Author Archives: Jay Cutts

Meditation and Therapy

[This post was written in response to a link to an article about meditation and therapy.

The article]

On Meditation and Therapy

To me, meditative work is very much about healing of trauma. It’s also about wholeness in this moment. Does that seem contradictory?

Peter Levine is a therapist who works with trauma. In his book Waking the Tiger, he describes how most of our efforts to resolve trauma tend to make changes in how the trauma is managed but reinforce the core of the trauma itself. Then he describes how there are rare moments in which the entire trauma pattern opens up and there is nothing left to reinforce. He describes this as the healing of trauma.

I can relate to what he says from my own experience with personal trauma. In meditative terms I would say that the moments he describes are moments in which all resistance has dropped away. It is total vulnerability and total openness. It is a moment when all agendas have dropped away. In such moments wholeness blazes forth.

I often feel that too much emphasis on meditation practices very much stands in the way of this happening. It is all too likely that behind an emphasis on a meditation practice is a “practicer.” I mean that there is an identity and an agenda that becomes fixed to the practice and is reinforced more and more deeply with each moment of “practice”. After all, a practice implies that I hope to get something from it.

To me, Life always wants to sweep away all my intentions. It wants to knock out from under me all my plans for improvement and healing. When Life blazes through in this way, all resistance is blown away. It’s not that I stop resisting so that I can heal. Healing/wholeness – when it is able to move through this organism – redirects the energy that was going into a knot of resistance so that that energy goes into healing and being.

Once this possibility of being swept wide open by Life becomes greater in us, I think there is more awareness of our traumas and we can get much more out of working with a therapist. I used to expect this kind of help from my meditation teachers, but that’s not really their training.

I do question the view of the author of the article that somehow Siddhartha didn’t have traumas and that made his path easier. I’m not sure that makes sense to me. From what I see, it is the nature of our delicate nervous systems to be continually susceptible to traumas – old ones and new ones. Wholeness doesn’t require an absence of “issues.” It reveals issues in wide open space and the space of wholeness seems to naturally lead to healing (which is accelerated by working with a skillful therapist.)

A moment of wholeness is a moment in which it is clear that all life is one undivided energy unfolding as it needs to and grounded in stillness. Awakening to this has nothing to do with whether we have a broken leg, arthritis, anxieties, a bad eye or are perfect, beautiful beings. It only has to do with seeing if it is possible for Life to open through us in this moment, which can only happen when our dreams and goals for becoming a better person get swept away.

I don’t mean to say that we somehow shouldn’t deal with traumas and issues. It is quite clear in a quiet moment that a pattern of severe anxiety isn’t helpful. I’m just trying to share that what fundamentally allows trauma to open and heal is the discovery of this energy of Life that sweeps away my resistances in this moment. And I’m raising the issue of examining whether spiritual practices become part of the resistance to what is happening right now.

It is not too hard to look, during a meditation period, at what I am actually doing. Am I focused on something – the breath, a sound, a vision? Is that helping me right now to be in touch with everything that is around me right here – the air, the feel of the body, the sound of the fan, the presence of other people? I personally find that I’m often blocking out a lot for some reason. What reason? Someone told me it would help me become a Buddha in the future? Or that if I do something long enough I would heal? But what has become most important to me is my relationship to everything in this moment. To sacrifice that now for some “wholeness” in the future doesn’t make sense to me any more.

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Where Does Peace Come From?

The reflection below was in response to a discussion on finding peace in the middle of non-peace. Some people referred to practices that they have used that they hope will bring more peace. The inquiry below examines and questions how this really works in us.

When I consider this careful, here’s what seems to happen for me. So something triggers me and I’m angry and defensive. That means my teeth are grinding, my stomach is tight, my back hurts, and I want to lash out at someone. My mind is going over options for doing that.

In this state practicing “peace” is impossible, really. I guess that means that the idea comes up of getting back to a state in which the body is relaxed and the world feels spacious. But at that point it’s an idea that is in complete conflict with what is actually going on.

If someone suggested I try to do that, I’d probably glare at them!!!

What IS real for me is that tight, painful, angry, hurtful state that is manifesting itself. No space at all. Just tight, gnashing teeth and guts. Something keeps me from acting out on the impulses, though. Something, somewhere out of my sight knows that the impulse that wants to act out leads to trouble. So there is the pain of this state, the emotional pain and the physical pain of it but it doesn’t go anywhere. It stays right here, burning, hurting.

Of course many times it doesn’t stay right here and I say something angry to someone.

But when it does stay right here, it is noticeable that there is a tremendous urge to get away from the pain and tightness. One channel for getting away is yelling at someone or hitting them. Another might be to channel that energy into punishing myself. And another big channel is to try to do some practice to become more peaceful in the future. A huge urge for someone to give me something to do that will get me out of this pain, even if it is lifetimes later!

