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TOPIC: Demons, wisdom and love

Demons, wisdom and love 28 Mar 2012 23:17 #6198

This will range a bit wide, but I think it is quite relevant to "dharma practice" in many traditions, and I'd love to have you all bounce back some ideas.

I had a meeting today with a priest in an African-based spirit tradition I used to be quite active in. He and his wife and I had a great chat about all sorts of things, but one thing in particular I thought might be interesting to talk about here.

One of the things priests in Santeria and similar traditions do is provide healing and counseling services. Say someone feels overwhelmed and afraid and their life sucks in some way, they can go to such a priest and ask for suggestions on practices to do to try to cope better. So what happens when a person arrives and is dogged by "demons" of some kind? In secular language, "demons" are the thoughts you hate, the parts of yourself you hate, your significant traumas that haunt you, your anxieties, and so on.

People often turn to meditation practice for similar reasons: they hate the angry thoughts in their head, they live in stress and fear, they have terrible memories they can't stop thinking about, etc. Sometimes they turn to psychotherapy, another popular option in our culture. But in a lot of cultures shamans and "witch doctors" provide those sorts of services.

In any case, one thing we agreed among the case studies we were discussing was the importance of *healing* the whole person, so that even while you are helping them to release their entanglement with their traumas or anxieties, you are building up their courage, sense of inner peace, sense of love for others and themselves, and so on. Then, over time, the balance can shift, from a person who is ridden by anxieties all the time and never feels any confidence, happiness or peace, to someone who is largely confident, happy and peaceful, even if sometimes anxieties arise. We talked about changes we'd seen in people who used to be quite anxious, but years later were notably patient, kind, generous and compassionate, all qualities that we agreed showed the development of inner spiritual wisdom.

So the link to other types of wisdom practice such as we usually discuss on this forum was that I hear a whole lot of people who are getting into meditation for the first time talk about how much they look forward to silencing their minds because they can't fucking stand the endless spew of anxiety that is their daily thought process. (This was pretty much what a stranger said to me over dinner last week, when he heard I had meditated and was explaining why he desperately wanted to learn how.) I hear a lot of magician-wanna-bees say similarly on forums - "I want to conquer my thoughts, control my thoughts completely!" Or sometimes people get into meditation because they want to go for that "get rid of the self" idea because they don't much like that self of theirs anyway. It's shy and stupid and can't get a date and is nervous during job interviews and doesn't like its dad much.

Say you do shut the thoughts up. Say you could just flip a switch and shut them off. For that matter say you could just flip a switch and eliminate any sense of self. Heck, what if you hammered at some practice for a few years and managed that way.

What's left then? A happy, healthy, loving person? Where did that come from all of a sudden? It seems to me critically important in magick and in dharma practices to cultivate the qualities we want to embody, not just aim to chop out all the things we hate. There's something to be said for traditionalists who idealize (and get annoyingly dogmatic about) embodying awakening through day to day practices of generosity, honesty, self-restraint, compassion, scrubbing the temple toilets and so on.

I'd love your thoughts on this stuff, from your own experiences (in whatever traditions you have been involved in.) Obviously the above is said in my usual dramatic way, for entertainment value. But I think there's some important bits in there to dig into. :)
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Demons, wisdom and love 28 Mar 2012 23:25 #6199

I really don't think this can be over dramatized. What's left as I see it is doing something worthwhile, helpful, whatever we decide call it. As I just posted over on KFDh and on DhO. waking up is just the first step. We all focus like fiends on that, but once we get there what is it that we wake up to? I see only two courses of action:

1. Wake up and withdraw into isolation, find a cave somewhere and live peaceful in your private nirvana

2. Use your new found wisdom and insight by re-joining the human race and contributing not more pain and suffering but less. Be an adult by example, if nothing else.
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Demons, wisdom and love 28 Mar 2012 23:26 #6200

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Demons, wisdom and love 30 Mar 2012 12:17 #6201


I really don't think this can be over dramatized. What's left as I see it is doing something worthwhile, helpful, whatever we decide call it. As I just posted over on KFDh and on DhO. waking up is just the first step. We all focus like fiends on that, but once we get there what is it that we wake up to? I see only two courses of action:1. Wake up and withdraw into isolation, find a cave somewhere and live peaceful in your private nirvana2. Use your new found wisdom and insight by re-joining the human race and contributing not more pain and suffering but less. Be an adult by example, if nothing else.

