Letting go of our story lines

Meditation practice provides a powerful antidote to the story lines of ego. We become expert in  recognizing when we are holding on to both overt and subtle versions of ourselves. In addition we also come to see how we re-create story lines as a way of pulling back from the very experiences we long for: spaciousness, clarity and compassion.…We may prefer to have a softer edge on reality when experiences arise that disconfirm our favourite story lines. We may subtly rework memories rather than see ourselves in an embarrassing or shameful light. We may also shrink away from our naturally tender and compassionate nature when to stay present means feeling our own pain or recognizing the pain of others……As we come to see our internal narratives for what they are – stories that distance us from our direct experience – they begin to lose their power.

Karen Kissel Wegela, The Courage to be Present

Letting go of the outside search and turning within

Just as we tend to assume that the world is as we see it, we naively suppose that people are as we imagine them to be. Although the possibility of gross deception is infinitely greater here than in our perception of the physical world, we still go on naively projecting our own psychology into our fellow human beings. In this way everyone creates for himself a series of more or less imaginary relationships based essentially on projection.

C. G Jung

We can often feel divided and conflicted. We wish to integrate all the contrasting parts inside ourselves and develop a greater harmony within, a sense of direction that is solid and does not change from week to week. The first step in achieving this is to listen deeply to our own interior intelligence and find out what it is seeking.

Sometimes we notice that we are projecting onto others, or onto some outside  things,  the search for happiness which need to be anchored within first. We can see this  if we pay attention to our daydreams or our fears. It can happen that  an interior need becomes attached to another person or to our job or some plans and ambitions. In other words, we expect that the other person or the outside event fill in the missing parts of ourselves, rather than looking to do that work within ourselves first. We project the unconscious stage of our development onto another, and then act as if that person is what we imagine him or her to be. Frequently, however, the person is actually a mirror of our needs, which we have not yet come to recognize in ourselves. And as I have said before, our relationship with others reflects the current level of our relationship with ourselves.

It can be a great liberation to become aware that  our projections actually represent our interior unlived capacities. We turn within for what we sought outside, recognize our needs and hold them gently. We start to grow, because a part of us which was hidden is now coming to light. Sooner or later in life, we all have to come face to face with the question of who we really are. If we do not run away but  hold this question in ourselves, it can be the beginning of the greatest adventure in our lives. We can find the missing pieces inside ourselves, and in this way let go and move on to becoming whole.

Always searching for something to be

A person  knows they have found their vocation when they stop thinking about how to live, and begin to live.

Thomas Merton.

The arrogant mind never stops looking for identity and this identity always defines itself through attributes: “the beautiful one”, “the smart one”, “the creative one”,  “the successful one”…

We are always searching for something to be.

Dzigar Kongtrul Light Comes Through

Not getting stuck in the past

Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on ….. their children than the unlived life of the parent. Carl Jung

I had a conversation today which made me reflect on the way that parental patterns have a huge influence on us even as adults. This notion has been around for a long time. In the Old Testament it was believed that the sins of the fathers are visited on their children. This was at times interpreted somewhat simplistically as a a way of explaining inherited illnesses or chance misfortune. However, in another sense it seems to accord with what can be found in modern psychology.

Some of the behaviours which we see in adult life are in response to unconscious traces left by experiences had in childhood. In general these experiences we have when little  frame us into certain judgements about the world. We come to see it as either predictable, stable and nurturing or uncertain and precarious. Our parents also had their own emotional and relationship patterns and ways of dealing with anxiety, and frequently played these out in their relationship to each other, impacting upon us as children. From this we drew our conclusions as to how to deal with the world, and how to develop our own relationships. This parental wound – or the places where our parents got stuck – has a huge influence on our own inner life. The inner world we form as a child will replicate what we see in the outer world and then as an adult we can gravitate towards situations that replicate this inner world dynamic.

