Negotiations in Duality
I am currently in Henderson, NV at the home of my 79 y.o. Mother. She’s been in the Las Vegas area for about 14 years now – having moved-here with my late Stepfather from Manchester, NH. Like so many others, escaping the New England Winters became an understandable priority in their life. Nevada and the desert are an interesting and compelling juxtaposition with that of my life back East in NYC and I too feel that one day, the warmer environs and less populated areas will sing their irresistible siren song for me as well. I'm not quite there yet...
I never really called any one place ‘home’ – aside from where I happen to hang my proverbial hat at the moment. It’s a result of my original family having constantly moved-around when I was a child, my Father attempting to climb the corporate ladder by way of (lateral) transfers and relocations. As an ‘old school’ salesman / sales engineer for General Electric, there was always the ‘the territory is always greener’ somewhere else analogy. And the fact that his authority issues had us moving every couple of years is an interesting parallel to my own ‘professional’ life – and a story for another time. There was no real opportunity for ‘roots’ to take hold due to the fact that we never spent a great deal of time in any one place or with extended family – therefore close connections were not formed (for me at least – I’m the youngest). The concept of ‘home’ and ‘a place where we belong’ (queue the Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush) has always eluded me. My imagination has always been my true ‘home’ and I think this has been and will always be the case. My sense of ‘home’ has become over the years, an elusive feeling of peace and of belonging to a small circle of enriching and supportive relationships - a ‘community’ of like Souls - people close to me that understand as Ram Dass once said, “We’re all just walking each other home.”
Ceremony (prayer ritual) has become my home. It is my place of peace and belonging. It is my sanctuary. And interestingly enough, my ceremonial mesa or alter fits within a small backpack so that I can take it out into the forest, into the desert, into the mountains, or anywhere I feel appropriate or called-to. It too moves around (and changes) constantly as the opportunities for ceremony are sometimes spontaneous in nature and at other times planned-out as with the cycles of the Moon. It’s portable for that very reason. Like me, my mesa doesn’t have a permanent ‘home’ and I find it ironically comforting as it reflects the inherent nature of its keeper and custodian.
The Medicine Path or Healing Path is something I write and talk about quite a bit. (sidenote: don't confuse this with the Shamanic Path. They are very different and I am NOT a shaman.). This is not to be confused with my having any sort of mastery or expertise in it - far from it. I write about it as a means of my better understanding it myself. It really is an exercise of my ‘processing’ things in a way that works for me. Writing allows me to apply a different type of analysis – a kind of kinaesthetic, body-centered analysis (the physical act of typing / writing in combination of remembering) – accessing ‘muscle memory’ in a way. I’m the kind of person that is much better at writing than I am at speaking – the process allows me the time necessary to get my thoughts in order – not to mention the luxury of editorial license. If I was simply speaking in a stream-of-consciousness fashion, I would be stuttering, stammering, and otherwise tripping all over my words. My mouth simply can’t keep up with my mind. So writing is part of my sadhana or spiritual practice. It brings clarity to my thoughts, feelings, and amorphous impressions – and allows me to share just a bit of Great Mystery with others in a semi-coherent fashion.
I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think. ~ Socrates
One of my pitfalls on the Medicine Path, particularly since I've included working with La Madre Ayahuasca these last several years, is that I've become much more ‘sensitive’ to the energies of other people and my own emotions / energies. The emotional and etheric energies – either my own or of others - of conflict, fear, insecurities, judgements (projections), disdain, hatred, cruelty, sorrow, loss, love, longing, pain, violence, beauty, joy, etc. all assault me at levels and with intensities that I've never experienced before working with The Medicine. This realization didn't just happen – it took time to unfold for me. And the realization took work. What some may call empathetic sensitivity can quite easily be experienced or interpreted as extreme anxiety – at times bordering-on near-insanity. Caveat emptor.
