The gifts of off-days

 

One of the things I appreciate, usually in hindsight, about off-days is how they help me notice things about myself I usually don’t notice, or don’t want to notice, or at least don’t want to explore in much detail.

These off-days are like the ghosts of Christmas showing Scrooge his life, and especially those parts he didn’t want to see. The parts he needed someone else to show him. It may not be comfortable to go through, but it can also lead to a shift, if we allow it to.

For me, seeing what I don’t want to see about myself especially happens when something is off physically. There is less energy to maintain a desired persona, and maybe even less energy to try to change it, mask it or disengage from it by using a technique or practice.

Yesterday

Yesterday, I certainly noticed some of these (often well hidden) patterns such as going into a state where everything feels utterly wrong (my life, my day, etc.), and some family patterns around a martyr role: the noble quiet suffering, silently blaming the world for my misery.

I guess that is very Norwegian…! The quiet noble suffering, bearing it without complaining too much, and then often not even consciously blaming the world for it being that way. Just bearing it… until it – and my life – is over(!). No wonder that is kept safely in my shadow.

Three effects of physical problems

I also see how physical problems usually have one of three effects for me…

With pain, or apparently heat exhaustion, I tend to find myself as awakeness, as crystal clear awareness. Not by trying, it just happens on its own. I guess the misery is too intense and sharp, so there is a shift out of (exclusive) identification with it and into awakeness, the crystal clear witness of whatever is happening.

Physical reactions to certain foods (food intolerance) or exertion brings out the shadow, in the ways described above. They tend to lead to contractions and reinforce a separate-self sense.

And sometimes, when I am in a phase where headlessness or Big Mind is more strongly in the foreground, then whatever happens to this body-mind just happens, as Big Mind.

A spectrum of what we can find ourselves as

Writing it up this way, I see how these three reflect the span of what or who we can find ourselves as.

At one end of the scale is pure awareness, awake emptiness, crystal clear awake space. The crystal clear awake space is in the foreground, and when form arises (as it often does), it arises within and as this awake space, but as distant, just a small speck within the vastness of awake space.

Then, we can find ourselves as Big Mind, as awake emptiness and form, the awake emptiness arising as form. Here, awake emptiness and form are equally pronounced. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.

And at the other end of the spectrum, form is in the foreground, and the awake emptiness is in the background, sometimes so far distant that it is not even noticed. There is usually an exclusive identification with our human self here, a forgetting of everything else that we also are. It can be great – fun, ecstatic, an adventure, but it is also where we can feel trapped, confined, helpless, without control, in misery. We are at the mercy of an exclusively finite existence.

Cycling through, inviting greater familiarity

And for me, at least now, there is a cycling through of each of these. One after another, presenting themselves, inviting me to find myself as each of them, to become more familiar with each, more intimate, to know each of their landscapes in more detail.

Exertion, health and dreams

 

Since childhood, I have experienced an unusual pattern where strong physical exertion is followed by being nonfunctional for about a day (and no, this is not the usual tiredness that comes after exercise.) I usually have no choice but to go to bed and sleep it out.

It is workable in the sense that it has a predictable pattern: It only happens when I exert myself at 80-90% (or beyond) of what I am capable of, independent of what shape I am in. This means that I have been able to mostly avoid it by doing gentler forms of exercise like hiking, biking and swimming, and avoiding the forms of exercise where I more easily go into over-exertion, such as running.

But even if I am mindful of this, I now and then go over the invisible boundary and reap the consequences, and yesterday was one of those days. I chopped firewood Monday night, and must have gotten a little too enthusiastic about it.

That same night, there was a sense of something physically off, and nothing I did – water, food, self-breemas – seemed to correct it. And waking up the morning after, all of the usual symptoms of over-exertion were there. (Although since this has not happened for a while, I didn’t make the connection until much later in the day when it started to clear up.)

It is as if the body-mind wants to shut down, a sense of stagnation throughout, and a feeling that everything is off and wrong. At the mind level, there is a strong sense of dullness and I go easier into contractions, such as irritability and grumpiness over things not going my way (the good part about that is that I not only get to see parts of my shadow more clearly, but also experience it from the inside, becoming it.) At the physical level, my body wants to shut down and sleep, and when I do, it is almost as if going into a coma. I usually shift out of it within 8-12 hours, typically after a nap, and I often feel stronger and clearer afterwards than I did before it happened (maybe due to the rest.)

This time, I noticed two dreams I though were interesting, especially as they seem to reflect entering into and moving out of the collapse phase.

