Inviting a Monkey to Tea - Nancy Colier

luc

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Since I couldn't find a thread about "Inviting a Monkey to Tea" by Nancy Colier, I thought I'd start one - I highly, highly recommend this book. I think it describes many of the things that Gurdjieff describes, but it might be more understandable and accessible for many people or at least adds much depth to G.'s thoughts - it's written by an experienced counselor and doesn't use ancient or esoteric language, and thus relates well to our modern circumstances and understanding. I think it lays out a clear "battle plan" as to how to handle our three "lower centers" (in G.'s terms) in order to become less mechanical. She says the goal is true "well-being", which I think ties in to what Gurdjieff said about happiness becoming possible if we "consider externally always, and internally never", which of course we can only do if we get a good grip on our three lower centers. But the term "well-being" may be a bit misleading - the author makes it clear that it's not about "being happy", the goal is a real transformation.

What I especially like about the book and which in my experience is very true is that for true healing and well-being to take root, it isn't enough to "analyze" our psychological quirks and traumas, to figure out our programs, or to reframe our narratives. That is only the first step - we may bring the bubble we are living in closer to reality, but we are still living in a bubble. We may change our mechanicalness in a positive way, but we are still mechanical - we still "react", only differently than before.

To go beyond that, there must be a deep, fundamental change in how we relate to the world, especially to our physical, emotional and intellectual experience - a shift in awareness. We need to realize that we are not our thoughts, emotions and sensations, that these things really "just happen" mechanically, as G. said. We need to work towards becoming that "higher I", the one that observes, but at the same time is fully experiencing everything - all the depth of our feelings, thoughts and sensations. In other words, this "higher I" is not detached, not at all - but it looks, feels, and thinks from a point beyond the bubble that is our experience.

However, this is not a cosy "ommmhh" kind of state, because seeing and observing what's going on inside us ain't pretty; we suddenly experience all the crap that goes on inside of us that makes us behave erratically, stupidly and inconsiderately towards others. The battle against "it" is a very tricky process full of pitfalls.

In fact, I think this is the "nuts and bolts" of what the esoteric literature describes as the "staircase" and the "Way" being a one-way street: we change our whole narrative about ourselves, either steadily or in a violent "moral bankrupcy", which brings a lot of pain with it. We then have to deal with this pain, which leads us to the choice: we can construct a new narrative to make the pain go away, dissociate etc. (i.e. go back to sleep/dreaming to be awake), or we can use this pain to progress to a new sense of awareness, which initially even amplifies the pain! We then have to work with this increased pain and use this "fire within" to keep us aware and on track. It's a one-way street towards ever-increasing pain, accompanied by an ever-increasing ability to deal with the pain from a new place of awareness.

At least to me, all this is very tricky, extremely hard indeed and a daily battle, but experiencing this and working towards it has been a revelation to me, and Nancy Colier does a very good job describing it IMO, which helped reinforce new positive patterns and "thought/feeling/sensing habits" in me. I recommend reading the book until the end, because I found it gets better and better.

I'll quote an excerpt here with a few bolded parts and comments, but I encourage everyone to read the whole thing or better yet, the whole book:

Inviting a Monky to Tea said:
6. UN-STICKING FROM OURSELVES

The time has come for us to stop striving for happiness and start realizing our natural state of well-being. Well-being is a state that we can maintain; it is reliable and possible, the result of a specific kind of relationship that we build with our own experience. Thus far, I have been focusing on the first half of that premise, specifically, the kind of relationship that we create with ourselves—what that relationship looks like and how to develop it. From here on, I will be looking at the second part of that premise, the with our own experience part, and all that such a phrase implies.

To suggest a relationship with our own experience implies that there must be two separate entities, an I and an experience. Consequently, there must be a self that is not made of our experience. In order for well-being to take root we must un-stick ourselves from our experience. A space must grow between who we are and what we are experiencing. Our point of reference, where we are looking at the world from, must then shift. Well-being requires that we become separate enough to be an I that can be in relationship with our own experience.

Thus far, we have been considering who we are, our I, to be synonymous with our experience, but this is not the full story. It is time to try on something different, not contrary, but more expansive. Namely, that we are much larger than just our experience, larger than our truth. In order for well-being to take root, who we consider ourselves to be must expand wider than even our own authentic experience. It sounds strange—to be larger than just our experience—and yet there is indeed something larger to realize— a space that includes our experience but is not limited to it. The practice of well-being is not in disconnecting from our experience of life, but rather in shifting our sense of who we actually are. Well- being, at its core, is about discovering a different I.

THE FIELD OF AWARENESS

So what exactly is this thing called experience, this thing that we include but are larger than? For the purposes of this book, I use “experience” to mean thought, emotion, and physical sensation— essentially, the whole human story, all phenomena. Experience is everything that is moving through the field of our consciousness, the stuff of life.

The question then arises, how can we be something larger than the whole human story? Doesn’t the word “whole” imply that there is nothing else? It would seem that way, and yet, paradoxically, the essence of well-being is not in the stuff that is moving through our awareness. Rather, it lies in the field in which that stuff is appearing—the field of awareness to and in which our experience is arising.

Well-being blooms when our identity is no longer determined by the contents of what we think and feel, in the realization that who we are is that awareness to which the contents that we used to call me, appears. We are not what our monkey mind generates, but the larger awareness that brings it into consciousness. Well- being shows up when we wake up to this truth. And indeed, we can think without defining ourselves by our thoughts, feel without becoming our feelings, and sense fully without identifying with our sensations. We are well when we can live the full contents of our life without becoming any of it. In well-being, we take a step back to witness our experience more clearly, and as we do, our identity comes along with us.

