Author Archives: Jay Cutts

What Happens When I Distract Myself

C. [In response to someone commenting that distracting herself from something left her feeling worse.] When I am suffering and want to turn my attention to something to distract me from it, I feel worse, and when I welcome and embrace the suffering, I can relax and be with it.

Jay: When I notice not wanting to face something, I can feel how strong of a habit that is. And if the energy doesn’t go immediately into the habit, it’s noticeable that I don’t really know what it is that I don’t want to face! I’ve never faced it so I don’t know what I’m turning away from! How amazing.

Usually the “what I’m turning away from” is not a thing at all. It’s not necessarily that I’m turning away from ongoing pain (though sometimes that’s there). “It” is not some separate thing at all. It’s simply life unfolding in a certain way that needed me to get out of its way.

C: Your description feels familiar and true for my experience also. The willingness to just be with what is as it arises allows the pain that does come to move through and prevents the suffering that is inherent in constricting against it. It’s my goal to become a habitual allower… getting more skillful at it over time. 🙂

J: Well, that sounds like a nice goal.

Sometimes I have the feeling that there must be some sort of discipline or practice needed to face things, but looking at it honestly that’s not really what happens for me. Life sort of just smacks me with “Hey, here’s something that needs attention!”

Then there is a switch from running away to attending. That happens on its own, sometimes DESPITE everything that I want to do 🙂

That’s somehow a great relief for me to see that interest/intelligence/affection dawns on its own. It’s one less burden for this “me,” of having to perfect myself.

All that’s needed is sensitivity. Listening. Without fear of what will be sensed or heard. Yeah, that takes a lot of energy but the energy comes because that’s what Life is. In a moment when that energy of listening/being is moving, it’s not effort, is it?

I remember Toni Packer remarking that effort is resistance. I can get that. So when it feels like this huge existential effort to be aware, I can question with interest where the resistance is coming in. What at this moment is difficult about being here in touch? Because usually there IS something making it difficult. I’m afraid of something, for example. And it’s wonderful to discover that fear and let it open up and reveal itself. And suddenly I WANT to experience what’s happening and the resistance is gone and wow, things are just opening up. No effort! No separation! Just the vastness of life bubbling away.

 

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Dialogue Reports – Dec. 9

I wanted to share some of what came up in our recent meeting. I’ve often meant to do this and usually don’t remember anything afterwards!

(If you were there, I may not accurately represent what you were saying but am using what I remember to touch on some universal issues.)

1. Thinking. One person was frustrated with the amount of needless thinking that she finds herself doing. She wanted to know how meditation can help her change that.

We looked at this more closely. For most of us, processing things through thinking often goes on without being noticed. It’s just automatic. Then there is a moment when it is suddenly clear that I’ve been wasting a lot of energy going over and over things.

This moment of noticing is critical. When this happens, isn’t there already attention functioning? Often when this “dawning” happens, we start thinking, “How can I do this more often?” or “What’s wrong with me that I let myself drift off like that?” But this is the beginning of more thinking, isn’t it?

Maybe those thoughts may not lead to more thinking. Maybe they lead to wondering what’s going on and then watching right here in this moment that is now visible because of the attention.

So we can look at where I am right now that I’m not going around and around in thinking. We can feel into it.

Sometimes people say, from that place, that they don’t know what to do. They feel kind of lost because the sense of control or direction is gone. They may feel disoriented. So is it possible to stay with all or any of that despite how it feels? The only alternative to being in this moment is to go back into the daydreaming.

Each person can find out what happens, what comes up, what shifts, if one stays with this moment. No need to make a plan to be a better meditator. That takes us away from the direct experience of what is happening here. We’re not used to living in that direct experience, so naturally it may feel disorienting. Maybe it’s ok to not be oriented!

2. Dissatisfaction. Another person reported being relatively happy and successful in her work and personal life but having an underlying feeling of a sort of existential dissatisfaction. The feeling has not been resolved by the occasional meditation or quiet time that she takes.

My first response to this was that that is probably how it is for almost all of us. There is a residue of dissatisfaction that builds up from how we live, from the accumulation of unfinished business, from deep questions – some going back to our early childhood – that have never been addressed or resolved. In Buddhism people are advised to come in touch with this dissatisfaction and to let it fuel the need for resolution.

I think this is very, very helpful. Coming in touch with a deep unhappy feeling may not sound like a helpful thing to do. And maybe for some people with chronic depression it isn’t a good way to go. But for most of us this dissatisfaction is there but it is deeply buried and untouched. My feeling is that behind this feeling there is a great deal that needs to come out into the light, to be touched by life and to begin to heal.

