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 Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation - Jeff Warren

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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation - Jeff Warren   Sat Feb 01, 2014 1:04 pm

Enlightenment’s Evil Twin
| Jeff Warren | January 2014 - Issue 10
Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation
http://www.psychologytomorrowmagazine.com/enlightenments-evil-twin/


In 1974 Hans Burgschmidt was sixteen years old, living in the Canadian Prairies, working in a photography studio darkroom, elbow-deep in chemicals all day long. “Is this what life is about?” he asked a high school friend. “You need to meditate,” was the reply. Not long after, Hans attended a lecture at the local library, where a man in a suit spoke about the scientific benefits of relaxation. He pressed Play on the industrial-sized U-Matic video player and there was Maharishi Mahesh, the Indian yogi who initiated the Beatles into the mysteries of Transcendental Meditation (TM) and launched the meditation careers of thousands of Western devotees.

“An infinite ocean of peace and love and happiness awaits you,” said the radiant Maharishi, with his flowing hair and his garland of flowers. “What’s not to like?” Hans thought, and got in touch with a local TM chapter.

Soon after he began his meditation practice, exactly as advertised, he found himself transported from his parent’s basement into a shimmering inner space of light and colour and bliss. “Eventually you get so expanded and the mantra becomes so refined that you are taken to the silent source of thought – it was wonderful.”

Hans was hooked. Next, he enrolled himself in advanced courses and in the late 70s he left for Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa, hoping to become a teacher.

But somewhere along the line Hans became disenchanted. Maybe it was the dubious “levitation” training, or the dogmatism of his fellow teachers, or the “almost abusive” way the school administrator overworked their staff. “The discrepancies between what was promised and what was really happening kept growing,” Hans told me. “Eventually I had to move on.”

Thus began Hans’ long career as an itinerant spiritual seeker. He hit all the New Age mainstays: Osho and then Da Free John in the 80′s, trance channeling and primal scream therapy and past life regression in the 90′s.  But the same pattern of finding the limits of the guru or the practices kept repeating itself. Finally in 2006 he met a teacher he could trust – one of my own teachers, in fact – the Buddhist scholar and future neuroscience-consultant Shinzen Young. “No BS, real down to earth, just an ordinary guy teaching a well-crafted version of techniques that have been tested by Buddhists for thousands of years.” The technique was vipassana, one important – and increasingly popular – aspect of which is known as “mindfulness.”

“I found it invigorating,” says Hans. “It was much more active than other techniques I had learned, I could feel the power of it.”

"Bonnie and Clyde" by Tomas Nemec | 2010, 150 x 100 cm

Everything was fine, until three weeks after his first retreat, when, in Hans’ words, “something changed.” My sense,” says Hans, “is the technique precipitated something that was already there. I mean I had done a lot of meditating in other traditions by then. They softened me up. Whatever the case, I don’t think it could have turned out any other way.”

Hans was at home making his bed, when the room suddenly appeared “very far away.” But the room hadn’t changed; he had. The part of Hans that had once looked out at the world, the core we take for granted as the “self”, had without any warning disappeared.

“All of my thoughts, all my processing – none of it referred to me. They weren’t happening to anybody. It was all just an unfiltered barrage of sensations happening in space. It was the most terrifying and alienating thing that ever happened to me.” And Hans has been living with various degrees of this experience for the past seven years.

To understand what happened to Hans, you need to understand something about how meditation works in general, and vipassana in particular. Most meditation techniques are designed to shift a person’s orientation from a limited personal identity to the broader ground of their experience. Vipassana does this by deliberately and systematically untangling the different strands that make up our sense of self and world; in the Pali language (the ancient Indian scriptural dialect of Buddhism) the word “vipassana” means “seeing into” or “seeing through.”

Practicing vipassana, you have more space to make appropriate responses, and more space, too, around your looping thought-track, which can dramatically reduce stress and anxiety as well as raise a person’s baseline levels of happiness and fulfillment. This is one reason why mindfulness has become the technique of choice for thousands of clinicians and psychotherapists, and there is now a considerable body of scientific research demonstrating these and other benefits.

Yet most of the clinicians who so enthusiastically endorse mindfulness do not have a proper understanding of where it can lead. The fact is that mindfulness in large doses can penetrate more than just your thoughts and sensations; it can see right through to the very pith of who you are – or rather, of who you are not. Because, as Buddhist teachers and teachers from many other contemplative traditions have long argued, on close investigation there doesn’t appear to be any deeper “you” in there running the show. “You” are just a flimsy identification process, built on the fly by your grasping mind — a common revelation in meditation that happens to be compatible with the views of many contemporary neuroscientists.

In fact, the classic result of a successful vipassana practice is to permanently recognize the impermanence (anicca), the selflessness (anatta), and the dualistic tension or suffering (dukkha) of all experience, which may sound like an Ibsen play, but this is the clear empirical understanding that many otherwise sensible practitioners report. For most people this shift is the most profoundly positive experience of their lives. In the words of Shinzen Young, “it allows a person to live ten times the size they would have lived otherwise, it frees them from most worries and concerns, it gives them a quality of absolute freedom and repose.”

But once in a while, something goes wrong. In Buddhism this is known as falling into “the pit of the void.” Young is more modern: “Psychiatrists call it Depersonalization and De-realization Disorder, or DP/DR. I call it ‘Enlightenment’s evil twin’.”

For Hans, what began as confusion and disorientation led within a few hours to extreme panic. The emptiness was ominous – in his words, a “deficient void.” One moment the world seemed far away, the next it was too present, a “barrage” of overwhelming sensations. “It was like I had no protective filter or skin – sounds and sights became incredibly abrasive. Hearing the phone ring was like someone running a thousand volts of electricity through me. I also had feelings of being stretched and twisted inside out, like I was morphing into some kind of animal. I had no idea what was happening – I thought maybe I was getting premature Alzheimer’s.”

Over the next few months Hans spent hours with Young on the phone, but despite the counseling, none of his symptoms went away – if anything, he says, the selflessness, the rawness of sensations and the associated fears became even more disconcerting. One by one, all the meaningful parts of Hans’ life dropped away: his love of photography, of art, even his sex drive.

“I lost my will to do anything – none if it had any meaning. You could say that I no longer understood existence. I would wake up in the morning and go ‘OK, this is my body, this is me, and I guess I’m doing this but I no longer understood it. I no longer understood agency, what makes other bodies move, what animates life. Sometimes there was a wondrous quality to this bafflement – I felt the awe and the mystery – but most of the time it was aimless and tormenting.”

Was Hans experiencing a slow-motion nervous breakdown unrelated to his meditation practice?  Or was the experience of depersonalization triggered by meditation?

He was able, just barely, to keep working, although he says he has no idea how he was able to do this since, in his words,  “I often couldn’t understand what people were saying – all I would hear is the weird texture of their speech patterns, there was no meaning to any of it.” His own responses, too, came as a surprise. “At times I would hear myself speaking and I had no idea where the words were coming from or what they meant. I felt like an imposter.”

Hans is not alone. If the very real benefits of mindfulness add up to the good-news mental health story of our time, then, like so many good things, there is also a shadowy seam, an experience known popularly as the Dark Night, after the writings of the famous Carmelite mystic St. John of the Cross.

