A few weeks ago, I was out walking the dog along the waterfront, where a new pier is being constructed for a residential high-rise. It’s been a little noisy in the neighborhood for the last few months, but nothing really disturbing; just a constant sort of background hum.
This particular day however, as we got closer to the site, I could really hear it. I mean really. You want to know how loud it was? It was louder than the loudest setting on my phone’s music app! I know, right? Immediately, the yenta complainer voice that lives in my head chimed in: “Ugh. It’s so loud. I wish it would stop. Why does this need to be happening now? Why can’t I just go for a quiet peaceful walk on a beautiful warm day without something like this ruining it? Why does this always happen to me?” She’s a real gem…
One of my favorite teachings on handling negative emotions comes from Pema Chodron’s book, Getting Unstuck: Breaking Your Habitual Patterns and Encountering Naked Reality. Pema (I’ve spent so much time with her teachings, that we’re on a first name basis) describes an experience, on a particular retreat, of unabating anxiety every time she sat down to meditate. Struggling with it for days, unable to find its source, or make it subside, she visited her teacher looking for guidance. After listening to her describe the experience, Dzigar Kontrul Rinpoche said “Oh, that’s the Daikini’s Bliss! That’s a high level of spiritual bliss.” Hearing this, Pema became excited about her next meditation practice. After Rinpoche left, she sat down on her cushion, ready to experience it again, however the feelings were gone.
“When he said that, that was melting it, or space coming into it, or warmth coming into it. You change the way you look at it.”
I came across this article, by John Horgan, questioning the benefits of the new meditation craze. I thought he made some interesting observations, and on some level I agree with him. I sent him the following email; probably worthwhile to share here as well.
I think that one of the issues with meditation is that proper instructions are not included. Sitting still and trying to “not think” is not what it’s about. You are correct that meditation, in and of itself, does very little. Just having a meditation practice doesn’t make you happier, or more peaceful, or nicer. It’s what one does during meditation that leads to awakening (or doesn’t, as the case may be for most people). What’s missing in most traditions (as they are presented in the mainstream), is the method of self-inquiry. (It’s what you’re actually supposed to “do” during meditation).
When I put aside my prejudices and looked at my deepest motivations and fears, I was surprised to be confronted by a rather sorry-looking individual, covered with bandages, limping along on a crutch, incapable of hurting anyone.
I immediately recognized him. It was me. It was my wounded self, a symbolic representation of all those doubts and fears about myself that I had so carefully hidden from public view for so many years. And when I looked a little closer at this injured being, my heart was deeply touched. I wanted to reach out and help him to heal, because I could see, beneath the bandages, that he was only a small boy, a helpless, wounded child.
Throughout the last few months of my work with Gaya, we’ve been talking a lot about the people in my life, and how I’m relating to them. Gaya keeps repeating to me that there’s no one “out there;” everyone is really just a mirror reflecting back at me.
At first this was difficult to grasp. Surely, the people in my life are real humans – I can touch them, see them, hear them (even smell them sometimes). I accepted what she was telling me, but it didn’t really sink in until much later. What she meant is that who they are to us, how we see them, how they make us feel, is nothing more than a reflection of how we see ourselves.
Conceptually, what we choose to see in others, the way we see them, and the judgments we have about them, are nothing more than judgments we hold about ourselves, and how we think we ought to be or not be. In clinical terms, this is called projection. In other spiritual traditions, this is called shadow work.