Pitfalls of meditation

 

As different forms of meditation practice become more popular in the west, there is also a growing awareness of the possible pitfalls of meditation.

Here are a few:

We may be guided – either by ourselves or through a teacher – by misguided ideas. This may lead us to inadvertently practice or reinforce something unhelpful.

We may open up to various transcendent states and experiences and not know how to navigate them.

We may open up a Pandora’s Box of unprocessed psychological material.

In general, we may enter certain areas of the path or landscape without good guidance. Areas that are not fruitful. Or areas that are confusing, disorienting, and sometimes scary or overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to have access to a guide who understands and knows the terrain well from their own experience. Unfortunately, that’s often not

Unfortunately, many teachers – including many who have a formal training within a certain tradition – have a very limited skillset and experience. If anything slightly out of the ordinary happens, they may not know how to guide the student through it.

And fortunately, there are people out there who have this experience and the necessary skillset. What I have seen is that these are often people who are not bound by any one tradition. They may have training and experience from one or more tradition. But they also know and understand that the terrain we are exploring is far wider than any tradition typically covers, and that the pointers and skills needed to navigate is found in many different traditions and also outside of any tradition.

Of course, I am biased. The previous paragraph describes my own path and background, and the background of those who have guided me, so that’s naturally what I am more familiar with and inclined to see as helpful.

Match

 

So much is about the match.

The particular match between the person and the art, whatever the art is.

A painting. A movie. Music. Food.

With art, some is inherent in the piece. The skills it’s made with. How universally it tends to speak to people. And yet, what it really comes down to is the match. The match between the person, there and then, and the piece.

Since my teens, I have preferred the rare art critics who speak partly about the skills behind and the universality of a piece, and the type of person the piece may be a good match for. (Most critics tend to generalize from how well the piece matches them personally and try to make it sound universal.)

The match principle can be transfered to other areas of life, incluidng pointers for life or spiritual practice. Here too, the skills and insights its coming from, and how universally it applies to people, plays a role. But it really comes down to the match.

The good guide or teacher will offer pointers that match the person and where he or she is at, as much as possible.

Of course, there are exceptions and extreme cases. Some food may be immediately unhealthy for everyone. Some pointers, if taken literally, may be unhelpful to anyone.

Painting by Mark Rothko.

Lecturing vs. skillful means

 

We learn as much from what doesn’t work as we do from what works.

When I saw the independent spiritual teacher in Oslo (Vigdis G.) a few years ago, there was a mismatch in several areas. One was that she seemed to lecture and tell me to change certain things, without any pointers for how to actually do so. And these were big issues I have been aware of since my teens and have worked on for years. She basically used the “stop it!” approach.

If I am going to be a bit brutal, that seems to be the approach of those who don’t have access to more skillful means.

It felt very unhelpful. I already knew about the issues. (I was the one telling her about them.) I already work on them. And I already am motivated to work on them. None of what she said seemed to help me other than as a reminder of how not to do it if someone comes for support or guidance.

What I find far more helpful is…. Holding space. Being there with the other. Presence. Listen. Asking simple questions that help the other find their own answers (and what they already know). And perhaps, if they ask, offer suggestions for concrete, doable, and practical things they can do to shift or work on something. (After getting a sense of where they are at and what they may be inclined to do.)

My body tells me

 

I sometimes will say my body tells me….. to eat this, not that etc .

There is a wisdom in the body, and one of the ways it’s expressed is in guidance for what to eat. (And it seems very accurate.)

Of course, it’s not really my body telling me. It’s my mind.

Using conventional language, I may say it’s the part of my mind more connected with my body.

Or, closer to my experience, it’s the part of my mind that appears as the body. It’s the part of my mind that we often call the body. 

Really, those are all stories. It’s what the mind calls guidance that another thought says comes from the body. And recognizing that doesn’t mean I won’t listen to and aim to follow this guidance.

Forms of guidance

 

There are several types of guidance, and perhaps three major ones.

One is the guidance our thoughts provide us, which can be good at some things and a support for other things.

Another is the inner guidance, the guidance of the heart, the quiet inner voice. The one that is quiet, calm and steady.

And yet another is the divine guidance of life itself. In other words, life as it shows up here and now. What’s the gift in what’s here? What’s the invitation?

What does it show me about what’s left (identifications, hangups) in me?

