Our inherent wisdom in scary situations

Adventure cat

When we moved to our tiny house about a month ago, our cat Merlina came with us. Our backyard is 15 hectares of semi-wilderness.

She has been in the countryside before and is always careful at first, but is more careful this time. Likely because there are smells and sounds of many wild animals here. These include Jaguarundis – cats related to cougars and cheetahs, porcupines, marsupials, and other species unfamiliar to her.

It makes sense to be cautious until she is more familiar with this place and its animals.

She spends a lot of time in the house sleeping, and also listening to and smelling what’s outside. When she goes out, she stays close to the house and expands out slowly in small widening circles. She also likes to go out with us since that makes her feel safer, and I like going out with her.

This is all very wise, and it’s a reminder of the wisdom we all have in us.

When in a new place, get to know the place. Take time. Don’t push yourself.

And when you go into scary places, or fear is triggered in you, take it easy. Here also, don’t push yourself. Go into it gently and for only short periods so it’s not overwhelming.

We humans, with our more complex mental constructions and tendency to make identities out of them, often do it differently. We may push aside the fear and pretend it’s not here. We may push ourselves into fear and feel overwhelmed and maybe even traumatized. Or we may get stuck in the safe zone without exploring and opening our world.

Animals remind us of our inherent wisdom, the wisdom that’s here when we are less distracted by our mental constructions.

This is very important in trauma work. If you are going to explore traumas, it makes sense to work with someone you trust, and someone who won’t push you. It makes sense to go slowly and gradually. It makes sense to go into it for short periods of time (seconds, minutes) and then retreat so you don’t get overwhelmed. It makes sense to work primarily with the body and not go into the stories around it so much. (At least, at first.)

Ordinary wisdom

One of the things we tend to notice when we do inquiry – for instance The Work of Byron Katie – is that everyone has a lot of wisdom. It’s not reserved for a privileged few. It’s something we all have in us and can tap into and apply in our everyday life.

These pandemic days reminds me of this. I see a lot of amazing, kind, real, wisdom from very ordinary people. In challenging times, we can go into reactivity to fear, or we can tap into the wisdom that’s already here in all of us.

Reality, love, wisdom

I notice that what’s here – this physical pain, this emotion, this fatigue, this resistance, this fearful image – is already allowed. By intentionally welcome it, I join with what’s already here. I intentionally join with reality.

You are welcome here.

I notice that what’s here – the pain, the emotion, the resistance, the fatigue, the fearful image – is here to protect me.

Thank you for protecting me.

I see it’s devoted to me. It comes from love.

Thank you for your devotion to me. Thank you for your love.

In this, there is a noticing of what’s already here. There is wisdom in recognizing the nature of illusion, at least to some extent. And there is love. It loves me, I find love for it.

It’s all very quiet. A very quiet noticing. A wordless inquiry. A silent draw to and interest in what’s real.

The practical intelligence of beliefs

As I find a welcome for images and thoughts taken as true, and the emotions triggered by them, I am reminded of the practical wisdom often found in these beliefs.

They are there to support me, help me, take care of me. They are worried love.

And there is often a practical guidance and wisdom in them.

For instance….

I notice some fear or unease before giving a class, and this fear and unease encourages me to prepare well, to know what I am doing, to be conscious of what I am doing. There is practical wisdom here.

I experience sadness and grief from memories of a lost opportunity. As I stay with these emotions – allow them, welcome them, notice they come from a wish for a good life for myself, notice they are worried love – I notice a sobering shift. These emotions and the images behind them inform me. As I am receptive to them, they work on me, realign something in me. I see I don’t want to do that again. I see I wish to act differently, in similar situations now and in the future. I see I wish to act from more kindness and intelligence.

These emotions come from unquestioned images and beliefs, and it’s also worth taking a closer look at these and find what’s more true for me.

It’s not either/or. It’s not either the practical intelligence within beliefs, or the clarity of inquiry.

I can (a) benefit from the practical intelligence in beliefs, there to protect me and take care of me in a conventional sense.

