THE PURSUIT OF ENLIGHTENMENT: THE CURE FOR ALL AILMENTS OF ALL KINDS
January 29, 2023 - 6 Comments
THE PURSUIT OF ENLIGHTENMENT:
THE CURE FOR ALL AILMENTS OF ALL KINDS
February 1, 2023
Welcome to my first Field Note for 2023. My very great good wishes to all of you for the coming year. May you discover yourself increasingly and experience ever deepening understanding of life—your life, and life as a whole. And perhaps, just as importantly, increasing discovery as to what you do not know, clues about what you may indeed never know, and how to live fully into the valuable experience of not knowing.
I am becoming increasingly convinced that the “cure” for all ailments and afflictions is “enlightenment.” What do I mean by “cure” and “enlightenment” in the context in which I am addressing you? How (or even, why) am I, as psychotherapist, talking about “cure” and “enlightenment”? Odd, isn’t it? But then, maybe you already thought I was a little odd, and perhaps you secretly, or not so secretly believe the same about yourself.
The Cure for All…
“Cure” is a word that has a very old etymological origin, meaning ‘to make whole.’ And the word ‘all’ is ‘fully, wholly, entirely’ (both from the Online Etymology Dictionary; https://www.etymonline.com/word/cure-all). What these origins suggest to me is that in attempting to cure someone of their ailments and afflictions, we are, first, faced with what’s not whole: that is, what is broken, damaged, harmed, fragmented, or, more organically speaking, what is “spoilt.” Breaking of our original wholeness manifests suffering within us. Cure is a process that attempts to bring back wholeness to beings and things that have “gone to pieces.”
Within my work as a therapist I am engaged in the work of directing my utmost care and attention to the suffering person in ways that the person in my care has the best possibilities for being restored ever closer to their wholeness. People seek out my help and support for the most part because they suffer, and it is my task to support them to regain their wholeness so that they can be released from suffering and can get on with life with a greater sense of self-power, self-will, their optimal self and being, and all with ease. I should add that I am myself in this ongoing process of recovery of wholeness and this is certainly a significant part of my own learning about how the process works and what I might offer to others.
As I understand it, our true nature is wholeness, meaning being connected to everything and everyone, within and without. For, as wisdom traditions point out, reality is all about interconnectivity. Connectedness in all dimensions and at all levels is our original blueprint and returning to wholeness through becoming connected is our ongoing, lifelong attempt. Methodologically speaking, we can gain wholeness by taking all the signals of our brokenness and suffering as entry points into discovery about our truest nature. In the simplest terms each of us is a system, as are our relationships, and our communities, groups, and organizations. Becoming aware of the form and nature of these systems and their tendencies towards wholeness is most valuable in our research and search for peace and wholeness. I will remind you that the core of interference in human development is that which is missing. So even in the most egregious of situations there is a lack of full and nuanced attention, felt sense of connection, affirmation, warmth, delight with the other, love, and so on.
The historical Buddha had a lot to say about human suffering. In fact, apparently, he made his work on suffering to be the initiatory point of all his teachings and the core from which all his teachings arose. Besides suffering, did the Buddha say anything positive about being human? Yes, of course, the Buddha taught a lot about kindness, compassion, joy, and so on. But in the way the Buddha understood human nature or how human beings are put together essentially, addressing suffering through becoming whole will return us to our natural positivity in whatever way a whole individual would experience. Engaging in the process of becoming whole is key. This engagement is in my view synonymous with the goal of becoming enlightened/whole.
Suffering results from blocking and impeding a human being’s natural movement towards self-empowerment, self-growth, and authentic being. Remove the blockage, and the self’s own surging movement of lifeforce can take over and resume its natural progress. Humans are “designed,” if you would like, to grow and to take on, and take in life, increasingly fully, and move towards connecting to the whole universe. But this process is fraught with challenges! We suffer when we can’t do this—when we are prevented from growing in self-will and experiencing our self-power.
I became a Zaida (Yiddish for grandfather) last year, and I have been watching our grand-daughter, Clara, growing up from the initial helpless newborn state to an incredibly powerful, mobile, and wilful one-year-old human being. Watching her grow, I can see clearly that her growth is towards self-power, self-will, and the surging of life force energy. Nothing can stop her unless interrupted. Indeed, may nothing interrupt this process in her!