While this may seem complicated or like a lot of work, the good news is that this larger awareness is not something that needs to be or even can be created by us, no matter how much work we put into it. In truth it already is and needs only one thing—for us to stop trying to create it, stop trying period. We don’t need to become it, we are it. While counter-intuitive perhaps, the path to well-being requires less, not more.

SURRENDERING TO WHAT IS

For years I read spiritual books that said that I had everything I needed to find peace of mind, that there was no work to be done, that if I longed for peace I needed to stop doing and just be. I thought I was just being, but apparently not, as I was definitely not peaceful. Frankly, I didn’t know what all that meant, and “stopping doing” sounded a little too close to “dead” for my liking.

I still hoped that there was a way to do being, because that was something I knew I could be good at. I was a type A+ New Yorker who had achieved everything I wanted by figuring it out and working hard for it. The go out and get it system had made me a success. Why wouldn’t it work for me in finding peace? I was going to be the first woman to figure out and forge the path to peace. And so I gave it everything I had, the real college try. And still, no peace. But like a good type A, I wasn’t going down easily. I pushed harder, thought harder, strived harder, meditated harder, sought harder, you name it, I did it harder. And still, nothing. Finally I figured it out— not peace, but that I could not figure it out. I could not get there with my usual tools, in the familiar way. So, too, some part of me also knew that I could not get there until what I was calling there was here.

My mind could not lead me to peace, this was clear. It was simply the wrong vehicle, like trying to drive a toothbrush. While defeated, my mind was also relieved. There was no level to which my mind could raise itself that would achieve this goal. It simply was not do-able. At last my mind could rest. I held up a white flag to the heavens. I don’t know, I said. I know I can’t know, at least not from the I that has been looking—the I that I have known myself to be. I surrendered, and this was my first step on the journey into peace. Well-being, like peace, can only be found in this surrender. In addition, well-being, like peace, comes not from figuring out how to possess it, but in changing our sense of who it is that is being it. The mind cannot achieve well-being for us; it is another us who plays in the field of well-being. When we un-stick ourselves from thought, emotion, and physical sensation, we become the I that is well—that plays in well-being. The place where we land when we are no longer collapsed and intertwined (or stuck!) in the ever-changing contents of our mind, is the place of well-being

UN-STICKING FROM THOUGHT

Most of us are prisoners, held hostage by our thoughts. Our thoughts drag us around through our days, a bone caught in a dog’s mouth. Whatever thought appear, we feel we have to entertain it, solve its problem, engage with its story. While we may feel anything but sleepy as a result of our thoughts, in fact, our true self is anesthetized and covered over by the unceasing blanket of thoughts. We are so unaware as to not even notice that thoughts are ruling our world—constantly arising and constantly being responded to. In this system, we are our thoughts; there is no space between us and them, no separate self or awareness to notice the thoughts and their demands for attention. Thoughts enter our consciousness with a honey glaze or maybe more aptly, a crazy glue coating. As a result, our identity gets stuck to them. It is not until we wake up, minutes, hours, days, years, lifetimes later, that we realize that we have been gone, absent from our life, stuck inside a prison of thought.

Ironically, the majority of what comprises our thoughts is information we already know. Our thoughts chatter on without breaks, repetitively, saying little of interest and never allowing for silence or for anything interesting to happen. Mostly, our thoughts remind us of what can go wrong, what we are doing wrong, what others are doing wrong, what we need to fear, and what we need to remember that we have not forgotten since the last time we were reminded just a moment ago. Sometimes thoughts remind us of good things too, as in why we should trust ourselves, who loves us, and so on. But most of our thoughts are like background static, noise without any real value, a buzz of grocery lists and repetitive worries about past and future events, an unrelenting river of mostly useless data. We are trying to feel well while simultaneously conducting a constant dialogue with a dreadful radio station dialed up to volume 11 inside our heads.

Creating space from our thoughts means building an I that is not obliged to engage with every thought that appears, an I that can choose how it wants to direct its attention. No matter how our thoughts beckon us to get involved, convince us of their utmost importance, that we will die if we let one pass, we need an I that is un-stuck and thus free to choose whether or not to engage in our mind’s offerings. The fact that a thought appears in us does not mean that we have to spend the next hour, day, or week, entangled with it, lost in its contents, our life held hostage by it. When we loosen our attachment to our thoughts, and are less convinced that our thoughts are who we are, we are free to become the true driver of our life. The placement of our attention—how and where we live—is finally ours to decide.

As we create space between our I and our thoughts, we are able to notice the particular characteristics of our thoughts: what they say, what they assume, what tone they use, what their habits and favorite subjects are, and so on. Separating the I that is looking at our thoughts from the contents of those thoughts allows us to slow down the assembly line that is continually passing through our mind. As a result, we are given the chance to actually examine the product that our mind is producing, and most importantly, decide if we want to partake in it.

Loch Kelly, founder of the Natural Wakefulness Center, offers the following: “I wonder what thought I am going to have next?”3 From this perspective, we can watch our own mind with curiosity, even humor, noticing its particular fixations, tricks, hobbies, as well as the gifts it sends our way. When we are curious, we notice that the majority of our thoughts are not new, not important, not interesting, not helpful, or any one of an infinite number of nots. As a friend pondered, “Why do I keep telling myself things I already know?” Her question begged an important follow-up question, namely, “If you are telling yourself things that you already know, who is it that you are telling?”