More meditators and practitioners are beginning to speak openly about the challenges associated with practice. The importance of this cannot be overstated, for there are those in the scientific community who believe that taking these reports seriously may one day provide key insights into both mental illness, and the mystery of contemplative transformation. They may in fact be very different expressions of a single underlying dynamic.

Some researchers are already studying this. Willoughby Britton is a meditator and a clinical psychologist at Brown University. After encountering some of this difficult territory herself, she began an ambitious research project to document the full range of phenomena that can happen as a result of practice. The initiative is called “The Varieties of Contemplative Experience” (Britton’s group have just published their first paper, here).

Over the past three years, Britton and her colleagues have conducted detailed interviews with over forty senior Buddhist (and some non-Buddhist) teachers and another forty or so practitioners about challenges they’ve either experienced themselves, or, in the case of teachers, seen in their students. The study’s current research design cannot answer the question of what percentage of practitioners run into problems, although Britton did tell me that serious complications that require inpatient psychiatric hospitalization probably affect less than one percent of meditators. “Milder, more chronic symptoms,” she says, “will be higher – but no one knows how high.”

The full range of symptoms, from mild to intense, include headaches, panic, mania, confusion, hallucinations, body pain and pressure, involuntary movements, the de-repression of emotionally-charged psychological material, extreme fear and – perhaps the central feature – the dissolution of the sense of self.

But, as she reports in a recent interview, the most surprising finding for Britton has been the duration of impairment, which she defines as the inability of an adult to work or take care of children. “We’ve been deliberately looking for worst-case scenarios, so I expect this number will go down as we get more data, but right now we are finding that people in these experiences are affected for an average of three years, with a range of six months to twelve years.”

Britton has found that two demographics seem to be affected more than other: young men aged eighteen to thirty, who, in the way of young men, go for months-long retreats in Asia and pursue hardcore practice and log ten to twenty hours of meditation a day. “We had to create a “Zealotry Scale” says Britton, dryly, “it was such a major predictor.” The other large group, she says, is middle-aged women. “These ladies have been going to, say, Spirit Rock Meditation Centre for last ten to twenty years, have a nice hour-a-day practice, and then seven or ten years into it something happens.”

The situation is complicated by the fact that a period of difficulty is actually a perfectly normal part of many meditation practices. A well-meaning therapist might label this pathological, when what might be more helpful to the “patient” is guidance from an experienced meditation teacher. Within vipassana traditions, some classic texts talk about the “dukkha ñanas” – challenging stages that are actually a sign of progress. These are a natural response to the layer of mind being exposed; with a teacher’s help, the student can move through their Dark Night in a matter of days or hours. Indeed, some teachers argue that the skills practitioners acquire in coping with these passages are often the very ones that allow them to progress to more liberating stages of the path.

Shinzen Young writes, “It is certainly the case that almost everyone who gets anywhere with meditation will pass through periods of negative emotion, confusion, disorientation, and heightened sensitivity to internal and external arisings. The same thing can happen in psychotherapy and other growth modalities. For the great majority of people, the nature, intensity, and duration of these kinds of challenges is quite manageable.”

According to Young, the real Dark Night occurs when, as in Hans’ case, a practitioner has difficulty integrating insight into selflessness. This is something he says he has only ever seen a few times in his four decades of teaching.

Perhaps surprisingly, Britton’s research has so far not revealed any clear associations between meditation-related difficulties and prior psychiatric or trauma history. Problems can occur in individuals with no identifiable red flags; conversely, individuals with multiple red flags (bipolar disorder, trauma history, and so on) can do intensive retreats without any difficulties whatsoever.

“We have to be careful,” Britton told me, “about jumping to conclusions and excluding people prematurely from meditation’s possible benefits. My personal opinion is that the place where we need most help is not in identifying at-risk people so much as improving support systems.”

Britton gets two to three emails a week from people looking for help, so this is something she thinks a lot about. “Just talking about the experience with someone and hearing that none of it is new … this has a hugely positive effect on people. That’s eighty percent of what needs to happen. Just normalizing the experience.” To that end, she has already founded both a space and a website to provide resources for practitioners in need, and also to educate teachers and clinician about the full range of meditation’ effects.

“Length of impairment is directly related to how much access the student has to a good teacher. Many of the people I’ve spoken to have been through dozens of therapists and meditation instructors and most have no idea what to do.”

Young has his own techniques for helping meditators work with Dark Night phenomena. (Here, you can read about them in detail.) Hans adds one more: serious fitness. “Pilates, weight-training, yoga – I now do it all. For me, I finally figured out that I needed to integrate these changes into my physical body. Ultimately this is what turned the corner for me.”

Seven years after his drop into the pit of the void, Hans is arriving at a better place. Not a normal place, mind you – and here his laugh is a bit hysterical: “What’s normal? I still live in emptiness and wake up every morning with no idea who I am.” But he no longer gets panic attacks, or feels ten thousand volts of electricity irradiate his senses every time the phone rings. His sex drive has returned, and with it a new longing for a relationship. He also has a strong interest in helping others manage similar problems.

“So much of it is about patience,” he says. Over the past seven years, the words of one teacher kept circling around in his head: “If life gives you nothing you want and is not on your own terms, would you still have the generosity to show up for it?”  There’s no easy “yes” to that question.
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PostSubject: Re: Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation - Jeff Warren   Sat Feb 01, 2014 4:55 pm

and this column ran on the New York Times website recently.... just shows how much mindfulness is now in the zeitgeist.... in many varieties - and certainly expressing a wide range of points of view.... no "one true way" -

Life@Work January 31, 2014, 1:28 pm

More Mindfulness, Less Meditation

By TONY SCHWARTZ



Eric Michael Johnson for The New York Times The columnist says the simplest definition of meditation is learning to do one thing at a time.

Here’s the promise: Meditation – and mindfulness meditation, in particular – will reduce your cortisol level, blood pressure, social anxiety and depression. It will increase your immune response, resilience and focus and improve your relationships — including with yourself. It will also bolster your performance at work and provide inner peace. It may even cure psoriasis.

50 Cent meditates. So do Lena Dunham and Alanis Morissette. Steven P. Jobs meditated, and mindfulness as a practice is sweeping through Silicon Valley. A week from Saturday, 2,000 technology executives and other seekers will gather for a sold-out conference called Wisdom 2.0, suddenly a must-attend event for the cognoscenti.
Even Rupert Murdoch has tried meditating, summing up its appeal in a haikulike tweet: “Everyone recommends, not that easy to get started, but said to improve everything.”

Really? For what it’s worth, I don’t think so.

I first learned to meditate 25 years ago, built a daily practice in mindfulness and spent hundreds of hours sitting with my eyes closed and my legs crossed. I also interviewed dozens of meditators, including the most prominent teachers, for a book I wrote in 1995 called “What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America.”

But the more time I spent meditating, the less value I derived from it. Which is not to say I think it has no benefits at all.

The simplest definition of meditation is learning to do one thing at a time. Building the capacity to quiet the mind has undeniable value at a time when our attention is under siege, and distraction has become our steady state. Meditation – in the right doses — is also valuable as a means to relax the body, quiet the emotions and refresh one’s energy. There is growing evidence that meditation has some health benefits.

What I haven’t seen is much evidence that meditating leads people to behave better, improves their relationships or makes them happier.

