Awakening from avoidance

 

Awakening can be described in several ways.

The most common ones may be…..

Awakening out of identifications, and typically a set of underlying identifications that we gradually become aware of. (Human self, observer, doer, I, oneness, awakeness, etc.)

And awakening to what we are. Which we may, very inadequately, label consciousness, awakeness, love, intelligence, emptiness, mystery.

Awakening is also, in a sense, awakening from avoidance.

It allows us to more easily be with what’s here. And that’s for several reasons.

We recognize all as what we are. All as Spirit, the divine, consciousness, awakeness, or whatever label we put on it. So it doesn’t make sense to avoid something, because it’s what we are.

We recognize all not only as Spirit or the divine, but also love and intelligence.

And a couple that may require some exploration:

We recognize the wisdom and love behind all our experiences from an evolutionary and human persepctive, including the most uncomfortable experiences. They come from and are kindness and care for this human self. For instance, fear has helped our ancestors and us to survive, and there is wisdom in it. The same with pain, anger, sadness, and any human experience.

We know from experience, most likely, that avoidance = suffering and being present with = healing and resolution.

We may see that we cannot really avoid our experience. It’s already here. Trying to avoid it is the mind trying to run from itself. It’s doesn’t really work.

And one that seems built into awakening:

Our ability to avoid may be seriously weakened. An awakening or opening often involves “taking the lid off” anything we have avoided in the past so it comes to the surface. And it typically involves an inability to effectively avoid our current experience, whatever it may be.

The “dream of the ego” may be that awakening will allow us to avoid even better. And reality is that it’s an awakening from avoidance, from perceiving avoidance as neccesary or even doable.

The “dream of the ego” is a catchy phrase, but it’s also a bit misleading. It’s more what’s created when there is identification with thoughts. We perceive ourselves as this human self. We wish to avoid certain experiences since they are uncomfortable and seem scary. So we get in the habit of avoiding them. It seems to work to some extent, but it doesn’t really work and especially not in the long run.

At some point, it makes more sense to intentionally be present with what’s here, with some skill so it keeps moving and we keep moving into more clarity and deeper.

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The high of openings or awakenings

 

A spiritual opening or awakening can come with a high, especially if it’s the first time. That high may be a gentle wave or very obvious, and it may last briefly or for weeks, months, or even years. That’s all natural and nothing is wrong if it happens.

Although if it happens, it’s good to check in about a few things.

Does the high mask something? Perhaps something still unhealed, unmet, and unloved in me as a human being? If it does, that’s very common and very natural, and it’s also good to be aware that something may be masked and may resurface later on.  That’s OK and natural as well. It’s just good to be aware of. We can also prepare for what may surface and know and practice how to relate to it more intentionally.

Do I use the high to avoid something? Do I latch onto the high (or the awakening itself) in order to avoid a certain feeling, emotion, or painful story about the world or myself? If I do, can I allow myself to rest with whatever I try to avoid? What do I find if I investigate how my mind creates its experience of the fear and whatever it fears meeting?

Beyond that, what does this opening or awakening point to about reality and what I am. What does it reveal that I can notice and explore through any state and experience? Perhaps including when I experience what my habitual mind says is a “bad” experience. Can I find what it points to even in a contracted state, emotional or physical pain, discomfort, or resistance to my experience?

In short, an opening or awakening can be used to avoid certain emotions, painful thoughts, or states. Or it can be used as a support to meet and perhaps befriend what we may have spent a lifetime avoiding.

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Keep secrets from myself?

 

Can the mind keep secrets from itself? Not really. It knows its own games and what it tries to hide from itself. It knows what it’s trying to compensate for, what it doesn’t want to face (see, feel), what it’s trying to avoid.

That’s why the question what do I know that I don’t want to know can be helpful.

And perhaps especially when we feel torn and indecisive. Often, there is a knowing there that we don’t want to take in. The indecision and torment come from the tension between knowing while not wanting to know.

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Wanting to feel better is healthy, although look at the compulsion

 

Wanting to feel better is natural and healthy. It’s built into us through the generations, and it’s a form of self-care and kindness to ourselves and those around us.

Compulsively wanting to feel better is a bit different. That’s a way to avoid something. It’s a way to avoid our current experience. To avoid feeling certain uncomfortable feelings and looking at the scary thoughts connected to them.

