Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Buddhism Meet Shamanism (pt.3/1) (italiano da seguire)


The Mind

This is the direction where Buddhists most comfortably find and lose themselves: the North of the wheel, and the location of the mind. All of the techniques placed in this direction regard the mind, the intellect, thought and intent, and includes belief systems and our ability to be flexible in our thinking and concepts, as well as curious in how we explore knowledge and understanding.
I personally believe Buddhists are a little too obsessed with the mind and still tend to confuse it with the brain. They often believe the mind is in the head & this leads to a mistaken concept and a limited sense of where practice is leading. From a shamanic perspective, this mistaken idea creates a problem as it leads to a mind-body split in a culture in which separation from body and the Earth is commonplace and highly problematic. Focusing on the breath from this conceptual mode can lead to a sort of schizophrenic break from the physical that when supported by a set of misunderstood teachings convinces the individual that the body must be transcended and that its desires are to be suppressed, and its needs ignored. 
Opposite to such confusion and mistaken practice, mind is the ability to experience ourselves as a space, which is receptive, and within which wisdom, awareness and compassion can begin to emerge. Mind is also our totality, which includes the body and the emotions as part of an interdependent holistic whole. 

Using the wheel we move to the North from the West; from the body to the mind. This in fact mirrors the process of how we start with our posture, when sitting, and then place our attention on the breath (wind). In the North the mind acts as a receptive tool, according to the wheel of balanced choreography, and the mind in its ideal state is simply open and receptive. It's job is not to determine or direct our existence, and mental patterns and cycles of thought are not considered to represent the mind’s true function. Instead, within this space clear thoughts function like arrows that pull our experience forward, connecting us to a space or experience. At another level, mind is the indivisibility between the entity of our being and the space which surrounds us, wherein lies the potential to meet and accept the break down of the duality of being, in which we are seemingly separate, yet intimately part of the world. I call this touching space.
The north element is air and its movement, wind. Air has the nature of flexibility and is not fixed. In reality we move in a sea of air and carbon dioxide and as we do so it adapts itself to our form that moves within it. There is a direct relationship between your mind’s receptivity to the space in which you are positioned, and the movement that takes place within that space. The more thoroughly receptive you are to the immediate environment, the more able you are to remain in open, spacious presence, even as stimulation takes place through changes and movements in that environment. From a shamanic perspective, this is allowing the environment to feed your contact with your body and ground you in the here and now.
The shamanic perspective that I am working with foresees an intimate relationship with the natural world, which is essentially a great teacher, and which reminds us that our internal dialogue is mirrored in the way air moves externally; because the inner and outer reflect each other. If we consider how winds behave, we can see its many forms reflected in our thinking; tornadoes are like intense, obsessive trains of thought, hurricanes are like angry tirades, gusts of wind are like dramatic, reactive thinking, a gentle breeze is similar to fairly mild internal speech: each mirrors the different shades of mental activity. A shamanic technique to quieten the mind is to develop intimacy with the wind. Go outside when a wind is blowing and allow it so somehow penetrate the edge of you sense of yourself. This can mean letting the wind somehow enter your body. Of course, it doesn't, but that's not important. Shamanic practices have no basis in rationality. They work with instinct and primal and elemental forces. By opening to the possibility that the wind is a form of power, you can allow it to empower you, by breaking down the barriers between the inner and outer. Try it out next time a wind is blowing. Go outside, breathe in the wind, feel that your body is somehow breathing in the wind, and breathing with the wind. You may be surprised by the results.
Returning to the metaphor, it is easier to experience presence when there are softer, weaker winds. The weaker the thoughts, the easier it is to remain calm and present. On the plus side, a good piece of advice is to sit and meditate when your mind has a degree of calm already. This is very important for beginning meditators so that they are not overwhelmed by the practice. For more experienced meditators it's a reminder to be kind to ourselves. When we're caught up in a moment of intense demand it can be useful to discharge a little first before taking our seat. A brisk five minute walk outdoors whilst breathing out some of the tension often reduces the amount of time it would take to get the same calming results on the cushion.
To change course briefly, this idea of winds does lead us to one of the great myths of meditation: that somehow the goal is to have a calm, still mind all of the time. If the air and wind mirror the mind, then movement if always part of our mental landscape. Beginning meditators though often attempt to slow everything down and move in slow motion in order to achieve stillness. This approach to practice is misguided and represents a control issue, an attempt to fix awareness, to nail it down.
Genuine presence involves developing consistency in being in the here and now with the whole range of mental winds. It involves being part of a process. Presence is not really stillness, as life is happening and in constant motion. Therefore to be present is to be within and integrated into that movement, but not lost or identified with it, which is essentially the key to living in balance.
Impermanence is the principle teacher here. To contemplate what is taking place around you means to understand that everything is in constant process. It is alive and vibrant: energy moves energy, it destroys and creates energy, it births energy. The idea that you would isolate yourself from this vibrant, living reality is a painful and frustrating fallacy. 
To try and isolate ourselves from movement is folly, but it is very often the impulse we have as meditators in order to stabilize ourselves in an uncertain and chaotic world. It is true that we need a certain degree of calm in order to rest the mind and allow it to reveal itself. It is so not just for meditating but for our lives in general. It isn’t however the end game as far as practice is concerned.
The point I want to make is that meditation is not about isolating ourselves from the chaotic and noisy world out there, because unfortunately what happens by attempting to do so is that we numb ourselves to the noisy world not only externally, but also internally, resulting in a form of repression. The goal of meditation is not to force the mind into a state of order and conformity, but is rather the process of allowing a natural state of mind to emerge and be consistently present, whilst letting go of the instincts and impulsiveness that takes us away from living with greater courage and engagement. You are aiming to become more stable, and consistent, with open receptivity, whilst stepping out of reaction and getting more conscious of what you are doing and how you are doing it.
To unite presence and awareness with movement is a great challenge. There is no denying it. Within the shamanic context, animals are the great wisdom teachers of the how. In Buddhism animals represent instinct, an obsession with food, and survival. In shamanism animals instead represent an exceptional degree of natural alignment. They teach us how to move with both the inner and outer cycles of the seasons, and the movement of life on Earth. They teach us receptivity to the immediate environment and how to live in balance through a totally natural state of being. A frog, for example, is an excellent teacher of presence and stillness, as well as how to breathe.

