How we relate to each other as spiritual practitioners – Part 2

By Sal Barba, Ph.D. | Jan 18, 2012

In this column I will concentrate on how we relate to our self as a spiritual practitioner.

The question I am asking you to reflect upon is one that will require you to be attentive to what happens in your reflective awareness in any given moment of relating to yourself or to someone else.

Try to pay attention to whether your mind moves into rigidity, or chaos or what Daniel Siegel refers to as "integrative flow." Integrative flow occurs when we relax within the balance of not too rigid and not too chaotic.  

So, how do you relate to yourself when you are feeling hurt, angry, fearful, unhappy, frustrated, confused, anxious, impatient, loving, lonely, fatigued or stressed?

When we become overwhelmed by a personal or interpersonal interaction we may have a tendency to feel threatened when we become too close to our experience. This may cause us to become too distant by rejecting what we are feeling in order to defend ourselves from the intensity of the experience.  

Identifying the right reflective distance from our intense feelings can make it less overwhelming and easier to relate to them.

This is similar to when someone is speaking too loudly, so we step back in order to hear them more clearly. In this way of relating to ourselves, we find the right distance to a feeling by putting our attention next to the feeling, sort of on the edge of it, and close enough to remain in contact with it, while cultivating just enough distance from it to feel comfortable.

This quality of stepping back and establishing just enough distance allows us to create an interactive dialogue with feelings and experiences that might not otherwise become possible.

However, as you may already understand, if this is the only way we relate to ourselves and our experiences, we discover that relating to ourselves this way reinforces an inner separation between our observing ego-self and the on-going flow of our experience.  

In contemplative meditation practice, we understand that the root source of our suffering is this division between "me" and "my experience."

Therefore, suffering is nothing less than "the observer judging, resisting, struggling with, and attempting to control experiences" that appear painful, frightening or threatening to "myself."

Relaxing, letting go of the struggle, we discover that difficult feelings "can be experienced more simply and directly, instead of as dire threats to the survival and integrity of 'me, '" according to John Welwood.

Division between "me" and "my experience" means that when we reflect on our self, "self becomes divided – into an object of reflection and an observing subject."

I have always taken issue with conventional psychotherapy in that it teaches people to manage and understand their suffering it arises from an identification with a separate ego-self. It rarely if ever questions the origins of our suffering!

This is one of those points where the concept of "ego" can become confusing. Ego is like a synthetic function that behaves as an "organ of equilibrium" within our internal world.

According to Hermann Nunberg, "it promotes integration and organization of diverse and conflicting inputs and components” cumulatively, a sense of "I" is developed because of the experience of a solid sense of existence that is formed.

Ego gives us the impression that "I" is separate from others. The "I" is therefore, a component of the ego not identical with the ego. We require a healthy ego in order to become spiritually wholesome, and to have healthy relationships.  

As our humanity reflects its spiritual wholeness, it becomes clear, as our meditation practice matures, that we do not eliminate self, instead it has been revealed for what it always has been.

Gyatso Rinpoche says, "Selflessness is not a case of something that existed in the past becoming non-existent; rather, this sort of 'self' is something that never did exist. What is needed is to identify as non-existent something that always was non-existent."

When we relate to our self and to others from habitually distorted perceptions, meaning that we unconsciously mistaken our cognitive fabrications for reality (Buddhist term: "delusive appearance") we become confused in an internal world of chaos and rigidity.

However, when the observing self dynamic of setting what is observed apart from the whole field, we become open to a reality beyond the ordinary fixation of our daily sense of self. We experience a different quality of inner knowing, relaxed from our personal neurosis.

We can live in a pure awareness relating to others free from the compression of conceptual or dualistic fixation. This quality of awareness and presence directly reveals "the vivid, ineffable nowness of reality, as disclosed in the clarity of pure awareness."

Directing this knowing inwardly mutates the personal "I" and "other" causing us to directly perceive our own nature.

This is the quality of perceiving that Zen meditation practice opens the spiritual aspirant to experience. "One's own nature is not an object of thought, observation or reflection. We can only perceive the suchness of things through an awareness that opens to them non-conceptually and unconditionally, allowing them to reveal themselves in their as-it-is-ness," Welwood says.

We will end here for now. I am open to phone conferences. You may reach me at 360-929-5850. 
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