Consider what Jack Kornfield has to say about meditation. In the 1970s, after spending a number of years as a monk in Southeast Asia, Mr. Kornfield was one of the first Americans to bring the practice of mindfulness to the West. He remains one of the best-known mindfulness teachers, while also practicing as a psychologist.

“While I benefited enormously from the training in the Thai and Burmese monasteries where I practiced,” he wrote, “I noticed two striking things. First, there were major areas of difficulty in my life, such as loneliness, intimate relationships, work, childhood wounds, and patterns of fear that even very deep meditation didn’t touch.

“Second, among the several dozen Western monks (and lots of Asian meditators) I met during my time in Asia, with a few notable exceptions, most were not helped by meditation in big areas of their lives. Meditation and spiritual practice can easily be used to suppress and avoid feeling or to escape from difficult areas of our lives.”

So how to use meditation to best effect?

First, don’t expect more than it can deliver.

In the modern world, meditation is far more effective as a technique of self-management than as a means of personal transformation, much less enlightenment.

Second, start simply.

Mindfulness – or “vipassana” — is a specific type of meditative practice from Theravada Buddhism. It involves learning to watch one’s thoughts, feelings and sensations as they arise and pass, without becoming caught up in them. By building the capacity to witness one’s own experience without attachment or reactivity, the teaching goes, one slowly begins to see through the illusion of permanence and separateness.

The problem with mindfulness as a starting place is that it’s an advanced practice. In traditional teaching, students first learned to stabilize their attention through “samatha,” or concentration meditation. Concentration involves focusing on a single object of attention, such as the breath or a mantra, as in transcendental meditation. Only when students learned to reliably quiet their minds – a process that often took years of practice – was the more subtle and advanced practice of vipassana introduced.

In my experience, concentration meditation is a simpler and more reliable way than mindfulness to build control of one’s attention, quiet down and relax – especially so for those in the early stages of meditating.

Finally, don’t assume more is better.

“Mindfulness practice has its benefits,” said Catherine Ingram, author of “Passionate Presence,” “but in my case, after 17 years of practice, there came a point when mentally noting my breath, thoughts and sensations became wearisome, a sense of always having homework and of constantly chopping reality into little bits.”

Even a few minutes of sitting quietly and following the breath goes a long way. I’ve found it especially effective to breathe in to a count of three and out to a count of six – effectively extending the outbreath and deepening the experience of relaxation. Counting is also an effective object of attention, and therefore enhances concentration.

I’ve also found that it’s more practical to truly focus and relax for a minute or two several times a day than to meditate for a long period and constantly battle with distraction along the way.

There is a difference between mindfulness meditation and simple mindfulness. The latter isn’t a practice separate from everyday life. Mindfulness just means becoming more conscious of what you’re feeling, more intentional about your behaviors and more attentive to your impact on others. It’s about presence — what Ms. Ingram calls “keeping quiet and simple inside, rather than having any mental task whatsoever.”

The real challenge isn’t what we’re able to do with our eyes closed. It’s to be more self-aware in the crucible of our everyday lives, and to behave better as a result. That’s mindfulness in action.

About the Author

Tony Schwartz is the chief executive of the Energy Project and the author, most recently, of “Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys to Transforming the Way We Work and Live.” Twitter: @tonyschwartz
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PostSubject: Re: Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation - Jeff Warren   Sun Feb 02, 2014 10:05 am

Josh, thanks for posting these.  As I was reading about Hans' experience I was wondering what I'd do if something similar seemed to be happening to me - which is a very small risk, since I don't do formal meditation and probably never did grasp it properly. I mean, more in the sense of, if something bad seems to starting, would I continue with the same activities, or just put a halt to the whole thing. I wonder if Hans continued to try to meditate once he became aware of this "void" that frightening, or was meditation one more thing he lost interest in?

I'm not assuming he viewed Vipassana meditation as "the thing that will help me, and I have to do it". I'm wondering what could happen, if people are sold on the validity of a certain practice, maybe it's harming them, and they can't allow themselves to drop it long enough to see if getting away from it really is maybe the best thing. 

I appreciate "simple mindfulness", when it happens. It's easier to fold into my life than attempts at seated meditation were, and it feels more natural. Esp. when combined with purposed movement of some kind - barn chores or reorganising a kitchen pantry. I'm not saying this condition lasts very long or that I can bring it up at will, but I can sense when it's happening. Things go quiet, time doesn't matter. It's nice.
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PostSubject: Re: Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation - Jeff Warren   Sun Feb 02, 2014 12:31 pm

I don't think its clear from the article if Hans continued to meditate.  It sounds like he probably didn't, but his crisis continued regardless.  As the article points out, we are dealing with a complex issue and it would be easy to jump to conclusions.  Although millions of people have practiced all kinds of meditation forms over the centuries, perhaps it is only now, because of psychology, neuroscience, a more open society, that we can address some of the shadows openly, do research, talk about what people are going through.  What is needed is in-depth exploration, nuanced understanding of what people are going through, and skilled teachers who do not demand that one size fits all and that any problems that arise are blamed on the weakness of the meditator.

If this happened what would you do?  Hard to say.  Of course, the old approach was to push, push, push through it, no matter what.  The practice is 100% perfect, so just keep doing it harder, more and any impediments will dissolve eventually... and if they don't, you are doing it wrong.  Perhaps in some cases, the yang male assertive way works.... but clearly it is only one mode and often not effective, perhaps even harmful.  But I would think that every situation, every person is unique so generalizations don't work. 

Would you keep doing the practice if you experience something similar to Hans?  I don't think I would.  I think I would try to find a way to back off, relax, find some simpler approach, therapy, some wisdom from different other kinds of teachers / experts that could provide perspectives.  Perhaps a more physical practice would be helpful....   maybe get lots of body work, shiatsu, cuddling.

It certainly can make things more painful when your main reaction to what is happening is - I am broken.... I am doing it wrong.... I have failed...  Very painful thoughts and they might not be true at all.  

One thing I have found useful to keep in mind... the path is not linear, not one way, not cut and dried.  It can be much wilder, complex, ups and downs, so "dark nights" are part of the terrain - for some folks. If you bring everything to the path - then whatever shows up is part of the process - including our resistances and doubts..
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PostSubject: Re: Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation - Jeff Warren   Mon Feb 03, 2014 1:41 pm

Jcbaran wrote:
. . .

What is needed is in-depth exploration, nuanced understanding of what people are going through, and skilled teachers who do not demand that one size fits all and that any problems that arise are blamed on the weakness of the meditator.

If this happened what would you do?  Hard to say.  Of course, the old approach was to push, push, push through it, no matter what.  The practice is 100% perfect, so just keep doing it harder, more and any impediments will dissolve eventually... and if they don't, you are doing it wrong.  Perhaps in some cases, the yang male assertive way works.... but clearly it is only one mode and often not effective, perhaps even harmful.  But I would think that every situation, every person is unique so generalizations don't work. 

. . . 

One thing I have found useful to keep in mind... the path is not linear, not one way, not cut and dried.  It can be much wilder, complex, ups and downs, so "dark nights" are part of the terrain - for some folks. If you bring everything to the path - then whatever shows up is part of the process - including our resistances and doubts..
 
More good stuff to post outside every retreat centre. 