When we compulsively seek healing and awakening in order to avoid our current experience, it adds another layer of suffering. Compulsively seeking to escape is inherently uncomfortable.

So we can welcome this compulsion and explore it with gentle curiosity. We can meet it with kindness and see how our mind creates this compulsion to avoid our current experience. And that allows the compulsion and the charge in it to relax.

What’s left is still a natural wish for healing and feeling better. And we know that a component of that is to welcome and rest with our current experience as it is. And that includes welcoming and resting with any wish for our current experience to be different.

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Awakening and what’s left

 

Chogyam Trungpa and many other spiritual teachers have shocked, puzzled, and baffled their followers with their apparently unenlightened behavior. It may be drinking, drug use, frequent affairs, bullying behavior, abuse of their followers, and more.

In our culture, we tend to have an image of awakened people as perfect. And yet, they so often are not. Why is that?

To me, it doesn’t seem so puzzling. In a way, it’s to be expected.

There can be a relatively clear awakening, and yet a lot left to heal at the human level.

If the person is receptive and open about it, then it can become a very helpful part of their teaching. It also helps their students know what they are getting into, and it helps the teacher to work on it if they are ready to do so.

And sometimes, there can be some degree of defensiveness around it, both on the part of the teacher and his or her followers.

The teacher may try to live up to an image or expectations from others. Admitting ordinary human flaws and hangups may not fit this image.

They may feel they are above criticism. (And perhaps lash out if they perceive criticism.)

They may justify their behavior, for instance as crazy wisdom or that they are above conventional expectations.

And really, they are just scared to admit it and look at it, as we all sometimes are. And they use all sorts of tactics to avoid facing it for themselves.

This is pretty universal. We all avoid facing certain things in ourselves because it seems too scary, and we use different tactics to avoid it. And this continues to some extent whether there is an awakening or not, and whether we happen to be in a teacher position or not.

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Drama as bypassing

 

Bypassing means avoiding uncomfortable sensations and thoughts.

The sensations seem uncomfortable because of the imaginations associated with them. Thoughts give meaning to sensations.

And the imaginations, the mental pictures and words, seem real and solid because of the sensations associated with them. Sensations give a sense of solidity and charge to thoughts.

When we bypass, we do so because the sensations seem scary and the thoughts connected to them seem scary. We would rather not be reminded of them.

There is almost an infinite number of ways we can bypass. Although we typically do it with the help of stories and distractions, whether these distractions are external or internal or both.

We can distract ourselves with compulsive….

Entertainment, work, exercise, socializing.

Food, sex, alcohol, drugs.

Rationalizing, analyzing, understanding.

Going into future thinking, whether it’s scary or hopeful. Going into past thinking, whether it’s enjoyable or painful.

Getting caught in the drama of our own stories. It may seem that getting caught in the drama is feeling the sensations and looking at the mental images and words, but it’s actually a distraction from resting with them in presence.

Going into comforting stories about life and ourselves. These may also be “spiritual” stories saying there is nobody here to suffer, everything is perfect as it is, all is Spirit, we’ll arrive at a peaceful place in the future. They may also be inflated stories about ourselves, to compensate for painful deficiency stories.

Seeking healing or resolution. When this becomes compulsive, and the main aim is to avoid discomfort, this too is a form of bypassing.

Some of these are very healthy if they are not compulsive. When they become compulsive, they can still be relatively healthy, and it’s also a sign that we are trying to avoid something.

Avoiding certain charged stories and sensations is something we all do. It’s completely natural, understandable, and innocent. It’s a safety valve built into our system.

Sometimes, it can be quite healthy to avoid certain things in us. To not bypass may be beyond what we are capable of in the moment or situation. And if we are forced to not bypass, and have to do it in a way that’s less than safe and skilled, it tends to lead to retraumatizing.

I should also mention that I don’t really like the term bypassing. It’s often used with a hint of judgment. And although I have used the word in this post, since it’s something many are familiar with, I rarely use it otherwise.

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Seeking and its underlying assumptions

 

Behind seeking of any kind, is a basic assumption:

What’s here is not OK. This experience, who and what I am, life…. is not OK.

Seeking reinforces that assumption, since I would only act on it if it seems true to me.

