Spiritual teachings as medicine

 

Spiritual teachings are medicine.

The general spiritual teachings are aimed at meeting most people where they are, and nudge them in the direction of love and reality.

And specific spiritual teachings are aimed at a particular person, with the intention of correcting hangups and one-sidedness of that person.

If most people were very familiar with Big Mind but not their human self, reverse of how it tends to be today, then the teachings would tend to be reverse as well. Mainstream spiritual teachings would say: “Look, you have this human self, and a world, and it’s important you take care of this human self and your life and your world. It’s not all about basking as Big Mind and Big Heart (and Big Belly). It’s also about how you live it through this human self.” And, of course, some teachings do say that, because some people are at that place. It’s one of the typical phases of a spiritual development or awakening to be temporarily identified more as Big Mind and Big Heart, and less as the human self.

In general, spiritual teachings can be grouped in a few different categories. (a) Living according to certain guidelines (morals), and developing and living from love. (a) Inviting Big Mind/Heart/Belly to recognize itself. (c) Recognize all life as Big Mind/Heart/Belly. And (d) how to live from and as Big Mind/Heart/Belly through this human life in the world. Each of these is a medicine for people at specific phases on the path.

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Medicine, and medicine for the medicine

 

Don’t Take Anything Personally:  Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
– from The Four Agreements

I don’t know much about the Four Agreements, but saw this quote on facebook.

It is medicine for a certain fixed and habitual viewpoint, in this case, of taking whatever happens too personally.

But this view, intended to dislodge a habitual and fixed view, can itself be taken as an exclusive truth. The medicine needs its own medicine.

I find that I can take things too personally in two ways.

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The Sun: Who will heal the healers?

 

The most important therapy I deliver is a human relationship. I’m not doing anything controversial or woo-woo. I never thought of myself as practicing alternative medicine until a colleague pointed out that spending time with patients is now “alternative.” We live in a world with all this electronic communication, but is anyone sitting down for an hour and making eye contact and talking, relating on a spiritual, emotional, and physical level? When patients come into this office, it’s a refuge from the frenetic outside world. They tell me things they might not have told anyone else in their lives — not even their spouse. They open up to me.

From an interview with my medical doctor in The Sun Magazine. Well worth reading.

Note that the full interview is only in the paper version of the magazine.

Reversals

 

All of this may be obvious in general and for the stories we clearly recognize as stories, guides, pointers. Where it gets interesting and juicy is for the stories we still take as true, the ones creating friction and stress, the ones attention naturally is drawn to, the views we identify with, the basic assumptions we haven’t questions and explored yet.

Any story has a number of reversals, and each of these reversals also has validity. We can find specific examples of where each of those reversals are genuinely true for us. This is a reminder that no story has absolute validity, and it is also an invitation to explore ways to hold the limited validity of all reversals of any particular story. And then find the genuine validity in the reversals of those more embracing stories.

Any story also hinges on a number of assumptions, and each of these has valid reversals. The assumptions usually include the basic ones of space, time, objects, beings, a me, doer, observer and that these exists as real, separate, out there etc.

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Adaptogens

 

rhodiola1

Adaptogens are herbs that normalize and strengthen, such as ginseng, eleuthero, rhodiola (my favorite right now), tripala, astragulus root, arjuna and many more.

These are the major herbs in herbal medicine. They are the ones most commonly prescribed and they can, in most cases, be taken throughout life.

The minor herbs, sometimes called “poisons” (!), act in one direction and are prescribed in only certain situations and for shorter periods of time.

This is a rich analogy for spiritual teachings.

First, we can see spiritual teachings and tools as medicines. Each one is a medicine for a specific condition. They have meaning and usefulness in the presence of a specific condition. And there is no “truth” to them, no more (or less) than there is truth in a shovel or lawn mover.

Then, we can look at teachings and tools as either adaptogens or “poisons”.

Some practices are quite adaptogen-like, such as shikantaza, bringing attention to sensations, inquiry and self-inquiry, prayer and so on. And just as an herbalist will most often prescribe an adaptogen to a client, a spiritual teacher (and tradition) will most often prescribe one or more of these practices. They tend to work in a gentle way, normalize, can be used at any phase of the process, and their effects are most noticeable when used regularly over time.

Other teachings and practices are more “poison” like in their effects and work in only one direction. And just as an herbalist will prescribe these herbs in only very specific situations and for shorter periods of time, a good spiritual teacher will use these teachings and tools only sparingly. Some examples here may be teachings aimed at “shocking” or shaking students out of complacency. It may be very helpful and just the right medicine in some situations, but works best if used judiciously.

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Already know

 

One of the many teaching tools is to say that I am reminding you of what you already know.

And as for any teaching, the question is when it may be helpful, and when not.

First, this pointer is obviously a supplement to other pointers. It gives a slight tweak to other pointers, inviting us to notice what is already here and not expect it somewhere else – in the future, in others, in the past, in a different state and so on. What I am looking for is already here, I just need to notice.

In that sense, it can be very helpful in many different situations.