Sorting out the interplay of neuroscience and "spiritual" practice - I can't begin to imagine how this is done, but those who have the imagination and skills will eventually show us -


Last edited by Lise on Tue Feb 04, 2014 9:10 am; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : typo)
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PostSubject: Re: Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation - Jeff Warren   Wed Feb 05, 2014 10:40 am

Jcbaran wrote:

One thing I have found useful to keep in mind... the path is not linear, not one way, not cut and dried.  It can be much wilder, complex, ups and downs, so "dark nights" are part of the terrain - for some folks. If you bring everything to the path - then whatever shows up is part of the process - including our resistances and doubts..
.
JK had a couple of phrases that I feel are apropos here:

"Anyone who meditates runs the risk of being grabbed by the cosmic Buddha"

"Once you've seen a ghost it can't again be as if you haven't seen it" (or something like that)

Leaving aside her terminology she made the point that meditation sometimes sets in motion a powerful process that can't be controlled by the practitioner (getting grabbed), and can also dramatically and irreversibly change the way one experiences the world (the ghost metaphor).  You can't know what it's going to be like until it happens, but having a balanced practice helps.  Meditating 10-20 hours a day is not balanced.  In Hans' case it doesn't sound like the process went "wrong" per se, more like he didn't have a framework of beliefs as a context for his experience, but that's just a speculation.  There are definitely times when the road gets rough and we need to find ways to comfort and support ourselves.  Part of the "takeaway" is that meditation shouldn't be viewed like exercise and other "healthy lifestyle activities".  Even yoga, which is benign for the great majority of practitioners, can set things in motion.  I expect many people don't even know that the yoga asanas are originally part of the discipline for awakening the kundalini.
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PostSubject: Re: Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation - Jeff Warren   Thu Feb 06, 2014 2:36 pm

Josh,

Thank you for the above.  It begins to touch on what some of us who went through, preceeding and during the Eko-leaving period.  I believe these types of strange offshoots of mind and spirit during regular practice can be triggered or exacerbated by extreme conditions as well.

During the final six months of Eko's residence at Shasta, I was Head Novice - a very trying time for a novice and the doorway into becoming a senior.  A lot of fear came up around the responsibility needless to say.  But more troubling were the behaviors of the Abbot (which looked real to me but were unilaterally denied) and the lack of response from seniors -- which soiled the purity and intention of my experience.

Intense meditation took me to amazing places, as well as many mysterious experiences in the conditions of the present moment.  While walking through ceremonies and around the monastery grounds in meditation, the me that was experiencing the conditions would drop away and I would become the ceremony, or monastery, or trees or the Mountain.  Much of my time as Head Novice traversed the me and not me of daily life -- an exchange of self and other without owning any of it.

The abrupt announcement of the Abbot and the subsequent revelations over the next several months and years cut that meditation to shreds and took me into some pretty strange mental and spritual places indeed.  It is hard to describe to people how difficult it is to become a full fledged ego again that can deal with the harsh realities of suffering in daily life after practicing the deep and consistent meditation of letting go.  I have talked to many of my peers from the recent events in the Order and all have experienced some degree of dissociation and various other shifts of self due to the abruptness of the ordeal.

In my experience, many of the monks at Shasta are ill equipped to deal with these types of mental and spiritual difficulties.  They are not trained in psychology which would help in assessing what spiritual ailments are happening simultaneously.  And there are no real "guidelines" as to how to help someone with spiritual ailments -- it is up to the Master or Masters to define what the ailment is and decide what to do to treat it.  And as we all know now, many Masters simply chose not to confront and treat it at all in the case of Eko, or those who were entwined in the conditions along with him.

I have had a difficult time reacclimating to lay life, although it is getting better over time and I have not meditated regularly since leaving Shasta (I am kind of afraid to).  And, it took quite a long time to reestablish a healthy ego that can traverse and train in a world that rewards ego.  I still have bouts with a lack of self-confidence as a result of training intensely to explore what the self is/isn't in meditation.  I am also still surprised occassionally with a peek at "not me/not other" at times.  Mostly now, I find it is more helpful to ground myself in reality in lay life and be the best person I can be right here, suffering and all. 

I hope I am not rambling.  I am trying to describe what is hard to describe but what is touched on in these articles and that many people who I knew at the Abbey experienced on different levels after leaving the Abbey in 2010.  There are many sideroads that meditation can take which should require educated, trusting and trained teachers to assess and guide students.
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PostSubject: Re: Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation - Jeff Warren   Fri Feb 07, 2014 11:24 am

H Enida wrote:
It is hard to describe to people how difficult it is to become a full fledged ego again that can deal with the harsh realities of suffering in daily life after practicing the deep and consistent meditation of letting go.

In my experience, many of the monks at Shasta are ill equipped to deal with these types of mental and spiritual difficulties.  They are not trained in psychology which would help in assessing what spiritual ailments are happening simultaneously.  And there are no real "guidelines" as to how to help someone with spiritual ailments -- it is up to the Master or Masters to define what the ailment is and decide what to do to treat it.  And as we all know now, many Masters simply chose not to confront and treat it at all in the case of Eko, or those who were entwined in the conditions along with him.

I have had a difficult time reacclimating to lay life, although it is getting better over time and I have not meditated regularly since leaving Shasta (I am kind of afraid to).  And, it took quite a long time to reestablish a healthy ego that can traverse and train in a world that rewards ego. 
.
Thanks this resonates quite a bit.  I like to think of the ego now as necessary for relating in our culture instead of an obstacle that needs to abandoned.  "I" was not terribly well developed to begin with and during the years at Shasta Abbey the ego went into hibernation and regressed.  I believe the OBC monks cannot help with ego adjustment problems because they were taught it was taboo to pay any attention to the wants/needs of the ego.  The whole notion of "self esteem" is alien to them - good luck if they ever have to go on a job interview :-)
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PostSubject: Re: Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation - Jeff Warren   Fri Feb 07, 2014 1:45 pm

Isan – I have thought of the job interview challenge myself.  How do you talk highly of yourself when you are conditioned that there is no self?  And not many folks out here in lay life understand that idea or prescribe to or understand no ego, that’s for sure – it is what gets you ahead in the world.  A potential boss doesn’t want to hear the answer to a problem being, “It is just empty,” “I’ll just come back to being present,” or “Just let it go and see how the truth reveals itself.”  J

I think this very paradox of training is what makes it so hard for monks to readapt after embracing the ideal of the Scripture of Great Wisdom in our tradition wholeheartedly and believing its example in our own experience.  I find it has colored my view of work, family and the prospect of a relationship in some negative ways.

I agree that the focus in the monastery is to redefine and let go of the wants and needs of the ego.  I certainly had my fair share of being snapped at by seniors for having a question about something that “I” felt was important at the time.  The sad part of this is it doesn’t help traverse the world of the ego without attachment – it is actually a kind of aversion in itself.  I remember asking the most senior monk in the Order once very sincerely, “How does one truly embrace compassion?” and his answer was, “This isn’t about your son again is it?”  He nailed the cause, he was quite out of touch with the effect in my opinion.  I was simply trying to apply the profound teachings to my daily life.

I think training so intently has a very large shadow side – especially when you ordain as a monk and are cloistered and ‘protected’ from the outside and groomed by the teachings.  And, the seniors and the institution didn’t have any real protocol for dealing with this shadow side.  I experienced many reactions by Masters to people’s darker sides and I didn’t see any consistency, just pointing back to not paying attention to the ego – a very powerful ego in many cases that can produce an unbearable amount of fear if threatened.  I am still haunted by the novice who was asked to leave at Throssel a few years ago and committed suicide a few days later – an extreme transition to another way of thinking without any bridge to get there.