I can continue to seek, and reinforce the assumption. Or I can notice and question this assumption, and perhaps other assumptions behind the seeking. I can question the unquestioned assumptions, feel the unfelt sensations, and love the unloved I am trying to avoid and escape from.

There is nothing wrong with seeking. A form of seeking is essential for our functioning and survival. And yet, compulsive seeking often comes from a sense that what’s here is not right, not good enough, not OK. And what I seek is a wide range of things: Feeling better. Escape. Enjoyment. Food. Entertainment. Achievements. Approval. Love. Acceptance. Money. Status. Enlightenment. Understanding. Safety. Coming home.

It’s good to notice.

It’s good to notice that compulsive seeking can take many forms, and also that the mind can easily tell itself the seeking is not compulsive. If I wonder, I can ask myself, what would I have to feel now if I didn’t seek? If my attention didn’t go “out there” to what I imagine I need from another experience, another situation, another life?

It’s also good to notice that the compulsive seeking comes from deep caring. And that questioning, feeling, and finding love for what’s here perhaps is a way to more reliably find what I really seek. There is no should here. (And if there is, that’s another seeking which I can explore in a similar way.)

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Finding safety in understanding

 

There are many flavor to how our minds turns away from feeling what’s here.

One is to try to find refuge and safety in understanding.

If I think about my understanding, I don’t have to feel this.

I can explore this in several ways:

What would I have to feel now if I didn’t think about my understanding? Feel that.

What am I afraid would happen if I didn’t go into understanding? Look for the threat.

Can I find X? Understanding? Insight?

Can I find X? Someone who understands? Someone who gets it?

Can I find the command to understand? To get it?

Here are some of the ways I use understanding – thinking about understanding something – as a way to avoid feeling what’s here:

I get caught in figuring something out. Or rehearsing an understanding, or elaborating on it, or fine-tuning it. I distract myself from feeling.

I use it to avoid shifting from thinking to noticing thoughts, since this often will lead to noticing and feeling what’s here.

I use it to avoid doing what the understanding is about. I think about my understanding of something instead of actually doing it, including dealing with things in my life, natural rest and inquiry. This helps me avoid feeling what I would have to feel if I actually did it.

There is of course absolutely nothing wrong about understanding and insight. It’s essential and beautiful. It’s what allows us to function in the world. And it’s what allows us to evolve as a species and civilization. It’s one of the ways life explores and experiences itself through us.

Even compulsively going to understanding to escape feelings is OK. It’s innocent. It comes from deep caring. It’s what the mind does when it scares itself with its own stories. And it’s not satisfying in the long run, or even in the moment.

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Ways to avoid feeling what I don’t want to feel

 

There is really just one way to avoid feeling what’s here.

And that’s to bring attention out of feeling sensations and into thoughts.

The only reason I would do that is because I believe thoughts saying that feeling the sensations, and perhaps being exposed to the associated images and words, is uncomfortable, dangerous, a threat, bad, or undesirable.

This avoidance can take a large number of forms, probably many more than I am going to list here.

And the remedy is simple. Feel the sensations. Ask myself what would I have to feel if I didn’t [the avoiding behavior], and then feel that. Take time feeling the sensations. Perhaps look at associated images and words, and ask simple questions about them to see more clearly what’s there.

So here is a very incomplete list of behaviors most or all (?) of us sometimes engage in to avoid feeling what’s here.

Going into thought, independent of the content of these thoughts. Go into thinking instead of feeling and noticing.

Blame someone else, life, the world, God, for what seems wrong. And, really, blaming something “out there” for the uncomfortable feeling. (Although that’s usually not part of the blaming story.)

Going into (otherwise) constructive activities, such as writing (as I do here), working, being with family and friends, playing with kids or pets, going for a walk, read something interesting, listen to a podcast. (This one is very familiar to me.) These are all fine activities, and when I do them to avoid feeling something, there is a sense of compulsion there.

Analyze or comment on what’s going on. Trying to understand it. Make up stories about it. (Not that this is always inappropriate, but it can be habitual or a bit compulsive.)

Distractions of any type, including any form of thoughts or any activity.

Doing something enjoyable. Eat, sleep, go for a walk, cuddle, have sex, watch a movie, be in nature, do art, photography, make music. All of these can be done to avoid feeling what’s here, and when that happens, these activities can feel slightly compulsive. They become something I am compelled to do so I can avoid feeling what’s here.

Going into drama, getting caught in the drama. It may seem we are feeling here, since it can seem quite intense, but we are actually avoiding really feeling and resting with the sensations.

Putting it off into the future. Telling myself I can do it tomorrow, perhaps when I am in the right mood, or have more time, or am in a better state of mind.

Going into “awareness” or the “witness”. Which is really going into an idea of awareness somehow different from and split off from feeling the sensations that’s here.

Spacing out. Going into daydreams.

Numbing out. And not feeling this as sensations.

Getting sleepy, drowsy. Getting bogged down by sleepiness. This can often seem like sleepiness from lack of sleep or hard work, and a thought will often tell us it is. It usually comes up at just before or at the beginning of feeling something apparently uncomfortable, and it can disappear quite quickly if rested with and inquired into. (Sometimes, it is actually physical tiredness, of course, but perhaps not as often as you would think.)

Telling myself that I don’t need to feel it, or don’t have to, and having an apparently good reason for it.

Going into an ideology saying I don’t need to or have to, or that it’s bad, or “low frequency”, or that I should seek only “good” states and feelings and avoid the “bad” or “low” ones. (This rests on a lot of unquestioned assumptions.)

Going into spiritual ideologies, for instance saying it’s all a dream, or nothing really exists, or that all is perfect as is. Which I then take as meaning that I don’t need to feel what’s here. (I don’t necessarily disagree with any of these, but they can be made into an ideology and used to avoid feeling what’s here.)

There are many other ways to use spiritual ideologies to avoid feeling what’s here. I can get fascinated by it. Get into wishful or magical thinking. Assume I will be magically “saved” in the future, so I don’t need to do much now. Imagining light and bliss and feeling that instead of the discomfort that’s here.

While feeling sensations, immediately going to images or words instead of feeling and resting with the sensations for a while. (During inquiry.)

Some of these are subsets or variations of other ones on the list. I thought I would just put them all up here.

When these come up, I can use them as a reminder to ask myself what would I have to feel if I didn’t [….], and then feel and rest with that.

I can also explore the dynamic of the avoidance. Slow it down. Feel and rest with the sensations of the avoidance. Look at the associated images and words, one at a time. Ask simple question about these, to see more clearly what’s really here.

There is nothing inherently wrong with avoiding feeling what’s here. It’s very human. We all (?) do it now and then. And we can’t all go around and intentionally feel sensations all the time. We wouldn’t get much else done.

At the same time, it’s uncomfortable to avoid, and be trapped in the mindset of avoiding feeling what’s here. It can also lead to (compulsive) life decisions we wouldn’t have made if we were more clear and allowing of the sensations.

It’s good to notice when I avoid feeling what’s here, perhaps notice how I do it, and sometimes intentionally rest with the sensations and feel them, and inquire into what makes it look scary to do so. It can become more and more of a habit, and it can seem less and less threatening to do so. It can even become enjoyable. An expression of kindness.

Sprituality as a way to avoid feeling what’s here

 

Spirituality can be used as an attempt to avoid or compensate for discomfort.

That’s very understandable, and very human.

We experience pain and suffering, and see spirituality as a way to avoid it, find relief from it, or compensate for it.

And that’s true, in a way. We can use spirituality to try to avoid the pain for a while. We may try to land in bliss and peacefulness, to avoid feeling the pain and suffering.

We may wish for love, bliss, and peace to compensate for the parts of us that are in pain and suffering.

That may work for a while, but life doesn’t seem to allow us to do that for very long. Life want us to be more real. (Yes, I know life doesn’t really “want” anything, but we can put that story on it. Another way to say it is that life invites us to be more real.)

And what’s more real is to rest with the pain, suffering, discomfort and contractions. To notice and allow it. To meet it with love. To ask simple question to see more clearly what’s already there.

To see that what’s there is not what we thought it was. It’s not really scary. It’s innocent. It’s from deep caring. It’s from love. It is love. It’s awareness. It’s what I already am. It’s OK as it is. It doesn’t need to go away. (And yet it often does, when we arrive at this.)

