August 3, 2010
SOUP FOR RONIT
/part 1: butternut squash/
orange shoe strings line a beige crusty coat
melted by 350 F into a mouth, a vegetable mouth opening to kiss your stomach, digestive tract, body cells and
toilet bowl on the way out
free return to earth
to being carbon
/part 2: onions, garlic, and ginger/
simmered simply in water
no salt or oil, just pure vegetable nano-molecules
ten thousand trillion vegetable nano-molecules
/part 3: fresh spinach/
added in the last minute!
the first minute? the first one, when the soup is done and ready to taste
oh the very first moment, the one after putting the spoon to my lips
and the very first one after that, swallowing
and the very first one 5 first ones after that
when my stomach sends love letters to my brain
asking for more, a version of that one
that one mixed molecular spoonful my colon salivates for in anticipation
/part 3: secret topping/
round seed core cupped in succulent green flesh, dressed in a firmly dimpled exoskeleton
on this night before the feast
feeling a little jet lagged from the long trip north
and sad, missing
her extended family somewhere in mexico
she sits inside the dark fridge, talking to the milk cold and beautiful
a little nervous
wishing to be a good secret topping
CHOCOLATE CHERRY CHEESECAKE [RAW + VEGAN]
/adapted from a Vanessa Sherwood recipe on gliving.com <http://gliving.com>/
crust: 1/2 cup brazil nuts [or mix of walnuts + brazil]
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1 heaping T cocoa powder
1-2 T cacao nibs
1/4 of vanilla bean [seeds only] Process the brazil nuts, shredded coconut, salt, cocoa powder and vanilla bean seeds in a food processor until fine crumbs. Add the agave and cacao nibs until the mixture just starts to stick together. Press into the bottom of a springform pan. If you are making a large cheesecake, feel free to double or even triple the recipe (crust and filling).
filling: 2 cups cashews, soaked 1+ hours [or mix of macadamia + cashews]
1/2 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup cacao butter, melted on low temp in double broiler
1/4 cup coconut butter, melted with cacao butter
2 tsp vanilla extract or seeds from 1 vanilla bean
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup cocoa powder
1.5 cups frozen cherries, thawed
Blend everything together except for the cocoa powder and cherries until completely smooth. At this point, if your blender can take it, blend in the cocoa powder. Otherwise scrape the mixture into a mixign bowl and whisk the coca powder in by hand. Hand mix in the cherries. Pour filling over the crust and chill or freeze until ready to serve.
POTLUCK ALMOND & WHITE CHOCOLATE COCONUT CAKE [RAW & VEGAN]
almonds [about 2 cups]
1/2 cup coconut butter
1 cup dates
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/3 cup cacoa butter + 1 T coconut butter [melted together] + 2 T agave nectar
/this is an approximation, i didn’t have a recipe. let me know how it turns out!/
Grind the almonds [dry] into fine crumbs. Add in the agave nectar. Pour into a bowl and set aside. Separately, process the dates and 1/2 cup coconut butter roughly. Add to the almonds and mix together. Hands work best. Press this dough into a cake pan or square dish and set in freezer. On low temp in a double broiler, warm the cacao butter and coconut butter until liquefied, add in 2 T agave nectar. Pour this soup over the freezer-cooled cake. Return it to the fridge to cool until set [the topping will turn white].
In conditioned existence your body is a jungle – a jungle of habits. In the middle of this jungle is a physician/teacher. But the teacher is not separate from the jungle. The jungle or the obstacles are actually the teacher/physician. Inside your own habits, when you turn them into fuel for your practice, lies the healer that is waiting… Recognizing our obstacles becomes the path.
(Mata-mor by Rodrigo Bueno)
July 22, 2010
Kindness is the New Black Dress
The inhale never happens the same way twice. How can we continue to follow the breath, to follow the pulse of what it means to be alive? If the ground is groundless because our experience is always shifting, how can we walk on it?
I hope that everything that needed to arise in your hearts has come in a peaceful way. Sometimes it’s nice not to have too much shifting, some of you have experienced large shifts, others smaller shifts. But whatever your experience, practice softens us, it teaches us not to be too hard to others or to ourselves. Kindness is the new cool, the new black dress.
Freedom means trusting yourself to know what nourishes you.
To come down to the end of the exhale means knowing what it’s like to have something spread and lift at the same time. To be lifted up by something, at the same time that you’re expanding through your roots. The mula bhanda is the base, the ground. When you go deep into your exhale you hit a ground, and that ground has no base. This baseless ground is the basis of love and interconnection. Because it has nothing in it, it’s everything.
Ikkyu: “Only one koan really matters, you.”
Trudy Goodman, a senior vipassana teacher in Los Angeles, was once assigned the task of driving a famous Zen teacher from the airport to the retreat centre. She decided to ask him the question: “What is the final koan? (Koans are practiced in sequence) He was silent. Then he said, “I can’t tell you the last koan, but I can tell you the answer. The answer is love.”
Is practice a skill, or a set of skills? Perhaps that’s not a useful way of thinking about practice, because having a skill implies a direction and destination. Practice is a way, a road, but there’s no telling in advance, no way of mapping out, where the path will lead us. How are we going to serve in the future? One of the things we need to know is what nourishes us. For me, it’s the poetry of Philip Whalen. If I don’t read Philip Whalen each week, I get carried away into the conveyor belt of this culture.
Our practices should look different, just as our lives should look different. The practice is nestled into our lives, and makes us live in different ways. What kind of community would this be if we started looking like each other? The path belongs to you, in an entirely singular way, and encourages you to celebrate your singularity, but at the same time it isn’t yours. The path is not yours. “Practice is none of your business.” Who said that? Many Buddha ancestors have walked this same path. Even though Rumi never walked down Ontario Street, it the same path. But at the same time, we don’t want our lives to look like Rumi’s life, we want it to look like Sam, Ronit, Jennifer…
When I look around the faces of this room, there’s no one else I would rather have accompanying me on this road. This feeling is samadhi, when experience becomes connective tissue. Everything is tissue.
This Is How We Love Each Other
Line 20 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra reads:
sraddha (faith) virya (energy/strength) smrti (memory) samadhirpajna (integration) purvaka (something preceded by)
Continuity of practice. This is how we love each other. We fail again and again because we can’t love each other unconditionally. We slip, we fall back and forget. But because of our practice, we’re not hard on ourselves. We fail, and our failures are ok. They can also be embraced with space and curiosity.
When difficult feelings surface perhaps you can begin to trust that your practice can take care of what is arising, of what is happening in your life. This faith (sraddha) gives you enthusiasm for this practice, though too much enthusiasm is not the best quality either. You know how you go to parties sometimes and there’s someone demonstrating yoga poses? You don’t need to become that person. Or there’s the person who comes to the sit for the first time, and the next week they arrive with their family in tow.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village is a retreat destination each year for a particular couple, though the woman is not keen to go. The husband says to Thich Nhat Hanh, “My wife doesn’t like being here.” He replies, “I can tell.” The husband continues, “She just wants to be on a beach for her vacation.” Thich Nhat Hanh replies, “I think you should go to the beach.”
When there’s energy and enthusiasm (virya) in your practice you can practice smrti (memory) – to remember what’s important. And together energy, enthusiasm and memory give rise to samadhi: the connective tissue of integration. These five movements are circular. All of this you can watch through your breathing, and through your relations with others.
Every breath you take is your path, and every step. While walking each step leaves home, it lifts from the ground, from a sense of being grounded, and then it arrives home again. The breath is also like this. You have to leave home, in order to find home. Home can’t be separated from this moment, from who you are.
In India, one of the holiest gestures is to take water from the Ganges, in an act that recognizes this separation, then pours the water back again. Crying is like this. Your tears fall from your individual griefs, but it comes from the grief we all have, of living in these frail, impermanent bodies. Of watching our friends die. Our friends are the Ganges and in their death we draw them up out of the river, and let them mark us, before we put them back into the river again. Your tears flow down every drain, into the St. Lawrence River, back into the ocean and the mouth of a whale. They belong to everyone.
(Dharma drawing by Allen Ginsberg, 1998.)
July 19, 2010
Dogen: Picking Up the Fan
TKV Desikichar told his partner Menaka that he longed to go away and study, and immerse himself in practice. She replied, “If you can’t do your practice here in the world, what good is your yoga?”
We’ve translated this text by Dogen as the koan of your whole life. It’s about actualizing your life and practicing to find out what’s important. Dogen was someone who lost both his parents by the age of eight, so there was urgency in his practice. At the close of each day we chant, “Life and death are of supreme importance, time passes swiftly and opportunity is lost.” The reason life and death are of supreme importance is because time passes swiftly.
Apart from his own painful familial conditions, Dogen had two primary motivations. The first took shape as a question. If everyone is already enlightened, why practice? Secondly, he recognized that practice is often focused on one’s own private realizations. But he felt it was important to express these realizations. He expressed his realizations by focusing on language, taking images which had become cliché (like the moon as enlightenment) and making them breathe again. One can’t just have experiences of awakening and insight while on retreat, these need to be brought into the practice of how we bank, or grow food, or speak with our friends and family. We can only do this through attentiveness.
You can’t know how you’re going to serve in a year or three years. You don’t know what your life is going to look like. How can you practice now, so that when you’re asked to meet needs which are arising, you can meet them? So that practice isn’t just a shell? It’s also important to turn to others in order to learn and witness and ask after their practices. How is it being manifested in their world?
On retreat when people have special experiences (Oh yes, I am a very mystical person) the first question is: how are you going to let it go? And then: What are you going to do with it?
Dogen invites us to recognize, value and love our own idiosyncrasies. Celebrate the fact that we’re each an oddity. Look at Erin’s hair. Each strand of her hair is moving in a different direction. We can love her because we recognize her singularity. To learn to see singularity against larger patterns of interconnection, contingency and impermanence – this leads inevitably to compassion.
How can I extend compassion to others and to ourselves? You can’t really look after others if you’re not looking after yourself. If you took better care of yourself, you can take better care of others.
Dogen: “A fish swims in the ocean, and no matter how far it swims there is no end to the water. A bird flies in the sky, and no matter how far it flies there is no end to the air.”
No matter how deep we practice there’s no end to it. You practice because you are enlightened, and to remember the enlightenment. And no matter how deep you go, there’s always more, like a fish swimming in the ocean.
If people were told that they could get enlightened by two years of steady sitting practice the zendos would be full. Instead we are told that we have to do this for the rest of our lives. As soon as this is said out loud, half the audience leaves.
Nurture the Skin Bag
We are made up of water and nurtured by water. How we are nurtured by water is how we are nurturing ourselves. By nurturing water, by looking after water, we nurture ourselves. Nurturing oneself means taking care of everything that nurtures the skin bag, and by taking care of these, you take care of yourself.
Marching against the G20 might feel like a small and futile action, how much will really change in the rooms where international decisions are made? But after some hours you can’t help noticing that you feel invigorated and alive. Every action we take really matters, even if the local paper doesn’t report it the way we experienced it. Every action we take really matters, especially when we do it together.
Consider how unrestrained the movement of a finch or a hummingbird is. When the police helicopters fly overhead, if you blur your eyes you can turn them into hummingbirds.
“A bird flies in the sky, and no matter how far it flies there is no end to the air. However, the fish and the bird have never left their elements.”
Do you ever leave your element? Do you know what nurtures you? Do you know what your field is? Or perhaps you know what you need, but you don’t pay attention to this knowing. We leave things out of relationships, our mind, our movement vocabulary. We split off parts of ourselves, and these fragments will use the same amount of energy to force their way back into awareness.
We don’t want to lose track of what nourishes us. That’s why we make pilgrimages inside our bodies (to the pelvic floor, for instance), and in our relationships.
“When their activity is large their field is large. When their need is small their field is small.”
Michael spent six months living in Algonquin park in a van. Once there a local driver took a liking to him and brought him groceries. There was no schedule, he would show up every couple of days. Or so. Michael would stay up all night because it was so cold, and his practice was to listen to the lakes thaw. His field was so small. There’s no landscape he knows better, there were two or three seasons of pine cones that would never have been noticed had he been driving past. There’s a pause at the end of the exhale that sweeps up off the pelvic floor, and in that pause is an entire universe. You look at one thing so closely until you can find a universe in it. When your field is small – that’s what you work with. When your field is large – that’s what you work with.
