Relativism, Objectivity, Zen, Astrology.

One theme that I have been pondering over the past year or two has to do with the attack on post-modernism. Granted, I am not an academic, and I realize a lot of the criticism against post-modernism is based on the proliferation of that perspective in academic, institutional settings. Part of the reason why I may feel the need to jump to the defense of post-modernism, could be that I am experiencing it within the same context as it’s biggest critics, and it may be possible that I have more sympathy for them that I realize.. for example, even though I am a creative and artistic type of person, I’ve always been a little bit turned off by the institutional, conceptual-academic milieu of the art world, (art-school, art-theory) in which there is an obvious air of “bullshit” that post modernism’s critics respond to.

Society has deemed me to be a sick man because my mind can be hyper-associative. My tribe and I are deemed to be disordered because we perceive too much order in the world, we are judged to be out of touch with reality when we see signs of order in the midst of chaos, the signal in the noise. Don’t worry I don’t take these attitudes of illness seriously I am just “taking the piss”. But what I am getting at is that my mind works in such a way that I look for the connective qualities between things, I often find myself having some kind of insight into how two seemingly contradictory or opposing philosophies are really just saying the same thing in two different ways, or to use a classic analogy, it’s like they are all groping the same elephant in the dark, only one has found the trunk and the other tail, and they are disagreeing about it, blind to the fact that they have both found the same elephant.

Post-Modern writing is often very complex and in order for people to talk about it they tend to reduce it down to the basic idea of relativity, that there is no absolute truth, that everything is relative. I kind of suspect that something important gets lost in boiling it down to this one basic idea, but since that is what most of the dialogue going on is about, I will go with that for now.

One thing that I find interesting about this, is that I see a strong connection between this idea of “truth is contextual, truth is what you make of it” and the whole You Create Your Own Reality school of “new-agey” spiritual thought. I sometimes wonder how many of the people who subscribe to YCYOR are actually hip to post modernism. The way I see it, it is just a spiritualized form of the same concept, and all the criticisms people level at post modernism apply to YCYOR as well.

First of all that there is a strain of Nihilism, Solipsism and Narcissism in it. It is as if to say there is nothing real, outside of you, and what you decide is real, there are no objective “rules” to how things work and the only thing that is real is your own mind and what your own mind decides to believe in. You could even say that there is nothing essentially “real” about anything going on in your mind, but by investing into certain beliefs, you make them real, (create your own reality) by arbitrarily choosing something to believe in, and you can believe what ever you want, because nothing is inherently more real than anything else.

I have a different take on it though. I was flipping through an old Zen text, the Shobogenzo when I caught this idea that hit me on a deep level. The Shobogenzo is a classic text but what it was raising was something to do with the present moment, which you see popularized more recently with “Be Here Now” and “The Power of Now” etc.

The idea was that in order to act in alignment with what is, to use “right action” in your life, the only way you can possibly act in the right way is to act according to what is is coming up in the present situation, here and now, because that is what we have the most direct experience of. The idea is that when you are relating to the present situation from the heart, there is an intuitive knowing of what the right thing to do is, and that comes up in a totally spontaneous way, you could also say “uncontrived” as it’s not distorted by scheming over something, you are just responding to what is going on in simple and direct way.

In contrast to this, any idea we have about how we should respond to a future situation, is inherently not “right action” because since the future is not yet manifest, we are dealing more with fantasy than reality. Once you reach the present moment, it may turn out to be different than your prior speculation about it, and you may have to drop your plan to rightly respond to the reality of what is being presented in the moment.

So how does this tie into my idea of Post Modernism? Well I would say it’s not a Nihilistic idea that there is no such thing as “right action” or that the truth of what is coming up in the moment is whatever your mind wants to make of it, arbitrarily telling some story to tell yourself about what is going on. There is a real truth to what is happening, in an objective sense, but that Truth can only be seen and understood clearly relative to the context of the present moment and all it’s situational factors.

So it is not meaninglessness, it is not nihilism, there is a real truth there, beyond what you decide to think about it, but that truth does not exist separately from the context of the environment. An action only makes sense when you take into account the context of what it is in response to, or the context in which it is happening.

Dogmatic Ideology in this sense is doomed to fail, because by creating a hard set of rules that apply absolutely to all situations, fails to take into account the ever changing circumstances of the temporal world that we find ourselves in. So I think in some sense there is a difference between a “living Dharma” that is always fresh, a living response, an active intelligence in response to what is really coming up in the present moment, vs this idea of an fixed set of fossilized ideologies, some old idea that has no direct connection with the lived reality of what is coming up in your life.

There is something else on my mind, coming up from the Astrology course I am immersed in. Apparently the whole idea of the Zodiac is based on the Lunar Cycle.. 12 Lunation cycles of the moon in a year = 12 months = 12 signs. The moon is both seen as a symbol for something that is receiving and reflecting the light, similar to how our own awareness, our own consciousness is a kind of “receiver” for all that we sense, feel and understand. In one sense it could be seen as that which receives the eternal light of the divine, but the moon has another quality as well, which is it’s temporal and cyclical nature. The Moon moves faster than every object in the sky, one day it’s dark, a new moon, and a couple weeks later it’s full of light, and each day in between it’s a little bit different. So this gives you a sense that the always changing, always in flux nature of reality.

The Planetary Symbols, representing the Gods, are not fixed ideas resenting one simple thing, there is a whole dynamic that plays out with each planet, each have their light side and their dark side, kind of like a living personality dynamic that is always changing in regards to the situation of the present moment. A planet can find itself in a situation where it is doing well, it is working cooperatively with the other forces, or finding itself in a sign where it can express a certain side of it’s personality.. but this is all bound by time and circumstance. The meaning of the force this planet is a representative of, always changes depending on the context that the planet finds itself in. Venus is going to tell a much different story when it is trining the Sun compared to Squaring with Saturn.

So there is both something that these planets represent on their own, but it is a complex, diverse and ever changing dynamic that only comes into actualization, comes into being, in the present moment. Then we experience the truth, or the reality of how the Gods are manifesting in our lived experience. So this is how I see the idea of Post Modernism applied to Astrology.

However- the thing with Astrology is that the cycles are predictable, we can calculate where the planets will be positioned next year, or 10 years from now (or whenever) and a skilled astrologer will be able to read that and make a prediction of the situational context that will be arising in the future.

Of course this is all dependent on the skill of the Astrologer, and subject to error or misinterpretation. Still we have a method here for having at the very least a peak into the contextual unfolding of our reality, or the many relative and contextual shapes that truth will take over the course of our lives and beyond.

Does this contradict the attitude I mentioned earlier about Zen? Is it possible to clearly see the contexts and situations of the future as if they were happening today? I won’t get into all that now, but I will just say my point in all this is that I don’t see relativism as a dichotomy to some kind of objective truth.

There is some “real territory”, God is more than just what you decide to make up in your mind about him, there is some kind of “objective” ground that we stand on, but the way it manifests in our lived experience is relative and contextual, Truth takes the shape of a thousand masks, a thousand faces, none of them “less true” than the other, but each are like a temporary and contextual expression of a rich cosmology that that is holistic and all inclusive. There is the absolute totality which goes beyond our conception of it, and then their is the lived truth of our daily lives, which is many different truths, like eating the pie bit by bit, in bite sized pieces.

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You Choose

There is a certain style of spirituality that is popular in some circles, which places a lot of weight on the idea of choice. I would like to emphasize that this is just one style, one perspective, and is not some kind of unanimous position that everyone who is into spirituality takes. This is not some settled position that everyone agrees on, actually it is subject to philosophical debate. Of course there is the classic question of fate vs free will. But maybe even that is simplifying it too much. Even if we are not bound to fate, there is still the question that the quality of volition, or our ability to make choices, is itself the tip of the iceberg, underneath which a vast reservoir of unseen forces are playing themselves out. Perhaps the future is in fact, unwritten, but it’s an easy mistake to decide that if that is so, it’s YOU who are the one who can write it. It may not be YOU who is subject to choose things, perhaps it is something else which chooses YOU.

The whole idea of Law of Attraction was popularized with stuff like the Secret, and it went mainstream, it went Oprah. The truth is this stuff has it’s roots in Occultism, and in some sense Occultism went Primetime. But Adyashanti also went Primetime, and of course so did Eckhart Tolle. There is sometimes an attitude people have where they put down that which is popular, or that which gets mainstream attention. Then there is a counter attitude which sees that as having an air of superiority and arrogance and is something to be avoided. But I digress. Adyashanti came from a Zen background, and he often talks about how we really may not have as much choice or control as we think we have. He talks about enlightenment in terms of getting out of the driver’s seat and allowing something else to drive the car. Rather than trying to take the car where YOU want it to go, rather than making a choice about how to navigate the car- grace chooses for you, and grace may take you on a much more interesting ride than the kind that you would plan for yourself.

(edit: the above is interesting for me because a lot of people put down meditation and “non-dual states” because there is a lack of motivation associated with that, with the personal ego drive being gone. Adyashanti is interesting because his view is that after that drive dies, he equates it to winter, not much is growing, but then you come back to life and something else is moving you. It seems like a lot of people don’t get to that stage and instead put down that kind of spirituality because they feel like the Winter Season is the end of the line, that no Spring comes afterwords.)

However there is this idea that we have a personal will, there is a “me” who gets to choose and then we surrender that and let life itself take us somewhere. However, this “volitional self” may only think it is the one doing the choosing. “I am the one who gets to choose what I want to do” or at least that’s what it looks like. But really it’s possible that our choices are the product of our conditioning, or some unconscious factor. For example, with media exposure, someone who has seen too many beer commercials may have been conditioned into wanting to choose a life that resembles an ideal beer commercial. But this is me, I am the one who wants my life to be a beer commercial. I want to be BBQing while girls in Bikinis play volleyball, and then get into my hot sports car. This is something I choose for myself out of my own free volition. Yeah right.

The sad thing is most people might spend their lives running around chasing phoney desires which have been drilled into them by the media culture they’ve saturated themselves with. And with enough alcohol they can help numb themselves out to the extent that they don’t notice that any of this is what they truly want.

Because of my long running interest in the work of Throbbing Gristle and all the associated projects to come out of that, Coil, Psychic TV etc, last year I started exploring the PTV cult, Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth, and their literature. One of the things they talked about was getting in touch with your true desires, or your secret desires. Which is working your way down through all these layers of conditioning to find out what it is you really, truly want.

Now there may be a few problems which come up if you are stuck on this volitional, “free choice” ideology. Which is that if your conditioned desires (see beer commercial) aren’t really something you freely choose, as you work your way down through the layers of conditioning, your true desires may not be something you freely choose either. I mean after all you aren’t inventing your true desires here, you are discovering them. You may not have any choice of what it is you discover, you just have to see what it is that is there waiting for you.

One thing I really appreciated about TOPY’s literature was that at some point Gen acknowledges that in the process of doing this work, one may inevitably come to the discovery that the premise of operating from “Me and what I truly desire” may fall apart entirely, because it might be revealed that there is no singular entity known as “I” or “me” there anyways. And the whole game isn’t about YOU and what you want, what your choice is anyways!

It may be more the case that there are simply forces at play, and “you” are some how mixed up in all of it. These forces are Archetypal, which is to say they are universal, and they exist entirely independently from “you”, if you were to go away, they would still be there, working through someone else instead. It would be someone else who wanted to find the love of their life, or someone else who wanted to manifest a successful career, or someone else who wanted to gain some spiritual understanding, or someone else who wanted to take a position of power.

It’s entirely possible that none of these desires, or none of these choices, are original to YOU at all, and you are only fooling yourself to think that YOU have some kind of choice over any of them! These are just energies trying to find some way to play, to do their thing, and it’s probably more likely that YOU are possessed by them, mistaking the action of these forces to be your own volitional choice.

Now Jung had an idea about individuation, that by integrating these unconscious forces, and being more consciously aware of them, then maybe, for the first time in your life perhaps, you could finally really be able to choose something for yourself (even though there may not even be a you there) what does this mean? I don’t know. To be honest I am still trying to figure this out, trying to reconcile what this means.

I am just giving a certain picture here, perhaps there is a mechanism of the mind, which thinks it makes choices, but it doesn’t have nearly as much power and control as we would usually give it credit for, and by becoming more conscious, this faculty doesn’t disappear entirely, but it is able to operate in a different way. And that’s what individuation is?

But like I said, this is a work in progress. I just thought I’d share this because I think it is a really juicy one that is often overlooked, and also, a credit to Jung, because I think he was way deeper into all this stuff than a lot of people give him credit for.

Wild Forces and the Pluto Archetype

I’m thinking about some reading I did on the Archetype of Pluto.. which can go beyond astrology, you can leave astrology out of it and just speak generally about things.

The idea is that, as human beings living here on earth, we are subjected to powerful forces, that are inherent in the basic reality of being mortal beings, or evolved primates, caught in the cycle of birth and death, living in the midst of natural cycles on here on planet earth.

To use the metaphor of waves or currents in the ocean, the oceans waves are much larger than us, and are not something we have any direct control over. However, a skilled surfer or sailor may be able to harness these waves, to harness the power of them, and use that as a means to go somewhere.

However in order to do this, not only does it require skill, but a respect for the wave, a respect for the current, and to understand that you are only able to harness these currents to the extent that you are working WITH them, in alignment to them, not AGAINST them.

It helps to have a sense of perspective, to see yourself as something small in the face of something much bigger than you, and if you go with that, these energies will be working with you. If you try to be too big about it, and exert too much control over these energies, or try to force or manipulate them in the wrong way, it can be a bit like “mess with the bull and you get the horns”. The waves will topple you right over, you will not be able to topple the waves over.

So our ability to work with these currents is contingent on our ability to be flexible and adapt to the direction of the current, and an attitude of cooperativeness to work WITH it, rather than against it.

As human beings we may have created a great deal of trouble for ourselves, a huge crisis even, by not understanding this basic principle, by being too cocky in our own ability to make these grand forces work FOR us, rather than for us to work WITH them.

The Archetype that is associated with this can often have the quality of being something that is dark, and dangerous.. something that is very powerful but also the idea that absolute power corrupts absolutely. But the idea is that if there is too much power, which is not in alignment to the direction of these greater forces, without a sense of perspective this power will inevitably destroy what is not working in alignment with it.

I get the sense that this is not moralistic at all, it’s not so much about a “just punishment”, it is more like a force of nature which does not discriminate between perpetrators and innocent bystanders. It may be less about some moralistic idea of “doing the right thing” and more about knowing how to either get with it, or get out of it’s way.

Part of this has to do with the fact that we are born, and we die, and that is a reality that is much bigger than us, that we have no control over. One thing you can be sure of is that all things will pass at some point in time. Our survival drive is a natural instinct, but ultimately our own stubbornness in the face of something much larger than us may only serve to make matters more difficult. What it often comes down to is that you either find a way to work in alignment with these forces of nature, which is surrendering your own will to something greater than you, or you take a kind of suffering that is similar to trying to face off with a tidal wave.

and this is nor a moralistic thing at all, the tidal wave will not hurt you as a punishment for disrespecting it, tidal waves do not operate on that level. The point is that if you don’t have that perspective, and understand your own place in relation to these larger forces, it’s a position that invites great misfortune and disaster. It’s more like having respect for a wild animal like a wolf or a grizzly bear, and just understanding that these wild forces have a kind of power that can cause a great deal of suffering if you do not align yourself with it appropriately.

Non-Escapism

(originally posted to Facebook on Dec 6 2017)

I should probably go to sleep but I had a thought today at the courthouse that I figure I should get down… which has to do with escapism. Escapism comes in many forms, in an extreme form it can take the shape of suicide, the ultimate attempt to escape reality. But the thing is, unless you are a Zen Master or something, we are all escape artists to some extent. Even the most normal and most well adjusted people are still indulging in fantasies of escapism. I’m not just talking about addictions and bad habits but socially acceptable things like working towards goals and trying to achieve things. We might drink or do drugs to escape reality or we might try to hatch some sort of clever scheme to escape our current situation. Like I am going to make a whole bunch of money that will allow me to create a whole new situation for myself. It’s not that there is anything wrong with this, it could just be seen as being responsible but really it seems like trying to strategize a clever “escape plan” … and meanwhile, as you are trying to create this big escape plan, here you are, in reality, as it is. And how do you feel about things as they are? Are you rejecting that? are you trying to look for a way out? And perhaps it’s noble to try to work for positive change in the world, but how much of that, our search for a solution, is really escapism? we are trying to escape this big mess we’ve found ourselves in, our minds are always busy trying to figure out an escape route, looking for an exit that leads from this into something better. To find somewhere better where we won’t want to escape from. The weird thing is, I remember certain moments of my life where the circumstances of the situation were getting pretty close to matching what looked like my image of paradise.. even if it’s just a temporary moment, it’s like “wow, this is looking pretty good right here” but still, the mind is still habituated to escapism, even when facing it’s own ideal. So we find the perfect situation and then we still are habituated to try to escape it, even if it’s what we think we want. So before we can really arrive at the place we want, we have to learn to drop the habit of trying to escape the situation, whatever it is, any situation. To realize, that there is no exit, there is no way out, to be here in reality, no matter what is going on, without trying to look for a clever way to get out, get around, or get whatever it is to be better. It’s like checkmate, there is no move you can make, that will allow you to escape what is happening here and now.

On Freedom and Liberty / Liberation

First of all I think it is important to make a distinction that there are two kinds of freedom and liberation, there is the kind that we normally think of, freedom to do what we want, freedom to say what we want, etc, but there is also the idea of Spiritual Liberation.. in Hinduism which predates most of the common religions around today, it was known as Moksha, which is freedom from ignorance, freedom from attachment (you can visualize this as attachment as being literally attached, as if by a chain, held down or constrained to something.)
 
However, usually when we talk about freedom and liberation in our society, this is not what we talk about. Instead we talk about the freedom to do what we want without being limited by some external party. You could say it’s about personal autonomy, the freedom to make your own choices, the freedom to navigate your own life.
 
I think there is a basic human need for such freedom, because the more we are unable to do what is we want to do, or the more our ability to make choices for ourselves is taken away, there is a crippling sense of powerlessness associated with that.
 
However there is a philosophical problem in this, because although there is a psychological need to be free and to act independently, or to be able to make your own choices, that doesn’t necessarily say anything about what those choices are. You could have the power to make your own decisions, but there is no guarantee that you would make good decisions.
 
But then there is another can of worms: How do you define what a good decision is anyways? It may be entirely subjective, a good course of action for one person may not work out so well for someone else, and anyways, everyone is in a unique position and circumstance in life, and I what comprises a good course of action may not be the objective qualities of what that course of action is, but the individuals own powers of reasoning and discernment to assess what form of action to take, in relation to their own unique circumstance.
 
But still there is the problem that no one has a perfect batting average with this, often the territory is ambiguous, and in order to navigate the problem of freedom of choice, and personal autonomy, it could be seen as a kind of skill in which one needs to develop. In the course of developing this skill, it may be necessary to make mistakes, and learn by trial and error. However even the ability to learn from mistakes itself is a kind of skill which needs to be developed!
 
So how best do we develop these skills? These days I am thinking it has a lot to do with getting away from the Fight-Flight-Freeze response.. we all have wired into our brains a basic survival response, when we feel threatened, insecure or in danger. There is nothing wrong about it, because it developed as an appropriate response to insure our physical survival when under threat from predators or other forms of immediate physical danger. For example the flight response is very useful if you need to jump out of the way from a car that is about to run you over, or something like that.
 
However most of the time, this usually isn’t the reality of the present situation and we make poor choices because we are using a mode of our nervous system designed to deal with immediate danger when there isn’t any. We may face obstacles or different problems, but they are not an immediate physical danger (in most cases anyways).
 
If we are able to ease out of the fight-flight-freeze response into a more relaxed and comfortable way of being, that increases our capacity to use are freedom of choice in a more intelligent and constructive way.
 
Part of the problem why people are always locked into the FFF response is that either our current social-political-economic climate is one that provokes chronic stress, and that there are issues that need to be resolved on that kind of broader structural level, or that people are caught in a cycle of chronic stress due to unresolved trauma. If you have been hurt before, you may be hyper vigilant against being hurt again, so there is an ongoing FFF response, as a way to be on guard against future danger because past harm has left it’s mark on a person’s psyche.
 
A lot of people don’t take the whole thing about “triggers” and “safe spaces” seriously, but I think in someway we have forgotten that what those ideas are really about is PTSD. In order to work with people who are constantly engaged at the fear level, the most obvious thing to do is to help them feel safe, and allow them to unlearn the effects of trauma, and acclimatize to an environment that is not a threatening and dangerous one. This could help a person switch so that their default state of being is one that is more relaxed, and the FFF response is triggered only rarely, when there actually is some kind of serious, immediate danger in the environment.
 
A lot of the time the problem of Free Speech comes up, when speech is restricted because it is seen as violent, aggressive or hateful. But if a person is operating on the level of FFF, they view the world as a scary, threatening place, full of potential danger that they need to protect themselves from, so their language becomes weaponized, if you give them freedom to use language as they naturally choose, from that state of mind it becomes an aggressive and defensive language, which seeks to persecute, shame, or dominate, as a way to neutralize the perceived dangers and threats in the environment.
 
So I think in some sense, people are scared of limitations on speech, because they are living a fearful existence, and to take away weaponized language is to take away that which they use to protect themselves, and make themselves feel safe. This is kind of like the mirror image of those who seek to create some limitations on speech, to create “safe spaces” or to control other’s speech as a way so that they can find some safety and protection, so that they may work to ease themselves out of this fear-response centered way of living.
 
So to some extent I think with this political situation is that you have traumatized people on both sides grappling with each other, and acting out their vigilant fear responses.
 
Of course this can get ugly. Often these basic instincts, which exist to keep us safe, and try to protect us actually do the opposite, they inflame the situation, and cause more mutual harm and destruction.
 
So for this reason, I feel like the principles of freedom and liberty can be downright foolish if you don’t take into consideration at where on the love or fear spectrum most of the population is at. Because giving totally liberty of action to a population that is stressed, traumatized, living in paranoia and hypervigilance.. it’s like you are only asking for trouble.
 
But it is not my style to go for a hard lined ideology towards anything, and I think you need leave some room for freedom of choice, and freedom of speech even in these circumstances, because it is a basic human need. I think it may be something that isn’t solved by taking a clear cut position for or against, (in the form of some kind of extreme political authoritarianism or libertarianism) but instead to understand that the issue itself is a problem because it may not have this kind of clear cut answer.

Understanding Depression

People talk about depression all the time, but I feel like depression is generally misunderstood by the public. I am not talking about misunderstanding depression as a biological disease, or something wrong with brain chemistry. I am going to offer my idea about it, which is just an idea, it may not cover the whole scope, but that’s ok because the nature of language is that it never covers the whole scope anyways.

Depression is a defense mechanism. I notice that the language we use around depression, depression is usually seen as a feeling, existing on a kind of polarity with happiness and positive feeling on one hand, and depression as a negative feeling on the other side of the spectrum. I would say this is a total misunderstanding of what depression is. Depression itself is not an emotion or a feeling so much as it is a defense mechanism against emotion and feeling.

I notice language like “that is so depressing”. If you unpack this kind of language around depression, it is saying that something out there, some kind of event or stimulus which is seen as negative, is depressing, because the usual way to respond to things we see as negative is to depress ourselves as a means of protection against them. Of course this generally seems like something that is involuntary, so we relate to depression as something that is happening to us, rather than something we are doing to ourselves. But the human mind and body has a lot of involuntary functions, our breathing and our heartbeat are involuntary, and those involuntarily functions are keeping us alive.

So depression is a defense mechanism, a protective mechanism. I could give an example of something we would usually say is depressing. For example there was a big oil spill off the eastern coast of Canada recently. It’s normal to say news like that is depressing. Now an oil spill is dangerous, and toxic, you wouldn’t want to ingest that oil into your system, however what the depression is protecting us against obviously isn’t the oil itself, it’s protecting us against our own emotions. Someone could see some news like that I suppose, and say “this is infuriating” however, anger is also a defense mechanism as well. Once you peel back all the defense mechanisms it is generally agreed that what is at the heart of it, is a kind of heartbreak, or grief, the tragedy that comes from compassion or caring about something.

And I think we get really confused in our language and communication about depression because depression and heartbreak or grief have become synonymous, or at least it seems that way by how people speak about them. But I would say, Grief and Heartbreak are certainly not synonymous with depression, rather depression is what happens when the psyche seeks to protect itself from grief and heartbreak. I sometimes wonder if the ideas have become synonymous, because people are so defended against grief and heartbreak, that very few people actually experience anymore. So instead of being really heartbroken about anything, you have depression filling that role as a substitute.

And our culture views depression as being on the other side of the spectrum as happiness. It is true, that it is difficult to feel happy when you are depressed. The reason for this being, as I said before, it is not because depression represents the other polarity of emotion, but because depression represents a defense against emotion in general. Unfortunately for the defense mechanism of depression, it does not discriminate between positive and negative emotion.. if you seek to protect yourself from negative emotion such as grief and heartbreak, you also numb yourself from positive emotion as well. Of course most people may not experience this as something they are doing under their own volition, as I mentioned before.

So the opposite of happiness is not depression, it is sadness, because depression works against both sadness and happiness at the same time. Depression is not an emotion it is a defense against emotion.

So the opposite of depression is not happiness or even mania, the opposite of depression is empathy. Usually we think of empathy in terms of feeling empathy towards others but I think it is also important to ask, do we feel empathy towards ourselves?

Beyond the subject-object dualism of relating to others, or relating to ourselves, there is simply emotional stimulus, which we either view as positive or negative, and the movement to either open up and embrace it in an act of empathy or contract and close down away from it as a way to avoid or retreat from the emotion, and this is depression.

To think or not to think?

2018-10-26

While I have a bit of a background in mediation style practice, in more recent years my interest has been pointing in other directions. I was thinking how often meditative style spirituality can sometimes come off as being almost “anti-mind” in the sense that a lot of meditation is basically reframing the focus of attention towards something other than thought (paying attention to your breath etc) and I’ve seen teachings in this area along the lines of disregarding your thoughts entirely, or meditation as being a bit like sitting there and not listening to whatever it is your mind is trying to say to you.

At some point some of this stuff was very helpful, because I seem to be the type with a very active mind that would sometimes go off into “thought spirals”.. it seemed that in the extreme states that I was getting into, maybe it was just my mind running off and getting itself into trouble. So there was some attraction to the whole meditative style of “putting the mind on a leash” so to speak. Some of the principles were fantastically helpful, such as this whole idea of “don’t go into a story about it” that there may be some phenomena that comes up, or something going on in life, and the mind wants to spin up all these interpretations of what is going on, and often the mind can freak itself out or worry more about it’s own story-telling and interpreting than the actual reality of what is happening! There can actually be a lot of peace to be found in holding back from interpreting or spinning up a story about something.

A spiritual teacher was in town who was connected to the group of people I usually had group meditation with, I went to a few of his Satsangs and after a short meditation period during the dialogue afterwords I was talking about how in the meditation, I would be pretty present with what was going on but I would catch myself, my mind start to rev up. It’s like it’s always looking for a job to do. Even though mindfulness practice is a great technique I notice how there is this tendency for the mind to “make a job” out of mindfulness practice, the mind wants to turn it into an activity, to notice things and label them as a way to keep on doing it’s “mind stuff” as opposed to a meditation that is totally effortless, with no job to do, just awareness being aware as it naturally is.

There another principle to all this of attraction/aversion or neither accepting or rejecting whatever is coming up. I remember the teacher saying something like “Oh well, if the mind wants to think about things or have a job to do maybe it’s better to just go with it” because then you are not resisting or rejecting the natural movement of thought. This was a few years ago so I am sort of paraphrasing and giving it my own words. So there is this idea of meditation as being totally effortless, having a naturally neutral attitude towards whatever that comes up including your own mind and it’s tendency to think. At this point I kind of realized that I didn’t have to make my mind into some kind of badguy or trouble maker, and that fighting with your mind wasn’t the point of meditation anyways.