-cmarti

I agree whole-heartedly with this. If I can point to two illusions that have been shattered since getting involved in "all of this", it is:
that awakening is some rarified thing that happens to possibly one or two people on the planet in a generation; and,that awakening leads one to be some rarified entity that knows all and feels no pain.
I am focused like a fiend on waking up because I know it is possible (I don't like using "birthright", but kind of like that). But I am also totally fine with that being the tip of the iceberg, and look forward to figuring out how to integrate it into my life and the people around me.

Thought control is interesting, how it keeps popping up. But I can see how that can happen because even now when I read about various practices, knowing what I know, it is not always presented that "no thought" comes up as a side effect as opposed to by active suppression. Not related to what I just said above, but since Ona mentioned it I wanted to toss that out there too.
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Demons, wisdom and love 30 Mar 2012 15:13 #6202

This is an important topic, Ona. It's been on my mind a lot lately.



What you're describing reminds me of something we counselor types refer to as locus of control, which is understood best as being on a spectrum of external/internal. Someone with an internal locus of control believes they have some control over how their life turns out, and they act accordingly. Those with an external locus of control believe they have very little to no control over their life, and attribute their current situation to factors mostly outside of their conscious influence.



A common approach in psychotherapy that utilizes this concept (mostly CBT) is to downplay the idea that the client is the sole cause of their problems, but to reinforce the idea that the client has the power to influence their future. This reduces feelings of guilt and shame, which are not conducive to change. And, it increases one's participation in treatment toward meaningful change. A win-win situation.



It's interesting to me that the Buddha taught something very similar to this. On the one hand, there is no inherently existing self. So, karma isn't some kind of straight forward cause-effect relationship. Not everything that happens to me is "my own doing" because "I/me/mind" is just as dependently co-arisen as anything else. BUT, intention is possible. Experientially, we can use intention to cultivate conditions for change. Intention itself isn't a myth; it's just also not-self. Mysterious, right? A glorious paradox.



Relating this to your Santeria example, Ona, I see tremendous value in offering practices to help others work through their demons. It's important that one learns how to participate in this, so they can do it on their own more and more. When people develop practices, their cultivate spiritual autonomy. Of all of the psychological constructs that are helpful on the path, spiritual autonomy ranks in the upper echelons; at least in my book.



How funny (and tragic) it is that we humans have an obnoxious tendency to lean too far in one direction or another. We're all wobbly. What I mean is that both surrender and autonomy are helpful, and are not mutually incompatible. It seems that way, though, for a lot of people. There's a time to push, and a time let go, and a time to use both at the same time in a balanced way. Leaning to far in one direction or another stifles growth.



So, approaching the teacher (or shaman, or healer, or guru) and asking for help is totally appropriate. It's also appropriate for the teacher to provide help in the form of a practice that the seeker must do for themselves. We all have to do our own work, but this works best when we all support each other. What a magnificent expression of nonduality! - supporting others, developing ourselves.
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Demons, wisdom and love 30 Mar 2012 15:34 #6203

Nice, Jackson. This in particular seems so important:

" How
funny (and tragic) it is that we humans have an obnoxious tendency to
lean too far in one direction or another. We're all wobbly. What I mean
is that both surrender and autonomy are helpful, and are not mutually
incompatible. It seems that way, though, for a lot of people. There's a
time to push, and a time let go, and a time to use both at the same time
in a balanced way. Leaning to far in one direction or another stifles
growth."