My brilliant, inspiring, and loving teacher / therapist, Richard Bachrach (BearPawCounsel.com) conveyed to me the concept of an ‘emotional firewall’ and I feel this is an important teaching for those of us that live with the ‘rawness’ of feelings/energies and the attendant symptoms of depression and insanity (I’m using these terms loosely – my apologies if I offend any that have experience with pathological depression or insanity). An emotional firewall is a concept that I can use to manage the intensity or extremes of life’s anxiety-producing dramas and my own existential fears – and everything in-between. It is a fluid, moveable barrier of sorts. I can leverage the firewall much like the security apparatus (hardware and software) of a computer network. For me, if I maintain my sadhana and healthy, compassionate choices, I can invoke the firewall almost at will. At other times – more challenging times (like with The Medicine) – I am able to invoke the firewall – as an example in extreme cases – by calling-upon a Higher Power (Ishvara Pranidhana). I’ve talked about this before as well (“Hanuman Comes Through!”). What I have found is that the invocation is most effective by my directing my thoughts (and energy) towards an opposing or negating (balancing) force or vibration – usually thoughts / impressions / feelings of Love, joy, and beauty (Plato’s “the true, the good, and the beautiful”). Please don’t confuse this with ‘the power of positive thinking’ (*cough*) – that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about are ‘negotiations in duality’ – whereby I am presented with an energy or an impression and I have to ‘counteract’ this energy or impression with its opposite – to bring balance into my body/mind. It’s sort of a Yin/Yang negotiation - a ‘surfing’ of energy where I find that ‘sweet spot’ or point of balance/equanimity. What happens in The Medicine Space has its relative (metaphor) equivalent in real life – so the ‘management techniques’ are similar. If I’m in a bad spot, I can invoke the antithesis of the bad spot with its opposite (usually joy, reverence, love, beauty, etc.) and it brings me into equanimity (relief). These negotiations in duality also reveal a hard truth for me: joy takes work. Joy is something that’s very hard for me to invoke, experience, and hold - and given the current state of the world, I think this is difficult for most people. Ram Dass’ 1996 teaching on working with multiple planes of consciousness and paradoxes (negotiations in duality) is very helpful in this regard and is well worth your time. I’ve probably listened to this talk 20+ times: http://www.zencast.org/webpage/category/Ram%20Dass
Another concept that I’ve grown to realize and have studied is one of the ‘darker aspects’ of the Medicine Path; working with and understanding the power of doubts and delusions. We are human beings and as such are inherently, beautifully flawed. This ‘flaw’ is that we are inescapably subject to duality and our karmas - by simply being manifest in form. This is the part that all the great masters, of all the traditions, say: that we must accept, love, understand, and work-with in this life the ego or the small self (as opposed to the undying, infinite Self – the non-dual One). Working with The Medicine – working with any Medicine – is a very tricky thing. A great friend, ally, and teacher (Abdi Assadi) of mine compares it to performing varying levels or degrees of ‘psychic surgery’ and with that come varying levels or degrees of risk. And one of the risks he describes is that of confusing the ‘Absolute’ with ‘phenomena’ – or confusing what is the “true, the good, and the beautiful” (Plato) with that which can be the makings of our own, often confused and sometimes delusional mind.
It is important to hold the integrity of the Medicine Space as a place/space that is a Holy Temple (e.g. protection, intention, concentration, humility, and reverence/respect) – and that all which happens in this space is sacred. But once you’re back in the ‘world’ (ordinary reality) you have to be careful that what happened in sacred space doesn’t influence your mind/ego in ways that aren’t healthy. This is where your teachers / therapists / allies / guides come-in. You have to have others – esteemed elders preferably – to help ground you. And sometimes to give you a good slap upside the head! I have to ‘check’ the ceremony and Medicine-induced ideas that I have great powers, that I’m special, that I’m ‘the chosen one,’ that the world is a construct that is completely of my own mind and making (e.g. solipsism), etc. We are incarnated into duality and as such MUST work within the limits and characteristics of duality – to glean the lessons that can only come from being ‘separate.’ This is a tricky business. During my last ceremony with La Madre Ayahuasca, I had the most powerful experience that I was actually ‘giving birth’ to a new consciousness for the entire planet – that I was locked in a monumental struggle to bring this into being, into manifestation by way of a purge (la purga). In the midst of this supreme struggle (I wasn’t able to purge BTW), there appeared to be a collection of people / beings (a ‘peanut gallery’ of sorts and perhaps a collection of brujos / sorcerers?) that were ‘cheering me on’ in a way – and were ‘mocking’ me for my lack of ability to simply ‘let go’ or let ‘It’ happen (whatever ‘It’ was/is…). Now this happened within the Medicine Space, but the memories of it have stuck with me for processing ever since. I could interpret what happened quite literally and think/feel that I have the power to change the entire world – the level of consciousness of the entire planet (delusion), or I can choose to analyze / feel-into / meditate-on what happened and realize that my ‘fight’ was about my inability to ‘surrender’ to the emergence of a new me – a new, healthier version of me - a new, higher-level of consciousness within me. And that perhaps the 'peanut gallery' was simply the different voices inside my head? The Medicine Path is replete with metaphors and symbolism. And it also challenges all notions/concepts of duality and non-duality. Again, caveat emptor.
