Archive for May 2012
In looking through my photo archives for a picture that I intended to put on my wall here in Calgary, I came upon this image that I took while walking down the street in the city of ChangZhou which was my home for three and a half years. I was looking for a “river” photo for China that would keep company with my river photos of the Mekong as seen in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia during the first months of 2011. That I found this particular photo the day after discussing the I-Ching here seemed to be auspicious – or – synchronistic.
Almost as soon as I wrote these words, I have to say that I am not a Taoist, nor do I get much involved with any of the many faces of the parapsychological and the paranormal such as tarot, astrology, or whatever. I don’t understand them and I don’t pretend a very deep interest. In saying this, I don’t discount them either. I personally just use what works for me. If I had to give it some sort of a name, I would have to say that I follow “Robertism,” a spiritual path of one. Not a large congregation to be sure; but, it is the best one that I have found. All that I can say is that what I do have for my spiritual path is something that doesn’t change much. I don’t have the energy, time or inclination to continue “sampling” the various spiritual and psychological paths looking for something quicker or better.
Interestingly enough, Jack Kornfield, in his book, A Path With Heart, has this to say – another synchronicity that I found after taking a break from writing today’s blog post (sometimes it takes a full day to write a post – waiting for the words. In the case of this post, I have worked on it for two days.):
“If we do a little of one kind of practice and a little of another, the work we have done in one often doesn’t continue to build as we change to the next. It is as if we were to dig many shallow wells instead of one deep one. In continually moving from one approach to another, we are never forced to face our own boredom, impatience, and fears. We are never brought face to face with ourselves. So we need to choose a way of practice that is deep and ancient and connected with our hearts, and then make a commitment to follow it as long as it takes to transform ourselves.” (Kornfield, p. 34)
This was a powerful set of words for me to hear, words that kept me awake for too many hours while I sought to clarify exactly what was my practice of depth, if any. In the process of wrestling with these words and their resonances, I realised that I was deeply committed to Jungian psychology, Buddhist meditation, and a curious blend of Celtic, Christian and First Nations’ spiritualism. My ancestral roots are a blend of Celtic, Christian and First Nation bloodlines. Buddhism and Jungian psychology, together, serve as the mortar holding these diverse pieces together. My task is then to honour this curious, individual path as I know that it is only via this path that I will find the depth and meaning that defines what it is to be “Robert.”
The first words of the photo’s caption are taken from a song called Suzanne. Earlier this morning I was playing this song on my guitar, working on the fingering for the melody between verses. This song by Leonard Cohen is one of my favorite songs along with a few others by him and by another Canadian singer, Gordon Lightfoot. Both of these men came to my attention when I was a teenager so many years ago. Both men wrestled with what it is to be human, the human condition of suffering which is the first of the four noble truths in Buddhism. My current reading of Chogyam Trungpa’s book, Smile at Fear, is allowing me to look at the nature of suffering and in doing so, allowing me to come to accept the naturalness of my own suffering as a child and youth, not accepting the suffering in terms of being a victim of that suffering, but accepting the fact that I am a human, not a superhuman as I had hoped for in my desperate desires to escape life as it was given to me.
Like everyone else, I was afraid and I did my best to hide my fear, to hide from the broken and bruised parts of my self as I knew me. I pushed back at the shadows and the darkness that was lurking within the depths of whoever it is that I was. Like everyone else I invested in the outer world, in work, in activity, in relationships and in trying my best to grasp at happiness in any form in which happiness decided to present itself. I played music and sang for others hoping to not only create a sense of happiness but also a sense of being confirmed through their listening and their positive responses. I wrote and sought the same result when others would read the words, a result that said that I was worthy of relationship, worthy of happiness. I invested in my work, in my play, in my athletic pursuits, in parenting, in loving, in teaching, in counselling, in listening to the suffering of others. Somewhere in all of that engagement with the outer world I had hoped that the inner world of darkness would simply disappear or somehow be transformed into a place of pure light and joy. But, now I find that I must finally face my fear of that inner darkness if I am to be whole. And, as Trungpa counsels, I must “smile” at that fear.
Playing music such as the songs of Cohen and Lightfoot were and remain authentic ways in which I have looked my own fear and darkness in the eyes without realising exactly what I was doing. Picking up my guitar off and on over the years to gently approach this inner sense of self has kept the darkness from overwhelming and possessing me. And now, thanks to daring to smile at fear through a combination of analysis, self-reflection, music and Buddhist meditation, I am beginning to learn that there really is light as well as darkness in the depths of whoever it is that I am.