We also discussed that when one really begins to stay in touch with that which needs to be healed in us, we may find that daily sitting doesn’t really touch it. Daily or weekly quiet time helps clear out the upper level residue of our ordinary life but may not go further.

We discussed the critical value of devoting a special time and place to be able to allow the deeper issues to be able to come to the surface. Specifically, for me, this means an extended number of days (6-7) in a place with little talking, little social interaction, and little work responsibility. I should probably add no social media, phone, or internet either. This happens best in the presence of others who are doing the same work and with whom there can be occasional meeting.

This is how we design retreat. It is nothing special other than a specific situation that fosters deeper healing and in-touchness.

I think I’ll stop here so this doesn’t go on too long! There was much more that came up in the dialogue but it’s too much to try to write about.

Love and Anger

I notice a deep pattern in myself in which Love is felt to be an opposite to anger/hostility. For example, if I’m talking to someone one who is expressing angry or hostile political ideas, I often feel an antagonism toward that person. I don’t want to be exposed to those feelings – the physical sensations that go along with anger and hostility. I feel an opposition between myself – who wants to have loving feelings in this body – and the other person – who I feel is making me feel bad.

If I look a little more closely at how I’m reacting, I can see that this opposition that I feel toward the other person creates antagonism. In other words my own reaction is really causing anger and hostility in me and is making me feel worse. The key or clue for me is this strongly felt, physical sense of opposition toward another person. Of course something in me justifies this reaction of opposition by saying that the other person is wrong or bad or negative (which they may be.) I am beginning to notice that the strong feeling of opposition is not helpful. Certainly not to me, to my immediate well being.

So if I’m faced with someone making very angry and hostile statements – perhaps very loudly and threateningly – what kind of response can their be other than creating a sense of opposition?

As soon as I posed this question above, I thought, “Well, I’ll be loving toward them,” but this may still involve seeing them as “wrong” or as threatening to my well being. In other words there may still be this sense of opposition going on in me, with its sense of danger, sense of separateness, sense of needing to protect myself – and the physical discomfort that goes along with this. This is a subtle point that needs to be considered carefully.

Is it possible that the sense of opposition doesn’t take hold? If I’m with someone I care about and they somehow say something that makes me defensive, I’ve noticed that if the energy goes into being defensive, I stop feeling close to them at that moment. I start to feel almost like they are a stranger. When this happens, I feel sad, though at the same time I may not be able to shake the feeling. Something in me doesn’t want to stay in that defensive, isolated place. I want to get back to feeling connected with my friend. But if a stranger makes me feel defensive, I probably never felt close to them in the first place and the defensiveness in me digs its heels in, becoming a stronger habit.

Because I don’t want the habit of defensiveness to ruin my close relationships, I don’t want to nourish it by letting it becoming stronger in my reactions to angry or hostile strangers. It happens anyway. But I don’t want it to grow, so I’m watching my reactions to everyone, whether I like them or not.

If a stranger (or a friend) is talking in an angry, fearful, or hostile way, and if I don’t immeditately slip into defending my feelings -trying to keep out angry feelings and trying to access loving feelings – then something different from my usual reaction happens. I’ve noticed this. I might feel in my own body the physical “echoes” of the other person’s anger. Because of that I might understand more intimately what is happening for them. Or I might feel both the angry vibrations and the sadness of that at the same time.

When this happens then I notice that at that moment for me there is both the anger/hostility becoming visible and feelable AND the love and affection that sees this and feels the sadness of it – the sadness of isolation and of a body exhausted by anger. In such moments it is clear that love and anger are not opposites. Love, interest, affection, sensitivity can all operate at any moment to shed light on any emotional state that is taking place. It doesn’t matter then whether it is happening in me or in a person standing across from me. It doesn’t really matter whether the body is experiencing difficult sensations in that moment. What seems important is that whatever is happening can be listened to and felt, wondered about.

When this happens for me, then the body seems at ease, even though there may be challenging sensations moving through it. And there is a sense of both humility and energy. Humility because I have let myself be affected by the world around me. Energy because the love and interest let the world’s vibrations be felt and move through the body in as healthy a way as possible. There is no sense of opposition in this. No sense of being a separate something. There is just the vast flow of life moving in this body, with its own wisdom and healing.

And what about this “other person” that is usually felt as causing the problematic feelings? For me there is often a sense of understanding where they are coming from. Of being able to hear their anger and, usually, the fear behind it. It’s not hard to understand that a person can have those feelings. But instead of guarding myself against those feelings, there is empathy for the other person.