Our mind is like an out of order circuitry system. Out of order, but still firing. The master board throws out material randomly, habitually, but without a gauge for importance, or a sense of discipline. Getting unstuck from our thoughts means building a self that can choose amongst the noise that the system spews out. Once released from the compulsion to engage with each thought that arises, we are free to select from the offerings, to decide if there is anything important or interesting happening inside our head. If not, we are free to be—in our life, fully present, living a life that we choose.

Where our attention is, is where we are residing. Where is our attention at this moment? Where are we placing the nectar of our awareness? We are not free to truly create our life until we can notice and determine the movements of our own attention. Indeed, we have the skill to choose how we engage our attention. When we can separate the thought that our mind is generating from the self to whom it is appearing, a new I gains authority, the I of awareness. This new I is then free to direct our attention, and thus, direct our life.

THE POWER OF PRACTICE

So how do we get space from our thoughts? How do we un-stick and become this larger I that can choose its own direction? Simply put, we practice. We start paying attention to our thoughts, turning our ear inward, listening in to the material that our own mind generates. In so doing, we build a new ground inside ourselves—one that is not made of thought, but can notice thought as it appears before us. As we practice watching the tickertape that continually runs in our head, a new self grows, one that can see the ever-moving contents of our own mind from a place that is still, hear the incessant chatter from a place that is quiet.

We learn a lot of skills growing up, but, amazingly, not the most important one. We are not encouraged to study and know our own mind—to be aware of what is going on in our own premises. Being able to master our own mind is the skill that gives us control of our life, and ultimately, freedom. The more we practice paying attention to our thoughts, the better we get at it. In the process, our awareness grows stronger. Our gym for this practice is life. We are building the muscle of awareness, and it is this particular muscle that allows us to un-stick who we are from the conversation our mind generates, to liberate our identity from the contents of our thoughts.

Stephanie was a stay-at-home mom of three when we started building her awareness muscle and, in the process, uncovering her true self. Stephanie’s mind was filled with lists, duties, and endless chatter about the responsibilities that needed her attention. Early in our work, I asked if she could make a list of all the things she needed to remember, just for that particular day. She laughed and said that it would be impossible. Nonetheless, she agreed to try, asking if I had at least a ream of paper and a bucket of pens.

When all was said and done, the day’s list contained thirteen items to remember: pick up her daughter Lily from school, drop off her eight-year-old’s soccer cleats, buy a birthday present for a friend, schedule a meeting with the English teacher, make Christmas vacation reservations... I’m only five in and my guess is that you’re already bored. Now imagine listening to that list all day every day, and that’s actually how we live! Stephanie and I had all the day’s responsibilities down on just one small piece of paper, and she was clear about what needed to be done to accomplish each task. As she put it, “For a woman with two masters degrees, none of this is rocket science.”

Theoretically, Stephanie (or Stephanie’s mind) could now stop babbling. No more reminders, clarifications, or conversations were needed; she could move on. I suggested that she check her list two or three times during the day, just to be sure that she was remembering everything, but when not checking, she release herself from having to pay attention to the chatter that was filling her ears. Stephanie had permission to take a vacation from her mind. We were in agreement; there was nothing in the onslaught of thoughts that still needed her attention.

While on vacation from her repetitive, task-oriented thoughts, Stephanie agreed to notice if any new thoughts appeared, maybe something that she actually wanted to think about, something that genuinely interested her. I suggested that she pay attention to whether anything surprising made it through to her attention. Would there be a moment of curiosity in her day? In addition, I asked if she could notice how her mind adjusted to this exercise. Did the act of being specific about her tasks make a difference? Did her thoughts quiet? Get more aggressive? Did her mind simply continue to spew out thoughts about her already-known duties, perhaps adding my assignment to its list, poking her all day with false reminders, prohibiting the holiday that I had prescribed?

In addition, I asked Stephanie to watch for how she attended to her thoughts when they arose. Did she begin executing the task that her thought was reminding her of, or making a plan to do so, thereby creating a potential check mark beside the thought? Or, did her thoughts remain like toys strewn about a cluttered floor, as she frantically danced around the room, fretting? Finally, I asked Stephanie if she could notice how her thoughts appeared—in what form? Did they swirl like a tornado, un-defined, gas-like? Did they blend into one continuous, background, white noise, a dull static? Did her thoughts appear individually like random sparks, flashes on a screen? I wanted her to start to pay attention not only to the thoughts themselves, but also to the style in which they presented. I gave Stephanie a number of different ways to pay attention to her thoughts—the who, what, where, and when of them—as I did not yet know which style of observation would be most natural for the new separate-from-thought self that we were building.
When Stephanie returned the following week, I asked what it had been like for her.

“What was what like?” she asked.
“Our exercise—taking a vacation from having to respond to your thoughts.”
“Oh my gosh,” she exclaimed, blushing. “I completely forgot to think about my thoughts. Wow! I really wanted to. That sounded like such an interesting idea.”

She had left my office fully intending to and interested in investigating her own mind. Her mind, however, had other plans, and was obviously not as interested in my assignment nor in becoming our guinea pig. Swept up in a bevy of thoughts before she could even begin to pay attention to her thoughts, she had not noticed that she had not noticed. We both laughed. We were not there to judge her mind, or her, but rather to attend to precisely the event that had occurred when she left my office, and the mind that created it. It was a good starting point and evidence that we were on the right track. Stephanie, like all of us, simply needed to practice this new skill.

Over the following year, we continued to return to the exercise of that first day, and, with practice, Stephanie became more aware of her mind’s machinations and more skilled at noticing the specific thoughts that her mind was projecting onto her inner movie screen, even gaining a sense of humor about the “sheer boringness” of her own material. As she later described, “On a good day, it is as if I am sharing my internal world with five five-year-old boys, the ADHD sort, who have just eaten a bucket of fudge. The five-year-olds are in one room, a padded cell, luckily, and I am in the room next door. My room is comfortable, like one of those ante rooms you wait for a massage in, with southwestern flute music playing softly. I can hear the boys screaming and dancing and raising the roof, just doing their five-year-old thing. But I know they are safe and do not need me to do anything for them. I know too, that if there is a real emergency, they will get my attention. Until that time, what they are saying is really not that interesting! I have the freedom to do my thing without having to attend to them. They are wild and fragmented and that is just what they are, they don’t need and in fact cannot be tamed. I can attend to this quiet space without worry, and what a relief that is.”

Stephanie was learning that the mind’s basic state is agitation. Its resting place—restlessness. It needs something to ruminate over, to address, to fix, in short, to do. The mind only feels alive when in motion. The mind does not be, it does. Well-being does not require us to correct the mind’s wild, impatient, agitated, restless nature any more than we would try to correct a golden retriever puppy from being puppy-like, or a five-year-old from being five. Rather, well- being is about finding a way to get comfortable with the mind’s agitated nature, to develop a non-restless place inside that can be with the restlessness, allowing the mind to be the mind without having to control it or be controlled by it. The mind needs to want; we can let it want without feeling that we need to provide. The mind needs to do; we can let it do without feeling that we need to do anything about it.

THE FEAR THAT FIGHTS AWARENESS

As we un-stick from thought, fear appears. Fear is a powerful opponent for awareness, skillful and accomplished at tucking us back in bed, and back to sleep. When we start to look at our thoughts, we are essentially telling the mind that we are not it and the thoughts it produces. We are informing our mind that, while we may appreciate its skills, we are larger than it and no longer interested in being under its control. Our mind does not like this suggestion, does not fancy this demotion in status from chairman of the board to a lowly board member. So too, our mind fears abandonment. As we become more aware, we leave the mind behind, at least from its perspective. In defense of itself, the mind then generates new thoughts designed to keep us identified with it. Our mind is fighting for what it considers its very survival. The mind tries to convince us that we are not safe unless it is the boss, not okay unless fully aligned with its thoughts. We must be our thoughts, not just notice them. Anyone or anything that suggests otherwise has lost its mind, is out of its mind, and will only lead us to danger.

The mind’s don’t leave me thoughts need to be seductive, as the consequence for their not hypnotizing our awareness is, as the mind perceives it, extinction. Consequently, our awareness must be on high alert for the kinds of thoughts that appear as something other than thoughts, as these are the sort designed specifically to keep our true self sedated and the mind at the helm.

In my own awareness practice, I noticed a particular line of fear-based thoughts that often snuck in. I named these my “What now?” friends. The more I un-stuck from thought and aligned with the awareness that notices thought, the louder my mind called out, pleading, worrying, “But if I really am this awareness, I must tell someone that I am becoming this. I can’t be in this alone, it’s too lonely in here as awareness.”

Simultaneously my mind called out, “What am I to do now, now that I have this awareness, am this awareness? What is to be done with all this knowing? I can’t just be here forever without making something else happen.”

Thankfully, I am aware enough to know that it was not my true and aware self that was producing these worries. I could discern that awareness itself did not feel worried. But rather, my mind was reacting to my growing awareness, demonstrating its fear of being left alone, and of ending up with nothing to do, no tasks to accomplish . . . forever. I felt compassion for my mind’s terror; I understand its wish for me to stay aligned with it. And yet, while these thoughts and feelings are powerful and seductive, beckoning me to hook back in with mind, nonetheless, my awareness is growing in its capacity to resist getting involved, able to notice and tolerate even the fear that my own mind experiences. My aware, separated self can in fact offer my mind comfort, holding its hand without climbing inside it.

THOUGHTS ABOUT THOUGHTS: A NEW CHANCE TO WAKE UP

As we go through this process, we need to be careful, and extra attentive to our mind’s machinations. The path of separating or un-sticking from our thoughts contains dangerous curves and spots for derailment. We must stay awake so as to not fall prey to our thoughts about the un-sticking process, what it is doing to us, as well as who we are as un-stickers. Put simply, as we start to pay attention to our thoughts, we will have thoughts about paying attention to our thoughts. While the contents of these thoughts may be new, the result is old and familiar: we fall back to sleep, back under the covers of thought. Nothing is out of bounds when it comes to our mind’s commentary, not even the process of becoming aware of itself.

Unfortunately, each time we awaken to find that we have been asleep within thought, we tend to blame or shame ourselves. We mistakenly identify with the mind that took us away on a thought journey—I am a terrible meditator, all I do is think. Why can’t I do this thing everyone else can do? I’ve never been able to relax . . .” and the story picks up steam from there. Without any warning, we are back in a thought dream. In truth, each time our awareness informs us that we are not there, we have a wonderful opportunity to identify with the part of us that realized we weren’t there, the part that woke us up, tapped us on the shoulder. This is our new self, our awakeness.

Noticing that we have been trapped in thought is something to celebrate. We were awake enough to notice that we were sleeping! Our real self is showing up and getting stronger.
Are You Still Awake?

As delightful and confidence building as our growing awareness is, we cannot get too comfortable within it. Remember, we can and will use thought to construct a story or make an identity out of being someone who is a good meditator just as we can and will out of being someone who is a bad meditator. The story might go some- thing like this:

Wow, I am really good at this un-sticking thing, I am a really good meditator, maybe I’m already enlightened. I get it, I really am not my thoughts. This is cool, I have to tell people about this. Now that I have this thing down, maybe I’ll go to India and become a yogi, or a guru. This is so easy for me I wonder why everyone says this is hard, I can do most things really well, I wish I would be recognized for all I can do . . .

When we like the contents of our thoughts we are often more inclined to want to identify with them, to lose our perspective and thus stop examining our thoughts. We are easily seduced and anesthetized by what the mind tells us about ourselves. When our thoughts are about our identity, it is trickier to keep our awareness tuned in. And yet, a positive idea of ourselves is just another bundle of thoughts. This is not to say that we cannot agree with our positive thoughts about ourselves, we can and we should. But it is important to remain aware of such thoughts, to notice what the mind is thinking and saying to us about us, just as much as we notice what it is thinking and saying to us about everyone and everything else.

We must keep the muscle of awareness limber and strong so that it is able to maintain itself even in its own playing field.
**
While I have described only a few examples of thought patterns that have the potential to put us back to sleep when we are un-sticking from thought, there are infinite varieties of such thoughts, infinite forms in which thoughts related to our growing awareness can appear hidden in the guise of truth. Our particular psychology dictates the costumes in which our thoughts masquerade. Wherever we are, thought is, and rarely with flashing lights announcing itself as thought. The larger and stronger our awareness, the better we are at recognizing thought in its different disguises, and the more able we are to maintain our awareness without getting seduced back into the mind’s lair.

Choosing to watch our monkey mind with curious and compassionate eyes (and hopefully a bit of humor) offers us some distance from that mind. Who is it, after all, that is watching this mind? As we acknowledge our particular mind’s propensities and qualities, we are simultaneously identifying with that, the awareness that is doing the acknowledging. While our mind has both lovely and not lovely characteristics, simply by looking at it honestly, and without judgment or expectation, we step into a new identity—not the mind, but rather the source of kindness, which can unconditionally welcome this lovely and not lovely monkey into the whole being.

UN-STICKING FROM SENSATION

When we are in pain, we are in pain. When we are feeling sick, we are sick. Our physical sensations swallow our identity. We become whatever we are feeling. Un-sticking from our thoughts about what is happening in our body means being able to become aware of the physical sensations that are arising within us, but without the stories that go with the sensations. In other words, to be able to notice what is happening in the body from an I that is not collapsed into the sensation itself. I am in pain becomes I am experiencing a sharp sensation in my knee. I am sick becomes I am feeling a queasy sensation in my stomach. We develop an awareness that can maintain itself even in the face of pain and physical discomfort, an I that can notice physical sensation in all its particularities, but without getting swallowed up in it.

The sensation of physical pain, while challenging to live with, is not what is dangerous to our identity. Instead, it is the thoughts and feelings that go with the pain that are the quicksand for our sense of self, the thieves of our attention. De-identifying from physical sensation relies on our ability to refrain from collapsing into the thoughts and emotions—the stories—that our pain triggers.

What does this sensation mean? Before we can even feel what a sensation feels like, we are barreling down the tracks inside this thought/question, deep into a story (usually catastrophic) about where this sensation will lead us, what it implies, and how it will change/ruin our life. Fear then pulls us deeper into the thoughts and emotions about what is happening in our body. What a moment ago was just a sensation is now an epic story, complete with a role for us in the drama. We are gone, as is our awareness, our separateness, consumed by the thoughts and feelings that accompany fear.

What do I need to do about this sensation? Yet another thought train that kidnaps our attention when negative body sensations arise, this train delivers a particular brand of anxious thoughts, namely, thoughts about the tasks that will need to be completed as a result of this sensation. Who will need to be consulted? Where will I need to go? How will I manage all this? are a few of the cabooses attached to this train, but regardless of which one we board, we are departing from our now, re-attaching ourselves to thought. Why is this sensation happening? Highly seductive by nature, this bundle of thoughts tries to make sense out of something that usually doesn’t make sense. When our body is in pain, our mind wants to create order, to do away with the unknown, to eliminate fear. It wants to take control of a situation that feels out of control. When we jump on this train, we collapse into thoughts of explanation, the Why-s? of the pain. Such explanatory thoughts replace any direct experience of the sensation itself, obstructing our ability to stay separate from our thoughts, to live in the moment and what is occurring inside our now.

At the same time, the mind’s attempt to find a logical explanation for what is happening in our body is not always an impediment to our ability to stay awake in the now. Sometimes, making sense of a sensation can actually help us remain aware to our now. If we decide that our stomach hurts because the butter was left out too long, we may be able to experience the ache in our stomach with a little more attention and without the fear and the story that might otherwise accompany it. If we think that the pain is not going to kill us, we might even be able to be a little curious about what the sensation in the belly feels like. In this case, thought offers us a separate and safe vantage point from which to observe the body’s experience, and thus an opportunity to stay present in our now as it naturally unfolds. [I think that is a good example of the correct and balanced use of our centers.]