Dream Tuesday morning: I am in a house that is not quite home

I am in a house which is very close to home, in the neighborhood of home, but not quite home. And there are many slightly odd things happening there, including problems with communication. I try to call someone, but the phone doesn’t work. I talk with people, and there is miscommunication. Everything seems a little off, and nothing I do seems to change it.

Dream Tuesday evening: someone tells me it has cleared

Towards the end of a nap, I am dreaming that someone tells me that there has been a shift into being healed. Waking up, I did experience a noticeable shift and felt much better, as if the fog had cleared, although some things were still being worked out.

Dreams faithfully reflecting what is going on

The house dream reflects entering into the pattern, of being close to home (same body-mind) but not quite at home (not functioning in a familiar way, or according to my – ideal – self-image.) And the healing dream reflects shifting out of it.

Maybe the most interesting part of this to me is that I didn’t seem to need the dreams to tell me about these shifts… both were abundantly clear in my waking state. But the dreams even then did their job faithfully and sincerely, reflecting what is going on in this body-mind.

If anything, seeing this makes me appreciate their work even more.

Released from identification

 

The field of awake emptiness and form, of the seeing and seen, is already and always absent of an I, there is just a sense of I there sometimes, usually placed on this human self, and it takes a lot of work and energy to uphold this sense of I and its associated identities.

So whenever there is a distraction from this process of manufacturing and maintaining the sense of I, or there is not enough energy available to engage in it, then the field can sometimes pop into awareness of itself as a field.

It can happen in nature, during rituals, dance, drumming or chanting, through drugs, sex, and rock’n roll, through prayer and meditation, through physical efforts such as the athlete’s high, and also through physical, emotional or mental fatigue and illness.

And most of the time when it happens, we enjoy it and may even seek it again, while also not quite recognize it for what it is. It seems too unlikely that there is not really any I here, but when it slips in, it is certainly enjoyable – a relief from the usual drama and struggle that a sense of I brings with it.

For me, it happened last summer when I had heat exhaustion. My human self did not do very well at all, yet the field of awake emptiness and form did as well as always, and recognized and rested in itself, released from identification with the human self. The same tends to happen whenever I am physically sick, although not quite as dramatically as then.

It is as if the field says well, enough of that, I’ll stop pretending to be limited to this human self for now and can always come back to it later when it is doing a little better. There is a safety valve there, when it gets too intense.

I was reminded of this through Ken Wilber’s descriptions of his recent health crisis, which he – fortunately for him and all of us – seems to be able to recover well from.

During the three days and nights that I was unconscious, there actually was quite a bit of conscious activity going on in me — half of which was quite familiar, and half of which was just plain weird. On the one hand, there was ever-present Big Mind and an awareness of one’s True Nature. On the other hand, I kept dreaming that I was in this really strange room of blue and pink pastels done up in a rather wretched aesthetic.

Of course, it helps to have a solid meditation practice and a familiarity with the terrain of Big Mind, as Ken Wilber certainly has. It creates grooves and habits which makes it easier for the whole field to fall into, and recognize and rest in, itself as a field.

Btw: it is interesting how his personality was still in the picture in his description, with its identification as someone who has a particular sense of aesthetics, and someone for whom that particular sense of aesthetics is important. I don’t know how much that happened at the time, and how much is added afterwards for effect.

Impulse to wholeness

 

There seems to be two main aspects to our impulse towards wholeness…

First, it is the intuition or sense of the field of seeing of seen, inherently absent of I. This field is already and always whole, or more accurately free from wholeness and fragmentation.

Then, there are the processes at work in the world of form, specifically – in all living organisms, the self-maintaining, self-healing and self-transcending processes.

And a psychological aspect of this process of self-organization is the dislike of suffering and draw to happiness and freedom from suffering. Disease at a physical level is often uncomfortable, so we seek health and wholeness there.

It is the same with dis-ease at a psychological level. It comes from a sense of separation, being finite in space and time, and from the basic sense of I and of I and Other, so there is a natural impulse to find a resolution to it, and we do this in many ways.

We seek healing and a sense of connection on a psychological level.

We notice, at first not even consciously, the inherent painfulness of a sense of I and Other, and We and Them, so we move along the path of egocentric to ethnocentric to worldcentric to planetcentric, widening the circle of who we see as us.

And at some point, we start the process of shifting our center of gravity from the seen (our human self) to the seeing (pure awareness, witness), to the field of seeing and seen, inherently absent of I, awakening to itself.

The mirroring tendencies

At the same time, there are several mirroring and complementary tendencies.

