I often feel that I have not appropriately thanked my teachers and my ancestors in my haphazard writings. So I am beginning this post with a prayer to the Buddha(s) in their honor. If you’re interested, here is the Prayer of Confessions and Prostrations to the 35 Buddhas and a “shorter version”, the Sutra Illuminating the Darkness of the 10 Directions.
The lessons are coming hard-and-fast now. Things are speeding up. I know this experience isn’t unique to me. Maybe, as we crest our mid-40’s and start seeing our 60’s as nearer than our 20’s, we all start having this experience? Or is it that there is some sort of evolutionary imperative at work - subtle yet powerful forces churning and dancing just below the surface of our collective consciousness? Hmmmmmmmmm.
As I get older, the things that are most important to me – the things I hold most dear – are also the things that I am becoming more-and-more acutely aware of losing. I look at examples of the incomprehensible, complete lack of compassion or reverence for the lives of fellow human beings, animals, our Mother Earth – and I feel overwhelming sadness and pain. I feel inadequate to stop such things – to make any sort of difference – to contribute any sort of pure, authentic good to situations that seem completely devoid of it. This is darkness.
Carl Gustav Jung famously said, “Enlightenment is not imagining figures of light but making the darkness conscious.”
That’s what it feels like. That somehow, the things that I find so disheartening in the world are in fact reflections of an inner turmoil. And by my doing the hard work in trying to resolve this agitated state of being – this darkness - things may “change for the better” (I will develop the clarity of authentic perception), because I will have dismantled a very elaborate projector system – myself. Maybe it is because we are witnessing or experiencing such horrendous and appalling tragedy – on a magnitude like never before - on almost a daily basis – that it is further sign that the darkness is being brought to the surface to be somehow integrated? I feel this to be the case.
If I can completely honor and accept these feelings of utter helplessness, I will be able to move beyond them – and not be stuck in them (bless you Abdi Assadi). Only then will I be able to be fully present in the world in such a way that I am able to meaningfully contribute to this world and honorably, respectfully, and compassionately serve my fellow beings. It is only because of my teachers and ancestors, that I am able to begin to grasp this fundamental lesson.
I am reminded of spending time in Italy with one of my beloved teachers, Tim Miller of the Ashtanga Yoga Center in Carlsbad, CA. When he was speaking of his time with the late, great Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (Guruji) – particularly when he first took Darshan and Pranaam (bowed to touch his feet), it certainly wasn’t a common thing to do as a Westerner (particularly in the U.S. in 1978!). As Tim was reminiscing, tears of immeasurable love and gratitude freely flowed from this great man. In the witnessing of such devotion (Bhakti) and love for his teacher (Guruji), it puts into proper perspective the feelings I have for him (Tim Miller) and all my other teachers.
I will close this posting with a quote I’ve used before, but it conveys the greatest lessons of all – honoring the love of those that mean the most to us – and remembering with reverence those that have gone before us:
"These teachings have been brought to you from Padmasambhava's enlightened heart, across centuries, over a thousand years, by an unbroken lineage of masters, each one of whom only became masters because they had learned humbly to be disciples, and remained, in the deepest sense, disciples of their masters all their lives. Even at the age of eighty-two, when Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche spoke of his master Janyang Khyentse, tears of gratitude and devotion came into his eyes. In his last letter to me before he died, he signed himself "the worst disciple." That showed me how endless true devotion is, how with the greatest possible realization comes the greatest devotion and the most complete, because the most humble, gratitude."
"The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying"
by Sogyal Rinpoche
May all beings, including ourselves have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May all beings, including ourselves be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.
May all beings, including ourselves rejoice in the well-being of others.
May all beings, including ourselves live in peace, free from greed and hatred.
I recently spent some time with another of my most important teachers of late – Darlene Van de Grift. I always look forward to seeing her and at the same time realize that I’ve still got a lot of work to do and a long way to go, so there is always a little sadness followed by depression. I’ve also been working in a corporate environment again, so I guess I feel a little depleted due to my old nemesis. I just don't seem to work well in that environment - on so many different levels. Or maybe it’s that I’ve been listening to the renowned Advaita sage Ramesh S. Balsekar of Mumbai, India speaking of free will, destiny, non-duality, etc. His words have been in my mind for a couple of weeks now, so carrying around his concept (THE concept) in my head and turning it over-and-over is tiring. I think it’s when trying to integrate something that you might just begin to grasp intellectually – but cannot totally, or within your heart - that you can become literally exhausted. Then there’s the bitter, unrelenting New York City winter. Then there are all my other issues: lack of money, struggles with work, struggles in personal relationships, struggles in my Ashtanga practice, struggling in the relationship I have with myself, etc. Ultimately, this all represents one thing - my struggle with my place in this world.