Un-sticking from sensation involves learning to experience bodily sensation itself, separate from its cause, its consequence, its meaning, or the actions it will require. What does this sensation actually feel like? Where is it felt in my body? How does my body live this sensation? These questions can only be asked from a place, an I, that is with sensation, as it is arising, and not stuck inside the myriad thoughts about it. Well-being involves being able to bring our curiosity not just to our thoughts, but also to what our body is living, and ultimately, to be able to stay present with whatever mental or physical sensation is happening on our own premises, right now.

I once heard about a meditation teacher who had a degenerative brain disease. What was remarkable was that he could sit and maintain awareness of his mind even as it physically deteriorated before him. He was able to watch his own mind losing its way, turning in circles and becoming frantic about what was happening to it and to him. Many were privileged to experience his process alongside him, to be in company with that awareness which could remain separate not only from his mind’s terror but from the body’s own degeneration. He was a living example of the presence that is neither mind nor body, but in kind relationship with both. The compassionate now.

UN-STICKING FROM DESIRE

In order to realize our new aware self, we must also become separate from and observant of our own desires. Advaita Vedanta (a branch of Hindu philosophy) uses the chariot as a metaphor for human life. Our body is the chariot itself, the horses our senses, the reins our mind, and the charioteer/driver our aware, discerning, higher wisdom or true self. When we are fully identified with our bodily desires, our physical senses, we are no more than a brake-less, broken-wheeled chariot whose driver is asleep even while holding the reins. We careen this way and that, captive to our sensory preferences, our horses, as they lunge toward pleasure and bolt from pain. We are without any control or choice of our destination. Desire is an entity, a sensation that we experience, ever-changing, ever-present. Desire flashes endlessly inside our bodies and minds. Transitory by nature, our likes and dislikes, our feel-goods and feel-bads need not enslave us. When we practice noticing our physical and mental desires from a place that is not collapsed inside them, we are re-situating our point of reference from the chariot to the charioteer, evolving from a helpless object attached to the back of a runaway chariot, to a more evolved and purposeful intelligence charting its own course. Holding the reins of the chariot, we can notice the pull of our horses, but we—as drivers—are who decides our path. With this expanded vision, we are truly free, controlled by neither mind nor body.

UN-STICKING FROM IDENTITY

Our identity is a giant tapestry of thoughts—so tightly interwoven as to become almost unrecognizable as the thoughts that they are. If we look closely, however, we can see that the labels we use to identify ourselves are just bundles of thoughts stuffed with opinions, preferences, and beliefs, which we then weave together to form a story about who we are. Our I is made up of thoughts about who we are, based on still more thoughts about what we believe.

If I say, “I am a Buddhist,” where is this Buddhist-ness that I claim as me? I cannot find it. Unraveled, “I am a Buddhist” is a thought about who I am based on another set of thoughts with which I agree. “I am a psychotherapist” is a thought about who I am based on a task that I perform, a wisdom that I have gained, a set of skills that I possess, and an intention that I hold. The most controversial perhaps for me to unravel, “I am a mother,” is another thought about who I am based on something I do (take care of my daughters), events that took place (giving birth to my children), and something that I feel (love). But as we know, one can identify herself as a mother without any of these being true, without taking care of her child, giving birth, or feeling love. So again, “I am a mother” is a thought about who I am based on how I decide to define myself. In truth, our children would be better off if the right to self-identify as a mother or a parent were limited to those who could perform the actions implied, namely taking care of and loving their child! But ultimately, all of our identities are just hats filled with thoughts that we wear as if they were who we fundamentally are.

So what lies under all our hats? Or, put another way, who are we if not the sum total of our accomplishments and activities? One thing is certain, a deep sense of relief comes when we are finally free to toss our hats and stop fighting to be somebody, to be more important versions of ourselves. What a relief to not have to defend our accomplishments as if they contained some fairy-dust-essence of who we are. What a relief to get to just be who we are, and not have to constantly show it, prove our worth, defend our opinions as if we were establishing our very existence. From Sela, a client: “When I visit my family now, and they are the way they are: busy talking about themselves, never stopping to ask about me, never bothering to ask what I am up to or anything else, never noticing that I am still there, I can actually relax and just be there without having to prove myself or prove that I exist. It’s like I don’t have to shove in the information about me that would make me a presence. It seems that this larger I that I am building can be there even without having anything material known about me. That ‘me’ that used to feel enraged and unknown, because nobody knew me, or maybe more aptly, knew anything about me, well that me is relaxing. Nothing has changed on the outside, but I don’t feel invisible on the inside anymore. Even when naked, without all my hats. I guess you could say that my presence is no longer reliant on that former ego identity being known. For years I butt into the dialogue with stuff about me, what I was doing and accomplishing, what I stood for, but that never made me feel any more known. If anything, it left me feeling more pathetic, desperate, and empty!”

Sela was developing a different sense of who her me was, and realizing that in fact no effort was needed for that presence to hold a seat at the table. “I keep looking for that old rage that used to get fired up by their self-involvement, but it just isn’t showing up. Oddly, what I am noticing is a slight whiff of compassion for my family, for their having to keep spouting their achievements, proving their importance over and over again, confirming that they matter, solidify their own existence. As if they think that all of that stuff that they believe and know and do is all that they are!”

Sela had discovered something much bigger than any words could display and maybe more importantly, uncovered someone or something that no longer defined itself by the information she would have used to describe herself, if asked.

