide and Conquer’ — if you can divide a negative reaction into its parts (mental image, mental talk, and emotional body sensation), you can conquer the sense of being overwhelmed. In other words, eliminate the negative parts by loving them to death. ~ Shinzen Young, “The Power of Gone”

There you go. Reactions have visual, auditory, and kinesthetic components that you can investigate.

From Tricycle Daily Dharma. His article about his technique for increasing awareness, Just Note Gone, is well worth reading.

The fear of emotional overwhelm

Ann, a new reader of this blog, recently sent me a message on my MaryAnn’s Bodywork and Changework Shop Facebook page that she is doing the trauma releasing exercises, and I thought I would move the discussion here so more people can participate:

hi maryann!

i have just discovered your blog online. thank you for sharing your story and advice to the world. i feel a kinship to you, as i am in the third month of my trauma releasing process.
i practice spring forest qigong (5 yrs)

i have done tre exercises 3 or 4 times a couple of months ago and now i can do them at will.

as fear and anxiety are aspects of myself that i am reclaiming/ integrating… i tend to stop the tremors that seem to want to happen a lot now because my mind wants to understand what is actually happening and will this clear the messages from the subconscious. i have apprehension that the amount i release will then need to be felt consciously afterwards and maybe i shouldn’t do them a lot so i can maintain a balance/ keep up with the processing of the emotions…. or do they just go away?…i saw that you posted to do them as much as they want to come out at first. any thoughts?

i have read that the symptoms come back if you stop…so how do they clear?

maybe they get pushed out in a continual cycle that allows you to consciously release what you can… the release just keeps them suspended for a time?

well, that’s enough thinking… any thoughts?

you are lovely.

heartfelt gratitude.

ann 

p.s. the other day i tremored, kicked, wailed, spoke in about 6 different languages… very grateful i have read waking the tiger as i guess you do need to release the things you would have done when you froze. in the english parts i said “no, i said no!” and i didn’t just “say” it. and at the end of it i went back into english and i said “NO. YOU GET OUT OF ME!” it felt awesome.

A little later, Ann sent the following message:

in re-reading this i could sum it up as : fear of emotional overwhelm 

Well put, Ann. To Ann and everyone else who has ever feared being overwhelmed emotionally, whether by grief, anger, or some other emotion (even bliss), I just want to say that this is very, very common.

We all have emotions. Infants and toddlers seem to have a very full range of them and express them freely and with their whole selves.

And at some young age, we begin to receive messages about emotions: which ones are good, which are bad (or positive and negative, if you prefer), which ones are not okay to express in public, maybe which are not okay to even have, which ones are harmful to repress or bottle up.

Maybe we’ve been on the receiving end of someone’s rage, bad boundaries, or lack of feeling, or have felt/not-felt those ourselves. Maybe we’ve felt emotional pain so strongly we’d do anything to avoid feeling it again, including numbing out for years.

No wonder we get messed up emotionally.

It can feel unsafe to let go emotionally, as if we could die or crumble or never come out on the other side. We fear our own emotions, especially the strong ones, because part of us wants to be in control, and emotions can be very intense.

Ann, it seems to me that needing to experience a balance between release and conscious processing is a belief you have acquired. Try on this belief and see if you like it: allowing the emotion/trembling/etc. to flow through you IS clearing the subconscious. You don’t have to understand it for it to work!

And if understanding does come, it will come AFTER you clear the channels and return to a calm state in which other parts of your brain can come online to create whole-brain insight.

I also imagine you experimenting with releasing as much emotionally/physiologically as you feel comfortable with for a few days, letting your conscious mind work at its own pace, and seeing for yourself what happens. That cannot mess you up—it’s just you discovering what mix of emotion and thought, conscious and unconscious works best for you.

I remember feeling rage about 10 years ago for the first time since I was about two, because it wasn’t acceptable in my family or in much of society. I was alone, remembering something I hadn’t thought about in years, when suddenly I had a different understanding of it that brought up hot, intense anger.

