Understanding Detachment

Detached and SuspendedPeople often think of the Buddhist idea of detachment as something cold and distant. The truth is, detachment occurs naturally when you understand how it is inherent in consciousness. It’s like being shown how a car is driven. From the outside, it looks as if the car is driving itself. But once you know there’s a driver, then the car becomes the vehicle being driven by someone.

I found the following quote by Alexander from a short article called Practicing Detachment: A short introduction to the F. M. Alexander Technique for Buddhist Practitioners. Alexander discovered, quite unwittingly I believe, a Western path to what has been for the most part an Eastern philosophical skill.

The fact to be faced is that the human self was robbed of much of its inheritance when the separation implied by the conception of the organism as “spirit”, “mind” and “body” was accepted as a working principle, for it left unbridged the gap between the “subconscious” and the conscious. I venture to assert that if the gap is to be bridged, it will be by means of a knowledge, gained through practical experience, which will enable us to inhibit our instinctive, “subconscious” reaction to a given stimulus, and to hold it inhibited while initiating a conscious direction, guidance, and control of the use of the self that was previously unfamiliar.

I suggest that only those who become capable of translating into practice what is involved in the procedure just described can justly claim to have experienced detachment in the basic sense.

F. M. Alexander, The Universal Constant in Living, 1946

The Porous Nature of Thought

Porous ThoughtMy daily walks are a combination of meditation and exercise. I practice the Alexander Technique, meaning I am acutely aware of how I use my Self. The Self includes the body and mind, the whole package.

As I walk, I keep my neck free and flowing up. I remind myself that the neck is a continuation of the spine, not separate from it. I am aware of my 3 dimensionality. I feel my “thickness” and my “width”.

After a few minutes of this awareness and loosening up, I think about my day, or whatever comes to mind. Occasionally a negative thought will arise, or I will dwell on an unresolved issue in my life.

Porous Nature of ThoughtIf I am careful to keep my body free and balanced during these thoughts, I have noticed how much freer my mind is in dealing with them. I prevent my Self from disappearing into the abstraction of thought, where the world becomes something other than where you are now.

Thoughts can be insidious in this way. Thinking can go on automatically and habitually in the back of the mind. Many of us live with thoughts constantly churning and unbalancing our bodies. Emotions are reactions to thought. Thought always affect the body. It emanates from the body and involves it.

You cannot raise your hand without the whole Self being involved; your entire body and mind are involved. This is not to say that you must focus your entire being on raising your hand. No, but your whole being is a participant. It is the same with thinking.

We also tend to treat thoughts as “real”, as if they are actual events occurring to us at the moment. They feel that way to me if I am not careful. If I think of a dog attacking me, my pulse will quicken with adrenaline. If I think of my debt, my body feels heavy. Those are reactions to thoughts, not the thoughts themselves. If you maintain a balanced, free Self during thought, you can prevent those reactions from occurring without your consent.

So what do I mean by the “porous nature of thought”? If we are aware of staying balanced and 3 dimensionally free throughout the process of thinking, the feeling of thought seems less “heavy” and “solid”. The presence of bodily awareness helps us keep perspective of what thought is: an abstraction of possibility or emotion. Priority is given to the physical self, and a thought is just a passing concept.

Then, thought can pass through us like water through coral, or air through a fan.

Truth and Being

clematis0001.JPGSome thoughts on Truth (reality), Possibility (change) and Being (consciousness).

Possibility (change) is what brings Being (consciousness) to Truth (reality). Possibility keeps open the door to new combinations and patterns within Truth.

Truth guides all possibilities to one present moment, the singularity of which branches out in all directions and encompasses All.

Truth is the track upon which Being unfolds. Possibility is the fuel of Being.

Being is the path Possibility alights along the tracks of Truth.

Truth is the grid, Possibility is the paint, or perhaps film. Being is the story.

The poetry of Being could be said to be its Spirit. The text, syntax and vocabulary of Being is formulated into meaning and beauty by each person. This interpretation and application of meaning and beauty raises humanity above mere existence. Spirit is meaning springing from Possibility.

What Is Spirit To You?

Spirit FlameI just started browsing a little book called “What is Spirit?”, edited by Lexie Brockway Potamkin. It’s a collection of answers to that question by numerous artists, philosophers, shamans, religious leaders, political leaders and common people.

Around the world I’m sure there are as many definitions as grains of sand on the beach. I think it’s an ongoing process for all of us. At the beginning of the book a blank page suggests the reader posit a definition of spirit before continuing. At the end is another blank page. It will be interesting to see if my definition changes after reading the ideas of others.

It’s been awhile since I wrote specifically about spirit. I wrote a long personal article on it months ago, now posted at the top of this blog in the menu bar. I also wrote a short definition for the book, which I posted here. But before you read either of those, go ahead and give me what you’ve got in your head right now.

What is spirit to you?

Going OUT and Letting IN

Blue Dart Frog Fully PresentWhat does it mean to be fully present? Many religions and spiritual practices refer to the idea. But it is not necessary to follow any particular practice to acquire the awareness and skill to be present. Yet that skill is useful in becoming more fully human.

However, the task is not so easy as it may seem. As a young man reading about Zen Buddhism for the first time, I thought it was just a switch which, once flipped, stayed “on” and that was it. Yet, that little skill, stumbled upon by early spiritual practices such as Buddhism, can lead to a blossoming of confidence and compassion. It balances many issues of selfishness which arise from too much focus on “self-development”.

Perhaps it’s the way my psyche is built, but I tend to think of myself as very separate from the world, limited by my ability to “perform” on the world stage. My self-expectations precede and deflate any possibility of spontaneous happiness. I get lost in this artificial separateness and forget to just “be” and “breathe” into whatever happens.

Rather than approach these issues from a psychological perspective, I have found that practicing the following “exercise” can break the paranoid illusion of separateness from the outside world. When I am at the “surface” of my self, I can make eye contact with others without feeling invasive of their space or invaded by their probing eyes. (Yes, I feel uncomfortable with eye contact) It’s a simple way to clarify our interactions on the “world stage”, so that our character is more innocent and open, rather than being preoccupied by judgment, fear or hesitation.

When we let go of the need to analyze and carve out meaning, we let in a different kind of awareness. A primary sense of being arises. If you think of letting go a big “muscle” behind the eyes and nose, let it soften and sink open, you begin to feel something else happening. You come out into the world and let the world in simultaneously, as if a big fish tank has broken and you realize the water and air can mix just fine.

You meet the world with your primary self, or what might be called simple self or original self. When the two become well acquainted, you notice how much more present you can be during times of stress and frustration. This primary self is almost always superseded by our crazy, mental, stressful culture. We either focus intently on something, usually an idea or activity, or we space out and disappear altogether.

This practice can help with ego and selfishness. If we see ourself as something continuous between inside and outside, it becomes easier to let go of hurt, anger and frustration. Forgiveness is only possible when you let in compassion and pity. Anger is easier to release when you see that caring and understanding can be received from others. It’s not a cure all, but it helps soften the pain of separateness. We can then begin the long process of embracing connections within our large world with less inhibition and fear.