Archive for the ‘practice’ Category

The aim of the Buddhist practice is to learn to see reality as it is, without adding anything or taking anything away.

So how do we practice with shadow?

Understanding where shadow comes from gives us insights about ourselves, shows us this is not something we could help and we don’t have to carry the guilt for having the shadow in the first place. It also gives us clues as to how we can deal with shadow material integrating it rather than keeping it under the surface.

From what I understand shadow arises when for some reason we are unable to deal with the direct experience and decide (unconsciously) to suppress it. For example, if as a child I get angry but don’t feel safe to express my anger because this is not the type of emotions my family encourages and I am afraid I will not be loved if I show anger, I suppress it and this part of my experience becomes my shadow (goes into the basement). I will then project my anger onto others and see a lot of it on my path.

Poet and author Robert Bly sees shadow as an invisible bag we all carry around. Early in our lives when we are whole, we are 360 degrees and our bag is empty. As we grow up, we internalize the don’t be- messages coming from all directions  (first our family, then even our peers) while as we grow up we try to lighten the burden by retrieving those sides of us we put into the bag (and freeing the energy that takes us to uphold the façade, that self-image that we pre- approved).



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Committed to the shadow work, I made sure I would not be walking into the dark forest entirely by myself but asked for a support of a dear friend of mine. We agreed on giving each other honest feedback and encouragement while opening this Pandora’s box. (I sure hope we will remain friends after! ) Besides,  since it is the nature of the shadow to remain unseen to us, others might have more to say about those sides that we are hiding or denying from ourselves so it can be helpful to turn to people for some clues (probably asking the ex would not be such a good idea, at least not in the beginning 🙂 ).

One of the things that came up for me even before I started going deep was arrogance and when I asked my friend about it he acknowledged that I could in fact be quite righteous.  I was prepared to hear an honest respond and was committed not to shy away from it but receive it and observe my own reaction.  The first feeling was that of frustration and disappointment, “No, dear, I can be quite arrogant but not in that way. I surely leave place for other people’s opinions and welcome the differences!” I knew exactly what I meant by arrogance and he was talking about something else! Well, I was prepared hearing the bad stuff, but obviously the one that I thought was right. When I saw the thinking process unfolding this way, I paused in disbelief:  wait a minute, what was I at the moment when I was reacting in this way if not something that could be discribed as arrogant and righteous?!

This was the first lesson: courage alone is not enough when meeting one’s demons. You gotta have some of that wisdom to cut through one’s habitual way of thinking and emotional reactivity that comes up as we start digging deeper and the ego is getting a fit. I laughed wholeheartedly at this unexpected twist and at how easy it is to get into this mind trap. I also see now that this work requires a state of mindfulness so we are not easily carried away by emotions or thoughts.

“The gold is in the dark”

C. Jung

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Returning to the earlier post on reactivity and pants. For starters, I believe it is never  really about them pants or whatever becomes a trigger for our reactivity, although in the situation when it actually occurs it can be very hard to see it.  We so much want to believe that the root of our discomfort lies outside ourselves that we start believing it and acting on it. For me the question is not whether to pick up the pants or not but rather what I can learn from my reactivity around it:  why and how matter more than what.  This is not to give myself yet another reason to beat myself up over something but to see what underlying beliefs run the weather of my emotional and mental landscape.

If you don’t realize the source,

you stumble in confusion and sorrow

Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching



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It is a challenge to be working on Genjokoan and it’s inspiring to do that with the teacher that taggs on our sleeves to remind us to avoid the Zen snare of dry, conceptual understanding and encourages us to “have a keen and sensitive busshit detector to do this work “.

Once again – the koan in the Genjo Koan, with Mayu fanning himself and the bowing monk.

Mayu was fanning himself. A monk approached and said, “Master, the nature of wind is permanent and there is no place it does not reach. Why then do you fan yourself?”

“Although you understand that the nature of the wind is permanent,” Mayu replied,” you do not understand the meaning of its reaching everywhere.”

“What is the meaning of its reaching everywhere?” asked the monk again.

Mayu just kept fanning himself. The monk bowed deeply.

Dosho tosses us the question again and again:

What did the monk see that he expressed by bowing?