One of the prominent ways that interruption to the child’s growth process (aka arrested development) takes is, others in primary childcare step in, with their own sense of how the child should grow and should be, and prevent, and even with the very best good intentions, the child’s process of becoming increasingly self-powered and self-willed, the child’s development physically, emotionally will be impaired and consequently the ongoing emergence of life force energy. The child then shapes herself to accommodate the perhaps well intended intrusion, and eventually grows up to a mis-shapened person, and who has no memory of what has made her this way.
Of course, at times, caring adults may need to intervene to prevent accidents and harming of self or others. But what I am talking about is far more serious and systemic: blocking the growing child’s forward movement of self-power and self-will, thereby also creating relational disconnect between the growing self and whoever is in position to provide care and support. This disconnect can become a not-helpful or, even, harmful, pattern, and for sure limiting pattern for the child in how to be and deal with the world.
In all relationships there is you, and that which is seen to be other than you. This ‘other’ can be a person, a group, the world or whatever else you see as ‘not me.’ An important point here is that suffering ensues in the relational field between self and other, or to put it more pointedly, between “me” and “not me,” wherein “me” and “not me” are in tension, if not in opposition. Suffering bubbles up from these conflictual dynamics. How to make right such relationship so that we do not end up with perpetual suffering is, it seems to me, key to human wellbeing and happiness. I see my work as a therapist has to do with facilitating this self-other relationship to become increasingly “right.”
In working with couples, I see the self-other relational difficulty clearly manifesting. Most common to couples’ difficulty is seeing the problem as ‘out there,’ namely, in the other person. “It’s not me; it’s you! Only if you change . . ..” That is not to say that the other person does not have a self-other relational problem of their own. The other—one’s partner—would have the same problem from the other side. Both parties are pointing fingers at each other: “You! Only if you change!”
In rare instances, the other may be ‘enlightened’ in the sense that this person has “solved” self-other challenge and resolved the tension that stems from the “self” and “other” disconnect. However, even if one party changes and has become thusly “enlightened,” so long as the other party remains within a relational disconnect, the enlightened one would still experience suffering but vicariously through empathy. The Buddha certainly would not have felt and thought, “Oh, I am good! Now that I am enlightened, I don’t suffer. Others do. But it’s their problem. What they do with their own suffering is their business!” After his enlightenment, the historical Buddha devoted his remaining 45 years to teaching and helping others to attain enlightenment. Helping and teaching others can be a life-threatening job. The Buddha faced assassination attempts and nasty conflicts many times within his teaching community. A good mantra for all of us might be asking in our inner world, “how may I help?” If in doubt, I suggest just being as present as you are able.
To repeat this important point: the core issue in relationship trouble is a sense of being disconnected from the other. All relationship can be boiled down to the self-other disconnect issue. Of course, this issue is a very complex and difficult occurrence: no two relationships have the same look and feel. Even each moment will have some manifestation of change. Nonetheless, the essential characteristics I observe, across all relationships: the self-other disconnect. Many couples will split up at some point when this occurs, and others will continue to fight and/or withdraw for the duration of the relationship.
Rare indeed would be couples who both individually and together recognize that the enormous difference/difficulty that they face as a couple is a doorway to becoming who they most truly are; that is, recognizing that we humans are to be whole beings, which means that we are, by nature, connected to every being and everything in the universe. As infants, we were connected to our mothers and their wombs, their milk-producing breasts, and their holding arms, and we didn’t think of our mothers as “others.”
Yet, soon enough, we learn to be a self and learn to see what is not self—the other. This is part of the process of growing up and becoming “individuals.” But if this process somehow ends up highlighting the self-other disconnect (“I am not you; you are not me; we are separate”) rather than self-other connect, we are liable to relational rupture experience, and we may not know how to re-create self-other connection. The way I see and work with couples is to support and facilitate the re-creation of self-other connection in all dimensions and levels: self-to-self, self-to-human other, and self-to-the Larger (nature, environment, universe, cosmos, etc.).
The Starting Point for Relational Connecting with
It should come as no surprise to you at all that I would suggest the starting point for working on relational disconnect is you: to be more precise, your self-to-self connection and disconnection. Knowing where you are starting from in an inner and detailed way is central. I will now offer you something new in relation to this.