So for me, no practices to become better for the future. Just not running away from the states of no-space, no-compassion, no-peace. Just not moving away from how this all manifests in the body, the thoughts, the feelings. No idea of how this will all come out in the near or distant future. Just burning right here with what has manifested in this body/mind, as it does through almost every other human being, with, for once, someone not moving away from it into a discharge of pain, which causes more pain, or a plan for getting away from the current pain.

In not running away, in burning right here in this place of no-space and no-peace, the sound of a bird might suddenly come through. Or the smile of a person. Or an insight into the suffering of the person I’m angry at. It becomes clear if such a moment happens that this tight, painful, suffering, burning state is not all there is. It is happening in vast space, whether that space is felt or not.

The Distinction Between Teachings and Presence (Awakened Mind or Buddha Mind)

A lovely person recently commented with perhaps some disappointment that the dialogue that took place in our group didn’t contain any teachings. What was meaningful for this person was the Buddhist teachings (and possibly other teachings, I imagine.)

I’ve been reflecting on what this person said. Here is what has come up for me.

There are many beautiful and powerful teachings in meditation traditions. There is no doubt about that. Some people may take teachings as sayings to be internalized and in difficult situations you should try to live according to the sayings, rather than according to one’s impulses in the other direction.

This is actually interesting to consider. If I get irritated with someone, I may be tempted to treat them unkindly, maybe complaining to them or speaking with a harsh voice. But something else may suddenly come into the mind, maybe the saying, “Do unto others…” or maybe a Buddhist teaching on practicing compassion. The amazing thing is that there was a gap between the impulse to act unkindly and the physical action of doing it. That gap is the miracle! The memory of “Do unto others…” or the memory of someone scolding me for being mean – those memories come afterwards, after the gap has occurred. Those memories come up into the space that comes along with the gap.

Another amazing thing about this is that before the gap there was just a concern with my own personal gain. When the gap has occurred, the mind is now aware of how others might feel or maybe we can say the mind is aware of the bigger picture.

What happens then could go either way. I speak unkindly anyway. Or I might do something different.

I think what happens for many of us is that those “teachings” that come into the mind when there is an opening can end up doing battle with the difficult impulse that originally arose. “I should try to be a nicer person.” And then there is a sort of compulsive application of will power to follow the “good” instead of the “bad.” I suppose it’s probably better if a violent person has learned to do this rather than punching or shooting people. But for myself I’m not satisfied with a battle between one way and another way, even if one way is the more “enlightened” way.

So how can it be that there is not a battle between the original impulse and the feeling that there is a different way (maybe through a teaching)?

First we have to really look and see if there is a battle going on in us. Maybe it’s a very small or gentle battle. For some of us it may be a more compulsive battle. It seems very helpful to look at this carefully. The mind seems to be almost continually in battle with itself in my experience. This is the root of conflict and separation, so it’s really good to look at this freshly.

It strikes me that one kind of “peaceful” battle is to think “Well, I’m going to practice being kinder right now and maybe in the future these impulses to be unkind to others may go away.” Wow. That’s feels to me like side-stepping the brewing battle. Maybe it avoids the battle at the moment but it also avoids really dealing with the essence of the conflict between acting unkindly and acting kindly. It puts “dealing with it” into the future.

What does “dealing with it” mean? It might mean really listening to that voice that wants to be mean to someone else. Really listening to it!! Really feeling what comes up when that voice is finally given the chance to speak (internally. I don’t mean speaking meanly to the other person.) Really listening to what is behind that voice. Is that voice afraid of something? Not knowing what to say to that voice. Not having a “teaching” for it. Just listening and feeling.

Let’s back up a minute and go back to that moment when there is the impulse to be unkind and then the gap and then a larger awareness that includes others. We could say there is a voice of unkindness and a voice or mind of compassion both operating. At times it might seem like these are in conflict (the battle) but in reality, at least in my experience, it is exactly that voice of compassion that does not want to do battle and instead wants to hear that voice of unkindness. It is the Big Mind that allows the voice of unkindness to unfold, to be heard, to open up. In this activity there is a complete interpenetration of wisdom mind and ignorant mind. Another way of saying this is that it is Love itself that allows the battle to end and the unfolding of difficult patterns to happen. Love is big enough to hold and feel and support the expression of violence and anguish of that voice of unkindness.

How does this work when we are in dialogue with each other? One person may bring up that they have a habit of being unkind to others sometimes. What happens then in the group? Someone might give a teaching about practicing compassion. That’s one approach. Another approach is to allow the mind of compassion to do its work right here together in the heat of the moment. To me that means inviting the voice of unkindness to speak, to open. Inviting the person who brought this up to allow the unkindness and everything that is behind it to open up right here in this gap, this space, that we are in together. It may be possible for others in the group to open up to this as well, together, because it is something that is in all of us.

As this happens together in dialogue, unexpected things come up. Unexpected responses to each other. Explorations of what one person is experiencing. And the whole time this fresh unfolding is happening. This is the end of the battle between difficult impulses and wisdom. It is difficulty opening in the embrace of wisdom. It is wisdom washed in the pain and difficulty but not tainted by it. It is the end of separation and the live functioning of Love and healing.

A person observing this might well say, “I didn’t hear anyone give any teachings.” A Buddhist teaching, to me, isn’t really a prescription of how to try to live in order to become better. It is a description of how a person functions when the mind is not at battle, when there is personal agenda is not narrowing the mind, when there is a spaciousness functioning. At best, such a teaching is a reminder. It points to something. It points to how we function when we are open, without agenda, vulnerable, having put aside the battle and having allowed ourselves to directly and intimately experience what is happening in us that has not wanted to be experienced. Teachings point to the functioning of the Wisdom mind, of Love.

When we are together, immersed in this functioning, exploring together, not afraid of what might be seen, then we are, in that moment, living in the mind and heart that teachings point to. We are alive. We are not separate.

Beyond Teachings

L.: [I was disappointed that] the group [dialogue] for the most part did not focus on Buddhist teachings, which I have found in my life to be very useful.

Jay: I understand what you’re saying and it’s something I’ve considered carefully.

I feel that what we are trying to do in the group gets at the core of Buddhist work. When someone brings something up, it is sort of like finding the teaching that goes with their situation. I don’t really think of it as a teaching but since that’s the term you used, we can say that as an approximation.

For example in talking about severe chronic pain, we could say “We are all heirs to pain. It is inevitable. It can’t be avoided.” That may be of some help. However, to me it goes much deeper into dharma to open up the whole situation together as we did in dialogue. Each person bringing a situation to the group is coming to it from a different place so it is important, I find, to give the person a chance to unfold what is happening for them and for me to listen and open to it carefully.

Out of that listening we may shed light on assumed patterns that are not helpful. On Saturday we discovered two such patterns – the assumption that a state of painlessness in the midst of pain is a goal that should be achieved, and that a state of flow is a goal that should be achieved. It is clear to me from my experience that both of these states are temporary states that are powerful and healing when they happen but it is not their nature to be permanent.

This deep listening without a personal agenda, hearing other people’s experience as not separate from mine, and with willingness to let deeply guarded patterns come into awareness is, to me, the direct functioning of Buddha Mind, of Presence. Teachings point to this kind of functioning and can be wonderfully helpful but to me the important thing is this functioning itself.

I realize this is not the usual approach at many centers. I’ve been to a number and usually the focus is on teachings. This can be wonderful but I’ve also noticed that where this happens, people are sometimes reluctant to open up to what is more personal together. It is “safer” to stick with teachings, which usually feel inspiring.

The work of actually opening together may seem less “safe” until one really opens to opening! Then it feels like the work that very much needs to be done and I am grateful that it can be done with others.

Sometimes some people say, “You’re just getting bogged down in psychology or therapy.” To me this work of being vulnerably and intimately open sheds light on the psychological and the emotional, as well as the neurological, the physical, and the great vastness of being. All of this is visible and functioning – one seemless energy – in agendaless Presence. But there seems to be a great deal of resistance in us to allowing this to function. So we have to learn together and experiment together with entering directly into our life/Life.

It is certainly more challenging to enter into this kind of work/being together.

We could have stayed with reminding A. that life is pain but I feel that stopping there would have missed a beautiful opportunity to enter more deeply together into the healing power of Presence.

I hope this makes some sense.

I very much respect what you have told me and would love to have more chance to understand each other. I don’t expect you to see things exactly the same way I do and I may not see things exactly the same way you do, but I do feel that we are all in this together and can deepen through learning to communicate together and inquire together and listen together, wherever that may lead.

L.: I feel that the traditional teachings are about applying the ‘Four Noble Truths’ and the ‘Eightfold Path’ – it is a process of watching the mind not just while meditating but then in daily life and how we interact with ourselves, each other and situations.  Over and over again we do this and for me little by little some progress is made—this is the work.  The Sangha is important because being in study and dialogue in a safe environment we can help each other and hopefully we can find good teachers who can shed even more light on the teachings.  It is in ongoing and at times an extremely difficult journey, but I feel I have no choice, this is what I am called to do.  When Nisargardatta (a great Indian sage) was asked by a devotee, “what is the difference between you and me, he responded, “everything is happening, I let it, you don’t. I think this is at the core of Buddhist practice—we ultimately cannot control what happens to us, only how we respond to it.  To me that is liberation!