“Thus, each of them totally covers its full range, and each of them totally experiences its realm.”
Fish don’t want to become birds, and birds don’t want to become fish. When I was in Mexico, staying near the water, I watched whales diving one afternoon. The energy it takes for whales to dive is immense, and as they drop down into the water there’s something almost like a smile on their faces. What is a bird? Flying. What is a fish? Swimming. What’s Ronit? Ronit-ing. What’s Grant? Grant-ing.
Making an art out of your life is the most important thing. This doesn’t mean making paintings. And it also doesn’t mean you get to do what you want. Everyone here at the intensive has a job. Someone has to ring the bell, someone else has to light the incense. Just because you’re free doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want. Being in community reminds us of this. Robert Aitken: “Everything just as it is, as is. Flowers in bloom, nothing to add.” You want to pour your life into your practice so that the practice gets everything wet. It cools when it needs to, adds heat when needed, nourishes when needed.
You become more helpful when you practice. And in order to become more helpful, you need to rely on yourself. And to know what nourishes you.
What is a sentient being? Being in your life. Nothing obstructs your life more than imagining that realization is outside of you. For instance, imagining that transcendence is outside of your life. Commentary on the heart sutra: “What a shame it is when you are drawing a snake, to add a leg.” What is your life? You can only answer if you know what nourishes you. Krishna says to Arjuna: “Do your dharma.” (What’s your dharma?) We should say that to everyone in law school or in med school. Don’t perform your parent’s unlived life. Very often people start practicing and quit their jobs, because they want to move towards what will nourish them. John Cage said, “The other thing that newspapers have headlines about is unemployment, because it’s going up very high. Instead of being seen as the nature of the future, unemployment is seen as some horror. None of the jobs that anyone is offered are of any interest. No one wants a job. What everyone needs in order to do his best work is, as you know very well now, self-employment. Here we are almost halfway towards self-employment, and all we do is complain about the fact that we have this big unemployment problem. It’s stupid. It’s as stupid as believing in God.”
We have to live in our field and in our domain. Being a fish means leading a risky life. How often do we take the easy way in order to please an idea or image we have internalized, about body image, or career?
Duck Legs Are Short
When you find the place where you are, practice begins. A monk asked Basho, “What is your practice?” Basho replied, “Whatever is needed.” Practice is right here, not in another country, in a better place, at a better time, and we keep missing it, and we keep missing it, and we keep missing it. Until everything becomes our practice. But wait, cancer is not my life, anger is not my life, the pain in my back is not my practice, the sadness I feel is not my practice… When Michael worked as a therapist he saw a man who was bedridden with back pain for three years. This man was so angry that he had lost three years of his life. But this too might have become his practice. Whatever is actually happening. I don’t think a fish loses years wanting to be somewhere else.
At the end of his life Philip Whalen wrote: “Cherry trees will blossom every year, but I’ll disappear for good, one of these days.” Who knows when you’re going to disappear?
Michael: Sometimes in this practice I want to push you to see interconnectedness with your whole body, and sometimes I want to hug you and say relax, stop trying to find interconnectedness with your whole body. There’s a cottage saying that hangs on a shingle. “Duck legs are short, crane legs are long.” Some of you have squat legs, some of you have long legs. In yoga the saying goes, “Your elbow can only bend one way.” Your life is your life, you can’t have someone else’s.
The Wind and the Fan
Dogen: “Zen master Baoche of Mt. Mayu was fanning himself. A monk approached and said, “Master, the nature of wind is permanent and there is no place it does not reach. When, then, do you fan yourself?”
“Although you understand that the nature of the wind is permanent,” Baoche replied, “you do not understand the meaning of its reaching everywhere.”
“What is the meaning of its reaching everywhere?” asked the monk again. The master just kept fanning himself. The monk bowed deeply.”