We tend to do this by repeating the pattern or by being determined to do the opposite. However, because the opposite behaviour is undertaken in response to the parents’ way of behaving, we are still defining ourselves by it and end up strengthening the dynamic rather than weakening it. A lot of adult neurosis or anxiety can be understood as a part of the self looking to discover its full development away from the narrow confines of the family of origin. A repeating way of doing things or a rigid personal style is a clue to the original place of lack or neglect. Our minds love habits, even when they hurt us.

It is a slow work to recognize the limited nature of the early strategies which we have incorporated into our personality and begin the work of healing by no longer acting on them.

Telling the truth of our soul to ourselves is the first task. Living that truth is the second task. And telling it to other is the third. Such truth-telling will be the supreme test of our lives.

James Hollis

Working with relationships

As many authors remind us, relationships are the place where our practice is tested most. It is easy to be calm on the cushion or in a retreat centre but not so easy when we mix with family, friends or work colleagues.  Every person we come into contact with has his or her their own relationship histories and have come to learn a number of techniques to manage their own self-esteem and control the behaviours of those they meet. Therefore it is inevitable that sometimes these dynamics can touch us and cause strong emotions to rise in us.

There is a balance to be had in inner practice, between maintaining contact and compassion for others and yet not tolerating being accused when we are not in the wrong or  someone directing their issues towards us.  This balance is never an easy one to get, and traditionally the wisdom traditions have been better at emphasizing compassion rather than maintaining boundaries. True, we have to work hard to keep our minds and hearts open, and notice any tendency to close down towards others. However, at the same time we have to be firm with our own needs and ensure that we are not always surrendering them in an attempt to keep the peace.

In reality, most of us, even in healthy relationships, tend to move from being open to closing up, depending on the other person’s way of relating to us.  If we feel they are not being responsive or if they behave in a way that we feel is threatening, we quickly tense up and start to contract. It is not easy to love without conditions, even if we wish we could. Therefore it is even easier to close our hearts when we are dealing with someone who is angry or unpredictable.

So how do we deal with the ups and downs of relating to others? A good starting place is to have a realistic view of relationships and people. Nobody can be there for us is an totally consistent way, every day, not even those who are closest to us.  There will inevitably be misunderstandings and mistakes. Expecting otherwise just sets us up to feel betrayed and disallusioned.

When words are said or something done, the practice is to stay as close as we can to the experience itself, as far as possible,  noticing when the experience turns into an emotion and the thoughts and behaviours that follow. With practice we try to remain with the experience itself, before fight or flight kicks in and before the self -justificating speeches to ourselves are made. We may not be able to change the initial incident or the words said towards us,  but we can stop it escalating by not running our defensive stories. We try to just be with what comes up, without adding to it, holding it in the light of awareness.

This unconditional friendliness towards our own experience provides a third element in our dealing with others. We try and maintain the same friendliness towards them. This does not mean that we have to like what is happening or what they are doing or saying.  Indeed, at times it will be right to say that we do not like it. However, we can maintain a friendliness to the person who is expressing their ideas and their fear, and hold as much as we can in awareness our own reactions to the words or emotions being expressed.  Mindfulness practice believes that the light of awareness has the power to change our experience. If we can be present in a greater way to the other person and listen to the emotion behind the words then space can open up. And as yesterday’s post told us, it is that space which we are looking to expand, both within us and in our lives with others.

As close to real as we can be

Things that are real pose no danger to the mind. The real dangers in the mind are our delusions, the things we make up, the things we use to cover up reality, the stories, the preconceived notions we impose on things. When we’re trying to live in those stories and notions, reality is threatening. It’s always exposing the cracks in our ideas, the cracks in our ignorance, the cracks in our desires. As long as we identify with those make-believe desires, we find that threatening. But if we learn to become real people ourselves, then reality poses no dangers.

This is what the meditation is for, teaching yourself how to be real, to get in touch with what’s really going on, to look at your sense of who you are and take it apart in terms of what it really is, to look at the things that you find threatening in your life and see what they really are. When you really look, you see the truth. If you’re true in your looking, the truth appears.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu