Dimensions of practice: Universal and specific to where we are

 

Another dimension of practice is whether we emphasize the universal or the specific.

Do we emphasize the universal, that which is valid for everyone at any time? I tend to gravitate towards these tools, such as The Work, headless experiments and the Big Mind process.

Or do we emphasize that which is specific to where someone is in the process of discovering who they are as a human self, or what they are as that which experience happens within, to and as?

There are benefits and drawbacks to each.

If we emphasize the universal, it has the obvious benefits of being inclusive, accessible, and offering pointers and tools we can use at any point in the process of discovering who and what we are. It helps us see that we all are in the same boat. It makes it relatively simple for us.

The drawback is that people sometimes needs pointers and tools specific to where they are, it may be easy to think we are somewhere in the process we are not (mistaking a glimpse for a stable noticing, or unity for nondual), and there can be a lack of differentiation and clarity about the dynamics of the process as it unfolds over time.

If we emphasize that which is specific to where people are, it has the obvious benefit of being tailored (if skillfully done), it helps people see where they are in the overall process, and it can help differentiate the different states and stages.

The drawbacks include ignoring or overlooking the universal, getting caught up in maps, and getting caught up in competitiveness.

In practice, of course, both are usually included. If we emphasize the universal, it is usually presented in a way tailored to and specific to where someone is, and a good teacher will know from experience what is helpful. If we emphasize the specific, it is often placed in the context of the universal, in terms of what is universally valid for anyone and any time, and the universality of how the process unfolds over time.

Since I know the universal approaches best, it is easy for me to see how they also meet people right where they are. For instance, when we use The Work we find beliefs through stress, and we identify beliefs and find answers from right where we are. The whole process comes out of where we are in terms of healing, maturity, development and more, and invites us into further healing, maturity and development as who we are, and also into noticing what we are.

This topic of universal vs. specific to where we are is similar to what I sometimes hear in Buddhist circles: Sudden and gradual paths. The sudden paths tends to focus on the universal, and the gradual focuses more on levels and so on. For me, those terms don’t make much sense since each of those approaches are sudden (sudden shifts and flashes of insights) and gradual (unfold and deepen over time). Instead, talking about universal and specific to where we are does make sense to me and seems a sometimes useful distinction. I sometimes wonder about these things, am I missing something since so many happily continue to use those terms? Or is it just that they use it without looking into it for themselves? Or something else?

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