It’s not enough to know that wind reaches everything, you have to take out the fan and do it yourself. Enkyo Roshi, “Some may realize it, some may not.” We’re awake: some know, some don’t. It can be very subtle. This is Dogen’s answer to the question he set out. This is it. Do you see it? When can you feel the wind? When you’re fanning. When can you really see your life? When you practice. The dharma is always here, but if you don’t practice, you don’t feel it. Love is always here, but if you don’t practice you don’t feel it. When do you show up? And when do you forget to use your fan?
Maybe it doesn’t matter what kind of fan you use. The important thing is how you can have a fan that you can pick up. How can your fan help you at 6 am in the dead of winter?
Dogen doesn’t care about what you’re thinking, he is not writing philosophy, he wants you to respond. How often do we stand outside of experience and say, “I realize this,” or “I understand this.” Dogen says that’s not realizing your life. If you explain what you mean you might as well say that you can have wind with a fan. The point is to see how our first response is to package experience, instead of embodying it. How to become a question mark?
If you answer the question that lies at the heart of your life you risk losing the quality that makes you so alive.
(Oil painting of electric fan by Christopher Stott.)
July 17, 2010
The Lanyard by Billy Collins
The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.
Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.
July 17, 2010
From our final session with the Clinicians’ Group at Emmanuel Howard Church.
Michael: I was staying at a farm in Wisconsin, big country, the morning after rainfall. Early sunrise. I was sitting while the water was slowly dripping from the very top of the window onto the ledge. I was watching the water drop, but owing to the double glazed glass there was no sound. I had a cold, or was it allergies, and had a lot of mucous in my nose, and when I was deep into the sit the mucous unplugged, and dropped, and landed on the top of my lip in perfect sync with a water drop on the window. That drop was the drop of the world, and it carried the sound that is in every other sound, which is like the sound of a vacuum.
Mystical experience is nothing other than the present moment, and when we narrate it, we do so using the language of our culture, we strain it through the conventions of our language. Finally, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s a feeling of deep connectedness and it doesn’t matter because five minutes later you’re the same neurotic person again. These experiences demonstrate that the part of us that wants to make them matter is the part of us that wants to run the show all the time. These moments are important not because they’re peak experiences, but because they shed light on the way we usually live our lives. Most of the time we move our day in a top down fashion, led by the nose of the ego, up in the clouds of our heads. So many of our responses are habitual and repetitive. In our practice we want to create space so that when something arises it’s mysterious and unknown, that experience can arise from a mysterious place. And then you have to go back to cooking dinner, and changing diapers and doing the laundry with that same awareness.
There is no teacher and student in this koan, instead it narrates a moment when two people meet on the road. I think we might hold our next meeting on an island, perhaps Centre Island. We could take over the island, become the operators of the rides. And when we passed each other we would have conversations like this one.
“One day a lay man is walking on a road and sees a man looking after a herd. He asks, “Where does the road go?” “I don’t even know the road,” he replies. (After a few years of meditating practice, you don’t notice you’re meditating. It’s only if you might stop practicing that you begin to notice. When you’re in the practice, inside the flow, you don’t notice that it’s happening.) “You cattle watcher, how can you not know the road?” The man responds, “You cow. What’s the time right now?” The layman responds, “Time for planting rice.”
One can hear in the closing line of this koan an echo of another koan where a student asks, “When are we going to begin our practice period?” And the teacher replies, “Have you washed your bowl after breakfast?” Sometimes we’re looking for something outside this experience and we miss what’s right here.
Have you ever looked into the eyes of a cow? If you did, you probably wouldn’t countenance their slaughter. This look changes your alignment. Cow’s eyes are so still and large. You can see your own reflection in them, you look at yourself through the eyes of a cow.
Pain: Two darts
The Buddha’s teaching on pain offered this analogy. He said that when a person was in pain it’s like they’ve been shot with two darts. When the first dart arrives there is an experience of pain. Then a second dart arrives, but not shot from the same bow. Pain is spring loaded with the second dart of aversion. The first dart is inevitable because we live in bodies that are aging, an accidental collision can create conditions for a lifetime of pain that is out of our control. And as we move towards death we are going to experience still more pain.
