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TOPIC: "Stuff" as an unfortunate root metaphor

Re: "Stuff" as an unfortunate root metaphor 25 Sep 2012 08:25 #7340

Personal opinion here, but at some point someone declared that emotions are our enemies and that we should do everything we can to get rid of them. I think that is a sad way to practice. I think we should rethink that. Emotions are what we are, in part, and they arise and pass the same way as the grass on the lawn, the moonrise and the seasons. They are part of experience and should be honored as such. Winter is cold. A sharp needle poked in my hand hurts. Anger is painful. Joy is fun.

And so it goes.
Last Edit: 25 Sep 2012 08:25 by Chris Marti.
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Re: "Stuff" as an unfortunate root metaphor 25 Sep 2012 08:48 #7341

Chris Marti wrote:
Personal opinion here, but at some point someone declared that emotions are our enemies and that we should do everything we can to get rid of them.

Okay, which one of you did it? Admit it!
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Re: "Stuff" as an unfortunate root metaphor 25 Sep 2012 10:34 #7342

Kate Gowen wrote:
Hmm-- the problem with being succinct is that the nuances aren't conveyed.

Let me try again: the outstanding feature of emotions is that they MOVE, they shift, they change. They are "appearance" [my preference over "illusion" which implies some sort of mistake, to be disfavored]-- they "exist" only in the moment of experiencing.

"Stuff" implies that they still lurk, like quicksand, when attention is on some other experience; and that there is some perfect resolution to be achieved once and for all, by way of practice or therapy. That sort of conception becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: any moment of "similar" emotional experience becomes proof that the "stuff" still exists as an ongoing problem to be solved. And the more I engage with the problem, the more I reinforce the reality of my problematic stuff.

My personal experience is that the only escape is to notice, as clearly as possible, exactly what the EXPERIENCE is, in its textural details. And let the analysis/ history/ strategy go-- at least for the time being. Doesn't sound like much; until the day I realize I can't remember what I used to obsess over, blow up about, find confusing or terrifying. Or that I haven't seen something in a habitual way: I've seen something new and interesting.
Again, this seems to be much of what I'm trying to communicate. Thank you for elaborating further.

Key to my intended message is what I see as a downside to the "stuff" approach to practice, where one believes - sometimes with conviction, other times in bad faith - that "there is some perfect resolution to be achieved once and for all, by way of practice or therapy."

As Chris said later, emotions are a part of life, and that isn't going to change. How we experience emotions - how we relate to the energies of being - is not predetermined. Thanks to impermanence, it's not fixed. There's no getting rid of what we are, and yet that doesn't mean we have to experience emotions as though we are being victimized by them. The opportunity for confusion to dawn as wisdom is right there in whatever experience happens to arise. Often times we miss it. Our patterns tend to get the better of us. Practice starts to reverse the trend. Whether or not the trend can be fully reversed is beyond my experiential scope. Currently, I find it better to abandon all hope of final, total resolutions, and choose instead to live as a practitioner, come what will.
Last Edit: 25 Sep 2012 10:54 by Jackson. Reason: spelling
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Re: "Stuff" as an unfortunate root metaphor 25 Sep 2012 11:10 #7343

Ona Kiser wrote:
To take up Shargrol's point, if I look back at my adulthood I can't entirely separate the periods I spent in therapy and the periods I spent in spiritual practice in terms of developing some wisdom about the things in life that I was afraid of, hurt by or confused by. All of those various practices helped me along and interacted with one another. I can't say "oh, I did three years of therapy and that fixed xyz, but not as well as three years of meditation fixed xyz" - my life doesn't feel (in hindsight) compartmentalized.
I had some time to reflect on this topic last night and this morning, and realized that I'm not doing a very good job validating some of the other points being brought up by you (Ona) and the others.

I'm someone who has benefitted tremendously from counseling/therapy; so much so, that I'm working toward a counseling degree, with the intent of helping others in similar ways. I'm also someone who has found enormous benefit from all kinds of Buddhist or other contemplative practices, which help me come into contact with processes or other aspects of being which were previously kept outside of awareness. There are myriad methodologies for engaging experience and familiarizing ourselves with, well, ourselves.

While certain practices can get us out of our previous patterns, they often do so by establishing new patterns. The fact that we can remain stuck in patterns that helped us dismantle other, less helpful patterns is sometimes hard to notice. I think this is very important to remember when any discussions about "meeting people where they are at" is happening.

A personal example comes from my work with Mahasi noting. This is a hugely powerful technique. It can really bust up a lot of old reactive patterns. But it establishes a new, very strong pattern: the Progress of Insight Cycle, round n' round through the ñanas. Daniel Ingram is quick to point out that people often run into periods of practice where they complete cycle after cycle after cycle, only to remain stuck. This is why its good to shift one's view and method - i.e. one's vehicle - when the time is right. Sometimes we revisit the previous practices as well, when they help us get unstuck. At a certain point, a methodless-method needs to be employed, so that one can go beyond method completely... or so I hear. That's not where I'm at.