And while ‘delusions’ may seem to be rather simple to mitigate by a fairly healthy and balanced person, the working with doubts is a whole other ballgame. Imagine how difficult it is to ‘wake-up’ from the ‘dream’ that is your ordinary life – and realize that it’s just a dream! This has earth-shattering (ego-shattering) ramifications! I have experienced this as I’m sure many others have – and it’s extremely difficult to ‘process’ - that all the things into which we invest such importance are as illusory as a ‘dream.’ And the emotional/psychic ‘fall-out’ from this lesson can have a devastating effect if not properly contextualized. All is important, all is not important. The ultimate paradox. As the late, great Bill Hicks said, "It's just a ride." The duality/non-duality lesson seems to be paramount. What is ‘Absolute’ and what is ‘phenomena’ – and can you hold the realization and the lessons of both with a high degree of discernment and skill? I am beset and hounded by doubts. A great teacher, Joseph Goldstein, has a balanced and appreciative perspective on doubt;
If we use faith to push doubt aside, we construct a defensive wall to keep out any unsettling questions, to keep from having to acknowledge our own fears and uncertainties. The inclusiveness of faith lets us be with whatever arises, investigating the very nature of doubt itself and whatever other difficulties arise. By embracing doubt skillfully we strengthen faith.
He also goes on to say the doubt can also be a seductive force of the intellect:
Doubt is very seductive because it comes masquerading as wisdom. We hear these wise-sounding voices in our minds trying to figure out the dilemmas, difficulties, and paradoxes of our experience through thinking about them. But thinking can take us only so far. It's like trying to know the experience of music by reading a book about it or the taste of a good meal by looking at the menu. We need some other way to understand the nature of doubt, so we can address its concerns appropriately.
So to me, doubt is the really difficult lesson to learn and properly integrate – as it is a veritable mind (intellect) game. And the Medicine Space is a place where doubt is indeed 'front-and-center.' It seems I have to suspend doubt to a great degree and hold-fast to faith – and have the courage to experience and explore the very nature of the doubts as they arise. Caveat emptor.
I’ve talked about my ‘hard-headedness’ before and that I fight tooth-and-nail against having my mind (ego) completely obliterated while working with The Medicine. It’s my natural, inherent tendency. It’s the primal fear of death. I can quite easily conceptualize and accept the thought of dying and have ‘studied’ it for some time now – but when the chips are down and I’m in the grip of The Medicine / La Madre, I tend to gravitate towards great doubt, fear, and terror – and then the epic struggle / fight ensues. It is terrifying and exhausting. This does not mean that I don’t experience great benefit, or that I don’t receive great lessons – quite the contrary. The Medicine Path is also The Warrior’s Path – and DO NOT FORGET THIS. It takes great courage and great strength - so we must constantly petition for great courage and great strength - exactly as our ancestors did. My struggles with The Medicine / La Madre are simply reflective of who I am and my level of evolution. I approach this work with GREAT humility, reverence, and respect – and I believe/feel that I am rewarded for my devotion. All of this is Medicine. All of this is Sadhana. I have been blessed as I’ve never thought possible – to have the meaning of my existence made so perfectly plain and clear as flawless crystal: “I serve.” Jai Hanuman!
So, The Medicine will challenge you in EXACTLY the ways you require in order to heal you. My struggles with the ‘darker’ aspects of The Medicine are reflective of the healing that I require – the healing of the ‘darker’ aspects within me. This is supremely difficult work for me because of my (growing) sensitivities and my intellectual / emotional complexities. I often wonder if great intelligence is a detriment at times – and I realize that the mind is a very powerful ‘instrument’ that must be loved, accepted, and worked-with. Gently. It CAN be an obstacle at times. So my new mantra for the really hard work, the supremely tough spots, is “Is this In Service to my highest good, THE highest good?” Abdi Assadi would say, “Burn away all that does not serve me in a gentle and loving manner.”
Orlando Chujandama, the Maestro Curandero Vegetalista with whom I did dieta in the Peruvian Amazon a few years ago said (more like pantomimed – his English and my Quechan Spanish aren’t very good!) that working with La Medicina is like a 'flower' that opens gently, a little at a time, and then closes again, with each dieta, with each Ceremony. And that each time I work with La Medicina, I open-up (my heart/mind opens-up) just a little more - little-by-little. Opening a little more every time and then gently closing again. Over and over. He said / showed that I cannot 'open-up' all at once as it’s too much, it’s too traumatic. He was certainly advocating a loving, gentle approach over time – at one’s own unique pace (Ashtanga yoga Mysore practice anyone?). And I have a great respect for that skilful approach. I think it shows great humility and mastery.
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Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
May all the beings, in all the worlds be happy