So if someone I like says something that scares me and the whole defensive pattern is about to start up, then what? Is it ok if I don’t know what to do? Can I stay around that person even if I’m feeling scared? Can I stay open to that person, keep listening, continue to be sensitive to them, despite the thoughts that might be shouting out that I should be afraid?

Recently I let this happen, not knowing what was going on, nervous to be in unknown territory. Eventually I learned much about the other person and found that love reappeared. And I felt that certain deeply held strong reactions in me were exposed as pretty useless. That was a surprise and a relief.

Is Time Running Out?

I imagine that, like me, you often are under the pressure of the feeling that there is not enough time for everything that needs to be done. This usually involves practical things – getting a window painted, getting the garden fixed up, making plans for a trip, making sure I don’t run out of household supplies, etc., etc.

But when I step back a bit and consider what I think of as “my life”, there is a different sort of feeling that time is running out for me. Do you know what I mean? It’s almost a feeling that life is slipping very quickly through my fingers. I don’t feel like this all the time. There are many moments that are full and joyful, not concerned with the future. But right now I’m bringing up this feeling that time is running out in order to enter into it a little and wonder about it.

Time is running out for us! What does this statement bring up for you?

One reason I’ve thought of this is that, as we get ready for our annual retreat, I’m in touch with people who have been talking with me about coming to retreat for five, ten, or more years, and have not been able to get to retreat during that time. Wow. Ten years. At the age of most of us, that’s a long time. A long time of feeling that I have plenty of time left to take care of things later. Plenty of time in the future to devote a handful of days to the inner things that so much need attention in me and to being at peace with the outer world, which usually seems so impossible.

It seems true to me that we do all have a very heavy backlog of unprocessed past experiences, difficulties, traumas, fears, longings. And around all of that there seems to be a powerful defense system that doesn’t really want any of these things to be touched. It’s as though we have learned to live in a world defined by these things. And a big part of the defense system, for me, is the thought that I have plenty of time to deal with issues in the future.

If time is running out, if time in fact has already run out, then the need for me to face the inner challenges, to meet them directly right now, to let them open up in me and reveal themselves – then that need is very clear and urgent and present. It needs to happen now. It can’t be put off. To me, these inner challenges, when they are put off till the future, become even heavier and more difficult. And the heavier our burden of unfinished business, the more difficult it is to mobilize ourselves to meet them directly and begin to heal. In other words the longer we put off healing, the harder it becomes to start the healing process.

Retreat is the time and setting where we help each other create a space where healing becomes easier. And the more healing happens, the easier it is for healing to continue.

The time leading up to retreat is the time for reflecting on how much I’ve been putting off till off to the future so much of my unfinished, internal stuff. It’s the time for summoning up the energy to set aside time for the healing process. Maybe this requires reaching out to others for help doing this. Maybe it means noticing the resistance to stepping out of one’s routine. We only have one retreat here a year. When thinking about going to retreat starts to feel anxiety-producing, it’s very easy to think of putting it off till next year. But maybe together we can try something different. Maybe we can talk together about what it takes to step into healing – despite all the fears and concerns and resistance. This is something that we do together.

If there were no future – if your time was to run out tomorrow – what would that bring up in you? Do you feel the huge amount of unfinished concerns, feelings, maybe blankness?  That’s the stuff that wants the time and space to open up and be heard and felt. And perhaps, finally, healed and finished, while we’re still alive and have the strength to heal.

What Needs Attention?

I have a friend who, when I asked him why he goes to so many retreats, replied “Because there is always something that needs attention and because of nothing at all.”

This struck me as a wonderful and true answer. There IS always something in us that needs attention, isn’t there? In fact it often feels like there is an overwhelming amount of “stuff” that needs attention.

How do we give attention to these things? It seems that our usual first attempt is to verbalize what’s going on. That’s a natural first step, although it has some limitations as well. What I “think” about what’s going on is often not very accurate. Sometimes the very act of identifying a “problem” actually reinforces it. Certainly, being able to verbalize an issue clearly is helpful but I’m just reporting what I’ve observed in myself. I need to take the verbalization with a grain of salt and I need to let go of it at some point.

A second step is to look for some help or insights outside of myself. This is also helpful, including reading books, talking with others, and getting professional guidance. I’ve found some really wonderful help this way.

Ultimately, there is another step that is different in that the first two involve what I know and what other people know. This “new” step involves moving beyond the limited realm of what is known and into the open space of being with the wholeness of what is happening inside and outside, beyond trying to know what is happening. In other words to really be with what is going on requires, in my experience, a letting go of that activity of the brain that tries to put new, fresh input into my existing knowledge. The key is that that activity of the brain lets up so that the brain can experience more fully and deeply what is right here. Knowing may happen or not happen but the brain can learn to relax away from the compulsive attempt to know so that the brain can operate in a new, direct sensing way.