So I think this might have started a shift into a more permissive relationship with my own mind. Earlier it might have been about keeping my mind on a tighter leash, now it was about giving it a bit more slack and giving it permission to roam around a little more. As a result of this I imagine my thinking, and my writing- what I post on facebook or the kinds of dialogues I get into, may have started to become more heady and intellectual, or more mentally creative. I started exploring things to read and look into that were outside of this world of strictly meditative or non-dualist spirituality.. but I think since I had the phase prior to that, of really “getting out of my own head” and learning to not be so hooked into my own thoughts and thinking, that I sort of found a way to make my own mental landscape a much more spacious and open space. Thoughts no longer seemed so dangerous or worrisome because I had spent a period of time where I wasn’t taking my own thinking so seriously, I wasn’t so wrapped up in my own thoughts.

I think especially with people who have exposure to the Psych System, there is a common thing I’ve heard from others, were people get trained into not trusting their own mind. Like it’s dangerous to pursue different lines of thinking, or explore different topics that might be too “far out” maybe, because the dogma of the psych system is just by thinking about certain things you might trigger yourself into psychosis or delusion or something like that.

I even noticed a few times when posting on places like Shades of Awakening, certain people would react to me in a weird way, they would say things like “be careful when exploring these subjects- don’t get yourself into trouble” as if ideas themselves held some kind of danger, that your own mind was some kind of dangerous minefield full of boobytraps or something! But I think spending the time getting out of my own head freed up this kind of space that allowed me to get back into it, with more ease and even playfulness. My mind was now a comfortable place to hang out in, I wasn’t afraid of it, and there were no monsters hanging out in the corners.

Recently I’ve taken an interest in Jungian style psychology, more specifically I’m very into James Hillman who is described as a “post-jungian”.. and I think it’s very interesting to compare and contrast this with the meditative style background I had before, where the meditative style often had an almost dismissive style of the mind, the Jungian style with practices like “active imagination” are almost the opposite, to really get in there and get involved with the process of the mind. I am currently reading a collection of Hillman’s writing “Alchemical Psychology” which uses the symbolism and metaphor of alchemy to describe the esoteric art of being involved in an active, participatory process of working with your own mind/soul/psyche. I think though that even a practice like mindfulness could be seen as one kind of alchemical procedure that plays it’s own role within the greater context of “the work”.. maybe one style of working would be heating it up, the other would be cooling it down.. wetting it or drying it off etc. Not that you need either one or the other but that both play their roles at different points in time depending on what stage you are at and what you are doing.

I also think it’s a valid concern, the subject of “Spiritual Bypassing” and I think in many cases a meditative style may not work for people because there is some issue that is looking for a resolution, or at least something that needs to be worked with in a more active and participatory way than meditation which tends to be more passive and detached. Of course the meditative style is all about letting go of attachments etc but sometimes these attachments are stubborn and won’t be let go of so easily.. I’ve heard people say before that often you need to do some basic groundwork on the psychological level before you can really rise above it into that spacious awareness, otherwise there is something that has a grip on you that keeps nagging and pulling you back down to that level of unresolved conflict.

But it could go the other way too, you go up first and come back down later to clean up that which you may have left behind. What I find interesting to is that in many ways the mind, which you could call the ego or the psychological self, with all it’s worries, tribulations, conflicts etc is very much the Yin to the transcendentally “superior” higher Self’s Yang.

I remember hearing Ram Dass talk about how after years of meditation and spiritual practice in India he still had all the same neurosis or psychological issues as he did before, just maybe they didn’t have such a tight grip on him.

So in some way I see the practice of Psychology, as taking a break from reaching up towards heaven and coming back down to earth, the imperfect “yin-ness” of earth, our very human psychological mind. I remember in an interview with Marion Woodman she was talking about this idea about how the whole point shouldn’t be to “fly off in a UFO to some transcendental outerspace” but to come right down to earth in this human embodiment.. and I see this as the value of getting with the mind, or getting with your own human personal psychology. “Bringing it all back home” and getting right in their with your embodied humanness and maybe even at the end of the day realizing that they are “not two” as the nondualists would say.