Personally I think that there is no right or wrong way to approach spiritual practice, we are so fortunate here in the US to be able to choose from so many different spiritual traditions and how wonderful that we can choose what we feel is a good fit for us.  I am happy that you have found something that works for you, and I am always open to listening to other people’s process, and feel fortunate to have found one that fits for me.
Jay: Thanks for taking the time to express your view. I believe I understand what you’re saying.

 

I like the response by Nisagardatta. In my experience working with myself and other people, the issue is that there is much in us that does not want to let things happen. This goes much deeper than the conscious mind or the mind that intends to practice teachings.

So to me a big part of this work together is to find our way into uncovering these deep assumptions and deep “not-lettings” and to begin to let light shine on them. This works best, I feel, in working together. When one works alone, it is much more difficult for assumptions to be seen. We take our assumptions for granted! They are held blindly.

This is why a question like “Who is it that is letting everything happen?” can be very powerful if taken to heart. It begins to turn the attention to “me,” the doer, the practicer, experiencer. These are, in my experience, deep blind spots – deep sets of assumptions.

The teachings for me are wonderful pointers. They describe how we can live when deep patterns of separation and enclosure are not functioning. But for me it always comes down to the work of allowing the energy, the interest, to touch more and more deeply into my being and to allow those things that I don’t want to see to come to light!

In my experience, when something has come to light thoroughly, it no longer causes problems. Then it doesn’t take effort, practice or teachings to avoid it.

I’m grateful to all the people that participate together in this work of looking into ourselves, through silent sitting and through dialogue. They help me see the things I sometimes don’t want to see 🙂

What Moves My Life?

What Moves My Life?

What does this question bring up for you? If you want, take a few moments to consider this before you read on.

For me, the first thing that comes to mind is that there are thousands of responsibilities and interests that move me through the days. I also have the feeling that I move myself through those activities. That “I” move my life.

If I acknowledge that and then sit quietly for a moment, there is the feeling that that is not all that moves my life. There is something else, maybe underneath the daily activity. Let’s see if together we can touch on what that might be.

One thing that comes up here is that there are many times when I do NOT feel that I’m moving my life. That my life is being largely moved by factors that I don’t have control over. The more I consider this, the more I realize that this is true. Some of these factors have to do with society, politics. Some have to do with my own state of health or physical well-being. Many of these “factors” that I don’t have control over are actually the people in my life.

What does this issue bring up for you?

I’m considering the role, the importance, of other people in my life. Some words that come to mind for me are “trust,” “love,” “fear,” “intimacy,” “loneliness,” “hope.” This realm of relationships with people feels like a huge, messy, challenging web of intimacy and fear of intimacy.

Is this what moves my life? Is there something else beneath all of that?

What does that question bring up for you?

For me it is bringing up issues of dying – my own death or death of loved ones. The realization that our time does not go on forever. Our relationships come to an end, one by one. Our projects, our planning, our pleasures come to an end. I don’t mean this to sound morbid, but it is a fact.

It brings up the issue of letting go. Sometimes letting go needs to happen. Sometimes life calls for letting go. It demands letting go. And yet there can be so much resistance to letting go. How do I relate to the need to let go when it comes up? What is moving my resistance????

Right now I’m thinking “Life Moves My Life.” What do I mean by that? In this moment what is going on? The hum of a fan and the warm air on the skin and the feel of pressure of the chair on my back. A sound of something, maybe a car, in the distance. This is all actually occurring right now, along with a mind working to express some things through words. In listening quietly and deeply into this moment, Life requires that I quiet down, let go of my anxious activities, let go of my memories of tasks that need to be done. And this letting go happens now without resistance, maybe because I’ve been learning to let life move me in its own ways.

This moment is simple. It doesn’t require anything other than letting go of all the things that usually keep me from being present. If this moment suddenly required an action – maybe a strong smell of smoke and needing to find out where it’s coming from – then life can move me to do what’s needed in this same simple, direct way.

I wonder, then, if it is possible, what it would mean, to experiment with letting life touch me, move me, in a present moment? And to notice the deep habits in me that resist that.

It may be that what I’m calling resistance usually manifests itself just in the mind being engaged almost exclusively in my ideas of what I think needs to be done. Thinking about things and people and planning what to do to avoid certain things/feeling or get certain things/feelings. Every once in a while we might notice that that’s where we’ve been and that we haven’t actually been aware of life as it expresses itself right now. It’s great to notice this transition and to become really interested in what life is at this moment in its simplicity. Then life has a chance to move my life as it needs. And a moment of life moving me is a moment of completeness, intimacy, healing.

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.

 

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.