So last week we talked about fear, working with fear and all sorts of misunderstandings that we have around that emotion.
I had some great feedback afterwards by email and its always useful for me to know whether the way that I am working with a topic makes sense or not. This is particularly useful if you are a teacher of anything - it is called teaching by wise means or Upaya in Buddhism.
You may not have realised but legend has it the Buddha was reluctant to pass on his message to the world after enlightenment, he simply thought that sharing it would be too difficult as it was such a personal journey and everyone learns in very different ways. In fact how it is possible to learn about something as abstract and intangible to the thinking mind as waking up from this very dream of reality?
The photo above sums this up really nicely, even the most devoted to the 'spiritual' path have a foot in both worlds. If not there would be no imagined spiritual path to even entertain us! What a hilarious situation to be in :)
The problem of a 'spiritual path to waking up' is that the thinking mind and attachment to an imagined self are the very predicament we find ourselves in. How can these faculties therefore ever solve the problem of themselves?
So we have to look slyly, out of the corner of our eye so to speak, the teachings aren't an A to B set of instructions - as much as we'd love them to be and most people assume they are - but a hint at the direction we should cast our gaze.
If we head off in the rough direction, the chances are that we wont turn back. We may forget where we are going every now and then as we get sucked back into the world of 'ten thousand things' as the Taoists call it, but if the devotion to the path is strong enough and without desire (theres another tricky thing - desireless devotion) then we will persevere. This desireless devotion to the ever present 'one' or true self, is akin to our idea of Bhakti yoga - devotion to God - except this God isn't personified in any way as we might usually find.
So there is a real trick in how we explore this, because dedicated practices are obviously a paradox in letting go of self, mind and objects that seem to cause us suffering.
To address this paradox, as far as is possible, there are certain non-practices found in many traditions, notably the non-dual paths of Advaita Vedanta, Dzogchen Buddhism, Taoism and Kashmiri Shaiivism. Although they may sometimes begin with an investigation of objects such as the body , their intention is to cut through the illusion of these objects and see the clarity of pure presence that the objects appear within and arise from.
At other times they 'look to' (again a paradox) the only 'non object' that we are aware of...awareness or consciousness itself, the sense that very clearly 'I am'. If we can rest in this state as often as we remember to, we will lose interest in the world of ten thousand things.
If you are interested in this 'Who Am I?' approach then I suggest you read a little around Sri Ramana Maharshi (below) and Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. Both of whom were very unassuming characters who never attempted to be teachers but for the need of those that wanted to learn. However they shared very clear, direct messages, the latter being the owner of a tobacco shop where he would dispense these :) Michael James is a wonderful English translator of Ramanas teaching and you can find many talks with him on youtube although they aren't for the faint hearted. you will probably hear me on them at times asking very pressing questions too!
I'll be exploring some of these 'non-practices' in a 2 hour long live worksop with my good friends a Movement for Modern Life on Sunday 23rd May @10am the booking link is here if you'd like to join us https://movementformodernlife....
Know thy enemy they say, and fear certainly feels like our enemy.....except fear isn't our enemy, that is simply how we have framed it for our entire life. But we certainly do need to know fear intimately if we are to find any freedom from it as the demon we imagine.
We have learned to fear fear itself. Yet like our relationship to almost every objective experience, those where we frame our 'self' in relation to 'another' , the object is always mistaken to be the cause of our experience.
We have talked in our sessions about this often. For example chocolate may be imagined to be a source of pleasure but eat enough chocolate and you will feel sick - it becomes the source of your suffering instead. A shiny new car may be the imagined source of joy but tied up in that purchase is a huge amount of anxiety around it being scratched, damaged or stolen.
Likewise the perceived source of our fears have no inherent 'fearness' about them. You might be terrified of heights but end up becoming addicted to the joy of skydiving out of planes of base-jumping from tall buildings. - life is an odd thing.
It is not the external objective experience and it never has been, whether that be a spider, a fear of leaving the house, a fear of looking foolish or fear of missing out.
But the feeling of fear is tangible, very real and is what we actually react to.
Our past history, life experiences, culture, family and so on have caused us to perceive certain things as a threat. Whether that threat be a direct threat to our physical life or an indirect one to our imagined sense of self.
Lets take a look at a few examples:
Firstly we have to explore this very reaction, not by reading endless books on it - that might expand our knowledge but not our understanding.
What is your experience of fear? What does fear feel like?
A tightening or a clenching of the body somehow? Shortness of breath, a pounding head?
We all have a somatic sensation to the things we are averse to. However our great mistake is to attribute the fear to the external object when in fact we are simply averse to the unpleasant sensation in the body itself.
So before anything else we must become familiar, intimately familiar with those sensations, for only when we do this can we start to break the illusion of what we are reacting to. We see the truth of things rather than the illusion.
So that will clear up some misunderstandings and with enough observation and presence of mind we may start to break this chain of reactivity; eventually we might even un-condition our conditioned responses. However this takes a great presence of mind, effort and alertness.
There is a bigger question though and maybe it guides a different approach. Why does this fearful response arise at all?
The short answer is that it arises because we mistakenly imagine ourselves to be separate from the world. The notion that there is 'us' and there is 'other' separate to us - at least to our thinking mind.
This brings us to a second and one might say more fundamental way to deal with our fear; that is to abolish the misunderstanding of a separate self. To move away from our obsession with thinking, because it is thinking that imagines a separate self and instead to see that we are always and only ever, pure awareness or consciousness. That is our true self, not this ever changing, transient physical body and mind.
Again this is a topic that we have explored in detail, so if you have missed that then please go back and watch some of our past group sessions on the website free resources page.
So from this new paradigm, when fear arises, we might first see clearly the experience of fear, but then we are awake to the fact that it is simply an arising experience within our pure awareness. There is absolutely no need to reconfigure it, move away from it or resist it. In fact we actually 'lean into it' fully, being fully present with it as an arising within the field of awareness or consciousness. We see that it in no way affects, colours, stains or alters awareness - how could it - and that in fact it is of no more significance than a passing sound, sight or any other thought. There is no distinguishing property of fear that makes it any more important than these other experiences.