Kristina offers an example of a different kind of shift that occurs when we let go of our accomplishment-based identity. Kristina was a musical child protégée. She played the saxophone from the time her hands were big enough to hold the instrument and now she was a well-known professional saxophone player in a big band. She also had her own band and wrote original music. “I met someone new and didn’t tell him I was a sax player,” she said, nearly breathless, referring to her new suitor, Jonathan. “I just forgot. I mean it didn’t come up and I never even thought about it. I realized after, that I had never announced it or worked it into the dialogue.” Not surprisingly, leaving that information out had made her very anxious, at least at first. She had even thought about calling Jonathan and telling him, in some drummed up way, that she was a sax player, “a real one that people had heard of.” But in the end, she had decided against it. “I felt like it might be all right—just as an experiment— to be known as whomever that person was who showed up in the conversation with Jonathan, without the big title of musician to justify or prop me up.”

“Can you be known without it?” I asked, curious.

“It feels odd, really odd, and kind of naked. But also free. I get to be whoever I am in that moment. Wow, that’s an amazing concept. But there was definitely great anxiety about leaving it at that.”

She thought for a minute. “But the anxiety came later. It felt like my ego went crazy; it kept telling me that I had sold myself short, like he wouldn’t know how important I was, he wouldn’t know me. That’s why I thought about calling him back, to make sure he knew that the person he was just speaking with was somebody, and that he would take away a correct image of me!”

We both laughed, not at her ego, but with it and its desperation. In truth, her ego was just trying to adjust to a real shift in Kristina’s identity. Who Kristina considered herself to be was no longer just her ego, but rather, something larger that could sustain itself even when stripped of her ego’s fancy clothes. During the actual conversation with Jonathan, Kristina did not need him to hear about her uniqueness or her resume. “Surprisingly, I still felt very there in the moment without all that about me being known,” she said. “In fact, I felt unencumbered without all that information in the way of me. I, whoever I is these days, could just relax and be there, responding directly to whatever came up. All that other stuff about my saxophone didn’t feel like what was important to know about me. That’s it really: that information, while impressive maybe, just felt like that, information about me, and not actually me.”

Without the compulsion to describe who she was, Kristina’s naked self was free to be there, to participate in the conversation. Kristina had allowed Jonathan to actually meet her instead of hear about her. Kristina had trusted that she could be known simply by being present in the conversation, by allowing herself to fully enter the experience. She concluded, “In the interaction itself, there was only a now, no past, no future, just presence, and that’s what I was too. I was nowness. How exhilarating! Scary in a way, but wonder- fully free.”

We land in the present moment when we stop trying to do something with it, trying to use the moment to say something about who we are. When we stop describing, showing who we are, we get to be who we are. As a result, we can be truly known. We discover our own true identity when we un-stick from all the stories about who we are, the hats that cover us up. Our presence in the now is us.

UN-STICKING FROM EMOTION

Emotion is the hardest aspect of experience from which to un-stick. We can learn to see our thoughts going by, notice our physical sensations, recognize our desires, and acknowledge our identity hats, but to form a relationship with our own feelings is another tea party full of monkeys! We have been taught that if we feel sad, we are sad. If we feel unworthy, we are unworthy. In order to be in relationship with our own emotions, some identity would have to exist that could be with our emotions, feel for them, but without being them. Can we relate with our sadness without feeling entirely sad, be with our sense of unworthiness from a place that doesn’t share the unworthiness? This would imply that some part of us can remain separate from and larger than even our own emotions. You might ask, If I am not made of my emotions, then what am I made of ? How could I possibly not be what I feel? What else is there? We have been taught to believe that our feelings are fundamental to who we are.

The process of un-sticking from our emotions is further complicated by the fact that we are emotionally attached to our feelings. As a friend described, “My feelings contain a piece of my heart.” And another, “I feel like my feelings are my children. I guess I love them in a way.” Noticing our emotions would mean that we would have to let go of them just a little bit, at least enough to be able to be with them. Being with our emotions can feel like we are abandoning our children, severing the merger between us and them. And, indeed, this can present a real challenge.

Jane was a wise, conscious woman who had practiced meditation for many years. During our work together, a family situation arose that triggered disturbing memories and feelings from her early childhood. The circumstances brought up the deepest pain in her and took her back, emotionally and physically, to a place where she felt unsafe and unwell. Previously I had witnessed her in relationship with her thoughts, her bodily sensations, her emotions, the majority of her human experience. She would get caught now and again, slipping into identification with her experience, but it was short-lived, and even from within the identification she was aware that she was stuck. But here was a tsunami of emotions. Her awareness of the experience, or even of knowing that she was inside the tsunami, was engulfed.

Jane was suffering, tossing around inside this giant wave of pain. When we tried to find a place within her that could be with her pain, the pain would end up sucking her under. There was no safe place from which she could relate to her experience, no place where her early childhood pain did not kidnap her identity and along with it, her now.

