Sunday, April 14, 2013

Ordinary Mystic #12: Avoiding Dead Bodies

Chapter Ten: Avoiding Dead Bodies

Dead bodies, as I understand them in the context of the Nazirite Vow, are the dead thoughts I carry around that make it difficult for me to see outside the narrow confines of mochin d’katnut.

Earlier I suggested that thoughts rise and fall of their own accord. When a thought (or feeling) falls into the spectrum of awareness that is the narrow mind, mochin d’katnut grasps hold of it and imagines that it actually thought that thought.

In my experience this is nonsense. Thoughts happen, and my narrow mind simply tries to catch up with them. This is certainly true when I am writing. I write on a computer because I type faster than I my narrow mind can process what it is I am typing. I literally find myself typing words on the screen without thinking. It is only after the words appear on the screen that my narrow mind gets a chance to see what was being thought, and to decide if it makes sense enough that mochin d’katnut wants to put its name to it.

I (that is the narrow I) am always amazed when the writing goes well. I seem to have nothing to do with it. In fact, the more I get involved, the more self-conscious and horrible the writing becomes.
 That is not to say there is no role more mochin d’katnut in the creative process; there is. But it is as editor not creator. The ego needs to step in to correct syntax, spelling, grammar, and to see if the writing is internally consistent and coherent. This is a very important role. Mochin d’katnut polishes the diamond; it just can’t create the diamond.

When I am writing free of narrow mind, the “I” that is writing is spacious mind. Being in spacious mind is an experience of being outside of time and free from discursive thoughts and feelings. I simply am, and the words just happen. I get a similar sense of things when I meditate and walk each morning.

In sports this is called being in The Zone. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it Flow. I suspect Hindus might speak of it as moksha, liberation, and Buddhists as satori, awakening. While I am leery of translating spiritual experience in psychological terms (the two realms being linked but not synonymous), and don ‘t wish to make claims that I cannot back up, most of us have had some experience with this state of unsclfconscious grace.

This is the state the Nazirite Vow hopes to invoke by abstaining from dead bodies. Dead bodies are the dead thoughts that blind mochin d’katnut to the experience of mochin d’gadlut.

Before I go one with this, however, I want to remind you that mochin d’katnut is not your enemy. It is just a part of you that pretends to be all of you. But the part that it does play is vital. You could not function in the relative world of self and other without a healthy egoic consciousness. You would not be able to fall in love, raise a family, run a business, brush your own teeth or wipe your own butt without mochin d’katnut. Mochin d’katnut is crucial to your physical and psychological well being.

Another name for mochin d’katnut in Judaism is Yetzer haRah, literally the Evil Inclination. The term is unfortunate, but understandable. The Yetzer haRah is that capacity of self that can, if left unchecked, lead to selfishness, and selfishness is at the root of almost all evil. Yetzer haRah gone wild is a megalomaniac, a self that thinks it is God. This self can easily be classified as a sociopath or psychopath. It is evil. But it doesn’t have to be, and most people, even those who have never experienced spacious mind, are not so selfish as to be classified as evil.
 The check and balance to Yetzer haRah is Yetzer haTov, the inclination for goodness, your capacity for self-transcendence. Yetzer haTov is another way of speaking of mochin d’gadlut.

The difference between these two types of classification, the two minds and the two inclinations, is that the former are abstract while the latter are more concrete and personified. They actually speak to you as distinct voices in your head. Yetzer haRah, the voice of mochin d’katnut, speaks to you of self and selfishness. Yetzer haTov, the voice of mochin d’gadlut, speaks to you of self-surrender, transcendence, and the seven qualities of holiness.

Again, I don’t want to give you the impression that one voice is good and the other evil. Both are necessary, and either can be dangerous if not linked with the other. They go together.

Imagine you are sitting in a baseball stadium when a foul ball is suddenly hit your way. The ball is heading right for your head. This is not a time to think about the life of the poor laborer who stitched that ball together, or the long hours of driving the trucker had to put in to get the ball from the loading dock to the baseball field. This is a time to duck.

The Buddha tells a story of a man mistaken for a deer and shot with an arrow by a hunter. As the hunter rushes to help the man and pull the arrow out of his chest, the man insists he first explain how it is that he was mistaken for a deer, and what it is the hunter intended, and… the man dies before finishing his list of questions.

Pulling the arrow out of your chest to save your life is what job of mochin d’katnut. This is a good thing. It only becomes a problem when you ignore the arrows sticking out of everyone else’s chest.

