Wednesday 21 August 2013

The Paper & The Mirror

Nearly all therapy, personal development and self-help is based on the idea of learning, improving ourselves and having better habits or more skills.  We may improve our ability to meditate so we have less distracting thoughts. Or perhaps we will remove some past traumas and issues through therapy so we can be more effective in the present. Or even go to the gym and exercise more and improve our health and fitness. All of these are based on the idea of a journey to a better state and they have a long history. In America, self-improvement is virtually a national duty and even classically and mythologically, The Hero's Journey involves getting to some better place. Essentially it is seeing us as a thing to be improved. We are like a sheet of paper where past writing can be erased, new and better words written, and creases ironed out.

But there is another perspective which is deeper and very different. It is the perspective that we are not like a sheet of paper but like a perfect mirror reflecting whatever is there equally and holding on to nothing. The mirror is forever pure, unsullied infinitely open and clear.  This could be called our Natural Presence; recognising this enlightened state as our true nature and present now. It does not have to be achieved through effort. The analogies to this are, traditionally in Tibetan teachings in particular, being like the open blue sky; vast and not reduced by the flight of birds or passage of clouds (ie. thoughts, sensations or dramas). We are then not experiencing ourselves as a thing to be changed but as without essential substance, a space through which thoughts, feelings and sensations pass from within us and impressions from around us.

The first approach is useful and can work for many provided they have enough of a sense of ego available to be improved (unfortunately for some, they do not and then self-help books are cruel in promising what they cannot deliver). However, it is essential to realise that the very success in striving with the ego for whatever we are trying to achieve - including more compassion or wisdom; has the likely effect of binding us to that ego. That identification is then an obstacle.  Becoming "Empty, Loose and Natural" and using practises which can give a direct experience of our innate spaciousness beyond duality is then the only remedy. Energy work cannot do this as energy work is building something such as improved flow of energy in the body or more balanced chakras. In Dzogchen the experience of their basic open-eyed meditation method, of relaxing in to infinite openness and allowing everything to arise offering it hospitality as each thought, feeling or sensation is self-liberating and will dissolve into space on its own.  The Self-Enquiry method of Ramana Maharshi with the question of who is the experiencer is part of this pathless path. In tantra there is also the possibility of using ritual and intention and some energy practices to dissolve into the Divine becoming the vast spaciousness as Shiva.

Paper and Mirror both have dangers. For Paper it is the endless nature of self-improvement and the possible risks of pride and attachment ("look at how hard I am trying, or how much insight I have", or its inversion "look how messed up I am!"). For the Mirror each way has dangers; sleepiness or dissociation or being stuck in the Mind with the question "Who am I?". Tantra is the most dangerous of all; addiction to intensity, and grandiose inflation are the two most common ("Wow, that was amazing!" and "I am a Goddess")

In some ways the first approach; as paper is more like Shakti, about creating things and the second more like Shiva, the open ground of consciousness itself.  In tantra; Shiva is the ground on which Shakti, the creative power of life can dance the world into being.  Chaitanyamatma can be translated as "Everything is Consciousness"  and is the first Shiva sutra, in Kashmir Shavism. In my view the highest teachings of tantra.

So; work at improving the Paper but open to some opportunities which may give the direct experience of  the Mirror as Space itself. In tantra workshops and in individual sessions this may arise but can never be engineered. Don't become too busy with self-improvement; there is no self - its a trap!