This Month's Contents: Becoming Will-less Zombies? - Part 2 by Mike Conners | Benefits and Blocks to Group Work, by Dan Garmat | Paean to Group Work by Art Ticknor | Words of Wisdom | Memories of Ashram Life with a Zen Master by Gary Harmon | Humor
We wrap up our group work theme this month with the last of your submissions to our call for papers. I hope you found a voice that inspired you to help or be helped by another. Having recently returned from the April TAT meeting, I am reminded of how difficult it is for many people to maintain their focus without a support network. As a college student, I vividly recall Augie Turak making this point: "Why are you doing this [spiritual work]? Because the guy next to you is doing it. And he's doing it because you're doing it, and I'm doing it because you two are doing it." We need this support until our flywheel of effort gains momentum, and we become what Richad Rose called a vector.
We start this month's issue with some unfinished business from March: the final segment of Mike Conners' April 2007 talk.
[These are Mike's notes from his 2007 talk at the TAT
Foundation's April Conference.
Part 1 appeared in the March 2008 TAT Forum. —Editor]
After effortless meditation, the second practice needed is to regularly meet with other seekers to feel your feelings, talk about them. And so let go of them. Don't resist any feelings, their final release is a necessary part of awakening from the illusion of 'i' being in control of them. As we learn to simply experience and let go of them, becoming finally free of them. When they are released the defensive 'i' goes with them. There is no need to 'fix' these feelings.
Anger, the first defense left over from childhood.
Shame and guilt, the conviction that 'i' am worthless, flawed and defective.
Fear of being out of control, having no free will, of being found out that 'i' am worthless and unlovable, of being abandoned, of annihilation, of death.
1 seek through a daily experience of effortless thinking, meditation, to have direct contact with, and let control rest with, our true self.
2 meet weekly with other seekers to conduct a searching and fearless self inventory. By simply feeling and talking about repressed feelings, we release them, and are finally free of them.
A complete copy of the A.C.A. meeting format is available in the TAT Community Building.
Effortless Meditation: To sit with the intention to recall a particular thought, without effort, as a faint idea.
When done without effort, the practice of recalling a faint idea, a 'mantra,' automatically leads the attention inward, toward the source of that idea, the transcendental Consciousness or Awareness.
These thoughts have been used successfully by others:
'Some traditional, more like just a sound, mantras
Shorter ones come easiest as a faint idea…'
? What are some others… What are you using ?
What is enlightenment?
What is Self-realization?
Why do you want Self-realization, Enlightenment?
Do you want to be an Ascended Being, with special knowledge, and abilities?
Do you long to know the truth, or reality, no matter how awful it may be?
What is ego, 'I'
What is Being, Absolute, Brahman, Tao, That, Self?
Want to live in a state of love, peace, joy, Bliss? Are you ready to let go of control of your life?
Want to do gods will? Are you ready to turn your will and your life over to god?
Are you comfortable with the idea of losing name and form, 'merging into the absolute'?
Do you want Nirvana? Are you ready to be extinguished?
We've all heard, 'one in a million,' why do you suppose that's true? Think they didn't try hard enough?
Does remembering something take effort? Does getting a joke? Does a realization?
Is thinking, the speaking of ideas in our heads?
When you remember a poem, are you saying it in your mind? Is saying it, the remembering of it? What remembers it, and what says it?
Effortless remembering leads to transcendence of and/or stillness of the talking mind. "The prayer of recollection leads to the prayer of silence." - St. Theresa.
'Oh…" of effortless meditation is a non-verbal, silent recollection of the mantra.
Letting go of control of thoughts and feelings has immediate benefits, on the way to self realization. When you cease judging others, and accept them as they are, you will feel love. As you cease judging the world, and accept it as it is, you will feel peace, and joy. Eventually, if we really want self-realization, we'll have to surrender control. Why put it off? You may even stop biting your nails, and get off anti-anxiety medication.
I've been working in three weekly and bi-weekly groups, the longest for five years, and have found some benefits and some blocks to groupwork in this time that seem worth mentioning.
The main benefit of the groups has been the work itself. The group I've been participating in the longest is a (usually) friendly confrontation meeting. This format appealed to something in me, because searching solo, I'd woken up from a handful of unseen assumptions, so reasoned I was under the influence of other, as yet, unseen assumptions. Unfortunately I expected to run out of time at the current rate before ever finding a satisfying answer to my death and life. A group where questions could be fielded to accelerate the expansion of my view fit my need. I did and still do ask myself questions and try to challenge my beliefs on my own, but other people listening and picking up where I may need to look uses their different perspectives, and the tension and spirit of people meeting for the sake of truth, to get to the more important insights much sooner. So with this group, and, similarly, the other two groups, the benefits of their respective work are primarily what keep me coming back.
Groupwork has also given me 3 secondary benefits to mention. One is that returning to meetings is a reminder of why I'm trying to do what I'm trying to do with my life. Usually it will come in the form of either a painful reminder I've been wasting my time in lesser, empty directions, or an inspiring reminder of what really matters. Without these regular reminders, my feeling is the hypnoses of life would weave stronger rationalizations that would prolong the unsatisfying, unhappy dream.
Two, is that the groups give me some accountability to my goals. For example, when I've been working outside the meetings, I have something different to talk about. And the thought of the other folks knowing about my slip ups has been a helpful secondary motivation to keep consistent action.
Three, is a surprise from having started and run my own group for the last year and a half: the concept of the ladder has become clearer. Now that I know the only qualification (for better or worse) for running a meeting is the motivation to start it and the motivation to stick with it in the times people come and times people don't, it has demystified the group leader role somewhat, for me. Yet, at the same time I could see I have gained some insight and cleared away some confusion over the years of seeking, such that I could have helped myself where I was 5-10 years ago, when I was starting out – maybe not completely or perfectly, but there is the possibility of saving others who are in roughly the same spots some time. Improving my sense of the ladder has also reduced my plentiful layers of overcomplication when trying to get help.
Groupwork has not completely been a greased path to nirvana for me, however. There have been a few significant blocks I've run into and found at least partial workarounds for – not that the workarounds I used are the best, but they might inspire something.
The first major block for me was the confrontation meetings seemingly weren't delivering the assumption crushing power I'd intuited they could. I stuck with them since I felt I was moving at least somewhat, and didn't have a better way to spend the meeting's hours, but generally I'd leave without feeling it had been productive for me. However, every once in a while, there would be a meeting that felt especially productive, and the question came to mind: what was different? What struck me, was that those rare times, my defenses were lower and I was more honest and open.
My reaction was to write a note to myself to remember my desire and be honest and open, and I put that note in my backpack where I might run into it before a meeting. The times I did see it first, it occasionally had the effect I'd hoped for: I'd be volunteering more information related to what was more relevant to me and those meetings felt more productive. Over time, this became a strong enough prayer that sometimes I have remembered during confrontation sessions: A) my desire for truth, and B) that these people really are trying to help me, and been able to lower my defenses enough to get a lot more out of the meetings. I've found it isn't controllable, however, because the action of lowering defenses isn't always a result of remembering my desire to.
The second major block I came across was with the online confrontation report I've participated in for a few years. I was going in circles, being asked the same questions, and only getting insights I'd gotten multiple times before. For some reason, the idea of actually doing self-study stuck in my mind. All I did differently was take a few questions at the beginning of the week before my answers were due, and do some field research. Even though first reactions can contain valuable information, answering questions with the same story to brush them off was interfering with getting the benefit of the work. (And they weren't my first reactions anyway.) I was missing the opportunities to look into worthwhile questions more deeply.
For example one question last year was, "What feelings or beliefs maintain the 'not ready' status quo?" If asked in the report, my initial reaction is usually procrastination by some dodge or another, but I can turn away from the defensive reaction and out of desire for something different, study myself and catch the answer to that question. Turning away from the resistance and remembering to use the questions to my benefit like this has helped turn this report into my best self-study work.