First, of the field of seeing and seen to forget itself, to take itself as only a segment of itself, as this human self.

Then the inherent tendencies in the world of form towards disintegration, falling apart, accidents, malfunction.

And also the inherent tendencies of the mind, when operating in the context of a sense of I and Other, to create trouble for itself, to knot itself up and create a sense of drama through beliefs, and often through a complex set of contradictory beliefs.

Game of separation and finding itself

It is all part of the game the field plays with itself, first of forgetting itself, creating a sense of I and Other and experiencing the drama there, then of seeking itself through wholeness, and finally realizing the absence of I anywhere.

Both tendencies are part of the game, part of the drama, making it richer and more varied. One could not be without the other.

The One Taste of public and private situations

 

A while back, I used this practice more regularly, and still find it useful.

How would it be if there is One Taste of public and private situations? If I act in public as if I was on my own, and when I am on my own as if everybody could see me?

Acting in public as if I am on my own helps me with finding ease, comfort, allowing pretense to fall away.

Acting on my own as if everybody could see helps me find a sense of transparency, nothing to hide or protect, allowing the light of awareness into (more of) all I am and do.

Together, it helps me find ease and comfort with myself, as I am, accepting it as it is, be OK with all of what I am. It helps me find a sense of wholeness, of transparency, of receptivity, of nothing to hide, noting to protect or defend.

This is one of the many forms of One Taste, one that plays itself out on our human level.

Awakening: what may change and what may not

 

I listened to a talk with Adyashanti last night, where he mentioned briefly some of the things that change – and don’t – in awakening (horizontal awakening, realized selflessness).

Content independent of Ground awakening

In theory (whatever that means!), nothing needs to change for or within awakening. The content, the seen, experiences can stay the same. It is only the Ground awakening to itself, as the Ground of seen and seeing, absent of I anywhere, or as the I embracing all there is and absent of Other.

Reorganization of human self

At the same time, something does change in the seen, in the content, and specifically in our human self. It goes through a process of reorganizing and realigning to this new context of realized selflessness. The sense of drama goes out, the struggle from blind identification with aspects of the totality is gone, the stress from I and Other falls away. There is a deepening relaxation and unwinding of the human self, from body through energies, emotions and thoughts.

(Yet, there may also be a period of whatever had not been seen in our human self surfacing – all the facets hidden away surface to be seen and consciously acknowledged.)

Since this is a Ground awakening, everything revealed as Spirit, God, Buddha Mind, Brahman, absent of I anywhere, it will also be naturally expressed through our human self in ways that appear as compassion. (It appears as compassion when seen, by Spirit not awakened to its own nature, as one human being helping others.)

It is as natural and effortless as the right hand scratching the chin – there is itching and then scratching, spontaneously. The hand belongs to the same body as the chin, and one human self – when functioning within the context of realized selflessness, is awake to the larger body which is the whole world of form, including all beings.

What may not change

Then there are some things that may or may not change.

Our personality does reorganize to a certain extent, mostly through an absence of drama, but some flavor remains. If it had a good sense of humor before awakening, it is likely to have a good sense of humor after. If it liked strawberry milkshake before, it is likely to enjoy it after as well. If if was more yin or more yang, it is likely to still be more yin or yang. If it was into scholarship, it will most likely still be into scholarship. And so on.

The psychograph, or the level of development in the many lines, remains. If we were at a certain level in a particular line, it will still be there after the awakening. Before and after awakening, there is an invitation for these lines to continue to develop and mature. And it seems that the awakening itself, with its absence of drama and confusion, can serve as a catalyst for the deepening, maturing and development of these lines.

And then there is the thorny issue of health. If our human self was unhealthy in certain areas before awakening, it is possible that there will be a reorganization and healing within the awakening. But it is also possible that some issues remain – that there is not the insights, receptivity or willingness for these to reorganize and heal, even within the context of awakening. Adi Da and Andrew Cohen may be examples of this, and I am sure there are many others.

The filter of an unhealthy human self can easily distort how the inherent clarity and wisdom of the awakening is presented in the world.

And in a teaching content, this can easily be justified – by anyone involved, as just an expression of skillful means. He abuses me out of wisdom and compassion, so that I can awaken.

Sure. It is just that there are so many examples of teachers who do not do this, and yet have students wake up. It is not needed.

In the contemporary western world, with our increased sensitivity to signs of power abuse and psychological unhealthy patterns, there is luckily less tolerance for this. Teachers, in any tradition, who are blind to their own unhealthy psychological patterns, set themselves up for a fall.