I visited several more progressive zen centers after I disrobed in 2010.  San Francisco Zen Center and its affiliates have a thriving, growing practice right in the middle of lay life, which I found quite refreshing.  And Great Vow Monastery’s Chozen Bays is a psychologist and includes a wide range of disciplines in training her students.  While I was there we had classes regarding certain aspects of the teachings but the discussions revolved around mundane problems and how to address them with the teachings.  It was very informative and down to earth and I didn’t quite know how to interact at the time given my training in the Order where we mostly deferred to the seniors as having the final all-knowing answer.

Today, my life is more balanced.  I still love the teachings but they aren’t exclusive and separate from my life.  I feel fortunate that I have been able to reacclimate to lay life and keep some of the teachings close that meant the most to me as a novice.  I am also thankful today that I was only in the monastery for six years, because the transition would have been much harder after 10 or 20.  I am not sure many of the monks who are getting older now and who have been there so long would be able to make the transition successfully, given they have no real world skills and would have to develop them.  I was blessed to get my old job back and that my family didn’t hold on to resentments towards me for going to the monastery.
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PostSubject: Re: Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation - Jeff Warren   Fri Feb 07, 2014 2:44 pm

Isan – I have thought of the job interview challenge myself.  How do you talk highly of yourself when you are conditioned that there is no self?  And not many folks out here in lay life understand that idea or prescribe to or understand no ego, that’s for sure – it is what gets you ahead in the world.  A potential boss doesn’t want to hear the answer to a problem being, “It is just empty,” “I’ll just come back to being present,” or “Just let it go and see how the truth reveals itself.”  J


My experience with job interviews has generally been terrible ( even when I got the job :-)  ).  For me they are one of the most unnatural situations, designed to bring out the worst in people while expecting them to be at their best.  My disgust with that process was one of the main motivators that moved me into self-employment, which has worked out quite well.

I agree that the focus in the monastery is to redefine and let go of the wants and needs of the ego.  I certainly had my fair share of being snapped at by seniors for having a question about something that “I” felt was important at the time.  The sad part of this is it doesn’t help traverse the world of the ego without attachment – it is actually a kind of aversion in itself.


I feel this is exactly right.  The ego, like the body, is part of our incarnate existence and it's not necessary to cripple it in order to have a deeper understanding.  We don't have to kill our dreams for Buddha/Dharma.  I remember nuns that I knew as a child in Catholic school - young women made old and bitter by the need to sacrifice an ordinary life in order to be "religious".  It's a false choice, and really sad.

Today, my life is more balanced.  I still love the teachings but they aren’t exclusive and separate from my life.  I feel fortunate that I have been able to reacclimate to lay life and keep some of the teachings close that meant the most to me as a novice.  I am also thankful today that I was only in the monastery for six years, because the transition would have been much harder after 10 or 20. 


Yeah balance - what a crazy idea!  Definitely glad I got out while I was still young enough to start over.

By the way the "me, not me experience" seems to continue - the universe playing peekaboo with us.
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PostSubject: Re: Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation - Jeff Warren   Sat Feb 08, 2014 11:13 pm

Enida - I can completely relate to your experience from my own leave-taking.  It took me some years to fully re-enter ordinary life.  Getting out from under Kennett was traumatic and coming back to being a more "normal" person took its time.

I also found it at first very helpful visiting other Buddhist groups and even other spiritual teachers and organizations.  I needed perspective.  I needed to figure out what was Kennett / Shasta and what was Zen, what was her personality and what was teaching - and could i sort out the difference.  It was a revelation what I first realized how much Shasta was Kennett's idiosyncrasies and had little to do with Japanese Zen or dharma or anything actually.  I found some communities and teachers so much more open, kinder, less dogmatic, more accepting of individuality and questioning.  I also found others even more dogmatic and cultic.  It took me some years to fully digest what had happened to me.

In terms of the depth of meditation skills at Shasta, I can speak to my time there, but based on what I've heard, doubt if its much different.  It all begins with Kennett, who was not a meditator - at all - as I've said elsewhere on this site, during the seven years I was with her, I never saw her meditate more than maybe 10-15 minutes. This is not an exaggeration.  She did not do zazen.  She meditated while at Sojiji and the second she left, she stopped doing zazen, not unlike 98% of the Soto monks in Japan.  She was not that skilled at the deeper and long-term practice of meditation or in the subtleties of the pitfalls and shadows, so how could she teach it.  The meditation teaching at Shasta was simplistic, one method, one approach... and when i was there, zero psychological skills.  And remember, as Guest Master, as one of the top seniors, I was in charge of teaching new people how to do zazen and often guided them and did sanzen with them.  So i know about this from the inside out.  Yes, i could teach basic zazen, but it was simplistic, i had no skills at dealing with any difficult situations when they came up. 

I like the term "distortion field."  Places like Shasta see themselves as Buddha fields, but nothing could be further from reality.  They are distortion fields and complex ones at that.  The complexities at the OBC are rooted and start with Kennett - her personality, shadows, story -but even behind that you have the distortion field of Soto Zen / Japanese imperial Buddhism, and then it expands and includes the other "masters" like Eko and his shadows and behavior, and so on.  And then it includes the belief system, unquestioned assumptions, monotheistic quasi-Buddhism, misunderstanding of basic Buddhist teaching and so on.

So the disorientation that people feel when they are there - and especially when they leave is only partly about the meditation practice and the Zen narrative, but includes the social dimension of dharma practice - the interactions and society of denial and wishful thinking and blind obedience and this huge disconnect between simple reality and their master narrative / enchantment. 

So, most people, getting free of this distortion field, finding out what is true and what is the enchantment, that's the challenge and it can take time and processing and digestion.  Not easy, it can be painful at times, as you know, as I experienced, as many others who share here know.  Some people had an easier time, but most of those folks had a more distant connection to Kennett / OBC / Shasta / Eko. 

For me, what was helpful in my leaving, was finding simple ways to be a "normal" person.  I felt like i needed to come down to earth, to find the ground, to stop trying to be something i was not, stop this holiness game\, and to that Kennett voice out of my head and my life.   I wanted to be as far away from Zen and Buddhism as possible.  After I traveled the country for the first year after I left Shasta, I settled in Atlanta and volunteered at an inner city day care center helping to teach four and five year olds, and at also worked at a natural food co-op.  I felt like i needed kind friends and some gentleness. 

I also stopped meditating or doing any kind of spiritual practice... it was years later that i started sitting again. 

Also, need to say this again.  Shasta was a very, very LOVELESS place.  Lots of talk about compassion, but in actuality, it was dry and cold and often mean.  Fugen meant love, but where was this love?  Kennett was kind only when you adored her.  That was the game.  Love and compassion were conceptual.  She had no experience of love in her life, of personal love or interpersonal love.  There was a bit more compassion between the monks - but even then, it was necessarily distant.  This aspect of the distortion field was a toxic combination of Kennett's upbringing, her shadows and the Japanese Zen ideal.  Put the two together - and it is hard and loveless. 

