The Right Tool

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It is my pleasure to write to you about a psycho-spiritual problem that I have noticed within myself, my clients , my students, and maybe if I knew you…well perhaps you’d be an exception. And as is frequently the case, the tools which many of us habitually apply to the problem were developed by a mind which created the problem in the first place. Oy! What’s a body to do?

You may be wondering what the problem is. Well I think in some sense that first paragraph embodies the kernel of the problem. I have spent the past 30 years as a clinical psychologist and the last 10 or so as a student and teacher in a spiritually based healing school. It is from those perspectives that I want to address a challenge frequently encountered on our spiritual journeys. The problem that I am interested in exploring with you concerns how we understand the personal obstacles we meet as we awaken and then fall sleep, as we remember and then forget. We get it and we lose it.

I am humbled as I realize the size of the task imbedded in addressing this question. Today we will only be able to set the stage, to define the need for a good tool to do the work of understanding the self that contracts after it opens. Perhaps it will become a theme of future blogs as well. Ordinary dualistic psychology does not offer a sufficient lens for looking at this phenomena . Traditional psychological theories of learning and memory can not account for the experience most seekers, finders and losers, encounter. The valuable but limited perspective in which subject and object are seen as fundamentally separate, and the world is made of things, and time moves in one direction, is insufficient to the task of understanding this experience.

I should note here, that I do not believe that a framework for understanding why we humans have trouble staying aware of our “ Buddha nature, true Selves, Christ -consciousness, indwelling presence, already present future self”, etc. will end our forgetting. Rather, I am really curious about this part of the journey. It has something to teach us about our incarnated nature. I also think that a true understanding of the shape of the awakening and sleeping dance, will help us experience the deep Compassion that invites us to re-awaken again.

In the past week I have worked with 3 different people who have had many years of traditional psychotherapy and have walked a variety of spiritual paths. At the root of their suffering, despite numerous achievements and accolades, was the implicit and sometimes explicit statement: “I am not good enough”. They and their helpers have failed to provide experiences or otherwise convince them that they are good enough, at least in a way that persists. Perhaps you can see that this problem contains a form of the dilemma mentioned in the first paragraph. The mind of the healer and the client are stuck in the same worldview. Dualistic psychology can not fashion a tool that allows these people freedom from their particular suffering. From a non-dual perspective we can see the syntactical error. The category good enough/not good enough is not appropriate to the category” I”. Any temporary resolution, however seemingly positive, that maintains the misunderstanding of “I” leaves the trap set. Good enough is “thing based”. It is based on a psychology of separate only things. When we truly see what “I” is we recognize that ultimately the goal can not be helping someone or ourselves feel that they are good enough.

Martin Buber knew this when he wrote:” When I confront a human being as my You( mistranslated as Thou) and speak the basic word(I-You) to him, then he is no thing among things nor does he consist of things. He is no longer a He or She limited by other He or Shes, a dot in the world grid of space and time, nor a condition that can be experienced and described, a loose bundle of named qualities. Neighborless and Seemless, he is You and fills the firmament. Not as if there were nothing but he; but everything else lives in his light” . So here Buber invites us into the non-dual world where the primary reality is relationship( I-you). His is such an beautiful truth- naming statement that I read this and I know I am Blessed to have eyes, I type this, and know my fingers are holy. I look out, and to paraphrase Merton, see the whole world on fire. And still then in the next moment there is that thought….”if only I could remember this always, and the expanse, contracts. Without skillful means I may become caught in an unproductive self-referential loop.

We need a psychology that knows what the I – You is, that understands the functioning of the healed and un-healed human Ego. For example how the unhealed part of me becomes afraid of losing itself in an open field and so finds some familiar limit, like a fear of forgetting. Within a practice I do, called the Work of Return, we say that the unhealed ego confuses waking up with its own death, and throws up various symptoms which give it a location. So this is one way of thinking about our “losing” our hard won understandings. But it is just a beginning of what we need.

In the spiritual school in which I study and teach (A Society of Souls) I am part of a study group attempting to articulate a non-dual psychology. I’ll keep you posted about what we learn. For now I will continue practicing when I am remembering and when I am forgetting. And when I forget even that, I will rely on the kindness of You

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