In my experience deep healing of what needs attention comes most directly out of this unknowing, relaxed deep and still sensitivity.

This deep listening can operate in us even when we come together as a group for dialogue. In fact coming together – if we don’t wander to far away into trying to figure things out – can amplify this process of stillness and listening penetrating into the hidden areas that need attention. By habit we don’t usually talk and listening together in this way but we can learn to by coming together, if we give this process enough chance with each other.

So part of this shared healing process is making the effort to come together from time to time and learning – sometimes awkwardly – how to talk and listen together in a way that begins to penetrate into those areas that need attention. This is the purpose of our group activities in and out of retreat.

What about the “because of nothing at all?” This is a beautiful way of saying that healing, opening, growing together is a natural expression of life that just happens and takes care of itself if we give it a chance. We don’t have to struggle to do it. And while this healing and listening is happening for us in a group or alone, it is an expression of the wholeness of the world all around us at this very moment. Just as the sun sometimes pokes out from behind clouds, the heart sometimes open in joy or in pain, for its own sake. Not for some future goal. We can say that wholeness in a moment is exactly what heals and it happens for its own sake.

Consciousness versus Wholeness

QUESTION: Here is a separate question. I briefly saw the title of an article that suggested that science had proved that when we die our consciousness moves on to a different universe. Perhaps parallel. What do you think? What implications does such an idea have?

Jay: I’m not overly concerned about consciousness. I used to feel that’s what I was – my consciousness – and I didn’t want it to end.

But through careful observation and still listening it has become clear to me that consciousness is the smallest part of who I am. It has become clear that life is a living thing that is vast and does not depend on my – or anyone’s – consciousness.

Consciousness is a useful and sometimes beautiful expression of life but it comes and goes. Life itself – the wholeness of things – doesn’t come and go.

This is my experience, not a philosophy. Usually our experience feels very different than this. We usually feel very limited, isolated, and in danger of being changed or destroyed by life. We tend to live in our consciousness – our thoughts and story – because it seems safe.

Questioning this and beginning to look more carefully and listen more deeply is what meditative work is about. We do it because our usual way of living is very often unhappy, fearful, and isolated. We also do it because some people who have looked carefully confirm that in us that knows that the way we usually see things is not the way things really are.

But we have to do this exploration ourselves in order to discover the simple wholeness of life.

I know that’s not exactly what you were asking but it’s my honest response.

Health

Questioner: To what degree does meditation make one aware of their physical health? I would like to gain knowledge on how to become stronger and avoid health problems. But it occurs to me that many health problems like strokes, seizures, and heart attacks hit people without obvious signs beforehand allowing the person to intervene.

Jay: To me meditation – taking quiet time to be in touch – by definition is an increase of sensitivity. But sensitivity certainly isn’t a magic bullet!

I can understand your concern about becoming a victim to some bodily state that happens so quickly that you can’t defend yourself. This seems to me to be a deep fact of life. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t care for our health but at a certain point it seems true that things are going to happen to us that are out of our control. So one meditative concern of mine is how do I relate to that fact, that reality.

First of all, at this moment that I’m typing these letters, the concern that something out of control is likely to happen to me is a thought in my imagination. If someone asks me if that thought actually reflects reality, I’d say it most likely does. But at this moment if that thought grabs hold of the mind, the mind begins to wonder how to deal with these theoretical future events. And this is more imagination. And with the worrying, more discomfort right now.

The curiosity arises as to whether I can just not worry about it right now, since nothing bad is actually happening at the moment. Or even if there is something uncomfortable and out of control happening – maybe some pain in the back – relating to a real situation is very different, much simpler, than imagining relating to an imagined future difficulty.

Another aspect of this for me is coming in touch with the deep feeling of vulnerability that comes to me in realizing how easily the world can affect me beyond my ability to control things. That is a very deep feeling. Have you ever allowed yourself to really feel your vulnerability?

I don’t have much to say about other health problems you might face. There is so much reactivity and defensiveness programmed into our brain that it is often impossible to sort out what pain is caused by a medical situation and what is caused by our resistance to what’s going on. Meditation helps foster the sensitivity to distinguish this.

And meditation may help foster a direct experience that we are not just the body, that our actual existence is much vaster and that the sense of the body may fade away almost completely and we are still here. This is helpful to explore.

I hope this addresses your concerns a little. You’re welcome to write back with questions or comments.