And finally, the most recent block is the tension after confrontational meetings can occasionally lead to a self-pity and defeatist mood. My current effort to work around this is to notice this pattern is occurring when it is, remember that it's happened in the past and I've felt it is a tangent, and turn my head away from it and onto the source of the tension. The antidote I've been trying to use is thus, rather than look away, treat any confrontation-induced tension as opportunities to pause and look within, and maybe see something.
Lo! Men have become the tools of their tools.
Having had the good fortune of knowing and living in Richard Rose's ashram I am compelled to write a little bit about how that has affected me. What Rose termed an ashram I later learned is an ancient term used by Buddhist schools and Zen monasteries where a student can come and go as they please though must abide by the rules of the ashram and that is difficult enough. It is an age old tried and tested method of helping spiritual aspirants assist each other. I lived with Rose a couple of times in Benwood off and on due to my fickle nature. One of the times Dave Gold inherited my bunk after I moved out as mentioned in his book 'after the absolute'.
Living with Richard Rose was intense and his very presence charged the room with an energy that was extremely noticeable and most of the time in Benwood there were men and women living in the house which was a tension in itself. Sitting in the kitchen with Rose and the others was something that I remember fondly considering the kitchen talks were some of the most helpful in recollection. He often made something to eat while he talked so we ate and conversed late into the night. There was a TV that received one channel and was only on for the news of the day then turned off so that we were one on one with each other. There are many memories from those times but it is the later period that I remember most and had a transformative effect. I tried again and again working along side Mister Rose and always bolted after a time due to the intensity and maintaining a singular focus on definition. I have heard some people say that they noticed little increase in energy by maintaining a containment of sexual energy where I noticed a profound difference. In my own experience a subtle shift occurred that allowed for grasp of the inner working of the lattice of the worldly desires and programmed curiosities. At the same time more and more clever things would appear that tempted drainage of that reproductive transmuted energy. Living with people that are going through the same intensified condition is helpful as you end up seeing the others as they are becoming restless and about to succumb to nature's programming which is something that you and your ashram friends have agreed to avoid.
In 1984 I lived at the farm ashram for about three months. The structure of ashram life is designed so you end up trusting your fellows with your life because we often were doing dangerous work and you trust your teacher with your very sanity. In the 2000s it might be impossible to live this type of life but never the less it is the structure of traditional Zen. The main thing is you to trust you and I failed at that while at the ashram. The farm was an intense challenge and developed into the most extreme confrontation I was ever given by Rose. He asked me to leave which was the ultimate rejection but turned out to be the correct action and not rejection but deliberant choreography by a Zen master. By doing that he forced me to fend for myself, go to electronics school and start a career. I needed to experience success to have a chance of letting go of something that I had created. We remained in touch after the initial shock had worn off and I again returned to the farm meetings and looking for my definition which never stopped though now I had a good job that I had earned by hard work and discipline. I had matured and the 'kicked off the farm' was understood as the ultimate koan which either you saw through or took personally and declared failure and ended the search while blaming the teacher. Trust is essential to continue for many have given up.
Having people working with you is extremely advantageous though the tendency to predict what people might 'confront' you about and then developing explanations to avoiding real introspection is difficult to triumph over. Your sense of identity is at stake and becomes cleverer. There reaches a point that you are ready to look at your own vanity and see what is really there and people that are willing to work with you adds new perspective to your often unrealistic view of yourself.
When Tesshu, the famous medieval samurai swordsman, was young, he visited one Zen master after another. Once he went to visit Master Dokuon and told him triumphantly that all that exists is empty, there is no you or me, and so forth. The master listened to all this in silence. Suddenly he snatched up his pipe and struck Tesshu's head with it. The infuriated young swordsman would have killed the master there and then, but Dokuon said calmly, "Emptiness is surely quick to show anger, is it not?" Tesshu left the room, realizing he still had much to learn about Zen.