Sometimes what is needed is cuddling, kindness, warmth, connection, truth telling, sharing, being vulnerable and speaking openly about needs and feelings.  I know this is not Zen - where you are not supposed to have wants and needs and feelings, where there is supposed to be "no self" -  but frankly, time for a new Zen that includes acknowledging the relative self and not denying its existence.  If you live as if the Heart Sutra is your roadmap for daily life, you will make a total mess of Buddhism and be a wack job.  You have a body.  You have feet.  You have feelings.  That's life in the relative world -and to deny that - well, that's the road to confusion and dissociative states. 

And honestly, Kennett had no self?  What nonsense!!  Eko had no self?  What denial.  She would have been so much happier and healthier and less stressed out and abusive if she could have openly and honestly been self-aware and not live such self-confusion.
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PostSubject: Re: Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation - Jeff Warren   Sun Feb 09, 2014 1:41 am

Josh, I agree with what you have said, in general, from my own experience of having been there from the beginning, with you, and from continuing after your departure.

A significant dimension of my own experience (and I think Isan's as well) is that my practice, ultimately, had little to do with RMJK's beliefs or behaviors.

In essence, I took back my own practice, experience, and understanding before I left the OBC.

I was able to do this through opportunities for distancing that you did not have.

I spent 3 years as the prior of the Buddhist Berkeley Priory, and another 6 or 7 years as the resident monk with an OBC affiliated meditation group. What you did outside the OBC (well done!), I did while still within it, but far enough away to be able to deprogram myself.

I would submit that the problem is not that Jiyu's teaching was false or inadequate, but, as you say, that (IMO) her unhealed shadow side was all too often confused and entwined with her teaching.

However, the valid essence of her teaching is the essence of our own understanding.

I believe that it is essential for us to question and reject Jiyu's invalid teaching.

But, I would propose that if we reject her valid and insightful teaching (which, at root, has nothing to do with her shortcomings) we simultaneously reject our own innate understanding--given our own similar shortcomings!

I firmly believe that the issue is to reclaim what is true, and reject what is not true, by trusting and reclaiming our own insight and practice.

I would not have been able to do this, for myself, were it not for RM Jiyu's teaching.
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PostSubject: Re: Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation - Jeff Warren   Sun Feb 09, 2014 1:57 am

Enida, just a quick comment here in appreciation of your own in depth comments above. They certainly resonate with me as well.

I hope to comment/discuss further--especially if I can finish the article that I've been working on about all of this!
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PostSubject: Re: Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation - Jeff Warren   Sun Feb 09, 2014 11:07 am

Jcbaran wrote:

In terms of the depth of meditation skills at Shasta, I can speak to my time there, but based on what I've heard, doubt if its much different.  It all begins with Kennett, who was not a meditator - at all - as I've said elsewhere on this site, during the seven years I was with her, I never saw her meditate more than maybe 10-15 minutes. This is not an exaggeration.  She did not do zazen. 

Also, need to say this again.  Shasta was a very, very LOVELESS place.  Lots of talk about compassion, but in actuality, it was dry and cold and often mean.  Fugen meant love, but where was this love?  Kennett was kind only when you adored her.  That was the game.  Love and compassion were conceptual.  She had no experience of love in her life, of personal love or interpersonal love.  There was a bit more compassion between the monks - but even then, it was necessarily distant.  This aspect of the distortion field was a toxic combination of Kennett's upbringing, her shadows and the Japanese Zen ideal.  Put the two together - and it is hard and loveless. 
.
We will have to "agree to disagree" about Jiyu Kennett not being a meditator, however I generally agree with your conclusions.  Meditation doesn't automatically heal personality problems or create a community culture based in emotional intelligence.  We only have to look at Japanese Zen during the war years (eg Brian Victoria's Zen at War) to see how the practice can be used to enforce conformity and suppress conscience.  I think the notion at Shasta that meditation was the fix for everything led to lopsided development - people with significant meditation skills and limited social skills, and over all a regimented and repressive culture.  The problem is it seems to work at first - deprive the "self" of natural comforts and drive people until they breakdown/breakthrough.  That makes it easy to believe the end justifies the means.  It's just asceticism and over time it harms people.
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PostSubject: Re: Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation - Jeff Warren   Sun Feb 09, 2014 7:14 pm

I don't know whether RMJK did formal meditation or not, but we were told that she was "beyond" having to do formal meditation and instead all that she did was meditation. For sure I don't know...
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PostSubject: Re: Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation - Jeff Warren   Sun Feb 09, 2014 8:34 pm

Kozan, we mostly agree.  Much of what i took away as very valuable i would not characterize as Kennett's teaching - basic Soto Zen, Dogen, Shikan-taza, same simple Buddhist teaching - none of that came from her, she was passing them on.  She added her own personal flavor to some of it, but much of it, she passed on, sometimes with some insight, and other times, not so much. 

Much of what was attributable to  Kennett was more like the quotes that Isan shared above - "Anyone who meditates run the risk of being grabbed by the Cosmic Buddha."  I would call that Kennett.  And to me, that was the kind of stuff that I let drop away.  Very Christian and simply not helpful.  Where did the Buddha say anything like that?   And phrases like, "Many are called, but few are chosen."  That chestnut came up many times.  Also Christian.  Who is doing this choosing?  All too monotheistic for me. And that was all before the lotus blossom descent. 

For people who leave, who feel abused and traumatized, important to retrieve their integrity and power and adulthood and speak out - both to oneself and to others - say what you were forbidden to say, and not worry about doing it perfectly.  And yes, honor the positive, but before you can fully do that, you need to name and digest the denied aspects, otherwise you remain toxic.
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PostSubject: Re: Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation - Jeff Warren   Mon Feb 10, 2014 11:14 am

Carol wrote:
I don't know whether RMJK did formal meditation or not, but we were told that she was "beyond" having to do formal meditation and instead all that she did was meditation. For sure I don't know...
.
Hello Carol,
Jiyu Kennett only went to the zendo to meditate in her chair on rare occasions.  If that's what we mean by formal meditation then she almost never practiced it.  However she did practice meditation, or if preferred "mindfulness", in her home regularly.  Of course that can't be proven, but going to a zendo everyday doesn't prove anything either.  I feel the better question is "is meditation practice helping a person?".  Meditation seemed to have limited value in helping Jiyu Kennett deal with her emotional wounds.  I believe something quite different was needed.
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PostSubject: Re: Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation - Jeff Warren   Mon Feb 10, 2014 11:21 am

Jcbaran wrote:
Kozan, we mostly agree.  Much of what i took away as very valuable i would not characterize as Kennett's teaching - basic Soto Zen, Dogen, Shikan-taza, same simple Buddhist teaching - none of that came from her, she was passing them on.  She added her own personal flavor to some of it, but much of it, she passed on, sometimes with some insight, and other times, not so much. 
.
Isn't the primary role of a Buddhist teacher to "pass on" the truth as it was received?  What does authorship have to do with it?
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PostSubject: Re: Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation - Jeff Warren   Mon Feb 10, 2014 12:30 pm

Isan, I know this was addressed to Josh, but I had a thought and wanted to jump in, and this comment is not directed to the question about Kennett or anyone is particular.

I have thought a lot about teachers over the last few years and continue to do so. Sometimes (rarely) I still attend buddhist gatherings to listen to a talk by a visiting monk. I find myself always listening now for the origins of what they are pronouncing. I try to figure out where their message comes from, meaning, does it seem to have roots in the early teachings, is it a cultural overlay from wherever this monk was trained, does it seem to be the monk's own quirks/preferences more than something that is actually traceable to buddhist ideology?