There may be an awakening here, but not quite clear and embodied, and the pointer you already know is an invitation to notice and then trust what is already here. What we are looking for is not in the future, others, in a different state, but right here now. Other pointers give us more specific guidelines for inquiry, and this one is an invitation to sincerely look at – and trust as sufficient – what is here in immediacy.

Also, something may be true for us but we don’t act on it due to a (contrary) belief. In this case, you already know may be just the encouragement we need to trust it a little more and eventually act on it. (True for me right now.)

And if there has not been any awakening yet, you already know is – again – an invitation to look here. To not expect it in the future, in a different state, and so on.

Then, when may it be less helpful?

As with any teaching, it may be less helpful as soon as it is taken as anything else than a question and an invitation to explore for ourselves. For instance, if I take it to mean that my stories about anything at all are true and valid, it is obviously a sidetrack. A very understandable sidetrack but still a sidetrack. It is a distraction from a more sincere and honest inquiry into what is here in immediacy.

So as with any teaching, it all depends on how it is received. And when students are likely to receive it in a helpful way, the statement may be just right. If not, something else may be more helpful. Or this one may still be helpful if presented in the right context.

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Bias against simplicity

 

Dr Olivier Ameisen, 55, one of France’s top heart specialists, says he overcame his own addiction to alcohol by self-administering doses of a muscle-relaxant called baclofen.

He has now written a book about his experience – Le Dernier Verre (The Last Glass) – in which he calls for clinical trials to test his theory that baclofen suppresses the craving for drink. […]

Further investigation uncovered research showing that the drug worked on rats to cut addiction to alcohol or cocaine

But, strangely, Dr Ameisen found that baclofen was unknown to specialists on dependence.

In March 2002 he began treating himself with daily doses of five milligrams.

“The first effects were a magical muscular relaxation and baby-like sleep,” he says. Almost immediately he also detected a lessening in his desire for drink.

Gradually, he increased the daily dosage to a maximum of 270mg, and found that he was “cured”. Today he continues to take 30 to 50mg a day.

“Mine is the first case in which a course of medicine has completely suppressed alcohol addiction,” he says.

“Now I can have a glass and it has no effect. Above all, I no longer have that irrepressible need to drink.” […]

However, many specialists fear that media excitement over Dr Ameisen’s theory is obscuring the complex nature of alcoholism.

“Encouraging people to think that there is a miracle molecule is to completely misunderstand the nature of alcoholism, and is extremely irresponsible, ” says Dr Michel Reynaud of Paul-Brousse hospital in Paris.

Source: BBC.

This story illustrates a bias against simplicity that sometimes occurs, in this case among academics and medical doctors.

All phenomena are of course infinitely complex. We can always explore it further within familiar frameworks, within new or different frameworks, and in terms of how they all may fit together in a larger and more comprehensive picture. And all of that is often quite helpful.

But that doesn’t mean that there can’t be simple solutions. Sometimes, there are simple solutions to complex problems.

In this case, there is a chance that they found a simple solution for alcoholism, at least in some cases. So when there is some receptivity there, we can investigate and see if, when and to what extent it works, and go from there. It may not take care of all of it for everyone, but even if it works for some, it is a great blessing.

And as always, it can be a supplement. Something that works along with other approaches – including helping people meet and come to terms with whatever they try to escape, and find what they seek in alcohol in other ways and areas of life.

This is also the case in psychology and spirituality. It can be of practical use to explore and be familiar with maps and tools. In the best case, they function as temporary pointers for us.

But sometimes, it is tempting to create an identity for ourselves that is based on an intricate knowledge of maps and theories. We use it to form in groups and out groups, and a sense of being right and on the right track. In short, we use it as a buffer against not really knowing.

And we overlook the simple tools. The ones that may not be very flashy, but still quite helpful.

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Teachings as medicine

 

Teachings can be seen as medicine.

We have a fixed position, which creates wounds, immature behavior and a sense of an I-Other. And the teaching is designed to nudge us out of that fixed position, either directly or through offering us a tool which invites the shift when applied.

That is one reason why there are so many – apparently contradictory – teachings. They each are designed to invite us out of a particular fixed position and belief. (There are of course other reasons for teachings, but this is an important one.)

From this, it is easy to see a “good teacher” as someone who is fluid among a wide range of views and positions, and can take any one of them according to what seems most helpful in the situation. And that is certainly true from a conventional viewpoint.

But I also find that teachers who take a somewhat fixed and rigid position can be very helpful. Maybe more helpful, in some ways, because they bring my attention straight to my own hangups.

I may have an expectation of the teacher being fluid, so get to notice and inquire into that belief. I may agree completely with the teacher, which then feels a little stale after a while, so I get to inquire into the stories I agree with. And I may disagree with the teacher, which is stressful, so here too I get to notice and inquire into my fixed positions.

In the first case, the teacher is fluid and models it for me. I get to see my own fixed views in contrast to the fluidity of the teacher, and am inspired and invited to move in the direction of a similar fluidity.

In the second case, the teacher is rigid, which in different ways also brings my attention right to my own fixed positions. And here, I have to do the work myself, which in many ways is more powerful.

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