What is practice if not to work with these inevitable states of pain? But practice can’t stop the first dart, nothing can. With our practice we work with the second dart, the one we add ourselves. The first way we usually try to get rid of pain is to gratify the senses. Eat the pain away, or shop it away or entertain it away. The word “entertain” means “to hold between” – to not be anywhere. Originally it had a very negative connotation, it’s a way of disassociating. But it re-entered our language years later attached to performance and a new value that privileged not being anywhere. The oblivion of modernity.
In Buddhist thought there are six sense organs, the sixth sense is the mind. How does the mind state seek gratification? By using theory and interpretation to make sense of what’s going on in order to avoid being close to the pain, the first dart of pain. This mind state adds the second dart. Often when we are called to be present to another person’s pain we try to make sense of it, and this making sense is a way of distancing ourselves from it.
Taking Over the Defense
Michael: Once I was asked to baby sit a girl of eight. She lived with her mother in a large warehouse building, and the fire escape was beside the windows of her room. She had a very hard time getting to sleep. She was scared that someone would come up the fire escape, and stayed up in bed watching the stairs. So I told her that I would sit on the bed and watch the fire escape. I sat on the bed, and saw her checking on me, to make sure I was watching. Five minutes later she was asleep.
When someone is defensive you can take it over for them so they don’t have to hold it. It’s a non-violent way of meeting resistance. I had a patient who was speaking with his brother, and as he spoke his posture changed into a slump, his view drifted out the window, he wasn’t in the room with me at all, he was spaced out. It’s a character strategy, a defensive alignment that once served a purpose but it’s grown out dated, the way blackberries will be outdated soon. I told him: “Whenever we’re talking about your brother, you cross your arms and before long we’re not talking about anything. If you’re in this position it ends our communication. Could you show me how to do it? Could you teach me? Do you fold your right arm over your left arm? How do you look out the window exactly? Now let’s start with your brother again, while I set up the posture. And please, can you tell me when to look away?” What becomes clear is that they can’t tell the story unless they’re in the posture. Now they can talk because I’m doing the defense. Assuming the posture is a way of showing that the defense is outdated. And it’s possible to do this with absurdity and humour rather than analyzing it or counter transference (which is a way for the therapist not to pay attention).
Sometimes interpretation isn’t a way of escaping primary experience, but a vigilant method of granting shape to what the experience is. Perhaps trauma is a way of holding onto the scaffolding. In Thailand, after the tsunami, kids affected by the storms would run to the beach to see if it was still there. Trauma introduces a third dart. Often it becomes easier to enter into a relationship with addiction, which is not even close to the second dart, let alone the first dart. For instance, if the kids in Thailand were not allowed to go to the beach, they might develop a neuroses around beaches. Layers of distances build around an original embodied experience. These layers could be named perceptual proliferation. One train leads to another.
If we don’t deal with the second dart of aversion we can develop what Freud named “Reaction function.” For example, if the first dark was grief over the loss of a friend, the second dart could be over eating, and the third dart could be bulimia. Bulimia is a kind of story about the story.
Missed Opportunities by Daniel Sterm
Moving along can result in failed or missed opportunities for change with negative therapeutic consequences.
Moments of meeting follow now moments. It very often occurs that the therapist simply misses that a now moment is being experienced by the patient. Or the therapist realize that a now moment has been entered, but it makes him too anxious and he runs away to hide behind technical moves. Or therapists enter and stay in the now moment but cannot find an authentic, spontaneous response that is fitted to the immediate situation. In most of these failed situations, the consequences are not disastrous. A similar now moment will probably reappear. There are usually several chances. However, sometimes a therapy can be seriously wounded or even brought to termination by these failures. For example:
An adolescent boy was in a psychodynamic therapy. As a child he had suffered a severe burn on much of his chest and abdomen that left an impressive discolored scar. Much therapeutic time had been spent talking about it, in particular the extend to which the scar disgusted or put off girls. It was summertime and social life was on the beach. One day in session, without planning to do so, he said, “After all this talking, you should see what it looks like.” And he immediately began to pull his shirt up. (A now moment.) The therapist very rapidly said, “No,” with much emphasis and hurry. “You don’t need to show it to me – only to tell me how it is for you.” The body stopped in his tracks and expressed his nonunderstanding of why the therapist of why the therapist did not want to see the scar. They argued about it for the rest of the session and the next session as well. (There may have been several cogent reasons for the therapist’s refusal. Perhaps he saw it as exhibitionistic, or some other form of acting in. Although any of these reasons might be true, the therapist acted with an excessive speed that prevented much reflection, and the boy picked up on that.) Finally, at the next session, the therapist said, “I have been thinking about what happened and feel that I disappointed myself in not looking at the scar.” The boy answered, “I don’t care if you disappointed yourself, you disappointed me.” And they began another disagreement. The issue was never completely resolved to the patient’s satisfaction. The scar was never viewed. And the therapy was seriously wounded even though it continued. But a significant part of the patient’s world was cut from further intersubjective sharing. The therapeutic world shrunk rather than expanding.
