Turning the other cheek

 

There are different literal and metaphorical interpretations of this perplexing statement by Jesus:

If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Here is one way of looking at it that makes sense to me:

When we believe in stories, we are identified with them and try to defend and protect them. If someone says something that goes against these, we automatically defend them and create drama around it. We act from a fixed view, a closed heart, reactive emotions.

Yet, when there is a release of identification with these stories, when there is only clarity, there is no need to defend and protect them. We know they have only limited and practical value, we are familiar with the truths in their turnarounds. Instead of defending against what someone says, we can join with it. We see the truth in it.

(more…)

Beliefs as protection

 

protection.jpg

I talked with a friend yesterday about how beliefs seem to be created as protection… and it certainly seems true in several ways.

Ultimately, beliefs protect this separate self. They flesh it out, define it, create the boundaries separating it from the wider world, protect its identity, shoots down what puts these boundaries and identities in doubt, and do so as a continuous process. Beliefs protect the sense of a separate self against changing too much, and also from not existing (which is a very real threat, since it really doesn’t).

But what about that core belief of a separate self? Is that too a defense against something? I am sure there are many theories and models, and even accounts of direct perceptions, of how and why this belief forms in the first place (and sadly, I am not aware of that many of them). And each of these probably have some good points.

But to me, it seems simple: for most of us, when we were infants, everyone around us believed in a separate self. So we too, innocently, did the same. We too created a belief in a separate self, because that was obviously and clearly the thing to do.

So the primary belief in a separate self may have been formed since it was the thing to do. And the secondary beliefs (an attachment to any other story) aids in bolstering the primary one.

And it all comes from innocence. Although the results, in our own experience, may not appear so innocent.

The nigredo, albedo and rubedo of no defense

 

Any framework (model, theory, map, perspective) is a filter for exploring the world, and each one brings certain aspects out (and is blind to other aspects.)

So here is a basic alchemical take on defense and no defense, of that feeling of having to defend (or not) a particular identity.

Nigredo: the misery

Whenever there is this sense of having to defend a particular identity, role, belief, view, perspective, there is also a certain amount of misery. Will do they attack me? What types of attacks can I expect in this situation? What if they are right? How can I fight back most effectively? How can I shoot down their perspective? It is endless.

Even when there is a certain enjoyment in the battle, of maybe feeling more alive, of the possibility of winning or the appearance of winning, of strengthening and supporting a habitual or desired identity, even then, there is a certain amount of misery there.

A lot of energy goes into preparing for battle, strategizing, fighting the battle, and licking the wounds afterwards. There is reactivity, which a part of us is not comfortable with. We may feel stuck in old and sometimes unwanted patterns. And there is a basic sense of a split here between myself and others, which is only reinforced by the battle, and this too gives a sense of misery.

In alchemical terms, this is the nigredo, the misery that nudges us to look for a resolution, and this time not (only) by changing the rest of the world, but changing something in ourselves.

Albedo: the work

The albedo, the whitening, the clarification, is the work we do on ourselves.

In terms of having an identity to defend, we can work on it in many different ways. The Work is one, allowing us to release our grip on a particular belief, view and identity. The 3-2-1 Shadow Process is another, where we also find in ourselves what we initially only saw in the other. We can simply be with our experiences, which similarly tends to loosen any grip we have on anything arising, including our beliefs, fixed views, and identities. We can use active imagination, other forms of self-inquiry, or anything else. And we can use any combinations of whatever is available to us.

This is a process of bringing attention to our habitual patterns (calcinatio), of differentiation (separatio), of dissolution of rigid and habitual patterns and views (solutio), and of shifting into and becoming familiar with new patterns (coagulatio), which together and over time brings a clarification (sublimatio.)

Rubedo: the resolution

Eventually, after some work, there may be a release of defensiveness in certain areas, and then other areas, and ultimately, if we keep going, in all areas and situations in our life. Instead of feeling that we need to defend certain identities, we welcome whatever comes our way as a reminder that yes, I am that too, and that, and that.

Somebody tells me, one way or another, that I am stupid, and yes, I can find that in myself. That is part of my identity. Or that I am wrong, and yes, that too is there. Or that I am arrogant, yes, that too. Or insensitive, yes. Or boring, yes, absolutely. Or fun, yes, that too. Or a bad friend, yes. Or a good friend, yes… Or smart, yes. Or right, yes. Or sincere, yes.

It is all there. I am familiar with all of this, and it is all right here. And if someone says something that I haven’t explored yet, then I can find that too.

There is nothing to defend. Just ease, clarity, simplicity.

Woven together and in cycles

Over time, we may be able to see this general pattern, from nigredo (that was the time I didn’t see this at all, and also all the times I fall into defense in general), to albedo (that was when I started becoming conscious of all of this and started working on it), and rubedo (that is the general sense of ease that came out of all the work, and also all the glimpses of release and peace throughout the process.)

But they are all also woven together, especially clearly so in the middle of the overall process. There is defensiveness and misery, then some work on it, then some release, then back to defensiveness, work, release, over and over, within the same issue, and across different issues.

Nothing to defend, yet also taking care of myself and others

Eventually there is a general sense of nothing to defend, of ease, peace, even in the midst of daily life and interactions with others. There is no particular identity, or viewpoint, or belief to defend. Only a fluidity among numerous views, perspectives, identities, theories, maps. Whatever works in the situation is what comes up and is used, without any need to hold onto it.

At the same time, there is the ordinary taking care of myself and others. If a cougar attacks me, I’ll try to defend myself. And I’ll take care of my own health and well being. And I’ll defend others if they are in need of it, including defending their identity if it is attacked and they feel hurt.

There is no fixed identity to defend, and also the ordinary taking care of myself and others. And the fluidity of identities, views and perspectives is what allows me to take care of myself and others with more ease, and in more effective and effortless ways.