Last fall I took a Mindfulness and the Brain course at the University of Virginia’s Mindfulness Center. It was a revelation; not in terms of the mind’s potential, or it’s power to change or its’ more esoteric capabilities. Nope. I learned those lessons from some twenty-five years of spiritual seeking and now teaching in the schoolhalls of new-age metaphysics, yoga, guru admiration, advaita vedanta, and zen mindfulness. Got it. What was revealing about this class was hearing about these same concepts sans the flowery-spiritual-new age speak. The clean vernacular in this class was culled straight from the departments of neuroscience, medicine, and biology. I was simply blown away. I had no idea neuroscience was that close, that broad, that courageous, and well, that spiritual. This jaded spiritual teacher was impressed.
It’s a new day Charlie Brown. As a spiritual teacher I cannot tell you how relieved I was to discover this. No more vibey, new age, lingo. It always felt inadequate to me. No more touchy-feely overly dramatic and long-winded explanations.
-I did some serious time in the existential-depression penitentary.
-I spent a good twenty years of my life wallowing in the black depths of the dark night of the soul.
-I paid my rot time enlightenment dues. (Rot- school of waking down)
-And…I contracted a severe case of decades long zen sickness.
In other words, for a very long time … I was a miserable fuck.
Funny thing though- probably with the exception of my closest family, nobody had a clue I was going through this. How could this be? How did I function? How do I retain my sanity? How did I get beyond it? Have a seat my weary souled friend and I will share with you a few helpful secrets…
Nirvana and Samsara are the same. I couldn’t agree more. You’ve heard this saying before and maybe couldn’t grok its exact meaning. Let me shed a little light….
There is a honeymoon period in the blossoming of enlightenment, lasting a short time (weeks, months) , that is positively euphoric … nirvana. This euphoria is felt whole body. It’s like being plugged into a light current of pleasurable electricity … or getting slightly drunk, but with zero side effects. This current has an ebb and flow to it which manifests differently under varying circumstances. In the extreme, you can barely walk or talk …and to sit and do absolutely nothing is just fine.
I think Echart Tolle’ said that after his awakening, he sat on a park bench for two years…yep.
Most seekers of awakening, to no fault of their own, imagine awakening as being some amalgamation or permutation of bliss, satori, self, higher consciousness, god, love, being, now-ness, etc. In other words, seekers can point to these words, but only… in a limited, frustrated or unfulfilled fashion. They can’t point to them and own them. They can’t 100% comprehend what this whole awakening thing is really about. Even if the seeker has had numerous awakening experiences- (non-abiding the Buddhists call it) there’s still an element about the whole process that resides in the dark. What is it? What’s missing? Why can’t I get it. I don’t understand. I had it. I lost it. Is this it? Is that it?
Awakening for the seeker is a contradiction spinning in puzzle surrounded by mystery wrapped in a paradox… In other words, it’s confusing as shit. And- all of this is good and just and exactly the way it should be…
I just went through- am going through- an instance of embracing and releasing pain and suffering. What!? You say- you’re awake! You’re not supposed to suffer! You’re supposed to be all shiny and happy.
Yeah right. Who told you that? – Swami Banana-yonda? Yogi Sat-shit-not-stink-ananda?
Did I say existential suffering? No- I did not. Subtlety. Enlightenment is not black and white. I said- pain and suffering. I can burn my finger. Ouch. I can stress about my four year old son crossing the street by himself. Look before crossing! I can worry about not enough business and paying the bills. Fuck! I can be mad as hell when the dog runs out the door and down the block. #$!!Lilly! And – on a psychic/psychological level I can still carry pain and suffering. Big Sigh.
So- are we clear? Existential Suffering- None. I’m awake. Stress. Pain. Perturbation. Anger- Yes. I’m human.