How is it to meet it with love? What in me, if anything, prevents me from meeting it with love?

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Inquiry: I left my guidance

 

I have a familiar story of leaving my guidance when I moved to Wisconsin.

I also see how the turnaround is true: I followed my guidance.

(a) I followed my fears and beliefs. I followed my ideas of loyalty, my ideas of marriage.

(b) I followed a deeper guidance. What happened was God’s will, since it happened.

I see there are three levels or facets to this, for me now:

(i) Following my beliefs and fears. Following unexamined images and thoughts.

(ii) Following my guidance, my heart. Living from integrity.

(iii) Noticing that what is, is God’s will. Any combination of (i) and (ii) is God’s will. And if God is good, if God is love, then what is, is good. What is, is love.

Guidance

 

A few things about guidance.

The simplest is to ask myself and wait for an answer. It may come right away or some while later. And it’s usually clear, simple and kind. What a wise person would tell me.

Another is the guidance that comes for me in the turnarounds. Life should help me –> I should help me. By making a list of how I want life to help me, in which areas and with very specific and practical examples, I can turn this around to myself and see how I can help me. This is a guidance for how to live my life.

When I don’t follow these types of guidance, it’s often because I believe certain thoughts that stop me from living it. What am I afraid would happen if I follow my guidance? What do I find when I look into these beliefs?

A related exploration here is what happens, how is it, when I follow this guidance? What happens, and how is it, when I don’t? In my experience, following the guidance gives a sense of ease, of being held by God, of being on track, and it feels kind. When I don’t follow the guidance, there is a sense of stress, discomfort, and of being (temporarily, in a limited sense) off track.

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Reincarnation as projection, guide and question

 

A few things about reincarnation…

As any other story, it is a projection of what is here now.

A story is projected into the past, present or future. An idea of a past, future and even present life is projected and appears solid and substantial out there. Can I notice it as just an image, a mental field creation happening here now?

Qualities and dynamics are projected into the past, present and future. Maybe a life of blessings or of hardships, and details about each. Can I find it here now? See how it plays itself out? Feel it? Welcome it?

And among these is the dynamics of rebirth itself. In what way is rebirth happening here now? Can I notice that my stories are being reborn here now? My images of myself are continuously being recreated here now. Continuously maintained, fueled, enhanced, rehearsed, elaborated, in different ways.

(Whether those stories align with data and consensus reality or not, and appear to reflect something in the wider world, they are still also a projection of something here now. I couldn’t see it out there if it wasn’t also right here.)

And as any other story, it is a guide of temporary and practical value (or not). Helpful in some situations. Less helpful in other. When I use it for myself, what effects does it have? Does it help me take responsibility for my actions here now? If so, it may be quite helpful. Does it bring stress and tensions? If so, it may be less helpful.

And finally, as any other story, it is a question.

I may have images of past lives (for me, a life as a Russian intellectual in the 1850s and 60s, and a Taoist master in Xian in the 900s? during the Tang dynasty) but did those lives really happen? If they did, was something associated with those lives reborn in this one? If so, what is that something? And if something is reborn, is there an “I” in that something? If I can’t find an I here, anchored in this human life, would there be one then?

And it is also a question for us collectively. A question we can do studies and research on. And that research may well be worth doing, especially since its findings may help us open up our current science based world view.

So the story of reincarnation, as any other story, is a projection, a guide and a question.

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Stories as questions

 

There is a beauty in taking stories as questions…

When I do so, it invites in a receptivity here that reminds me that any story can serve as a pointer and a guide, and that it happens within the context of don’t know.

It is a pointer for own exploration. What do I find when I explore for myself, with some sincerity?

It can have a temporary and practical value as a guide for action, in some situations. What happens when i take it as a guide for action in any particular situation? In what situation may this story be helpful as a guide? Is there another story that seems more helpful in this situation?

And I am also reminded that this happens within the context of don’t know.

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Evaluating teachers and teachings

 

Teachings can be seen as medicine. As any medicine, it is applied to a particular condition. And as any medicine, it doesn’t have much meaning or value outside of that context. 

As any story, it is a temporary guide for how we live our lives. It has practical value in some situations, less value in other situations, and no inherent or absolute value. 

As any story, it is a lie that can have practical value in some situations. 

