My therapist, who I now like to call my ‘spiritual guide’, has an uncanny way of tuning in and summarising or pinpointing exactly where I am at, especially when I am trying to explain or describe a particularly new sensation that may be beyond words. He sensed today that I was ‘at home’ on the couch which is exactly how I felt. I was glued to the couch today, akin to the grounding one feels when meditating or in deep relaxation, my eyes were fixed on the white cotton clouds that I could see through the window for the entire time. Today’s session had no agenda, nothing specific was discussed or worked through, we simply took a leisurely stroll with our conversation among the many gaps of silence which were like long deep relaxing breaths. It produced a beautiful image in me of a Mother and baby relaxing together, where the baby is happily kicking it’s legs and doing it’s own thing, and the Mother is simply being and not interrupting the babies flow. I think I may have been influenced by Winnicott in this case.
This longing to ‘come home’ is what so many of us strive towards. However many of us feel ‘away from home’ much of the time. We are all searching for something that is already within us that has been lost somewhere along our paths. This does not mean that we all have the potential of continuously being at home, in some kind of enlightened state or ‘Ānanda’ as some Buddhists may call it. However enlightened one is, I believe that we all have certain tendencies developed in our past that tend to rear up over certain issues, which is why acceptance of who we truly are is essential. I often try to be a more spiritual and enlightened person but what is that exactly? It’s just and idea. All I am capable of is being aware when something uncomfortable arises and noticing it for what it is and staying with it rather than trying to fight it off. As soon as I engage my old stories and patterns of attachment to a particular way of feeling I land myself in trouble. ‘I should not feel like this’ or ‘why is this happening again’ only reinforce these old patterns, as well reinforcing my neurological pathways. An example of this is the morning my Father died. I remember, just after I received the news, I walked to the window and watched some kid’s playing happily outside and thought, how can they play joyfully when this is happening!
Developing your own style of daily practice is essential for healing. Tara Brach said on mindfulness, that for some suffering with trauma, practising mindfulness and breathing may cause a sense of suffocating. There are ways of practicing that may suit you better. For myself, yoga has been a wonderful practice but right now I am practising Chi-walking around nature, mixed with prayer and meditation, just because it feels right to me. I seemed to stumble upon this almost by accident and this is where I seek refuge at times when I feel exacerbated. This daily practice is slowly developing into something very lucid for me and helps me to be more centred and free when faced with uncomfortable emotions. It is one thing meditating and practicing and another thing to stay focused when faced with daily experiences that put you on the spot. As Jack Cornfield said ‘If you can always find contentment just where you are, you are probably a dog’. The idea of being a perfect spiritual human being can only lead to feelings of failure. It is though the unconscious knows this and almost sets you up to fail. There are plenty of other things outside daily orthodox practice that can help us like music, art or film which may give us a new sense of purpose and hope. We are individuals and we can engage in being compassionate to our own unique way of living, even if this is not how we planned it.
Like many of us, when I had my first taste of monstrous fear and anxiety, I began to read self help books. I took momentary soothing from these books, and at the time they enabled me to calm the storm of these serious life threatening emotions. But despite numerous searchings, and reading tons of these in vain, my fear still haunted and goaded me. In some ways I liken these books to my spiritual ‘O’ Levels as some of the basics were absorbed and have stayed with me ever since. Probably the best example of this would be in M Scott Peck’s ‘The Road Less Travelled’ when Mr. Peck states; “Life is hard”. That teaching is still very much with me on my personal journey.
The ‘self help’ industry is a multi million pound industry, and because the basic nature of ‘us’ wanting a quick fix, this is exactly why it is thriving. These books will not tell you to hold onto pain, they will advise you to skip over it or through it. It makes more sense to invite in what you usually avoid. For me these lessons were never born through books but were arrived at through legitimate suffering as I stayed with my fear and pain whenever I could manage to. Of course fear still grabs me by the throat, but starting with the body, I try to relax into it and know it for what is is, an emotion and a reaction to a conditioned thought of; ‘this may happen to you’! And what, ‘may happen to me’ … ‘The Truth’, thats what will happen. This is the false self or ego’s worst scenario because then it would loose control of ‘itself’.
I had always thought of myself as someone who is kind, flexible and loving but when confronted with this illusion I realised that I am not perfect and if I am not perfect I am continually letting myself down. I constantly invested into an image of myself that I could not live up to. When this was exposed to me, mainly with the help of therapy, I felt as if there was nothing, absolutely nothing, and at times I felt as if I was going to fall off the end of the world. If I didn’t have a story to cling to anymore, then who was I?
Currently I find myself between two schools of thought, one of Psychotherapy and one of Buddhism as they have so much in common. The problem is, as the title of this piece suggests, if ‘I think I’m a Buddhist’ isn’t that too a statement of ‘I’ and one of a fixed thought.. that ‘I’ am somebody. Bomb’s keep continually dropping.
It is possible to live in peace ☮ ~ Mahatma Gandhi
Silence is golden in the therapy chair that I have now moved back to. Far beyond the realms of any text book spouting analysis and theory, we sit in silence, engulfed by the nothingness of being. If pins did drop you would certainly be able to hear them dropping like fine rain in this open space. How can I explain how many times lately I have felt the ordinary things so deeply and shed tears “the silent language of grief.” How can I explain the moments of mindfulness having stared at a daisy like I have never seen one before, in awe of it’s transient beauty, the back of the flower just as beautiful as the front. The little moments, the little things, are not little. They are everything.
This is not therapy, this is far more than that word. It is a soulful fire and water life, shared with another human being, cloaked in 21st century attire. It is a meeting of tragedy, realisation, joyfulness and nothingness, and just like the weather, it is everything and nothing at the same time. Whatever it is, my physical body turns up to it twice a week, and often walks out from it swaying with dizziness. My Dad, my Son and my best friend are all losses and painful gains at the same time. The paradox and tragedy of death and life so much alive under the same fine umbrella that we collectively hold.
Things are not what they appear to be: nor are they otherwise ~ Surangama Sutra
Inspired by: Karin L Burke.