I wonder if a teacher's role should be to pass on his or her version of truth - should it be to nudge someone else to determine for herself/himself what that is? 

I guess it would be hard to solidify a tradition, secure adherents, ensure continuity, if the primary message allowed the student to decide that maybe the teacher's truth is not true, actually -
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PostSubject: Re: Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation - Jeff Warren   Mon Feb 10, 2014 4:08 pm

I`m with you on this one Lise !

I`m a big fan of the Dhammapada and love to study it.  As far as I`m concerned, all of the
teaching that is essential is all there.  I find it hugely useful to cross reference the Zen teachings
with the original sayings of the Buddha.  Obviously it`s a very long time since the Buddha`s death
and the original teachings have been open to interpretation along the way.
Even so everything that is essential is there if you look for it.  I found it really surprising as to how
little of the Mahayana teachings actually refer back to what the Buddha actually said and taught.

All teachings and all teachers should be closely examined if Buddhism is your chosen vehicle.  It
saves a heck of a lot of problems when in doubt.  Here is a perfect example.....

"Do not believe in anything simply because you have
heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is the opinion
of many. Do not believe in anything because it is found written in your
religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of
your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have
been handed down for many generations. But after observation and
analysis, when you find anything that agrees with reason and is
conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and
live up to it." (Buddha, 'Dhammapada')

I particularly like the exhortation to use Observation, Analysis and Reason.  That really takes things
away from relying on beliefs....the world of Religion.  Belief`s great until Reason shows up !
Ya gotta laugh.........
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PostSubject: Re: Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation - Jeff Warren   Mon Feb 10, 2014 4:24 pm

Hi Lise -  I appreciate what you've said too.

It brings me back to the question in relation to everyone's comments above of, "What is our Tradition?"  The Order is not Soto Zen and looks very different than SZBA's current practice.  The Order is not associated through any lineage other than through the Kyojukaimon, which has thousands, if not millions, of strands.  Is our tradition the teachings of a British woman (whom I've never met) and the various music and translations that she created to try to teach in her own way?  Would she have changed things radically if she were still living, to such an extent that any notion of "our tradition" would be wildly different?  Should the legacy change as life changes?  What will hold the Order together ultimately?

I realize that is a lot to chew on but I wondered these things often while a monk when trying to learn what it is that the Order "is", how to vest in it and how to transmit it.  As RM Jiyu is an ancestor whom most will never meet, what is the Order actually transmitting?
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PostSubject: Re: Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation - Jeff Warren   Mon Feb 10, 2014 6:31 pm

Stan wrote:

I particularly like the exhortation to use Observation, Analysis and Reason.  That really takes things
away from relying on beliefs....the world of Religion.  Belief`s great until Reason shows up !
Ya gotta laugh.........

Absolutely.

Stan, that passage from the Dhammapada is what led me to look further into Buddhism and its basic teachings. It is a beautiful statement that places responsibility just where it should be - with the practitioner. To me it reinforces that we must honor our ability to discern, discriminate, evaluate - we must do this, to protect our selves (which deserve protection) from misguided religious systems and uninformed teaching.

"Just trust. Believe and trust, and set aside the self."  I don't think so. Trust is earned, not commanded by another; if I think a teaching is sound, it will have earned my trust through its own merits via its visible effects in the world. And my "self" still has a job to do, and the right and responsibility to do it, namely, ferreting out what is actually beneficial, rather than letting someone else decide that for me. How much of life is wasted through listening to other people issue pronouncements about what is good for us, instead of deciding for ourselves?

Enida, I don't mean to detract from your excellent questions with my off-the-cuff reply to just one of them -  hopefully others will join in here -  but I think the OBC, or SA at least, is basically just transmitting another version of original sin. I agree with what others have said here re:  the parallels with Christianity. You can pick up this when you listen to some senior monk dharma talks. Being saddled with a karmic inheritance that one must work all their life to cleanse? Is that not like being born into a state of sin that you must spend your life atoning for and crawling up out of, even though you didn't do anything to deserve it? Seriously?

Work calls, I must get back to it.
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PostSubject: Re: Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation - Jeff Warren   Thu Feb 13, 2014 12:49 pm

Lise wrote:
Isan, I know this was addressed to Josh, but I had a thought and wanted to jump in, and this comment is not directed to the question about Kennett or anyone is particular.

I have thought a lot about teachers over the last few years and continue to do so. Sometimes (rarely) I still attend Buddhist gatherings to listen to a talk by a visiting monk. I find myself always listening now for the origins of what they are pronouncing. I try to figure out where their message comes from, meaning, does it seem to have roots in the early teachings, is it a cultural overlay from wherever this monk was trained, does it seem to be the monk's own quirks/preferences more than something that is actually traceable to Buddhist ideology?

I wonder if a teacher's role should be to pass on his or her version of truth - should it be to nudge someone else to determine for herself/himself what that is? 
.
Listening with discrimination is definitely a good thing, unlike the starry eyed "all acceptance" I indulged as a young person whenever I listened to spiritual teachers.  I learned the hard way, but I've yet to meet anyone that learned it an easy way. 

Regarding my comment to Josh I feel that Jiyu Kennett's teaching did not consist of only her personal contributions, but of all the Buddhism she taught us.  In fact in the early years she exposed us to a lot of material from other traditions as well, such as contemplative Christianity and Hasidism (Martin Buber). 

More generally I feel the idea of personal practice/realization is what makes Buddhism so valuable.  I don't see that as a focus in other religions which are more about conformity and following other people's rules.  Unfortunately that also makes Buddhism vulnerable to abuse in a way that other religions are not.
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PostSubject: Re: Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation - Jeff Warren   Wed Feb 19, 2014 6:03 pm

more stray thoughts - one of my friends does a kind of sitting meditation regularly and shares this activity with his kids who are now 6 and 9. He doesn't make them do it, it's voluntary, and the only rule is that they must stay quiet if they want to be in the room with him when he meditates. He identifies as a Buddhist (not sure which sect) but is not teaching his kids dogma of any kind, and esp. not in regard to "how to do meditation". I find this refreshing and quite forward-thinking. His view is that he just wants them to see that a person can relax in a quiet place and give the mind and tongue and ears a rest. That's what he tells them he's doing.

Regarding the dark side of meditation, the fears and distress, the psychological splits that can happen, I wonder if that is related in any way to the power of suggestion? If someone steered clear of all the myths and stories, the exhortations to "go deeper", "look at the self", "cleanse your karma", all that, I wonder if the experience would mostly remain okay?  Is it possible that the religious stories/theories implant things in a person's consciousness or psyche, that otherwise might never have occurred to them or manifested in any way?  I wonder.  How often do kids experience the khundalini terrors or similar, if they've never been exposed to the concept?
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PostSubject: Re: Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation - Jeff Warren   Sun Nov 08, 2015 8:35 am

Just found this thread, by some weird mechanism of my smartphone throwing it at me. I am obviously destined to reply....
 
Sorry if you’ve “heard it all before” later… I’m a one trick pony, but what a trick!
 
Josh, thank you again for your obviously honest and revealing account of your life at Shasta, and the world of Peggy Kennett. Isan, you seem to be agreeing with Josh that you never saw her meditate much. And also about her state of mind, and the total uselessness of ‘zazen’ to help her emotional state.
 