And this crash and burn is just the reminder from existence to itself saying that even within the context of awakening, there may be something you didn’t look at. So here is your chance to take a look at it now.

Cravings, Addictions & The Hole

 

I talked with a friend yesterday about cravings and addictions, and what we are trying to get out of those addictions.

Working within the relative

On a relative level, and when there is a sense of I, addictions can be seen as a strategy to meet a need, and if that need is clarified, it may be possible to find other strategies that can meet it in a more effective and fulfilling way.

Process Work is one way to explore this. Sometimes, what is uncovered makes good sense. Other times, it may not make much sense but still work. For instance, I explored my sugar craving a while back, ended up with a movement that filled the same need as the sugar, and the sugar craving fell away (mostly). The movement is a jump up and down, similar to the dance of the Masai warriors. On the surface, there seems to be no connection to eating sugar. But from the inside, in my experience, it gives the same effects as eating sugar does, in an even more fulfilling way.

Working within the relative can be very helpful. Yet, we are still only shuffling around the content. Moving the pieces so they find a relationship to each other that seems to work a little better. It is a temporary and incomplete fix, at best.

Selflessness

From a more ultimate view, it seems that any craving, any addiction, any sense of need, any sense of lack, comes from a mistaken identity. And it will not be resolved until what is awakens to its own nature, with no I anywhere.

What is is the context and content of awareness here now. And the context can be a sense of I, placed on something in the content, or it can be realized selflessness.

When there is a sense of I, placed on a segment of the content, there is immediately a sense of I and Other, of lack, of needs, of something missing. And we try to fill this hole through rearranging the content to the best of our ability, through partners, food, substances, music, entertainment, status, money. Or, if we are more sophisticated, through working on ourselves, our human self, but still just rearranging content.

It may work to some extent, it may work for a while. But ultimately, it does not resolve the sense of lack, of something missing, of something not being complete.

The only release from this discontent is through awakening. Through what is awakening to its own nature, of no I anywhere.

Needs as an attempt to find home

From this perspective, any sense of need is an attempt to find home. Any craving, addiction, need, want, is a sincere attempt to escape the confines of seeing oneself as separate, and find home in realized selflessness. It is a sincere and innocent attempt, although ultimately futile.

The only way to find home is for what is to realize that there is no I anywhere, and the way for this to happen is to set the stage for it to happen, to prepare the ground, for instance through meditation, prayer and inquiry.

Aging & Stories

 

Aging is another example of how stories have real life consequences.

Some myths about aging…

  • We’ll have less energy and passion
  • The body goes downhill
  • We don’t bounce back and recover as when we were young
  • Life becomes drugery and less juicy
  • We can’t learn as well as before
  • We are stuck in old patterns

Still, just looking at aging from common knowledge about health in general, and all the research on aging in particular, we see that none of these are necessarily true.

If we eat poorly for years and years, is that not going to have an effect? If we are chronically sleep deprived, maybe for several decades, wouldn’t that impact our ability to bounce back? If we continue to accumulate thoughts to believe in, are we not going to rigidify and create a prison for ourselves? If we continue to not seek out learning new things, is that not going to create stagnation? If we don’t explore what is meaningful for us, and engage in meaningful activities, is that not going to lead to despair and hopelessness?

So much of what we associate with aging is just the cumulative effects of behaviors we know are detrimental to our health. And when it goes on for years and decades, the effects are going to be quite noticeable. We may take it as aging, but large portions of it are easily explained by the accumulated effects of poor diet, lack of sleep and exercise, not continuing to learn new skills and knowledge, and continuing to believing in thoughts which imprison us.

And some of the things we know helps keep us fluid and life juicy for us…

  • Having a good diet, appropriate for us and our current situation. This also includes being well hydrated.
  • Regular physical activity.
  • Get enough sleep regularly.
  • Learning new skills and knowledge, especially in areas we have not explored earlier. (If we have a desk job, then learn to dance, yoga, go hiking. If we do landscaping, then develop our cognitive skills and learning. If we interact with people a lot, then do meditation or sit quietly and watch the sunrise. If we are quiet, then interact with others more.) Challenging ourselves and learning and doing something new grows new connections in the brain, and we also continue to learn how to learn. This also gives resiliency in many areas of our health.
  • Finding and nurturing rewarding relationships with others.
  • Finding and nurturing meaning and meaningful activities.
  • And, if we are lucky enough to learn forms of inquiry that works for us, then inquire into our beliefs – allowing our mental prison to unravel one thread at a time, and eventually in larger chunks.
  • In short, nurture nurturing relationships in all areas – body, mind, social, ecological – and spiritual as well.

