The role of playfulness in healing and awakening

There are some general orientations that seem helpful in healing and awakening.

The most obvious ones may be receptivity, curiosity, sincerity, dedication, and even fascination and passion.

To me, it seems that many traditions overlook one of the most helpful orientations, and that’s playfulness.

We all have these sides to us, and we can encourage and bring them out to some extent if they are not already here.

PLAYFULNESS

How does playfulness look in the context of healing and awakening? What are the characteristics of playfulness?

For me, it means to bring some lightness and joy into the process. Have the freedom to explore and investigate outside of the well-trodden paths. And find a way to explore healing and awakening in a way that’s alive and juicy for us.

Why is this often left out? Perhaps because many traditions like to present healing and awakening as a serious business? Perhaps because it’s not so easy to control playfulness? Perhaps it would threaten the frames of the tradition? Perhaps they are concerned people would use it as an excuse to indulge in their hangups? All of that could happen.

Do any traditions include or emphasize playfulness? Yes. Two modern examples are Process Work (for healing) and Headless experiments (for awakening and embodiment). Both of these invite a lighter and more playful and experimental approach.

Without knowing for certain, I also suspect that many of the old Taoists and Zen masters had a more playful orientation.

THE PLAYFULNESS INHERENT IN EXISTENCE

There is a bigger picture here, and that’s what we can see as the playfulness inherent in life and the divine.

Existence – the universe, life, the divine – is expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways, as all there is including us and our lives and experiences. To us, what’s here is fleeting and immediately gone. And something new and different is here. Existence seems wildly experimental. Wildly unattached to its creations.

Existence seems, in a sense, wildly and inherently playful.

We have that playfulness in us. We are that playfulness.

So why not bring it into our healing and awakening process and experimentations?

BALANCING OUR ORIENTATIONS

We can take a playful orientation in a slightly misguided way. We can use it to never be serious about anything. Not go deep. Not be dedicated. Indulge in our hangups.

How do we prevent some of the potential pitfalls of playfulness?

The answer may be in the balance of all our different orientations.

Sincerely, honesty, receptivity, dedication, and fascination all help guide and ground playfulness.

Photo: I took this one midsummer night at Nesoddtangen, Norway.

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Tuning the string of allowing and inviting in shifts

A traditional meditation instruction in Buddhism is to tune our attention as we would tune a string on a music instrument.

If it’s too lose, our attention wander, and if it’s too tight, we effort too much and the efforting itself becomes distracting.

This general instrument-string pointer applies to a lot of different practices.

I notice it these days in the dynamic between allowing contractions to be as it is, and inviting it to realign with reality.

I can rest in the allowing, and that in itself is healing in many ways. It helps me heal my relationship with the contraction and see it’s OK for it to be here, and it does help the contraction relax. And yet, if that’s all I do, not much more may change.

I can invite the contraction to align with reality (oneness, stillness and silence, love), and if that’s all I do, it can become a bit heavy handed. It can become, or come from, another contraction, which reinforces the whole contraction dynamic.

So it’s helpful to tune this string too, not too lose (onesided allowing) and not too tight (onesided encouragement to change).

When there is more clarity, both are here. I notice the contraction is already allowed, and consciously align with that allowing.

At the same time, I notice the distortions and confusion within the contraction, and in how I may have habitually related to it, I notice what’s more real and true, and I invite the contraction to align with reality, and also intend for it to align with reality.

In practice, I emphasize one more than the other, while both are here.

And in reality, all of this is a bit more messy and approximate, and an exploration, experiment, and learning.

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A childlike orientation

Whenever we set out to do something in life, it’s supported by having certain orientations. And what those are depends, to some extent, on what we set out to do. 

So which orientations are helpful in spirituality? Which orientations seem especially helpful when we set out to explore our relationship with life – and perhaps what we are to ourselves, how to live from this noticing, and how we relate to life and our experiences? 

For me, the central one is a more childlike orientation.

THE ORIENTATION OF A CHILD

How does a healthy child relate to the world?

A child is often curious, receptive, free of preconceptions, honest, sincere. There is a natural humility, and a natural willingness to test out what others share.

A child is often absorbed in what they are doing, and diligent in exploring. They can do the same for hours.

They are here and now. There is no idea of not doing something because we did it in the past, or putting off something because we can do it in the future.

Children often have a natural reverence and awe for life. All is new.

WHEN WE FIND THAT CHILDLIKE ORIENTATION

How does this translate to us?

We are that child. We never left childhood, even if we are also adults. We still have it in us.

We can find that curiosity. Receptivity.

A certain innocence that sets aside, at least for a while, what thoughts and memories tell us about what we are.

Honesty about what we find, how we are, and so on.

Some diligence in exploring all of this. An ability to keep exploring, and with this, some patience.

The kind of urgency that comes from noticing, and taking in, that all I have is what’s here now. I cannot find past or future outside of my ideas about past and future.

Humility because we know we don’t know. A willingness to test out what others share with us, and especially those more familiar with something than we are.

Some reverence for life and the whole process. And awe since all is new.

HOW TO FIND THIS CHILDLIKE ORIENTATION

There are two general ways to find this childlike orientation.

We can find it in ourselves here and now since it never went away. It may have been covered up by us trying to be good adults. And it’s still here.

The other is to examine what prevents us from finding or living from it.

