Thursday, March 8, 2012

Dealing With Life's Ups and Downs - Excerpted from Eyes Wide Open by Mariana Caplan

 Intellectually understanding the spiritual possibilities inherent in breakdown and disillusionment does not always make the reality any easier to deal with, but knowing that it is a well-traveled path and a necessary passage can sometimes bring with it a measure of comfort and courage. Like the mythical Humpty Dumpty after his fall, we find ourselves cracked into small pieces and strewn about the ground, with no idea how we will possibly come back together again. 

It can feel as if our life is over, that the pain and damage have gone so deep there is no hope of repair. I remember that at one such point in my own life I called a psychologist friend. “Torn, do you think I’ll ever be able to crawl out of this hole?” I asked him. I was certain that this was it. At the ripe age of thirty-six, I was finished, no hope for brighter days. He calmly assured me that in his work with thousands of individuals during three decades, he had seen many who found their way out of comparable or even more difficult crises than the one I was passing through. And sure enough, within a few months my life was back on track.

   Crises, depression, and breakdown are part and parcel of the spiritual path and of every journey through life. Buddhist nun Perna Chodrorfs book When Wings Fall Apart became a national bestseller because she was speaking to the reality, rather than the dream and fantasy, of our passage through life and the need to learn to transform difficulties into opportunities for growth. The current statistics on depression are astonishing. 

According to figures published by the National Institute of Mental Health, in a given year depressive disorders approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age eighteen and older, and women are twice as likely to be depressed as men.  The fact that we practice meditation or have devoted our lives to spiritual work does not exempt us from contributing to these statistics. In fact, immersing ourselves in the purifying power of spiritual practice often surfaces our wounds more readily, and with greater intensity than maintaining a life filled with psychological buffers and staying within the confines of conventional paradigms of mainstream culture. 
   Among spiritual practitioners and meditators there is often a tremendous amount of shame and denial that arises when we find ourselves in a state of anxiety, depression, or other kinds of psychological breakdown. It’s as if the fact that we have meditated for five, ten, or twenty years means that we should have transcended our psychological wounds. In such cases, we may try to deal with arising unconscious psychological material with more meditation and spiritual practices, rationalizing our troubles away by reciting spiritual teachings or engaging other classic forms of spiritual bypassing. 

In the article, “Optimal Healing: What Do We Know about Integrating Meditation, Medication, and Psychotherapy?” trans-personal psychiatrist Roger Walsh and his colleagues write:

Somewhere along the path we ran into a problem: reality. It gradually became apparent that many classic accounts of spiritual life are idealistic and unrealistic, not unlike the Hollywood sagas of boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, ride off into the sunset, and live happily ever after. Anyone who has ever been in an intimate relationship knows that something has left  out of the story. In short, spiritual practice turned out to be more complex and demanding than it first seemed. True, there were many gifts and graces along" the way, and the glimpse: of our spiritual potentials were awe inspiring. But covering these potentials were layer upon layer of difficult emotions, demanding motives, compulsive  conditioning, and countless old wounds, fears, and phobias. And ironically, spiritual practice often made these challenges more apparent and difficult to deny."

Paradoxically, sometimes it is the fruition of our spiritual practice that allows us to see where deeper discernment needs to be cultivated. Theravadan Buddhist teacher and author Jack Kornfield often recounts having lived as a monk in Southeast Asia as a young adult, returning to the United States feeling very holy, and getting into a romantic relationship——only to discover that his years of meditation had not addressed large areas of his unconscious and had produced far less equanimity [balance] than he would have dared to imagine. In fact most of spiritual teachers, psychiatrists, and psychologists I have met and interviewed say that the single most frequent cause of psychological breakdown among spiritual practitioners as well as among renowned teachers and even monks and nuns, results from issues involving intimate relationship, sexuality, heartbreak, and betrayal. It is these circumstances that most powerfully open up the unhealed wounds from childhood around love, survival and basic needs.
   We would not ordinarily consider that unhealed wounds surfacing could be the result of the fruition of our practice and the successful removal of psychological buffers that block us from feeling life at progressively deeper levels, rather than from something within us going awry.  Breakdown offers the possibility of allowing false structures to be disassembled so deeper discernment and clarity can emerge, particularly if we have a context of spiritual teachings, practice, and community to support us in mining the spiritual possibilities of breakdown. During such times in our lives, a doorway opens that may not stay open for long, and whether the crisis is respected and worked with from a context of spiritual transformations or it is seen as a pathology that must be suppressed, hidden, and rejected will often determine whether it is an ordinary crisis or a healing one that presents a doorway to greater discernment.
    Sometimes the greatest gifts we receive from going through a period of crisis are the recognition of our own vulnerability to life and a deeper capacity to empathize and support others who are suffering, as we now understand this aspect of our shared humanity.

   In our naiveté, we might believe that devoting our lives wholeheartedly to a path of uncompromised spiritual growth means that we will experience progressively deeper peace, tranquility, harmony, and good fortune, and that if we practice diligently and sincerely enough we will somehow be exempt from the suffering that befalls the rest of the human race. In some cases this may be true, but once again, we are dealing with vast forces of karmic conditioning that often extend farther back in time than the intellect can conceive. And if our aim is to discover truth, the path will bring to the surface all that is untrue within us. We are tempered and refined through spiritual practice and through our own lives, and in this way, spiritual discernment dawns. 

Once when I was attending a concert on a beach in Kauai, I noticed a striking young woman dancing wildly in the warm evening air, a large black tattoo that read “INVINCIBLE” in the Gothic style capital letters printed across her lower back. I ached when I thought of the shock and sorrow this young woman would inevitably encounter when she learned that neither she nor anyone else is invincible. Werner Erhard, a leader in the field of self-development, used to tell his students that the reward they would receive for learning to solve their problems would be even bigger problems to solve, and that the reward for learning to digest their own suffering would be to learn to digest the suffering of the world. Often, those who have the strongest intentions and who have made the most profound vows of transformation—usua1ly consciously but — ' 'sometimes even unconsciously—pass through the most severe tests, initiations, and “trials by fire” on their path.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Some Exercises with Eckhart Tolle

Following are seven chapters of questions relative to
A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose
by Eckhart Tolle

Eckhart Tolle presents readers with an honest look at the current state of humanity: He implores us to see and accept that this state, which is based on an erroneous identification with the egoic mind, is one of dangerous insanity.
Tolle tells us there is good news, however. There is an alternative to this potentially dire situation. Humanity now, perhaps more than in any previous time, has an opportunity to create a new, saner, more loving world. This will involve a radical inner leap from the current egoic consciousness to an entirely new one.
  1. Chapter One
  2. Chapter Two
  3. Chapter Three
  4. Chapter Four
  5. Chapter Five
  6. Chapter Six
  7. Chapter Seven