I know that I am more than my ego, more than the bits and pieces of thoughts, emotions, feelings, sensations and physical aspects of Robert. I am not any of these things. These things are hints or signs of a deeper, fuller Self. It somehow gives a sense of relief to not be limited and defined by my ego, to have the freedom to be more, much more than the conjurings of my thoughts, my complexes, my fears and hopes. Like everyone else, I am a human and it is okay to be afraid. The trick is to acknowledge that fear and to smile at it rather than flee from it.
I’ve picked up another of Chogyam Trungpa’s books, this one called Smile at Fear. And, as with other books by Trungpa, I am finding this book both easy to read and packed with thoughts that challenge my way of seeing and understanding the world. I am also fascinated at how so many of the basic approaches to the human condition match the Jungian approach to the human condition. The opening chapter is called Facing Yourself, an idea that is at the centre of engagement with Jungian therapy and analysis. Trunga talks about the journey towards enlightenment, the journey of individuation as a journey in which one becomes a warrior as one must face one’s fears and one’s cowardice because of the fears. It takes courage to look at oneself with honesty in order to find out the truth about oneself.
“Warriorship is based on overcoming cowardice and our sense of being wounded. If we feel fundamentally wounded, we may be afraid that somebody is going to put stitches in us to heal our wound. Or maybe we have already had the stitches put in, but we dare not let anyone take them out. The approach of the warrior is to face all those situations of fear or cowardice. The general goal of warriorship is to have no fear. But the ground of warriorship is fear itself. In order to be fearless, first we have to find out what fear is.
Fear is nervousness; fear is anxiety; fear is the sense of inadequacy, a fear that we may not be able to deal with the challenges of everyday life at all. We feel that life is overwhelming.” (Trungpa, pp 3-4)
Fear. I know this word, this feeling; and, I suspect that so does everyone else who stops for a moment and looks within. It seems there is a lot to be fearful about. I fear many things such as getting sick, getting lost, being alone, losing loved ones, too much responsibility, and meaninglessness are just a few of the things that evoke some measure of fear within me. But without doubt, it is my own inner darkness that is the most fearful thing. Will this inner darkness possess me and rob me of my sense of self; will this inner darkness convince others that I am not worthy of relationship with them leaving me utterly alone; will this darkness plunge me into a world of insanity where I am no more? Yes, this is an existential fear and thus is a fear that is pervasive and strips a lot of colour from the world.
“One of the main obstacles to fearlessness is the habitual patterns that allow us to deceive ourselves. Ordinarily, we don’t let ourselves experience ourselves fully. That is to say, we have a fear of facing ourselves. Experiencing the innermost core of their existence is embarrassing to a lot of people. Many people try to find a spiritual path where they do not have to face themselves but where they can still liberate themselves – liberate themselves from themselves, in fact. In truth, that is impossible. We cannot do that. We have to be honest with ourselves. We have to see our gut; our real shit; our most undesirable parts. We have to see that . . . We have to face our fear; we have to look at it, study it, work with it . . .
We also have to give up the notion of a divine savior, which has nothing to do with what religion we belong to, but refers to the idea of someone or something who will save us without our having to go through any pain. In fact, giving up that kind of false hope is the first step. We have to be with ourselves. We have to be real people. There is no way of beating around the bush, hoping for the best. If you are really interested in working with yourself, you can’t lead that kind of double life, adopting ideas, techniques, and concepts of all kinds, simply in order to get away from yourself. . . .
We have to face quite a lot. We have to give up a lot. You may not want to, but you still have to, if you want to be kind to yourself. It boils down to that. . . . Nobody can save you from yourself.” (Trungpa, pp 5-6)
Now, of all the things I wanted to learn, this is what I didn’t want to hear. This is the same message I get from my analyst, the same message I have given to my own clients in the past, the message that we teach our children as they grow into their own strengths. Know yourself, be yourself, honour yourself. These are easy words to say, but at the same time, they are the most difficult words to actually hear and use to serve as our guide to wholeness. It’s time for me to look in the mirror.
I was looking for a photo for my wall as part of my sacred space and found this image which caught my attention. It isn’t the image I want for the wall but it was waiting for my attention here on the blog site. As I wandered through various countries in Asia over the past six years I am surprised at the number of photos taken of Buddha. The first image of Buddha that I can recall was one that was Chinese in appearance as compared to the Tibetan or Southeast Asian versions of Buddha. Wandering through Southeast Asia I got to see various representations of Buddha and began to realise that Buddha has been culturally personalized. It didn’t take me long to also realise that the practice of Buddhism is as varied as the physical presentations of Buddha.