(You are communicating coherently today, btw) :D
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Demons, wisdom and love 30 Mar 2012 15:53 #6204

"You are communicating coherently today, btw"

Haha. Thanks!
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Demons, wisdom and love 30 Mar 2012 15:59 #6205

"... I see tremendous value in offering practices to help others work through their demons. It's important that one learns how to participate in this, so they can do it on their own more and more." -- Jackson

At least year's Buddhist Geeks Conference I had the privilege of hearing Hokai Sobol explain this process from his own tradition in a very eloquent, meaningful way. What he described still sticks with me -- the gods and demons are at first outside and allow us to develop ways to work with strong emotions and other issues more easily, to develop a facility with doing so such that one day we don't need to use outside models.

(At least that's what I remember, so if Hokai reads this and finds it wanting he should feel free to box my ears if I got it wrong.)
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Demons, wisdom and love 30 Mar 2012 19:39 #6206

Interesting, Chris. I think working with spirits or deities can (with the right sort of teaching and approach) definitely fulfill this function. One's relationship with them can transform radically over time, as various issues are worked through. Even if one is not in an awakening tradition this sort of transformation can occur, with different spirits or deities being more or less central to ones life as one grows and develops, and with the issues or aspects of ones character that they engage with changing in time. Just as an example, when I was first initiated to Yemaya she felt to me like an external deity who represented inner strength, meaningfulness/direction in my life, protection, safety, and at the same time a slightly fearsome maternal presence.

Years later I discovered (after being away from the practice and returning to it) that the latter aspect had become very strong, and I was not sure how to engage with that. Having since then begun a meditation practice, with the encouragement of my teacher I stepped into that fear and embraced it, and found it was not so scary, but rather that it transformed (when embraced) into a recognition that my relationship with her was about a deep foundation of devotion, surrender and protection and an acceptance of difficulties in my past.

Still more recently I find she feels connected to my experiences of profound compassion and the ability to embrace grief, in particular.

I'm sure the relationship will continue to change.
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Demons, wisdom and love 30 Mar 2012 23:31 #6207


I'd love your thoughts on this stuff, from your own experiences (in whatever traditions you have been involved in.) Obviously the above is said in my usual dramatic way, for entertainment value. But I think there's some important bits in there to dig into. :)


-ona
In an equally dramatic way (and having fun with it) I'll say that all wisdom traditions have some form of bait and switch. You get pulled in for some reason and then you find that the "problem" you are trying to fix is the energy of the solution.

You hate your crazy mind so you want the quiet of meditation and then they say pay attention to the crazy mind and you'll get the quiet mind.... and you find yourself facing what you originally wanted to avoid.

You want total control and power so you do lots of spells and rituals to make it happen, but meanwhile you wind up thinking about what you will do with control and riches and you realize that it isn't that clear so you try to make it specific... and after many iterations you realize that what you want is to be clear on what you want. You don't want control or power itself, you want something meaningful, and meaning is found in understanding and and to understand you need to not manipulate, which means giving up control and power....

You want to get rid of that demon (of whatever form) so you spend all this time trying to access it and cast it out, but to manipulate it you need to really speak to it and know it... and so what was an external other becomes something understood, something less than other, almost a part of self. If the demon was (in western terms) some form of repression or denial, then the ritual of casting it out has actually created the condition of communication and bringing it closer to being "owned".

The problem with wisdom traditions is that some go rogue and are content in offering a steady stream of bait, with no switch.

(and the classic question is: when to bait, when to switch?)

:)
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Demons, wisdom and love 30 Mar 2012 23:42 #6208

In a deeper way, that's what discovering what being human is like, too.
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Demons, wisdom and love 31 Mar 2012 00:26 #6209

The bait and switch thing is pretty funny and very true.

The thing is, beginners need encouragement, and saying "hey, you should meditate so you can spend many months battling to learn to concentrate, many years facing your fears and bullshit, and then eventually discover a deep peace and equanimity" is not very encouraging. There need to be short-term payoffs to encourage people to practice. I do think that even short-term most people start to feel more stability and patience and less anxiety. But what, for you or people you know, were the short-term benefits that encouraged you to keep going during the early stages?

For myself, by the time I started meditating I had had years of "spiritual practice" before, and found it engaging fairly quickly. I do remember finding it hard to pay attention and sit for very long the first few months, but I was very motivated by death and by podcasts and books and online community. And then things started getting "interesting" and that was motivating in its own way.
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