And I can (b) benefit from the clarity, kindness and intelligence revealed when I inquire into and take a closer look at these images and thoughts taken as true.

This also reminds me that inquiry is not about refuting or dismissing images and thoughts. For me, it’s much more about finding appreciation for them. What’s the practical intelligence behind this image, this thought? How can it guide me? What’s the gift in it for me? What’s its guidance for me, in how I live my life? And…. what do I find when I take a closer look? What’s more true for me? What’s revealed when I inquire into these images and thoughts?

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Again, maybe quite basic, but what my interest is drawn to….

Intelligence is always here. Wordless. Awake. Responsive. 

When it functions within the context of stories taken as true, it is limited by these stories. It is bound by stories taken as true. 

And when there is a recognition of the nature of stories – that they are mental field overlays, none of them having any real truth to them, the grain of truth in any story and its reversals, stories having practical and temporary value only – then intelligence is free to use these stories as tools. It is free to hold them lightly, as tools and guidelines for actions depending on what seems most helpful in any particular situation. With receptivity. Within the context of don’t know. Curiosity. 

The same intelligence is there. In one case, it is hemmed in by stories taken as true, and acted upon as if they are true. In the other case, it is free to use and recognize stories as tools.

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Wisdom and beliefs

Same topic, a slightly different angle…

I notice how wisdom is available to the extent I am not caught up in beliefs.

When I am caught up in beliefs, there is a limit on where wisdom can go. If wisdom tells me something that doesn’t fit the belief, it is not noticed, not acted on, or acted on in a more compulsive way.

When I am less caught up in beliefs, wisdom is more free to go where it needs to. (This wisdom draws on whatever is available: experience, intuition, kindness, stories, and it then uses stories to guide action in the world, recognizing them as tools only.)

It is very simple. Yet a lot of work can go into finding more clarity around specific stories, noticing – and taking the consequences of in my daily life – what is more true for me than my initial beliefs.

And as Byron Katie says, we are enlightened to a thought, or not. And we never know in advance.

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When I take stories as true, there is a sense of struggle. Of something being off. Of working against situations, at least slightly.

And what this sense of struggle comes from has several aspects…

There is a clash between my stories of what is and what should be.

There is a clash between what I (try to) take as true, and what I – somewhere – know is more true. (Grain of truth in the reversals, no story is really true, and cannot know.)

And there is a clash between what I take as true, and the layer of wisdom and intelligence.

When it can function more freely, this layer of wisdom and intelligence uses stories as tools, draws on whatever is available (stories, experience, insight, kindness, intuition), and offer direction and a course of action. But I may be so caught up in beliefs in general that attention is not available to this layer. Or I may be caught up in particular beliefs and fears that prevent me from noticing or acting on the directions from this layer of wisdom.

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Stories, clarity and Ground

Three layers…

First, the layer of stories, of whatever happens in the mental field helping us orient and function in the world.

The, a layer of inherent wisdom and intelligence, which uses experience, stories, intuition, kindness and so on in finding ways to act in the world.

And finally, Ground, the groundless Ground it is all happening as.

Whatever happens in the layer of stories can be taken as true or not. When it is taken as true, it tends to obscure take attention away from the layer of wisdom. We act on beliefs and fears, rather than the guidance from the layer of wisdom. And when stories are taken as tools only, there is clarity for the layer of wisdom to take over and use whatever it has available to it to set a course of action.

In the first case, there is often a sense of something being off, struggle and working – at least slightly – against situations. In the second case, there is often a sense of clarity, guidance and navigating and working with situations.

As with so much else, this can sound quite abstract and theoretical, a nice thought. But it can also be very much alive.

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Enlightenment is retroactive, and so is innocence, kindness, wisdom, and lack of suffering

Another way to talk about always & everywhere is to say that enlightenment is retroactive. (From Joel at CSS.)

When we find that we are capacity for whatever is happening, as they say in the headless world, we also find that it is always like that. There has never been a time it wasn’t like that already, it is just that we didn’t notice. We took ourselves to be a portion of what we are capacity for. (This human self, a doer, observer, etc.) So in that sense, enlightenment is retroactive. It is all already Buddha Mind, the Divine Mind, the play of God.