Even worse, sometimes a failed moment of meeting brings a fairly sudden termination to the treatment. In such cases patients feel (rightly or wrongly) that the therapist is incapable of understanding them.”
The wounded boy stands on the threshold. How long has it taken him to travel the infinite distance from his second dart in order to arrive here, in the room, with his scar, ready at last to show what cannot be shown? He offers to lift the veil of his shirt, the shroud, the curtain that separates him from everyone else. It is the mark of his wound and his singularity. How will he ever be able to learn how to sing through this wound? This wound is also the mark of his personality, what marks him is also what makes him, and he offers to show this at last, so that it might be brought back into his body, so that the secret can be told inside his body, instead of being projected out of it, beyond the veil. The analyst, fearing the breaking of the seal, has been triggered, and acknowledges this in his statement, “I disappointed myself in not looking at the scar.” It’s his own scar he fears here, isn’t it? That he wants to keep from looking at. And in writing about this relationship Daniel Stern says “the therapy was seriously wounded,” as if the scar had been passed from the body onto the therapy, which has become, perhaps, a third dart.
The first dart offers the inevitability of pain. The second dart is the storytelling around that pain. It’s easy to speak of two darts until you’re in relationships where there are many more darts. When we’re in relationship with someone who has the second dart we can internalize the second dart for ourselves. We need to be grounded in equanimity, to use our body as an instrument to discern what’s not being felt, or what is being felt.
Attention as Natural Resource
Empathy is nestled in the smallest moments of our lives. Our ability to pay attention is our most important quality. Our attention is the most powerful natural resource. For humans attention is always there, it is the quality which is most healing.
At the end of his life Freud wrote a paper entitled Analysis Terminable and Interminable (1937). It posed the question: can analysis ever end? It concluded that what is most healing about psychoanalysis is not analysis but the quality of the relationship. And that healing and relationship are only possible when there is intimacy. Intimacy can root even in the smallest gestures.
Michael: I had a client who was struggling with insomnia. We had tried everything, even medication that was so strong it would knock him out, but this lasted for only a couple of weeks and then he wasn’t sleeping again. Every time we met he would sit in the chair and tell the same story. The same story. The same story. Sometimes I would look at the clock convinced that it had run out of batteries. He would speak so very slowly and I was beyond boredom.
I decided to ask a friend of mine to help me end with him. I felt we were colluding in something unconscious, and that I was contributing to his condition. So I began to practice how I would end, but each time I did, my friend said no, I don’t believe it, you’re not convincing. Finally the day arrived, and he came and looked really tired. I suggested that perhaps he could lie down, and as he lay down I got ready to break the news to him. And then he fell asleep. This is a man with extreme insomnia. When he woke up he said, “If I didn’t come here I would be dead.” For two years I had been wanting his condition to shift, but for him this room was the only safe place he had to release. My attitude was that this person needed to be transformed, and this story was keeping me from seeing him where he actually was. Without attentiveness, dharma is only philosophy.
Freud and Jung
In 1909, Freud was 53 years old and the new mental treatment that he had developed, which he named “psychoanalysis,” was 14 years old. Dr. Freud had already published numerous papers and a half dozen books, but they were not widely read. One of the most important, the Interpretation of Dreams, brought out in late 1899, had sold only 600 copies in 8 years and earned him $250. However, Freud and his theory were making headway in Europe. He had formed a Psychological Wednesday Society in Vienna in 1902–later the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society–which attracted followers who met with him weekly in his waiting room. Also, he had a crowded appointment calendar of patients, mostly neurotics from Eastern Europe.