Mind sits opposite to the emotions on the wheel, so the two directions either support or destabilize each other. It is no surprise that our emotions, or rather, our emotionality (and in particular the tendency toward reaction and impulsiveness) upsets our ability to be present, mindful, engaged, and able to act in a balanced manner. The relationship though is not simply a case of the domination of negative emotions over the mind and the need to somehow control our emotions through the mind, which really leads to another meditation myth that apart from love and compassion, emotions are essentially negative. 
Emotional energy is actually essential to our practice. If you recall from the previous post, water in the south must flow. Without its invigorating renewal and life giving properties, we stagnate. The releasing of emotional blocks and emotional wounds and hang ups brings energy and vitality to our practice and all aspects of our day-to-day life. Any repression of our emotional self will inhibit our ability to make progress in meditation practice, which should never, ever be a form of suppression.
If we use meditation to suppress or control our emotions, our emotional wounding will drain energy. This happens through our attempts to keep a lid on the darkness that is hidden, or despised, within. The practice is rather a process of letting go of our identification with emotional reaction. 
When the mind provides space for emotional energy to be released, we gain purification, and the energy that was trapped within or behind the emotional wound or block, is integrated. This translates into an ability to remain more present and aware when off the cushion in life circumstances that present that particular emotional dynamic. The release of energy also makes us softer and therefore more able to feel and connect. 
Stoicism is another trap worth mentioning. There is a dynamic that must be worked with for more advanced meditators that involves exploring subtle forms of control. Awakening actually means releasing the pegs that hold in primal emotional expressions. Although not an expert on the topic, I think this is more clearly reflected in a tantric view of practice. Without going into it too much, if as a meditator you have a habit of hanging out in very calm, pleasant states all the time, you are likely making very little progress in your practice. That is to say it likely has the function of pacifying your edges. This is more the Hinayana level of practice. At some point, it might be an idea to go a step further. Just a thought.
To conclude this section, clearing out emotionally assists us greatly in relaxing the impact of mental winds. As so much of our internal dialogue is based on avoiding unpleasant feelings and emotions; through releasing the charge and baggage around different emotional expressions, our mind relaxes and we open to experience. Mind is the space of receptivity from which we open to life without controlling what is taking place within, or without. Alignment with the elements that are present within any given environment through receptivity allows us to step out of reaction, and into the possibility of compassionate, or even wise, action.
The second section will address reflections on critical thought, beliefs, staying curious and working with the internal dialogue as a force for creation.

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