I didn’t know what was happening at first, so I kept allowing it to happen because I was curious—and alone. I am sure I got red in the face. There was definitely an upward surge of hot energy toward my head and a stiffening of my posture. I stopped in mid-stride.

Right after I was feeling the most intense anger, my inner witness was marveling, “So this is what rage feels like! I get it how steam comes out of Elmer Fudd’s ears and the grimace and posture he makes!”

It actually had a very, very cleansing effect. It renewed my self-esteem and motivated me to protect my interests. Afterwards, I felt like I had on a cloak of protection. It was actually near the beginning of my trauma recovery process, but I didn’t know that then.

Interestingly enough, fully allowing that rage to flow through me and feeling it completely took maybe 30 seconds. A very slow 30 seconds, to be sure.

Imagine: I had spent years denying/repressing my anger, and when I let it ripple through me, it only took half a minute of intensity, and the benefits were enormous and lasting.

Lesson 1: Emotions have two components. You experience them in your body, and they change you (you resolve an inner conflict, and then you take action: set a boundary, express a concern, reframe your identity, make a decision, right a wrong, and so on).

Lesson 2: You can allow yourself the experience of feeling the emotion fully without having to take action right away. That can come later. Unless the situation is life or death, you can let it settle before doing anything. That provides time for other less emotional parts of your brain to add their gifts on the wisest course of action for you to take. Meanwhile, you’re not bottling up something toxic.

Lesson 3: This is easier said than done. We’re all here in the School of Life. We mess up, we learn, we forgive, we grow.

So this is the thing. I can’t really tell you what’s right for you, but maybe these lessons can help you get through the labyrinth.

I found this quote on Tricycle Daily Dharma, and it’s perfect for this post:

The ebb and flow of life is not unlike the sea. Sure, sometimes it’s calm and serene, but at other times the waves can be so big that they threaten to overwhelm us. These fluctuations are an inevitable part of life. But when you forget this simple fact, it’s easy to get swept away by strong waves of difficult emotions.— Andy Puddicombe, “10 Tips for Living More Mindfully”

I would be remiss if I did not mention one of the best books I’ve read about emotions and their messages, The Emotional Hostage: Rescuing Your Emotional Life by Leslie Cameron-Bandler. It’s an oldie but goodie that helps you decode the purpose of each emotion and use your emotions to live more authentically.

Regret, distortion, aging, what’s real, going forward

This quote today from Tricycle Daily Dharma resonated with me fiercely today. I’ve been resuming my sitting practice:

One of the main things that happens when you meditate is that regret starts to surface and you start to think about your life. Meditation neutralizes denial after a while and opens up the circuits and things start to flow in, and then you begin to realize that regret is a distortion of what’s real. What’s real is that this is your life, and it happened, and there’s no going back. There’s only altering your attitude and perception about it so that you can go forward.

The author is Lewis Richmond in Aging as a Spiritual Practice.

Regret is about the past. There’s no going back. You can just be here now and move forward.

I would add that forgiving and accepting yourself are important for letting go of past regrets.

But if you talk candidly to older people, I think they have an intimation that there’s something precious and new about growing old. 

But I don’t think anybody would trade their mind. I think that life is cumulative, and if I look at who I was at 35, it’s clear I know more now. I’m a deeper person. I have a deeper appreciation of other people. I’ve just lived a life—a full life. 

There’s some point in your life, early or late, when it hits you that you and everybody else that you care about and love are not going to be here eventually, so now what? That’s the gate. And when you’re at that gate, life changes on you. It has a different coloration. It’s more precious. It’s more serious. You feel a loss of innocence.

A lot of us nowadays will live to be 90, so part of the gate is, “Yeah, I’m getting old and I’ve got a lot of time left, so what am I going to do?” Play golf?

It’s [meditation is] good for knowing what’s real and what isn’t, and that takes time to emerge. There’s a tremendous actual liberation in knowing what’s real, and increasingly you can discern that in situations, through your meditation, “Well, this is just my stuff.” Or, “This is solid. This is real.”