Anything can be used as an escape

 

I keep seeing how I use sometimes use whatever is closest at hand in an attempt to avoid feeling certain emotions, or being reminded of certain images or thoughts:

(a) Friends, going for walks, food, internet, movies, podcasts, news, listening to spiritual interviews/talks.

(b) Day dreams, going into stressful images and thoughts.

(c) Inquiry, certain forms of meditation, any technique used with the aim of changing content of experience.

It’s all innocent. It’s all from love. It’s all from an attempt to be kind to myself. It’s from worried love.

And it’s all from an innocent mistake. It all comes from holding certain images and thoughts as if they were true.

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Two dynamics: avoiding vs opening

 

When intense emotions and stressful thoughts surface, I can avoid or open to them.

And each one has self-reinforcing dynamics, they each tend to set up a loop.

Why do I avoid opening to the emotion/thoughts? It’s because of a set of beliefs, and they may seem quite deep seated at first.

It will get worse. Something terrible will happen. (If I open to the emotion, inquire into the thought.)

It’s better to avoid. It’s more comfortable to avoid. It’s easier to avoid. It’s possible to avoid.

The thought is true. The stressful thought reflects reality. It’s pointless to inquire into it.

So when I avoid, I do it because of these beliefs, and it means I don’t get a chance to question them. I avoid opening to the emotions, so I don’t get to see what will happen if I do. I avoid questioning the stressful beliefs, so I don’t get to see what’s more true for me.

Of course, we cannot avoid all the time, so we do get glimpses of how it so to do the 180 degree turn and opening to the emotion, and inquire into the stressful thoughts. It happens in ordinary life, perhaps through a conversation with a loving friend. And it may happen through a book, a teacher, or a workshop.

As I open to an intense emotion, it’s a form of inquiry. What happens if I open to it? Allow it? Welcome it? Notice it’s already allowed?

And inquiring into a stressful thought is a double inquiry. It’s an inquiry into the thought, and an inquiry into what happens if I inquire into this thought.

In both of these ways, I get to see that my assumptions may not be entirely accurate. I thought something terrible would happen, I thought it would get worse (which it may, in the very short term), and it didn’t. Something else happened. So I get more curious. I am drawn to trying it again. Next time an intense emotion surfaces, along with stressful thoughts, I may remember. Something in me nudges me to try it again. How is it to open to this emotion, inquire into this thought? And as I do this more regularly, it becomes a new habit. Now, opening to emotions and inquiring into thoughts becomes what’s more attractive, more familiar.

The shift may take time, and yet it’s inevitable that it happens, as long as I am sincere in questioning whatever thoughts I have that may prevent me from opening to the emotion, and questioning the thought.

Avoiding vs opening to emotions and stressful thoughts

 

When emotions and stressful thoughts surface, I can avoid or open to them.

Avoiding really means avoiding opening to them, and I can do this in two ways: Engage in and fuel the emotions/thoughts surfacing (complain), or try to escape from them (distract). Either way, I avoid opening to the emotion and the stressful thoughts.

And opening to the emotion and thoughts means two things: Welcoming, allowing and being with the emotion (perhaps noticing it’s already allowed). And noticing and inquiring into the stressful thought to see what’s more true for me.

For instance, I may have the belief I made a mistake, and it comes with emotions of regret, grief and perhaps despair. I can avoid opening to it through fueling these thoughts and emotions. I complain about it to myself and others. I tell myself I made a mistake over and over. I imagine how my life would have been if I had made another choice. And so on. I also avoid opening to it by trying to escape from it. I cover it up with food. Distract myself by going to the internet or watching a movie. And so on.

The other option is to do a 180 degree turn and see how it is to open to the emotions. Shift into welcoming them, be with they, stay with them. Allow them their life. Notice they are already allowed. Notice how they shift, how new layers emerge. How – when they are seen, felt and loved – the energy behind them seem to dissipate. How it eventually shifts into the void. I may also notice that these emotions were only created from a belief, a thought taken as true. They are doing their job. They are innocent. They don’t necessarily reflect reality or what’s true.

I can also see how it is to do a 180 degree turn in how I relate to my stressful thoughts, and open to them. What are my stressful thoughts? What do I complain about? I made a mistake, because…. I made a mistake, and that means…. What do I find when I take these beliefs to inquiry? What’s more true for me than these thoughts? How is it to take it in, feel it, live from this new insight?

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