Another teacher of mine, Abdi Assadi, recently published a book called Shawdows on the Path and it is a powerful and essential study on the pitfalls of the so-called spiritual path and the irrepressible shadow archetype as describe by Carl Jung. With his guidance and that of my other teachers, I’ve come to realize that we have multiple paths in this life and just because we may believe we’re on a spiritual path, this does not alleviate the necessity to do the extremely hard work on the others – particularly the psychological and therapeutic. I must admit that I am someone who believed that if I ‘got far enough along’ the spiritual path, that this process would somehow serve to mitigate all my faults and issues. Ironically enough, my spiritual seeking just became yet another issue to add to the list!
I often wonder why I am the way I am and why my life is the way it is. On one level, I completely understand (and accept intellectually) that this is all God’s will. On another level I see that I’ve got work to do and try to do it to the best of my ability. If I am depressed or if something doesn’t go according to my grand scheme, I often find myself in the place ‘between’. Actually, I often find myself in this place no matter my emotional state. It’s as if I’m caught between God’s will and my own mind. And letting go or ‘letting God’ as some might say has never been my way. I had for many years – all my life – believed that by my sheer force of will, I could make things ‘right’. The tragedy is that we believe that we’re in control when in fact we’re flailing through life desperately trying to grasp something that will allow us a measure of sure-footing. This is the ‘seeking’ part of our nature. At this step on my long and winding road, I’m mostly interested in the ‘finding’ part, because I’ve found that the ‘seeking’ doesn’t seem to work.
It’s these diametrically opposed points of view (God’s will and Individual doer-ship or free will) that I’ve been preoccupied with since returning from India. And it’s as if the argument in my mind is becoming more-and-more concise, or worn-down to a fine edge or line between these two opposites. Call it the razor’s edge or a sort of middle way according to Buddhism. My trouble with the ‘enlightened’ perspective of ultimate non-duality (God’s will) is that it doesn’t help me get through the day per se. It appears only good for meditations on suffering and death where I need to be able to grasp the ‘gestalt’ of all things. Now I’m oversimplifying the Advaita concepts and my understanding and the daily application of them, but you get my point.
I am struggling right now. And these struggles span all aspects of my life. The knowledge that God is experiencing through me an aspect of duality and inter-human relationships as a separate ego entity with the idea of personal doer-ship does not help alleviate my very immediate suffering. At the end of the day they all become interesting words and fascinating concepts – but they do not pay the bills, build a future, heal a relationship, heal me, etc.
I’ve come to believe that the psychological work (or path) is absolutely necessary for us to progress at all along the spiritual. I recently discovered a talk given by Ann Shulgin regarding her work in psychotherapy in dealing with the shadow. The context was the use of hypnotherapy, MDMA and 2C-B, before these drugs were scheduled by the Federal Government. Her detailed explanation of the shadow and how she came to help bring it into consciousness in psychotherapy practice is compelling – even if the use of MDMA and psychedelics puts you off.
More-and-more I am realizing how this shadow aspect of my unconscious mind wreaks havoc in my conscious or waking life – through projections of our shadow selves onto others. I am not whole. I have shunted-off vital parts of myself and in doing so, became a fractured person. I think we’re all fractured to an extent - unless you’ve done the work necessary to fully integrate. Often in the spiritual and yoga community there is talk of ‘being authentic’ and I feel that this miss-used platitude's true meaning isn’t fully explored. Denial is a powerful, addictive pattern in our lives and the work necessary to open one’s eyes to the subtleties of your own shadow is not easy. If anything, this process is at the very least, daunting and monumental.
As Ann Shulgin so eloquently related, coming to face and accept your shadow is probably the most difficult and brave thing one can do in one’s life. I am not completely sure how best to do this in my own experience. It’s a unique and individual pursuit in every case – of this I am convinced. For me, I am compelled in several directions - individual and couples psychotherapy, deep-tissue body work like Rolfing or KMI, a disciplined yoga practice, work with skilled ‘alternative’ therapists/teachers and the path of indigenous, shamanic healing. Your direction or list would probably look much different.
Darlene said to me, “The universe is trying to force you into conformity - forcing you through the eye of the needle.” Of course ‘conformity’ is one of my hot-button words and issues and I reacted defensively. I now see that the metaphor is appropriate. I need to fully integrate all aspects of my conscious and unconscious mind in order to become myself fully. As I do this fundamental work, I am able to become the integrated thread or stream that flows through my life – and through grace.
You must seek and find your own path to heal and integrate your shadow. It’s probably the most important thing you’ll ever do.
PS – I’m almost finished completely re-designing DharmaBuilt.com and there I hope you’ll find content and links that may help you along your own path(s).