This whole topic was based around a particular sticking point for SOME practitioners. I'm included, of course. This way of engaging practice has been helping me dismantle unhelpful patterns in my life-practice. Thank goodness there are so many ways of teaching the dharma. If there was only one way, I doubt any of us would be here having this conversation!
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Re: "Stuff" as an unfortunate root metaphor 25 Sep 2012 13:08 #7345

I'm not feeling like I have anything particularly profound to say, but in the interests of conversation, as if we were chatting about this over beers, a few things occur to me:

A big one is that part of what practice can shine a light on (if we don't resist too hard) is that the "if I do this it makes this happen" belief, which we really, really like to believe. It's supported by a combination of some validity (if I pinch my brother he's likely to punch me in return; if I stick my finger in a flame, it's likely to hurt; if I act deferential this person won't likely snap at me; if I concentrate a certain way my mind is likely to go into a certain kind of altered state...). But it's also supported by our preference for having some kind of predictability and reliability in the world. We like to think it makes us feel safe - and to a degree it does - if things work in a reliable way and we are in charge of that process. But it's a doomed belief. It can hold up for short periods, under certain circumstances, but it always falls apart.

So absolutely meditation practice or spiritual practice can head straight there, and I'd say in the beginning it sort of has to - that's where we are, and saying "here do this technique and it will have the following effects" makes it possible for most people to get the hang of practice and have some kind of faith in it. Which is motivating.

But there's definitely a point - and I've seen this said all through the Christian contemplative literature, too - where you really have to let go of the "I'm making everything happen" perspective, or the belief that if you just do more rites and rituals you'll get an every bigger payoff.

One of my favorite pointers lately is "It's not about YOU!" (or ME). Because we just love to turn this stuff into more ego-feeding "look at me, look what I can do, look how much I've achieved...". All of that: motivating for beginners maybe, but unhealthy - in my view - in the long run.

Enough babbling. :)
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Re: "Stuff" as an unfortunate root metaphor 25 Sep 2012 13:35 #7347

shargrol wrote:
Chris Marti wrote:
Personal opinion here, but at some point someone declared that emotions are our enemies and that we should do everything we can to get rid of them.

Okay, which one of you did it? Admit it!

Just a little more babbling, actually a retroactive babbling negation --- Now I understand what Chris was pointing to, that someone outside of this thread posited the idea we should get rid of emotions. Duh. I though it was directed to someone in this post.

Actually, rereading this, it seems like we're all in violent agreement. It reminds me of conversations I would have with a old, good friend where it would take an hour to realize we didn't have a difference of opinion.
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Re: "Stuff" as an unfortunate root metaphor 25 Sep 2012 13:37 #7348

shargrol wrote:
it seems like we're all in violent agreement. It reminds me of conversations I would have with a old, good friend where it would take an hour to realize we didn't have a difference of opinion.

Yeah, it gets that way. :(
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Re: "Stuff" as an unfortunate root metaphor 25 Sep 2012 15:26 #7351

It makes me suspicious when people agree with me immediately. It's as if they haven't really thought about the issue and want to agree just to agree. So I like it when we go 'round and 'round a bit before we all realize we're saying the same thing using different formulations of words.
Last Edit: 25 Sep 2012 15:50 by Chris Marti.
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Re: "Stuff" as an unfortunate root metaphor 25 Sep 2012 16:14 #7353

I agree :D
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Re: "Stuff" as an unfortunate root metaphor 25 Sep 2012 18:59 #7357

Hey y'all! Just to be fair, I like the word "stuff" as a proxy for the mess that's in my head. It's appropriately nebulous, inaccurate, fuzzy, non-distinct and almost meaningless.

That's all.

Just wanted to put in a good word for a good word.
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Re: "Stuff" as an unfortunate root metaphor 26 Sep 2012 11:05 #7365

Chris, that's a fair use of the term "stuff." I don't take issue with the word so much as the metaphor in which it is sometimes used. The root metaphor of stuff as the conceptual mess that shows up for us, and must be related to in some way, is just fine by me. What I don't like is the idea that the process can be won, like beating every boss of a video game and getting to the coveted end screen, where the characters dance by victoriously. I just happen to call this the "stuff" metaphor based on some contexts in which I've heard - rather, continue to hear - it used. It might not be a terrible way to start out on the path, but becomes far less useful the deeper one goes, so to speak.
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Re: "Stuff" as an unfortunate root metaphor 26 Sep 2012 18:45 #7370

Jackson, can you point me to some places where the term "stuff" is being used inappropriately? It's not MCTB, or is it?
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Re: "Stuff" as an unfortunate root metaphor 27 Sep 2012 10:26 #7377

Chris, I don't know if this metaphor is used explicitly in MCTB. In fact, I doubt it. What I remember from the overall tone from the book is the idea that, for the most part, "your crap is just your crap, and after awakening it sticks around, more or less unchanged, as it did before." Again, that's a gross generalization, but I am wrong in my assumption? I'm open to exploring your take on the book and its meaning.