Clark University, a small private coeducational school (today the enrollment is 2,700 students), was about to observe its 20th anniversary in 1909. To celebrate the occasion, President Hall decided to invite Freud to give a series of lectures on the origin and growth of psychoanalysis, in July, before a conclave of psychologists. Freud declined this first invitation. He was solidly booked with patients for July and felt that he was “not rich enough” to cancel out 3 weeks of therapy. “America should bring in money, not cost money,” he said. However, President Hall of Clark University would not be denied. Shortly after, he extended a second invitation to Freud, stating that the celebration had been rescheduled for early September, and offering Freud 3,000 marks -$714.60 – for 5 lectures devoted to his new discoveries about sex and dreams. This time Freud accepted.
On the boat they analyzed each other’s dreams. One afternoon, Freud recounted his dream to Jung, and then proceeded to analyze it. It was a dream concerning his mother. Jung insisted that the dream wasn’t related to something in the past. Freud was upset, how could Jung dare to cross his theory that all psychic and unconscious experience is based on reversioning the past, mostly difficult events in childhood. Jung is trying to get Freud to talk about what he’s feeling now, and this was the beginning of their split. Jung felt that the psychiatrist was not a psychic archaeologist, that you can only experience the past in the present moment.
Mindfulness means being attentive to what’s happening now. To watch it rise and fall instead of following concepts and abstracting experience. To indulge the sixth sense of the mind. The therapeutic goal is always connection. When does this happen? Only in the present.
(Louise Bourgeois drawing from 1944. Bourgeois died on May 31, 2010.)
July 16, 2010
The following notes were taken at Emmanuel Howard Church where the Yoga intensive participants workshopped with Michael’s Clinician’s Group.
Jane Hirschfield offers this definition of Zen: “Zen pretty much comes down to three things: everything changes, everything is connected, pay attention.” It’s better to cultivate a meditative attention than to produce a virtuosic meditation technique. “One instant of full attention fills immensity.” Endless time is happening right now. If you can focus on this moment of attention, you can see the person who is seeing. Dogen might add: and when you get to know that person, you can forget about them, and then you can really see them.
Signal and Noise
Healing and intimacy are twinned, like the moon nestled by water. One of the ways we suffer is defining our self through aversion. By what we don’t want to include. This can also occur linguistically. One word can summon a whole world of feeling. We create more anxiety by trying to get rid of anxiety. How can we experience anxiety from its side, instead of using language to say, “I do not like…”? The practice softens the part of us that is saying “no.” How to move attention across the body, to speak from our symptoms?
As a therapist/clinician, we try to find ways to increase the patient’s signal, in dharma this is seen as a kind of violence. Why not try instead to reduce the noise around the signal, to allow it to be clearer? How to find a place to meet our symptoms, and instead of saying I don’t want it, to listen to it, because it has a lot more to say. Rejecting symptoms is the same thing that societies do with marginalized groups, they are ignored and repressed. But if you don’t pay attention, then the voice of the symptom gets louder. The goal of the practice is to pay attention to symptoms and small concerns as they begin, and thereby to lower the overall sound. “What I resist persists.”
Jung compared symptoms to scabs. He felt that dreams were scabs, the conscious becoming unconscious in order to balance itself.
One of the differences between western psychology and Buddhist practice is that psychology is trained to look at the negative. What’s wrong? What is not being brought forward? What is broken, what hurts? But this isn’t focusing on how the positive is brought into consciousness. The negative is so seductive. Here is the exercise. Sit together as two people, face to face. One asks the other, “Tell me something you appreciate about your life.” Or: “What are you grateful for?” The other person answers, and then the questioner will reply, “Thank you.” The question is posed again. For five of the longest minutes of your life.
To focus on what we’re grateful for is a gateway to positive states. It’s important to know what’s present and coming up for us, what our conditions are, but also important to notice what is absent or missing.
(From Micah Lexier’s “A Minute of My Time”)