Kozan, reading between the lines you seem to be saying that your experience at Shasta was intensely similar to Josh's. You 2 have an amazingly "inner circle" view of Peggy's world, which I'm afraid is is all too clear. 
 
My experience of a month per year at Throssel Hole for 5 years is not very “inner circle” like yours. My feeling is Daishin Morgan is not like Peggy Kennett at all, and I am glad to have met him. However it was clear that Peggy Kennett was worshipped at Throssel Hole, seen as an enlightened being, and everything she said and taught treated as gospel. Also her way of doing spiritual practice was followed religiously.
 
I also had direct experience of Daishin Morgan seemingly having ZERO TRAINING OR UNDERSTANDING OF THE INNER WORLD OF EMOTIONS. That made, for me, his value as a spiritual guide very low, and his and Peggy’s system of ‘the spiritual path’, a confusing blind alley. My experience is that Daishin is a really nice person who was totally obedient to the Kennett way of doing things. Hence the really quite weird way he treated me when I experienced my big opening, and when I went to him with issues of child abuse. Paradoxically, I know at the same time he had found something incredibly special in his practice. I experienced it many times. I felt unconditional love regularly hit like ton of bricks when Daishin was around. He and one other person there gave me a direct experience of the unconditional, and gave me the faith to be utterly stupid and keep at it on my own. Thank God   bom
 
I am also struck by the experiences of Hans Burgschmidt. The most pressing thing about them are how similar to mine they are. Except that the way he and I didn’t deal with it are diametrically OPPOSITE!
 
The conclusion I draw from reading this thread is I am beginning to wonder if the Zazen that I have done for the last 33 years is at all like anyone else’s here, or anywhere else for that matter. I was lucky enough to experience what Hans did, to be doing zazen and mindfulness in a very open pure way, and to not be around anyone else doing spiritual practice or spiritual “teachers” at all in my daily life. I practiced hard alone. So I didn’t get any of the rubbish that almost all “spiritual teachers” seem to spout forth.
 
I was also stupid enough that when I experienced Hans’s intensification of the senses, aged 19, and having what most people would call a ‘nervous breakdown’, and psychiatrists may have diagnosed as Schizophrenia, I didn’t associate it with doing intense meditation practice. Throssel Hole and Chithurst monks said and did that zazen makes you peaceful, right? Yes there’s a dark night of the soul, but it ain’t that bad or long is it? It can’t be, cos Daishin Morgan read us his poem about it not lasting long, and it didn’t really go into any great detail, or last very long (the poem) so the dark night can’t be very long can it?  And no one talks about emotions much do they, so they can’t be that important, other than in zazen to notice and NOT ACT OUT OF!!!!!!!?
 
So I fell to bits, definitely ‘acted out of’. And no longer knew who I was, and my “self” became fractured in true “Hans-like” style. I ‘knew’ I was becoming schizophrenic. And I did not relate this to sitting and opening. So I sat and opened some more. And went more and more “schizophrenic”. For 4 and a half years. Lucky me!
 
And then popped out the “other” side. And realized some pretty cool stuff. That hardly anyone that I can find in the spirituality game seems to have realized.
 
Like what is this intensified sensory world that me and Hans experienced? Is it this terrible place that can destroy you, that damages you, that you have to “repair from”. No not really. It’s just how an infant experiences it’s world.
 
And this fracturing of “self”, the place of ‘schizophrenia’, this terrifying loss of any sense of who I am, is it something to get away from, is a bad thing, to heal out of, to rebuild self from. No its just the power of parental indoctrination and the reasoning mind dropping away.
 
And this 4.5 years (minimum in my experience!) of screaming, crying, intense sensations, inability to work, or function at any kind of “normal” level? Of despair, terror, seeing things, frequent weird powerful “psychotic” “episodes”? The shadow side? Something gone wrong? Enlightenments evil twin? No. Just me letting out the held-in emotions of an infant/small child, it’s totally appropriate responses to its world and its parent’s behavior.
 
And what’s a good way to deal with all this “stuff”, these childhood emotions and experiences coming out? To label them as schizophrenia, dissociative disorder etc, to stick pills in to make them go away, to shut them up, to label them as “evil”, “wrong”, to be “healed”,or “observed and not acted on” etc etc. No. How about a bit of kindness, a bit of caring, a bit of LISTENING!!!!!!! And, as Josh said, maybe a hug here or there.
 
Also, the reasoning mind is not of much use here. What I learned very clearly in fact, is the reasoning mind is what we are taught as children to use to STOP THE EMOTIONS being expressed. At the threat of death in fact, as the child experiences it. So the reasoning mind losing its power is a major part of the loss of self, the feeling schizophrenia, and the self loathing.
 
And here’s another thing folks. My childhood was finite. So the emotions inside are finite. So once I’ve cried and screamed them all out, and said its ok to them 1000’s of times, on my own curled up hugging myself, they went. Totally. And I found myself floating in a space I never realised was there. A spacious consciousness full of love, compassion and wisdom. That sees things as they are.
 
And I realized something else... Emotions are totally safe. Lovable. Unconditionally. For real.
 
And it’s ok to let go of control. Totally. Yikes.
 
So my practice is/was different. How? By making it unconditional allowing into awareness of everything that’s there, without control. For real. Yikes. What does this mean though in real life?
 
Well, if zazen/mindfulness is about increasing awareness of the here and now, we are going to see the here and now more aren’t we. And this includes what we see and hear and smell and touch. And what we think. AND WHAT WE FEEL. And it doesn’t to take long, if you really are sitting allowing it all into awareness, before this rather large elephant floats into view… called the subconscious. Full of out of control emotions that we have stuffed inside, controlled and intentionally forgotten about. Then we have a straight choice, don’t we? To let them out or to push them back in and give good reasons why (ha ha) or the time honoured trick that every child knows of putting our attention somewhere else, and making that more important. It could be something really obvious (I use Ebay) or it could be something a bit more subtle like “observe the feelings and don’t act on them” ha ha good luck with that one.
 
Cos you see, emotions by definition are not controlled. Who wants controlled laughter? Interesting innit.
 
I learned something else. You can’t go around, or outside of where you hold to let go of where you hold. So the only way is straight in. To the core. With a diamond drill called zazen-done-right. Screw the Buddhist version of zazen. That’s for control freaks and pansies. Lets go hardcore and drill for the mother-load. ***K YES!
 
Postscript. My life feels like a real mess. Don’t let anyone tell you that you get through one whole load and it’s over. Not in my case. And don’t let anyone tell you you can find yourself floating in spaciousness, with the real-me-being-the-spaciousness, and that solves everything. Not in my case, and I tried that for at least 10 years. Cos guess what, there’s another great big lump to drill into. And no amount of fannying around the edges gonna shift that baby.
 
So here I am happily (?) drilling. Aint it fun? Cos when you’re at the pit-head there ain’t much light. Yes, now you can come out whenever for air, but then you’re back in the dark, drilling for the mother-load. Blind. Screwing up regularly. In a totally dysfunctionally neurotic/psychotic very-average-Joe kind of way. Not even sure you’re drilling in the right direction. Not even sure if you’re drilling actually.
 
This is my experience, for what its worth….
 

Now, back to ebay….
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