The images point to something beyond the image. Buddha is not a god. Rather, Buddha images beg us to look beyond the image into something that is impossible to capture in an image, something numinous, something god-like. As I dig carefully into this numinous idea called Buddhism I am beginning to see that same “kingdom within” that is spoken of in Christianity. The digging quietly leads me deeper into my Self, not the small self of ego, but a larger version that tells me that I am more than my ego, that ego is a flawed, conflicted and complexed self that is haunted by shadows and darkness.
As I find light in the darkness I get to banish the shadows and learn that I am more than I know. And so I take heart and continue the work of individuation, the work of enlightenment, the work of becoming more and more aware of Self. I embrace the journey learning to love myself and others simply because there is no more choice. Once begun, the journey can’t be stopped, one cannot go backward while the mind is still alive and functioning.
I am turning for a bit to some of my Buddhist readings, especially the work of Chogyam Trungpa, The Path is the Goal. The title of the book reminded me of the path of individuation. The more I study, the more and more I am finding that “fits” to make a whole. In the sixth chapter of Trungpa’s book, the topic is “loneliness.” I will bring some of the words here, words that address the topic of loneliness and meditation.
“I think we should realize that the practice of meditation takes us on a journey that is very personal and very lonely. Only the individual meditator knows what he or she is doing, and it is a very lonely journey.” (Trungpa, p. 126)
A journey of one person. There is a guide/teacher that helps with orientation from time to time, but the journey is still a journey of one person. And, it is a very serious journey.
“The only thing that is visible, that apparently exists, is the journey, the loneliness itself. . . . . On this path, we are not looking for the grace of God or any other kind of saving grace. There is no sense that we are going to be saved, that someone is going to keep an eye on us so that if we are just about to make a mistake, someone will fish us out. . . . Nobody is going to save us and nobody is going to protect us, so this journey has to be a very personal journey. (pp 127-128)
As I sit in my meditation each morning, it is just me, myself and I working at taming my mind, trying to find a bit more light, awareness, consciousness. As I sit in analysis, even with my analyst, I am still wrestling with myself. The analyst, like the meditation teacher is there invested with care, compassion and even love; but, neither can take any of my steps for me on my journey. When I move through the rest of the hours either alone or in the company of others, my sense of individualness continues to assert itself within me.
This separateness is easily understood as a parent. I love all three of my children with an unbelievable intensity and would move every rock on their journeys so that their lives could be gentler. But is spite of all my efforts and love, they must walk their individual journeys separate from me as a parent, separate from their siblings, separate from their own children and their spouses. It is almost overwhelming to realise this. Yet, that is the way of being human, the way of being in life. We live our individual journeys in loneliness. And, we are graced to find others seeing us, loving us, touching us and being with us as best they can as they also make their individual journeys.
I am back in Calgary after six nights at home in Saskatchewan. I will stay here for almost two weeks before returning home. As I was driving back to the city the skies decided it was time to add a lot more moisture and for the most part, the land needs it. But, the dark clouds and gray skies didn’t make the return to Calgary feel to enjoyable. After less than an hour back in my suite here in the city I began to wonder what I was doing here instead of staying at home. Yes, I felt sorry for myself. Gray skies have a tendency to accentuate inner darkness. Of course, my response to the weather and the return to the city was enough to tell me that I was indeed here for a good reason. So, I continue on with the process of analysis sessions with my trusted guide.
In entering analysis I thought I was prepared for the work, and for the most part, I am. However, like these clouds threatening over the mountains, there are quick storms that will yet come to test me and my resolve to continue this work until I have a clue as to what I do next. For me, that is the biggest hurdle. I have no planned “next step.” I know that with my being able to see a path going forward, the work will begin to taper off in frequency until it only becomes all about maintenance and professional supervision as I return to my practice as a counsellor and therapist. As part of the process in helping myself find an orientation to life after analysis I have begun to construct a sort of “bucket list” of things that I “want” to do with the time remaining. Somehow, I anticipate a long life lasting twenty or more years. Regardless of that likelihood, I am building the list as if I had only five years left to live in order to discourage myself from procrastinating on things that I feel are important. When I am finished the list, I will bring it here.