In one of the posts on his blog he writes:

“Now you might find yourself wanting to dismiss the question. “Bowing is just bowing.” This is one-sided, emphasizing not thinking, and so doesn’t have the power to cause a lineage to bloom (or to ripen the great earth’s goldenness). Watch out for the snare using Zen talk to not deal with this issue (or any other)!

What Dogen saw in the monks bow, and what the Genjokoan unpacks in rolling hopping along vividness, had such an enormous power that it caused our lineage to bloom for some hundreds of years with all the freedom that goes with it.

If we today dismiss the needle point of this question or are satisfied with thin explanations, we won’t have the strength of love to bring it forth in our daily life.

Here’s my humble take on it. We have the preconditions for life: a body and oxygen we find in the air. Yet to realise life itself, to manifest the living, we have to bring oxygen into the body by inhaling the air and exhaling it, inhaling and exhaling… For as long as we live.

The same goes for practice. Practice equals the verb just like breathing is. We cannot breath just by simply understanding the mechanics of it, cognitively knowing how it works. Knowledge of what makes a practice is useless if it is separate from the activities of everyday life.  If we stop breathing our organs will not get enough oxygen and will stop functioning. Practice is dead without the realisation of it, the actual doing it. We cannot know the practice, we have to live it.

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The door makes no promise

Have started listening to the  program “Meditations that can change your life” by Rick Hanson and Rick Mendius that they recorded for Sounds True. Both are interested in neurology and Buddism. It appears our brain is biologically biased towards negativity to ensure our survival and we tend to remember and overestimate the importance the negative experiences over the positive ones.  This brain of ours proved to be invaluable when we lived close to other species that could be a threat to us. We separated ourselves from nature and chose to live behind the walls so we would feel safer yet are we more relaxed today about our lives? The same incredibly smart and complex tool that served us now contributes to our suffering: while very seldom our physical survival is under threat the biological programming remains the same. We tend to react (overreact!) to many life situations and even just thoughts about them as if we are under threat which costs us a lot of energy, not to mention that it diverts our attention from experiencing life.

“Hope undermines efforts because it takes us away from the present. By coming back to what is right here in front of you right now, you see that meditation and internal transformative work are the best and most direct paths toward being present in life. Energy flows into practice because you see that you have no choice”.

Ken McLeod, Wake Up To Your Life

As the initial enthusiasm fades after a couple of months of meditation (once again, the mind tends to bring to focus the things I have not yet accomplished rather than a noticeable and positive shift in attitude towards life experiences – also a result of biological conditioning), the question arises: “What is the point of all this?”. But as Ken points out, what choice have I got?

I’ve been run by those habituated patterns for most part of my life and missed a huge chunk of it fighting the monsters in my head so I am pretty determined to try a different path for a change like finally getting real about life. Being at war with myself and the world costs a lot of energy and never ever made things better anyway. Yet even if there are no assurances in the practice itself  I see no other choice but to keep going.  At the very least it will keep me busy for the rest of my life – am blessed with the enough internal material for a few lifetimes.

The door makes no promise

Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.

If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.

Things look at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen.

If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily

to maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely

but much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?

The door itself
makes no promises.
It is only a door.

Prospective Immigrants Please Note, by Adrienne Rich

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Before I start working my edge it would be helpful to find it first. What is my edge then? What is an edge in the context of a spiritual practice?  The idea of looking for one at the edge of the known resonates with me. The edge is where I no longer have a script or for a moment forget about it. Or – is it?

Dosho brought to my attention during our very first talk that:

  • one probably has to go over the edge to find it;
  • the edge moves with time;

One of my edges is being awake in relationships. At least sometimes. A hard task, one for the people who want to grow muscle of awakening by exercising it and not just thinking of it.


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The life of an individual is the life of his body… A person who doesn’t breath deeply reduces the life of his body… If he doesn’t feel fully he narrows the life of his body… In effect,  most people go through life on a limited budget of energy and feeling.

Alexander Lowen, Bioenergetics

One of the things I have noticed or rather felt in my formal practice was that it was missing the bodily aspect even though often times during a sitting I’d stay with pain, physcial discomfort or other sensations in the body.  If being human involves living in this human body would it not be more helpful to use it in meditation in a more direct way?  I took up the asana practice as a way of engaging both body and mind  into the practice in a more direct and dynamic way but was open to furhter explore movement as part of spiritual practice.


Photo: Ralph Weidne


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