Like so many on the path, I’ve had extraordinary aha moments in which it is just so clear, that all is perfect as it is. In those moments, all is effortless and serene. How could one possibly be anything other than this! It’s radiant, self-illuminating, naturally joyful. Mind is seen for what it is: a pattern, a gentle overlay onto the basic ground, it’s not taken too seriously.

But then, as time goes by, the other end of the spectrum arrives. All is pure discordance, the mind is running the show and it’s got a problem with everything. It’s like the control centre’s been hijacked by some kind of alien, and in these times that great peace is nowhere to be found, the frantic scrabbling to find it only concealing it still further, lost beneath a grasping which can feel like drowning.

My practice of late is revolving around asking the questions of ‘What traps us?’ ‘And how can we recognise those traps, those triggers for contraction? And where does that tie in with the work of psychotherapy, in which the story of me is examined and broken down: depressurized a little, so that the basic emptiness be more fully embodied, and there there are less triggers for that basic contraction into personality.

Discovering all this, is about letting go of the idea of a full and total enlightenment, a Tony Parsons like stroll across the park in which life dissolves into some kind of permanent bliss. That’s been a highly destructive fantasy really, just another excuse not to be embodied right now. Because who would be there be to wake up anyway? This moment is all there is, and this one, and this one. And is there wakefulness right NOW, and again NOW, and NOW. And if not why not: what’s actually happening in this presence: where is the division manifesting?

The process of examination division might be one way of describing Buddhism or Advaita. What’s the nature of the basic split? How has the ALL disguised itself as little me. By what tricks of hypnosis does the entire manifest world appear to shrink itself into a limited entity? What practices are available to see our fundamental error? And as one begins to remember ones true nature, relaxing utterly into that infinite expanse of peace and deep rest, how does the Ego apparently try to prevent us from doing so?

These type of questions have also bought a realization – after so many years of poor discipline – that the practice of sitting meditation can rarely be avoided, and certainly can’t by me. It’s a remembering, a gentle pulling back, and a means of developing some muscle-memory when it comes to regaining our natural state. Not a practice done with the intention of perfecting oneself as an individual, or reaching some future goal, but merely sitting as the witnessing presence, the universe watching itself. It is the practice of being who were truly are, and then simply correcting the mind when it reverts to the habits it’s picked up over some many thousands of lives….

Some fantastic resources have been recommended to me, others I’ve discovered myself. I hope anyone reading this finds them as useful as I have myself.

Bruce Tift – Already Free

This invaluable  7hour audio book really has been a godsend. You can download it from here: Recommended for all students of the path who get ‘it’ and lose it again! A very wise and useful treatise on moving into embodied presence, and the possible hindrances. And quite unlike anything else on the market which I’ve discovered.

A former student of Chogyam Trungpa, this unique recording offers a means to understand the meeting place between Western and Eastern approaches to mind, highlighting the benefits of both paths.

  • The Developmental Approach—why we still use our childhood survival skills after we outgrow them
  • The Fruitional Approach—Buddhist wisdom on finding liberation without resolving our historic issues
  • Relationships and Awakening—practices for couples to develop “healthy intimacy” and welcome connection and separateness
  • Why we use “neurotic organization” to limit our life experience, and how to challenge this self-perpetuating process

Chogyam Trungpa – The Sanity We are Born With

This may be well the best book on psychotherapy or mind I’ve ever read. An absolutely staggering display of understanding of the human condition. It is an absolute must for anyone interested in this subject and leaves one with the clear understanding that non-dual understanding is the only real ‘sanity’, and the only possible goal for anyone wanting to lead a dignified, peaceful life. I’ve certainly never found a clearer, more knowledgeable, or more eloquent teacher than Chogyam Trungpa.

According to the Buddhist perspective, there are problems, but they are temporary and superficial defilements that cover over one’s basic goodness (tathagatagarbha). This viewpoint is a positive and optimistic one. But, again, we should emphasize that this viewpoint is not purely conceptual. It is rooted in the experience of meditation and in the healthiness it encourages. There are temporary habitual neurotic patterns that develop based on past experience, but these can be seen through. It is just this that is studied in the abhidharma: how one thing succeeds another, how volitional action originates and perpetuates itself, how things snowball. And, most important, abhidharma studies how through meditation practice, this process can be cut through.

The attitude that results from the Buddhist orientation and practice is quite different from the “mistake mentality.” One actually experiences mind as fundamentally pure, that is, healthy and positive, and “problems” as temporary and superficial defilements. Such a viewpoint does not quite mean “getting rid” of problems, but rather shifting ones focus. Problems are seen in a much broader context of health: one begins to let go of clinging to one’s neuroses and to step beyond obsession and identification with them. The emphasis is no longer on the problems themselves but rather on the ground of experience through realizing the nature of mind itself. When problems are seen in this way, then there is less panic and everything seems more workable. When problems arise, instead of being seen as purely threats, they become learning situations, opportunities to find out more about one’s own mind, and to continue on one’s journey.

Through practice, which is confirmed by study, the inherent healthiness of your mind and others’ minds is experienced over and over. You see that your problems are not all that deeply rooted. You see that you can make literal progress. You find yourself becoming more mindful and more aware, developing a greater sense of healthiness and clarity as you go on, and this is tremendously encouraging.

Ultimately, this orientation of goodness and healthiness comes out of the experience of egolessness, a notion that has created a certain amount of difficulty for Western psychologists. “Egolessness” does not mean that nothing exists, as some have thought, a kind of nihilism. Instead, it means that you can let go of your habitual patterns and then when you let go, you genuinely let go. You do not re-create or rebuild another shell immediately afterward. Once you let go, you do not just start all over again. Egolessness is having the trust to not rebuild again at all and experiencing the psychological healthiness and freshness that goes with not rebuilding. The truth of egolessness can only be experienced fully through meditation practice.

The Power and the Pain: Transforming Spiritual Hardship into Joy by Andrew Holecek

This is my third recommendation, and again one of the most helpful books I’ve ever read. This is really about the obstacles we face to peace, and the exact tools offered by Buddhism to approach them. Waking up is difficult. Understanding what makes it so hard can remove a great deal of unnecessary hardship, and inspire us to keep going when things get tough. Andrew echoes the Dalai Lama’s famous words, “Never give up!,” and helps us develop the perseverance, loving-kindness, and humor required to sustain our path, even when everything, and everyone, seems to be against it.
There’s a useful audio interview with Andrew here:

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