They’re like messengers that show us,
with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck."
"One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light,
Knowing your own darkness is the best method
for dealing with the darknesses of other people."”
Yet -- and this is generally not proclaimed in the slick internet ads -- it is also true that a regular mediation practice can bring to the surface a lot of feelings that we have assiduously managed to repress, deny or avoid as we scurry ahead in our lives.
Conditioned to operate in a fast-paced materialistic society, one that keeps us focused outwardly for fulfillment, we just keep moving. Once we slow down and sit still for awhile to focus inwardly, our world changes. Although we can experience greater calm, it is also not uncommon to encounter darker, more distressing emotions at times.
Contrary to what we might think, this is a Good Thing. It's a sign that the Practice is working!
In the process of a deepening Practice, we no longer skim across the surface. We actually begin to get in touch with the aspects of our conditioning that have subconsciously operated to create the way we see and react to the events of our lives. (How often have you winced and thought "damn. Why did I say/do that!?)
The good news is that, with Practice, we are able to make conscious what had been subconscious. Over time, we are able to observe and navigate the more troublesome aspects of ourselves with increasing clarity and ease.
Truth in Advertising
Adrift in momentary delusions of grandeur, I sometimes joke about beginning a high profile advertising campaign for Monday Morning Mindfulness with full page bold print ads, billboards and television commercials proclaiming something like:
Besides possibly getting sued by Jon Kabat-Zinn and others, I don't think I'd get much action. As Pema Chödrön points out, the actual process of meditation seems "counter-intuitive". At a certain point, we decide to sit still and face what we have always fled from. Who needs that?
Most of us do.
In fact, with Practice, we come to see that it is precisely our willingness and ability to carefully examine the nature of our own subconscious that unlocks the Gateless Gate of Ease and Joy. When we finally face our fear and wander down into the basement with all its ghoulies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night, things begin to shift. As we learn how to embrace the skeletons that we've thrown in our own closet over the years, a new world opens up. We come to see that all the aspects of ourselves and our experience that we've deemed unpleasant, infuriating, disappointing, embarrassing, humiliating and otherwise "unacceptable"can be observed clearly, cradled in the compassion of our own boundless hearts -- and healed.
On The Zafu and Beyond
As we commit to Practice, this process unfolds not only on the meditation cushion, it also occurs in our interactions with others. As Practice deepens, we often find that those people who drive us crazy become some of our best teachers. We come to see that when we exhibit "judgment mind," and find ourselves pointing the finger at someone else, we are probably missing the point.
As we become familiar with our own mind, we see for ourselves the reality of psychological projection. Oftentimes, the thoughts, feelings, motivations, and desires that we are unable to accept in ourselves and have repressed are then projected outward and attributed to others. Over time, we notice that if we are having a difficult time with someone else, it could very well be that we ought to take a deeper look at ourselves in the mirror of Practice.
Although in the modern era this understanding of psychological projection was pioneered by Freud, it goes much further back. It appears in the writings of Greek Philosophers, Buddhism and, in the Teachings of Yogi Jesus, most famously in his words on the "mote and the plank."
Although the teachings of the Prince of Peace were distorted as Christianity was institutionalized into the warlike Holy Roman Empire, it seems to me that the Son of Man and the Buddha were on the same page about the nature of Reality. In the Clear Light of Mindfulness, the wisdom of "judge not and ye shall not be judged" becomes self-evident. The karma is instant. You are either are Present for yourself and others with an Open Heart and an Open Mind -- or you're not.
If you're paying attention, you'll notice.
At those points, a walk down main street can become a stroll through the Pure Land of Amitaba Buddha or a ramble through the Kingdom of Heaven.
I love it when that happens.
(* interestingly, although the word hypocrite has taken on extremely judgmental connotations, it merely meant "actor" in the Greek of the New Testament, someone who was playing a previously scripted role, not truly being present. )