Regret is the ego trying to distort what is unchangeable, and we have various words for how that happens. One of them is denial, which is very powerful. Research shows that it is largely neurological. The neural circuits simply don’t fire. The brain arranges to protect you from the pain; it’s like you literally can’t get there, and you arrange not to get there in terms of remembering, but I think transforming regret into appreciation is one of the main values of meditation.

Daily email inspirations

I subscribe to several daily email services that enrich my well-being as I begin each day. I receive joy, encouragement, wonder, food for thought, and catalysts for expansion from these emails. I feel grateful for the people who thought these up and deliver day after day. It makes a difference.

For several years, I got a poem a day in my inbox from Panhala. That stopped a few months ago, and I don’t know why. Joe Riley did a great job of sharing some wonderful poems, and I hope he’s well. No one seems to know. I miss the poems. The link above is still a great repository of poems.

I also get quotes from Tricycle Daily Dharma about Buddhist practice. (Click the link, then the Your Daily Dharma Sign Up Now link to subscribe.) Here’s today’s quote:

Fear is not the Enemy
There are many ways to meditate on fear. One is to wait until it appears adventitiously. Another is to invite it in — when we send out invitations we can be a little better prepared for who shows up at the party. Perhaps for both methods of approach the first thing to bear in mind is that fear is not the enemy — it is nature’s protector; it only becomes troublesome when it oversteps its bounds. In order to deal with fear we must take a fundamentally noncontentious attitude toward it, so it’s not held as a problem, but as a visitor. Once we take this attitude, we can begin to work with fear. ~ Amaro Bhikkhu, “Inviting Fear”

Fear is a visitor to the guesthouse. Allow it in — it protects. Ask what it is protecting me from; ask what needs protection. It is only troublesome when it oversteps its bounds. Got it!

I get quotes from Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the flawed but wise Tibetan Buddhist teacher, from Ocean of Dharma as well. Here’s the most recent:

THE THINKER. No one can stop or control your thought process or your thinking. You can think anything you want. But that doesn’t seem to be the point. The thinking process has to be directed into a certain approach. That does not mean that it should be in accord with certain dogma, philosophy, or concepts. Instead, one has to know the thinker itself. So we are back to square one, the thinker itself: who or what thinks, and what is the thought process?

Right now playing with how thoughts bubble into awareness, disappear, and new thoughts arise…the flowing mind, the full mind, the empty mind, the nature of mind to think.

The Universe (Mike Dooley) sends me a message of support, encouragement, humor, and expansion every day. I especially enjoy how playful The Universe often is. Playful has become one of my favorite energies.

What if every wrinkle, scar, or gray hair only made you more beautiful? What if every tear you’ve shed, mistake you’ve made, and challenge you’ve faced, only drew you closer to the light? And what if, MaryAnn, for every breath you’ve taken, every sentence you’ve spoken, and every path you’ve chosen, your fans in the unseen multiplied?

Well, I’d say it’s about time you found out.

Be proud, we are –
The Universe

Universe, I must be really beautiful and close to the light, with a multiplicity of unseen fans! Recently had an angel reading with Russell Forsyth, my first, and am feeling more aware of the angels around me than ever before.

Creative catalyst Lynn Scheurell sends me a Daily Catalyst quote each day. Here’s what Lynn sent today:

“God will not look you over for medals, degrees or diplomas, but for scars.” ~ Elbert Hubbard

Wow. Well, as my About Me page says, I’ve got ’em, scars. I do believe that life’s wounds can become spiritual currency and mistakes are for growth, so no matter what, you can’t lose.

The latest addition to my daily email habit is “EnneaThought for the Day,” a message for people of my Enneagram type, Five. Sometimes the messages are very inspiring, as today’s was:

Remember that at your best, you become an intrepid discoverer and explorer, broadly comprehending the world while penetrating it profoundly.

I’m really liking that description of the directions I move toward — broad comprehension and profound penetration. I enjoy using my mind and awareness in these ways.