So when we evaluate teachings – and teachers – we can do it according to some fixed and abstract criteria. Is there a Ground awakening there? Does he/she address who + what we are? Is there soul level awakening there? And so on. This can be helpful at times.

But it is often more interesting to look at when any particular teaching appears to be the right medicine and to what extent a teacher is able to meet his/her students where they are. Of course, we cannot really know in advance when a medicine is appropriate, and we cannot always know afterwards either.

Still, some teachers appear more skilled than others here. Some have a narrow repertoire and are very clear about it. (Skilled in its own way.) Others may have a relatively narrow repertoire, but they are skilled at adapting it to the conditions of their students. And others have an obviously wide repertoire. (Tibetan teachers especially.) 

This came up for me around an interview with Adyashanti for globaloneness.org. His teachings there are more general and inspirational, very much appropriate to the audience. In other situations, for instance when speaking directly to an experienced student, his pointers are quite different. Much more specific and aimed at helping the student notice where they are still stuck, still identified with a story. 

We all do this, of course. We all adapt what we say and how we are saying it to the audience. Teachers are no different. 

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Heart intelligence

 

I keep coming back to the mutuality of view, heart and belly. I notice the dynamics in daily life, and get curious about it… how does it look when I explore it a little more closely? 

It is simple when it is lived. And there is now end to how complex it can get when I try to sort it out within thought. 

For instace, I notice how an open heart supports a more receptive view. 

First a few general things about views

When the view is receptive, there is fluidity, curiosity and innocence (the don’t know type) there. Receptivity to find the practical validity (grain of truth) in any story, including the reversals of familiar ones. There is a sense of not needing to defend any story or identity, because none of them are taken as really true. They are at best temporary and practical guidelines. 

When the view is closed, there is rigidity and identification with stories and identities. There is a sense of needing to protect certain stories and identities. To enhance and defend them, and shoot down any story (or situation) that appears to threathen them.

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Travelers and explorers

 

There are many ways of relating to the path of growing and/or waking up.

We may be travelers with a destination in mind, and use maps, guides and the provided vehicles on our way.

We may want explore in a more open ended way, using maps, guides and any vehicle we come across for parts of the journey but not always.

We may be tourists and visitors.

Or we may do each of these at different times.

All are God exploring itself in as many ways as possible.

And all have their gifts and (apparent) drawbacks.

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Attention as a guide

 

I notice that my attention naturally goes to knots. To beliefs and their consequences (drama, tension, a sense of separation, supporting stories and so on).

And I also see that I can work against or with this natural tendency.

In some specific situations, it seems appropriate to work against it. For instance, when I do a stable attention practice, I can work against that tendency by noticing when attention goes away from its practice object (breath or something else), and gently bring it back.

But in most situations, it seems to make more sense to work with it. To notice that attention naturally goes to knots, and take this as an opportunity to find the belief behind the knot (creating the knot), inquire into this belief, and also allow and be with whatever experiences are associated with the knot (mostly emotions).

If I get stuck in seeing distractions as a problem, I continue to battle with it, and also miss out of the valuable guidance in the wanderings of attention, naturally going to knots.

If I take the wanderings of attention as a valuable guidance, I am led to knots and have an opportunity to work with the beliefs creating them.

If I am free to do both, in different situations, it may be even more valuable. I get to practice a stable attention, gently notice and bringing it back whenever it wanders. And, at other times, I get to use attention as a guide.

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No escape

 

Two ways there is no escape:

First, there is no escape from experience – as it shows up here now. If I fight it, there is discomfort. If I fully allow it, as it is, in a wholehearted and heartfelt way, there is a shift – often into a sense of nurturing fullness from the content of experience, and a quiet joy from just experiencing. And since fully allowing experience invites a shift of identification out of content of experience, it is also easier to notice what I am.

And then, there is no escape from what we are. However much I am caught up with and identified with content of experience, and independent of states and content of experience, what I am is still here. It is all there is.

So in both of these cases, the nature of no escape is an expression of what is, as this timeless present all experience happens within, to and as. It is a quiet and stable guide inviting us to find the wholeness of who we are and to notice what we are. And we can also see it as an expression of the love and intelligence of what is – whether it plays hide and seek with itself, or has discovered itself here now.