After some trying, Jane became aware that she could not separate from the pain. This awareness was a huge step forward. Some part of her could distinguish that she was trapped, inside the pain, which implied that some part of her was aware enough to be outside it. Ever more encouragingly, Jane became aware that she was not unable, but rather unwilling to set this particular pain even an inch to the side of her. She was not willing to be with it, and not of it. To be with it felt like abandoning her emotions, the deepest of her beloved suffering. To abandon her suffering would be to again leave herself alone in that awful dungeon of childhood. The idea of finding a place within her that was separate from her suffering and did not carry its wound felt almost more excruciating than the pain itself. She was convinced that she would not step outside of it, as there was no place in her that was not of it. How then to be well, to find the place of well-being that could be in kind relationship with this experience, but from inside the pain? This was our challenge. [I think this is what Gurdjieff meant when he said that "people love their suffering"]

I started by asking Jane to identify what the emotional pain felt like in her body, to feel it as physical sensation. Before beginning to investigate, however, we first consulted with the part of her that was unwilling to separate from her trauma, asking it if this exercise was okay for her to attempt. With its permission, we proceeded, carefully, down into her body. As Jane searched her physical premises for the experience, the emotion emerged as something sharp, hot, and swirly. This was the beginning of her suffering becoming an it, a something that she experienced, as opposed to just her. As she got more precise, the physicality of the suffering turned to sharp and searing, “like a hot poker.” It occurred in the center of her chest. And with the poker, there was a sensation of weight throughout her torso, bearing down on her like a truck. She labeled the sensation “rage” and then “radical unfairness.” We got a sense of what the emotion felt like as a sensation, how it took shape within her. Slowly, we were building a relationship with the emotions that had swallowed her hard-earned awareness.

As the months passed, we unpacked Jane’s emotional world, all that was buried in the “radical unfairness,” bathing it in our kind and curious attention. Jane and I offered the warmth of our company to her feelings, holding space for them without abandoning them, caring for them without becoming them. As a result, Jane learned that she could relate to her emotional experience, as something that was a part of her life story rather than her essence or identity. Most importantly, Jane learned that this part of her deserved compassion. Together, we applied radical compassion where there had existed only radical unfairness. It was this compassion that proved to be Jane’s doorway to a new and larger sense of self.

Jane’s fear that being separate enough to comfort her pain meant abandoning it, also began to ease through this process. She realized that she could best serve her pain by offering it her kindness and loosening the strangle-hold she held on it (and thus that it held on her). In order to bring true comfort to her suffering, she had to be the larger parent to her wounded child, to be with her emotion—not it. Jane experienced a deep sense of relief as her emotion absorbed her company rather than her identity.

In truth, we want and need a separate grown up presence that can protect us and lead us out of where we are, even as our pain is screaming for us to stay with it in its terrible place. We need some- thing or someone to sit beside us and not be where we are. Our very young pain lacks the wisdom to know that we do need to leave it just a little bit, to be just to the side of it, in order to actually make it feel better. Our own empathic company is a gift of kindness to ourselves, and not the abandonment that we so believe. This aware- ness is the more evolved wisdom that both blooms from and gives life to well-being.
 

Cosmos

Ambassador
Ambassador
FOTCM Member
I'm currently reading the book as well and so far I have learned quite a number of new and interesting things. I'll expand on that on a later point when the book is finished.

For now I would like to share a short video where Jordan Peterson talks a bit about the idea of happiness. Since the idea of happiness is a pretty central aspect of this book as well, I thought the video fits well here. From the book (paraphrasing):

For example, most of us always seek for happiness in one way or the other and everything in our lives revolves around it. As the book explains though, it is exactly this unrealistic tendency that brings us into trouble and actually creates misery, both for us and others. We are not accustomed to really feel, except and embrace un-happiness and the realism that life simply isn't that happy. So the author suggests another way, that is in line with the work, namely: instead of constantly searching for an happy fix all and everywhere, to just accept that this isn't what lives is all about and that well-being is a much more realistic approach that comes through facing and excepting un-happiness.

Here is Petersons talk about happiness:


https://youtu.be/QLZRinhc8lw
 

Anthony

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Pashalis said:
I'm currently reading the book as well and so far I have learned quite a number of new and interesting things. I'll expand on that on a later point when the book is finished.

For now I would like to share a short video where Jordan Peterson talks a bit about the idea of happiness. Since the idea of happiness is a pretty central aspect of this book as well, I thought the video fits well here. From the book (paraphrasing):

For example, most of us always seek for happiness in one way or the other and everything in our lives revolves around it. As the book explains though, it is exactly this unrealistic tendency that brings us into trouble and actually creates misery, both for us and others. We are not accustomed to really feel, except and embrace un-happiness and the realism that life simply isn't that happy. So the author suggests another way, that is in line with the work, namely: instead of constantly searching for an happy fix all and everywhere, to just accept that this isn't what lives is all about and that well-being is a much more realistic approach that comes through facing and excepting un-happiness.

Here is Petersons talk about happiness:


https://youtu.be/QLZRinhc8lw

Along similar lines, Viktor Frankl covers the issues with pursuing happiness, albeit very briefly, but I think it's on point:

“Don't aim at success - the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue... as the unintended side-effect of one's personal dedication to a course greater than oneself.”
 

etezete

Jedi Council Member
lainey said:
Thanks for posting Luc. I really enjoyed this book and it's great to revisit the concepts and ideas once more.

this is really funny, lainey, this was exactly what I thought after reading lucs post. And by thinking about it i really got the feeling that the book changed something, made a difference. Now, with some time between reading it and rereading some major concepts of the book in lucs post I have the feeling I already learned a bit. Baby steps as you know.

Yes, and I highly recommend the book too. Again and again.
 

PERLOU

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
MERCI LUC, ce livre n'est pas traduit en Français sur Amazon mais grâce à toi je viens de copier ce que tu as transmis de ce livre et le lirai tranquillement... Un grand MERCI

THANK YOU LUC, this book is not translated into French on Amazon but thanks to you I have just copied what you have transmitted from this book and will read it quietly... A big THANK YOU
 
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