Four constructive things to do with your anger

A recent Tricycle Daily Dharma quotation is timely, and I’m sharing. It’s worth exploring anger for what it actually is.

Because we imagine anger is never a good thing, it is easy to think we should practice simply not being angry. But that approach is too general and abstract. It’s important for each of us to be precise, to be real, to be personal and honest, to find out exactly what my anger is. To do that we need to ask ourselves lots of questions about its actual nature.

It is quite a fabulous skill in life to handle anger well — to feel it and not suppress it, and to use it constructively. I’m definitely not saying I’m the most skilled at handling my anger, but I have come to recognize some of its complexity and discovered a key that helps me manage it constructively.

Watch some angry cartoon characters display anger in this video. You may never see anger in humans in the same way again!

First, anger is a body sensation. You can see it in the cartoons. For me, there’s a stiffening, a rigidity that I experience, often in my neck or back. My spine lengthens as I draw myself up to my full height. When it’s more intense, I feel prickly sensations and sometimes heat.

Only rarely have I experienced what Elmer and Daffy do so well, the red face, the steam coming out of ears, the grimace, the fists, the in-your-face stalk, the growl.

I dream about being Bugs Bunny, but when I wake up, I’m Daffy Duck. ~ Chuck Jones

  • Next time you’re angry, if you can, take a moment and notice what you’re feeling in your body, how your state has changed, what your mind is telling you to do. Just notice.

Anger has degrees of intensity. Anger includes a family of emotions that range from annoyance to rage. There’s a huge difference between asserting oneself when annoyed and abusively vomiting one’s rage on someone.

  • How angry are you on a scale of 1 to 10?
  • Can you describe it explicitly — outraged, irritated, mad, hostile, slow burn, furious, exasperated, chagrined, huffy, miffed, pissed, petulant, sullen, piqued?

Anger needs release. Anger builds toward action. This is where I think most of the problem lies. It’s not the anger itself, it’s what people do to release it that can be so destructive. People can emotionally and physically abuse others because they know no other way of releasing their anger. They finger-point and blame — and most of the time, other people are just doing the best they can, unable to read your mind.

When you’re angry, a different part of your brain is operating than the part that is able to have a dialogue, listen respectfully, and negotiate a solution. Respect that. Allow it. Just remember that.

What you do depends on the degree of your anger. If you feel annoyed, irritated, or dismayed, a few concise words can convey that with minimal damage. If you’re feeling really angry, like at least a 4, it’s more about you, not them.

Also, sometimes people feel their anger and recognize its intensity, but then they swallow it because they don’t want to be destructive but don’t know what else to do. That feels really miserable and isn’t a good solution to “the anger problem”.

  • So…here’s a new skill. When you feel so angry that you might say something you’ll regret, don’t even try to converse. Instead, move your body and make noise. Pace, stalk, make fists, punch a pillow, grimace, wave your arms. Dance with your anger. Growl and howl. You can even let loose a nice juicy string of curse words (or fake or foreign curse words) not aimed at anyone.

The other person witnessing your nonverbal anger may find your anger beautiful, or at least entertaining to watch (if they stay out of your way, right?).

Examine your anger later, when you’re calm. What triggered it? I’m guessing it was probably something you didn’t like, an injustice or injury, or a sense of invasion.

  • Ask yourself and the other party (if they’re willing) some good questions. Did someone violate one of your rules? Did they fail to read your mind? Could you have contributed to it? Did you communicate your preferences with clarity? Or could your rule conflict with their rule? Did they assume something about you that wasn’t true? How do you move forward? There’s a lot of room for understanding when you get to this stage of anger.
  • Also, was there another emotion behind the anger, like fear or hurt?

This is the best thing about anger, in my opinion. You learn more about yourself and the other person, and you’ll improve your communication skills. Sounds like a gift, doesn’t it?

~~~

As long as I’m posting about an emotion, I want to recommend a book that I found very helpful for understanding the emotions and the purpose each serves. It’s The Emotional Hostage, by Leslie Cameron-Bandler. It will help you decode your own emotions and those of others, understand the clear messages that each emotion conveys, and resolve your relationship problems more easily.