Happening to/for/as me

 

Some of the ways everything is happening to, for or as me…

If I see myself as an object in the world, and a victim, then things are happening to me.

If I see myself as an object in the world, and what is happening as a guide, a way to learn and mature, then it happens for me.

If I find myself as awakeness – this field of awakeness and form, then everything is happening within, to and as me. And here too, for me at my human level, as a guide, a way to learn and mature.

Whatever happens is a guide for me to find myself in my wholeness as a human being, to develop and mature as a human being, and to notice myself as what I already am, as awakeness.

It can be a guide in many ways.

I can use stress and reactiveness to find a belief, and then inquire into that belief.

I can use it as a starting point for a journey, for instance as they do in Process Work.

Or any of the many other approaches available.

In any case, it helps me find to find what appeared as Other as myself, at my human level, and as awakeness.

And since what happens is always fresh, in a conventional way and since the future and past only happens within a thought, there is always more to explore at human and awakeness levels.

The path of untying knots: guided by daily life

 

One thing I forgot to mention about the path of untying knots is that it is guided by daily life.

Something comes up that is stressful, revealing the knot that life invites us to become more familiar with, here and now, by being with the experience (feelings) and by inquiring into it (view.)

Daily life is our guru, in a very real way, showing us the next knot to explore, to befriend, to become so intimately familiar with that it on its own is untied.

This is especially clear in The Work, where we after a while start looking forward to stressful situations, because we know they reveal more knots – and what has been obscured by these knots (the sense of freedom, clarity, connection, intimacy and so on that surfaces when the knots are intimately explored, and untie on their own.)

Layering of beliefs, the quiet little voice, bliss, and clarity

 

Since a long time back, I have noticed this layering…

Surface layer of thoughts and beliefs

There is the layer of thoughts coming and going on their own. This layer is innocent and very useful in daily life (essential for our human life).

To the extent these thoughts are believed in and attached to, they morph into something quite different. Now they shout, whisper, should, lure, talk into, contradict and confuse. They guide by fear, and this (false) guidance tend to bring only more confusion.

Quiet little voice

There is the quiet little voice – the inner voice, intuition, which calmly gives advice. It is always available, even if ignored or clouded over by the confusion from beliefs. It also always gets the last word without seeking it, because life validates it, the proof is in the pudding.

This is the quiet voice of the soul, the quiet guidance. If followed, it brings a sense of fullness and flowering. If not followed, there may be stress and a sense of something being off, derailed. (And even here, it is readily available, allowing us to get back on track.)

Although it is always available, it may be temporarily clouded over by the confusion of beliefs. It may be hidden within the drama from beliefs, or beliefs may contradict it which makes a choice difficult. As the noise from the beliefs fall away, the quiet voice emerge more into the foreground and it becomes easier to act on its guidance. The more clarity and the less attachment to thoughts, the easier and more effortlessly we live from this guidance.

Quiet stream of bliss

There is the always present quiet stream of joy and bliss, independent of any content of experience, any content of experience, of any situation, whether there is chatter of beliefs or not, whether the quiet voice is followed or not, whether there is suffering or joy at these more transient layers.

This is the stream of joy and bliss that is always here, the bliss of Spirit unfolding and experiencing itself, independent of any content of experience.

As the quiet voice, the quiet bliss is always available.

When there is resistance to experience, the struggle of the resistance goes to the foreground and the layer of quiet bliss goes into the background and may be hidden. When resistance to experience falls away, this stream of quiet bliss emerges to the foreground.

Ground clarity

Then there is the Ground clarity, the awakeness and brilliance that any content arises within and as. It is the Ground clarity that thoughts, beliefs, confusion, the quiet voice and the steady stream of bliss arises within and as. That which all this arises within and as. The Ground of emptiness, awareness and the stream of forms.

Combined

So there is the layer of thoughts, living their own life, serving us very well through innocent questions about the world.

Believed in, there is stress and confusion, and this may cloud up or make it difficult to act on the guidance from the quiet voice.

As beliefs fall away, the clarity allows the quiet voice to emerge into the foreground, and it can be acted on with more ease.

Independent of all this, there is a layer of quiet bliss, the bliss of Spirit experiencing itself independent of the particulars of experience.

And all this unfolds within and as the Ground awakeness and clarity, the Ground of seeing and seen.

All this is alive in immediate awareness, right here now.