But there are also other aspects to it.

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There are many ways to define or talk about wisdom, each one revealing our own personal bias on what is important in our human life.

One way to define it is that wisdom happens when head (view, insight), belly (felt-sensed nurturing fullness), heart (love), and action (skillful means) come together.

Or said another way, it happens when there is receptivity and engagement at each center.

At the head center, there is receptivity to the truth in the reversals of any view and perspective, there is engagement in actively exploring these, and the freedom to use any one of these more actively in a situation.

At the belly center, there is a receptivity which allows for a sense of nurturing fullness. The emotional level goes from reactivity to a stable sense of nurturing fullness, and of trust.

At the heart center, there is receptivity to all of existence, however it shows up. Our heart stays open, or at least can be invited to open.

And our actions reflect skillful means, from experience and brought forth by the receptivity at the three centers, engagement in situations, and the freedom to stay engaged without getting blindly caught up in whatever happens.

Of course, this all gets hopelessly abstract to the point of being pretty useless. But there is a real experience behind all of it, and each of these points can be explored in more detail so they come more alive for us. We can find it in our own life, even if it is only a tendency and not caricatured and full-blown as described here.

When I look at my view, I can find many times there were rigidity there, and with a rigidity of view – attaching to one particular view as true and denying the truth in its reversals – there is not much wisdom. If my view is more fluid, and I actively explore the grain of truth in each reversal, there is sometimes a sense of wisdom, especially if the heart is included, and even more so if there is a sense of nurturing fullness, and it all is reflected in actions.

Looking at my heart, again I see that when my heart is closed, there is not much wisdom available to me. I act from habits at best, and more likely also from reactivity. But if my heart is open to life – to myself and others involved – there is sometimes a sense of wisdom there, especially if the view is included, and even more so if the nurturing fullness and actions are there as well.

In terms of the emotions, I find that when there is reactivity there, there is most often reactivity in view as well, and my heart is closed off. None of those allows much wisdom to be present. But if there is a stable nurturing fullness there, this fullness and the sense of trust that comes with it allows for receptivity at the other centers. My view can be more fluid, my heart more open, my actions more receptive to and engaged with the situation.

The same with my actions as these reflect what is going on at the three centers. If my view is receptive and fluid, my heart open, my emotions nurturing, and this comes out through actions informed by experience and whatever skillful means available to me, there may be some wisdom reflected there as well.

Of course, wisdom is relative to where we are at in terms of insight, receptivity of heart, nurturing fullness, and experience. It reflects how healed, mature, and developed this human self is. Sometimes, we act from less wisdom than what is available to us, and other times – when these centers are more receptive and engaged – we can act more from whatever wisdom is available to us, wherever we are in terms of healing, maturing and development.

We can always go further. Whatever we do, there is always room for improvement. And I guess that is another aspect of wisdom: acknowledging that we are acting from a limited insight and set of experiences, and looking out for feedback to learn from. Here too, in terms of learning from our actions, there is receptivity, engagement and freedom of the three centers.

The gifts of shared inquiry

There are some great gifts in public, or shared, inquiry, as is often done with The Work and the Big Mind process.

We learn about the process itself from watching, and then doing it on our own.

We get to see that whatever comes up in someone else is also right here in me. I can find what comes up over there also right here. It is a perfect mirror.

And we see, over and over, the pure gold available to any and all of us… the profound wisdom available in each of us, surfacing when attention is skilfully brought to it through simple questions.

Through The Work and the Big Mind process, I have seen people with little or no background in any spiritual practice find a clarity and wisdom in themselves, expressed clearly and simply, that matches that of any master psychologist or spiritual teacher. It is available right here, in any of us.

As Byron Katie says, there is no more or less wisdom in any of us.

It may not be noticed right away, but simple questions invites it to surface.

Byron Katie working with a group in prison… more at YouTube

Genpo Roshi facilitating One-Heart-Mind & Integrated Free Functioning Self… more at YouTube