My problem with such an idea is not that I think it's 100% false. I think there's a great deal of truth to it, but it's also not the whole story, in my experience. I think we might do ourselves a disservice if we lump what we consider to be our "crap" or "stuff" or "shit" or whatever into a category that we assume maintains a fixed role in our lives and experience. If we examine our "stuff" we may find some useful qualities. If we can let go of the unhelpful side of the so-called negative/afflictive emotions, the virtuous aspects (that is, virtue in terms of the "healing virtues" of a medicinal plant) might be used skillfully when the energy arises. I'm not saying that we should try to get rid of our "stuff" because we would be throwing out the chaff AND the wheat.

I don't remember this take on emotions being discussed in MCTB, nor in the Ingram/Folk based dharma movements at large. It can be found in McLeod's work, and I think I've read some posts from Hokai alluding to something similar (but I don't have references at this time). This isn't even strictly a Vajrayana thing. Some Thai Forest teachers in the Theravada tradition (Ajaan Mun and Ajaan Lee, as well as Thanissaro) also teach that we can find helpful qualities in distorted emotions, if we're willing to play with them differently. Somehow I think there's a reaction to this idea that leads to a slippery-slope of logic, which assumes that we can somehow use this view to get rid of all our icky stuff. That's not my point at all!

Is that any more clear? I'd like to hear more of your reaction to this, since I truly respect your opinions on such topics.
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Re: "Stuff" as an unfortunate root metaphor 29 Sep 2012 12:24 #7390

Jackson, my take on this is as follows -- I think the practical dharma movement managed to get itself sidetracked by the idea that emotions are, well, something to be avoided. Somehow that became a major theme, with Actual Freedom managing to infect the Theravada leanings with this meme. Serious, experienced practitioners and teachers took it up and fostered it. It was, for a while, THE way to practice.

I think it's wrong headed and always did. I think emotions can be better modulated and experienced differently through our practice as it matures but we cannot permanently rid ourselves of them, nor should we. In fact, as you said, the existence of some emotions serves to signal to us that we need to focus attention on some aspects of our experience, our reactiveness, so that we can learn something, gain distance from it, be more objective, have more choice, mature, be more adult, as we deal with and react to (or not react to) our experiences.

Hokai Sobol is a great teacher of this, as is Ken McLeod. I've talked with Hokai directly about this, mainly in e-mail exchanges, and while he never dismisses outright the practices that some practical dharma folks fostered for a while, he never agrees with them, either.

Hope this helps....
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Re: "Stuff" as an unfortunate root metaphor 01 Oct 2012 11:26 #7425

Yes, it does. And of course, I agree.

I've enjoyed working through these views with you all. At this time, I think my subject line may have been too harsh. The "stuff" metaphor is not always an unfortunate metaphor. Sometimes it's helpful. There's little point in trying to hold up certain metaphors as more true to reality, since what really matters, in terms of practice, is what WORKS. Sometimes I lose sight of that, I think.

I think the "stuff" metaphor wasn't working for me, and a different one was, so I thought I'd write about it. Unfortunately, I made it into a bit of an attack. That was dumb. In hindsight, maybe it would have been better to frame the dicussion around ways to get unstuck from views that aren't currently helpful in one's practice, and then use my current experience as an example.

Thanks for helping me grow, everyone! You're all so good at that.

This discussion is not officially closed, everyone, so please feel free to add to the discussion if you wish.
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Re: "Stuff" as an unfortunate root metaphor 03 Oct 2012 07:19 #7459

I'm late to this interesting discussion.

Here's something I've found: "ultimate wisdom" on one hand, and "stuff" on the other, both refer to the same state of affairs.

I used to poo-poo "psychologized Dharma" (at least in the privacy of my own thoughts and views). It's now obvious to me that what psychology is discovering, and what the Buddhists and other religious/spiritual investigators discovered and continue to discover, are properties and features of the same all-pervading thing called "reality" or "human experience" or "consciousness" or whatever clumsy terms we invent. It took me a while to get this, but it's such a relief: nobody has some kind of monopoly on reality, and the monopoly on views and opinions are... just another way to explore the properties and features of the substrate/consciousness/human experience/...

In other words, I've gained a more profound appreciation of the Blind Men and the Elephant parable. I often think nowadays that this parable is primarily about compassion.

Man, this is hard to express in a coherent way. Ga Ga Goo!!!

Cheers,
Florian
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Re: "Stuff" as an unfortunate root metaphor 03 Oct 2012 07:59 #7460

Welcome back, Florian!

My way of expressing what you just said is.... Every one of us has our very own monopoly on reality. :evil:
Last Edit: 03 Oct 2012 08:00 by Chris Marti.
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Re: "Stuff" as an unfortunate root metaphor 03 Oct 2012 16:09 #7462

That's certainly more concise. :)

Cheers,
Florian
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