Kids are naturally curious about the world, always learning something new in all areas of their lives – socially, physically and mentally. Instead of seeing this as a product of youth, it can equally well be seen as that which maintains youthfulness – a childlike relationship with the world.

Water

 

Our bodies are about 65 percent water, which – interestingly enough, is about the same percentage as that of water on the Earth’s surface.

We also know that our ancestors came from the sea, and they learned to bring this water with them when they moved up on dry land. This mobile ocean is still a part of each of us today.

Life is flow, and water supports this flow in a very concrete way.

Simple guideline

As usual, the simplest approach is often the best. My guideline is to drink enough to maintain light colored or near-clear urine. This approach automatically takes into account many of the varying needs dependent on temperature, physical activity and so on.

Effects

I notice a significant difference between the days my water intake is lower than this, and the days where my intake is around this level. In general, there seems to be more flow, space and ease when the water intake is higher, and more of a sense of multiple-level congestion if it is not.

I notice more energy at a physical level if I am well hydrated. If I am dehydrated, everything seems to slow down and I notice that my digestive system in particular seems more clogged up.

I also notice a tendency to go on the “inside” of contractions if I am dehydrated. I identify with and get caught up in them more easily. The space to allow them to come and go on their own seems less accessible.

Adaptive water monitoring system

After doing this more conscientiously for a while, I also notice that my internal water monitoring system seems to adapt. Now, there are clear signs whenever I need to drink more water – and if I follow the signs my intake is around the 80-85 ounces recommended (see below).

Five elements view of water needs

In the Five Elements acupuncture world, they recommend drinking a lot of water.

More precisely, they recommend drinking the number of ounces that comes from taking your body weight in pounds and dividing it in half. So, a body weight of 165lb gives 82-83 ounces of water. It is of course only a rough number, and I am sure it changes with persperation, ambient temperature, humidity, activity level, age, gender, health and so on.

Health claims

And as with anything in the health world, there is a range of views and claims about the impact of dehydration and being well hydrated, ranging from the conservative and mainstream, to those used to promote products, to the cure-all and more outrageous claims.

What is certain is that water is essential for our health and that drinking a ample amount of clean water has a wide range of health benefits.

Global issues

With our increasing global population and changing patterns of rainfall (due to climate change, regional deforestation and so on), there is no wonder that access to clean fresh water is seen as a potentially significant contributor to international conflict later in this century…

Energy, Cycles & Sitting Practice

 

In terms of Chinese medicine, my fire element has been shot for a while now. I had several years of a very strong fire energy and strong passions and engagement in the world, and then somewhat of a collapse of this passion and energy.

I guess what goes up must come down, day leads to night, summer to winter, etc. It is just the natural cycles of it, and it hits us especially hard if we are attached to whatever passion and energy is there, as I definitely was.

In my sporadic sitting practice these days, I find it very useful to play energetic music with some drive. Its energy surges through me, and I just sit as the space within which it unfolds. It helps with clarity, presence and stability. Actually quite similar to going to the movies, as mentioned in a post yesterday.

Food & Mind

 

The human system – body, energies, emotions, thoughts – is one seamless fluid whole, as is all of Existence, beyond and including any and all polarities. The question is of course how the connections between the different aspects play themselves out.

For me, there is a very strong connection between food and how I experience myself and the world. Dairy triggers fatigue, sluggishness and dullness. Sugar brings about an energy collapse. And wheat leads to an experience of disassociation, of the world being distanced and of my mind being foggy.

And there are certainly enough data to show that this is true for many of us, both from practitioners and – recently – mainstream research.

We evolved in a situation where we ate with the seasons, and mostly whole and unrefined foods. Now, we tend to eat the same food day in and day out, and much of it is processed and refined.

There is no wonder that the system reacts, and when it changes as a whole it is no wonder that some of the symptoms are in the area of the mind.

It is coming out in the media more, and BBC reported on a typical story today:

Brian Godfrey suffered from chronic depression for about 40 years. […] The 71-year-old then cut out wheat and dairy and within three weeks was feeling better. “It was a miracle. I just woke up one morning and my problems had gone.

And as he points out, it is exactly those foods we really like (as in addicted to), that are those that tends to be connected with food intolerance and these symptoms. If there is something in your diet that you resist leaving out for a few days – especially if it is wheat, sugar, dairy or something refined – it is very likely that there is a food intolerance there. And it may well be related to symptoms you – and your doctor – never thought could be connected with what you eat.

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