~~~

1/30/2012. Just encountered this quote from the Dalai Lama about anger:

When we are angry we are blind to reality. Anger may bring us a temporary burst of energy, but that energy is blind and it blocks the part of our brain that distinguishes right from wrong. To deal with our problems, we need to be practical and realistic. If we are to be realistic, we need to use our human intelligence properly, which means we need a calm mind.

More on the Buddhist precepts

Here’s another jewel of a quote from Tricycle Daily Dharma. It’s been sitting in my inbox for a few days, and I have not been able to bring myself to delete it. Must mean I need to share it!

It’s a pretty good description of Buddhism’s precepts:

To be sure, as humans with a short life span, we cannot know the long-term results of our actions. But recognizing that what we say and do can have repercussions for months, years, or eons, and that we cannot know the “final” outcome of something we think, do or say, Buddhism, like all other major religions, has developed a set of precepts. The precepts have been compared to dikes in a rice field. They hold back and channel the rushing water of our passions so that our life is not flooded, so that smaller and more helpless creatures are not harmed and the harvest of our life’s efforts is not ruined. These precepts prohibit those actions that have a bad outcome and cause harm to ourselves or others almost all of the time.

– Jan Chozen Bays, “What the Buddha Said About Sexual Harassment”

I started taking a class on the precepts at Appamada Zen Center last year and was unable to complete the training due to family needs, but the precepts have stayed with me.

You can read what the late Robert Aitken Roshi said about them here.

I find that just being acquainted with the precepts begets self-inquiry and informs my decisions. A small example: last year I bought a fake leather jacket. I could have afforded a real leather jacket, but I thought about my relationship to the animals whose skins are used for leather and decided that if my purchase of a leather jacket encouraged people to slaughter animals for the economic value of their pelts, I could not feel any joy about buying leather products, and I probably won’t in the future.

Now I don’t really know that this jacket isn’t made of some petroleum-based product that involved some other method of harm to manufacture. It probably is. And I am not consistent about this — I own and wear leather shoes and boots and will continue to do so. I appreciate fine things, and sometimes they are made with leather.

But now I bring this precept into consideration when I make my own decisions, whereas I used to never think about it.

I cannot judge others’ decisions either. We all have our own paths in life. Serenity prayer: I change what I can, and usually that means me.

Having some familiarity with the precepts and examining my ethical beliefs and behaviors adds mindfulness to my life, deepens and enriches it, even as they call on me not to take the easy way out.

The acrobat and the meditator

Here is today’s quote from Tricycle Daily Dharma, to which I subscribe.

We are so used to projecting our attention out into the world around us, it is a noticeable shift when we face inward and feel the subtle swaying of the head on the shoulders, along with all the muscular microcompensations keeping our body centered in gravity. The acrobat, like the meditator, is bringing conscious awareness to a process that is always occurring but is generally overlooked, which is a vital first step to learning anything valuable about ourselves.

Andrew Olendzki, “Keep Your Balance” (my bolding)

Might as well say “the yogi” rather than “the acrobat”.

From what I’ve read and understand, the very simple act of shifting one’s attention from “out there” to “in here” actually changes one’s brainwaves from beta state to alpha, from stressed to more relaxed.

So you can try this right now, if you like. You’re reading this blog post, which is an “out there” experience.

Read the following sentence, do what it says, and notice how your experience changes:

Bring your attention to the space between your eyes.

What happened when you did that? Did your breathing change? Did your sense of pleasure change? What else did you notice?

It could be your left pinkie finger or the top of your head or the soles of your feet or the center of your belly. Anywhere on or in your body suffices.

It’s not about how far you can back-bend, it’s about harnessing your attention within, which is, as Olendzki says above, “a vital first step to learning anything valuable about ourselves.”