Stepping back with your consciousness is essential in terms of knowing the context and seeing details that are only visible with a wider vision; wider in all ways of understanding this. It is not just a visual experience. It’s an auditory, energetic, body, cultural, relational context, and more; everything that comes into your field of knowing, be aware that part of what we are seeking is an ultra-sensitivity to all signals of all kinds and their integrated appearance. Such signals at times will appear and recede at light speed and our efforts to hold onto them will put us out of the game. We are learning a different way of knowing. We are seeking that ever so slight pause that allows for seeing/knowing in a more expansive way. This can be, and is, a lifelong process. I know this from my own experience. To borrow from the old Coca-Cola promotional slogan line, “it’s the pause that refreshes.” We are looking for a refreshed view and feel of our current in the moment world.
Increasingly I have come to terms with difficulties in my life. This does not mean that I have done away with all difficulties. For sure, I have not. However, I have become increasingly better at preventing some, coping with and learning from the unstoppable ones, and essentially engaging with life as an ongoing adventure. Does this guarantee happiness, peace of mind, or brilliant insight about everyone and everything? You have no doubt already guessed that the answer to this question is a resounding “NO!” Life just does not seem to be that simple.
As the Buddha noted, human life is infused with suffering. He also offered, as have most religious and spiritual practices, a ‘way’ to be with the inevitability of suffering and perhaps gain some ground on suffering that allows it to be what it is and not an endless cycle of suffering: Reacting to the suffering, suffering with our own reactivity and from our own reactivity, reacting further and so on, to the point of exhaustion, which gives a very temporary reprieve from the agony of what is going on in the inner world and that is transformed into living a protracted hell. Below, I share my own story of working on better self-to-self connection through my inner work.
A Personal Example
I have an irritation in my gastro-intestinal system. It has become more frequent and while not debilitating, it is unpleasant and uncomfortable. I note that this occurs mostly when I am lying down, which means I can wake up with this feeling in my gut. Of course, the first place to go is to look at what have I been doing, eating, etc., that might be contributing to this issue. As well, knowing my own physical history is also a potentially important component. These are important factors. The medical approach would likely encompass this and then offer some medicine and dietary possibilities. I do not at all eschew this component. It is potentially a component to be integrated with our use of psycho-spiritual practices. With these practices I am looking for the deeper story that this symptom holds about me, life, and the cosmos.
Using my awareness, I can locate the place of this discomfort in my body. I can focus my attention on this area and see what else I can discover about it. I can also notice the timing of when this occurs and when it is absent. I can immerse myself into the experience with my awareness. I can go further and take on the identity of this discomfort and I can give it a voice. I might also notice that I have an identity that is associated with it. Being subject to it, namely a victim of this symptom, is a possibility. I can take ownership of my victim self, and give it a voice, acknowledge the associated feelings and thoughts, and my associated wishes. I can then ask my symptom for help.
Giving my symptom a voice it says, “You are getting older. Your system is not as resilient or strong as it once was. You must take this reality and adjust aspects of your life, such as, what you eat, when you eat, and how much you eat. You must adjust your rest and physical activity. This doesn’t mean stopping; rather it means an increased responsiveness to the current and in the moment realities.” I can, of course, go on to ask for further details of the afflicting self as to what, how, when, how much, and so on. I can also inquire as to whom should I enroll in this process from the medical, intimate, therapy, relational, and spiritual worlds.
What I am looking for is the wholeness that I am now currently in my life. I am also increasingly immersing myself in the process of discovering my unfolding path and becoming as close as is possible to my truest and most authentic nature at this point in my life, and in each moment as life unfolds. In essence, I am looking as to how I can become ever increasingly more at one with this Path of mine.
I started off this note writing about relationship, particularly the most intimate relationships. The wounded and fragmented parts of ourselves, and the reified egoic structures that have formed like scabs over a wound, are the strongest ‘signal’ about our difficulties. Facing them, owning them, is a key to becoming the highly intelligent, sensitive, sensing, feeling, knowing, and relational human beings that we are. This means using our imaginative abilities to become them in the service of knowing ourselves in all possible dimensions and time frames. I suggest handling these wounded manifestations and the intertwined relational fields, like we would a baby, and learning how to evoke the gentleness and at times the associated firmness from within. Seeing the ‘baby’ that is in a state of discomfort and viewing these manifestations as we would a baby has great potential for a life affirming experience for yourself, others, and the world around you.
I will end here and add a large acknowledgement to Heesoon for a diligent and I will say brilliant contribution to this particular Field Note.