What in me covers it up? In most cases, what covers it up is a kind of coping mechanism we used to deal with fear. We adopted beliefs and identifications in order to feel more safe. We abandoned parts of ourselves because they seemed scary or didn’t fit who we thought we needed to be to be safe and loved.

How can we find healing for this?

These parts of us are, in some ways, like scared and confused children. So the answer is to meet these parts of us as we would scared and hurting children.

We can meet them with respect, kindness, patience, and curiosity. We can get to know them. Listen to what they have to say. Help them examine their scary stories and find what’s already more true. Be a safe habor for them. Remember they have their own process and timing.

Find love for them and their process, and for ourselves being a parent to them.

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Trancendence vs reorientation

The word awakening is used in different ways. 

Sometimes, it refers to a temporary release of identification as a whole. This is also called transcendence since our center of gravity temporarily shifts from human to Big Mind.

Sometimes, it refers to a stable release of identification as a whole. A more stable resting in and as Big Mind, and a fluid shifting between Big Mind and human perspectives. 

And there are a couple of more wrinkles to this.

Our conscious center of gravity can be as Big Mind, but some of our human parts are not quite on board with this yet. They are still stuck in separation consciousness. (They were formed within separation consciousness so they are aligned with this experience of the world.) These parts may be transcended most of the time (inactive, dormant), and sometimes they are activated and take over so our center of gravity shifts back into separation consciousness. It may also be that we mostly operate from Big Mind but in areas of our life operate from some of these parts and their separation consciousness. 

Another way of talking about this is what Byron Katie says. We are awake to a thought or not. We can be awake to the thought that’s here, or not. If we are, we recognize it as a thought and are free to act in a more kind and wise way. If we are not, we are caught in the belief that the thought it true so we perceive and act as if it is.

Almost all of us are enlightened to some thoughts and not others, we are only aware of a fraction of the thoughts we are not awake to, and some of these are more or less permanently activated and partly run our lives. (Similar to Freud’s unconscious.) 

We can also talk about this in terms of wounds or trauma. The parts of us aligned with separation consciousness are, in a sense, wounded or traumatized. So we can invite in healing for these, one at a time, as they surface in daily life and we get to know them. 

And another aspect of this is how we relate to these parts of ourselves. To the extent we see them as a problem (or bad, embarrassing, wrong, not fitting our image), we’ll tend to get caught in identification as soon as they are activated. We’ll get caught in the view of these parts, or in the parts reacting to them.

To the extent we have befriended them and recognize them as innocent (and even beautiful, humanizing, and an invitation for continued healing, maturing, and clarification), we tend be less caught in identification when they are activated. 

This means that our awakening continues to stabilize, clarify, and deepen as more and more parts of us are aligned with Big Mind. It means that our healing and maturing as human beings is ongoing.

And it means that the mix that’s what (Big Mind/Heart) and who (our human self) we are as a whole is not only an ongoing and continues process of exploration, clarification, healing, and maturing. But also of failing and messing things up in a very human way and sometimes even learning from it. There is no end point. In a sense, the exploration itself is the point. 

A couple of quick notes: In this context, there isn’t any failure since it’s all part of the overall process. I am just using the word in an everyday conventional way. 

I also wanted to say a few words about these parts of us operating from separation consciousness. They are formed at a time when we operated from separation consciousness, typically in our childhood. They reflect this idea that we are (only) a separate being and view and act as if that’s the case. And they are formed from, and form, a wound or trauma, even if this wound or trauma is very gentle. These parts of us can also be called beliefs (in the The Work sense) or identification (with and as the viewpoint of a thought). 

All inclusive practices

I tend to be drawn to all-inclusive practices. For instance, ho’oponopono or tonglen where we open the heart to everyone and everything, gratitude practices where nothing is left out, or inquiry where we “leave no stone unturned”.

It makes sense for two reasons. First, all is Spirit. And second, it allows for a more thorough healing, awakening, and embodiment.

Of course, it’s more an orientation than something we can completely do. But it does seem to be a helpful orientation and guideline.

Kindness is not dependent on a feeling or state

Kindness is not dependent on a feeling or state.

I can act from kindness, even if I feel angry, sad, frustrated, or just about anything else.

Kindness is more of an orientation, an habit, or a practice.

It’s also something that comes from recognition. Recognizing in myself what I see in others. Recognizing that we are all in the same boat. Recognizing that I am responsible for how I relate to what comes up in me. Perhaps recognizing that we are all local expressions of (the one) life, universe, existence. Even recognizing that we – and everything – are happening within and as awareness. And all of that may be deepened through practice and habit.

Love is another name for kindness.

I often prefer thinking of it as kindness. It seems a little more approachable, especially on days like today when my feelings go more in the direction of frustration, anger, and sadness. Even on these days, I can be kind towards myself. (Gentle, eat well, meet what’s here – the emotions and reactions towards it – with kindness.) I can be kind towards the person working at the coffee shop, and others I relate to through the day.

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Innocence

There are many orientations that are very helpful on the path… As they say in Tibetan Buddhism, they are the path and the fruition of the path. They are helpful on the path when we shift into them, and they are what naturally is there within an awakening. 

One of these is innocence. An innocence in the don’t know way. 

Receptivity. Curiosity. Recognizing thought as innocent questions only. 

And this coexists easily with experience, knowledge and anything else that helps our human self function in the world. Within a context of don’t know

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