The Nazirite does not live free from narrow mind; the Nazirite simply avoids the excesses of narrow mind that preclude awareness of spacious mind. These excesses are the dead bodies, the dead thoughts, that clutter your life and distort your vision.

To avoid these dead thoughts you must be aware of them, and capable of identifying them as dead thoughts when they arise. You cannot stop thoughts from coming into your awareness. That is what they do. Thoughts happen. What you can do is abstain from locking onto to them and getting trapped in the drama they set to snare you.

What are the dead bodies you carry around with you as part of the baggage of narrow mind? While each person is unique it is possible to identify common themes that tend to dominate the worldview of the Yetzer haRah. Here are the six most common based on the work of Wayne Dyer:

1. You are what you own, and you never own enough.
2. You are what you do, and you never do enough.
3. You are your reputation, and it is a lie about to be exposed.
4. You are alone and separate from people, nature, and God.
5. You are in competition with others in a zero-sum game.
6. You are fundamentally flawed, unworthy, and unlovable.

It may be as you begin to identify the dead bodies you carry around in your narrow mind that you notice they all share a common set of characteristics. Again according to Dyer the following characteristics are fairly common to what we call Yetzer haRah:

1. It restricts your creativity.
2. It inhibits healthy risk taking.
3. It blocks constructive change.
4. It compares you to others and finds you lacking.
5. It is conformist.
6. It prefers depression and low self-esteem to joy and self-honoring.
7. It uses criticism to rob life of fun.
8. It discounts the positive feelings others may have for you.
9. It prefers criticism to compliments.

Some people have told me that they find it helpful when watching out for dead bodies to be aware of the live ones, the voice of the Yetzer haTov. Again drawing on the work of Wayne Dyer, here are the six most common thoughts of Yetzer haTov:

1. You are an expression of God.
2. You are worthwhile in and of yourself.
3. You need not prove yourself to anyone.
4. You are at one with all being in God.
5. You are a guest at an endless feast.
6. You are loved by an Infinite Love and capable of change.

Here are some of the characteristics common to the thinking of the Yetzer haTov:

1. It supports your creative efforts.
2. It promotes positive risk taking.
3. It embraces constructive change.
4. It is nonjudgmental and objective.
5. It is true to itself.
6. It is joyous and honoring of both self and others.
7. It enjoys life, even the rough times.
8. It is grateful for and yet unattached to praise.
9. It values the spirituality of imperfection, acknowledging the power of positive change without condemning you for not being perfect.

How are you to identify and abstain from the dead bodies during your time as a Nazirite? I follow the advice of my teacher David Reynolds, founder of Constructive Living a life path rooted in the Buddhist therapeutic traditions of Morita and Naikan. While Constructive Living deserves a serious attention in and of itself, for our purposes here we can focus on three Constructive Living slogans as guidelines to living without dead bodies:

1. Know your purpose.
2. Accept your feelings.
3. Do what must be done.

Know Your Purpose. Your purpose in this case is to abstain from getting trapped in the dramas of dead thinking. Keep your attention and will focused on your goal. Remind yourself of your purpose throughout the day. Write “No dead bodies” on slips of paper and paste them in strategic locations in your home, car, and office.

Accept Your Feelings. Chances are you are habituated to dead thinking. Just willing the corpses of dead thinking away does not make them go away. And wrestling with them only strengthens the illusion that they are not really dead. The only thing to do when dead bodies appear is to accept them. Don’t welcome them or reject them, simply note them. “Oh, look, there is that corpse of a thought: ‘you are so incompetent no one will take you seriously’.” That’s it; just notice it without picking it up and running with it.

Do What Must Be Done. What must be done is the positive actions that you identified in the previous section on growing your hair. Dead bodies will arise as you seek to realize your own Self-power. The more you seek to live as a God-realized person the more the corpses of failure will try to scare you away from doing so. Don’t engage them, simply accept them, and focus your behavior on doing what needs to be done.

All this may sound simple and straightforward. I hope it does, because I think it is. Life is complex, but not complicated once you drop the unnecessary drama. Simple, of course, is not the same as easy. Being a Nazirite is simple, but not easy.

It isn’t easy because you are addicted to the dramas that complicate your life. You don’t want things to be clear and simple, because if they are clear and simple and you still fail to get what it is you want you will have no one to blame but yourself. And there is no fun in that.

Or you will have to realize that given your genes there is no way in hell you are going to be an Olympic miler. Sometimes hard work and wishing just aren’t enough. You will have to adjust your expectations to reality, and that, too, can be painful to the narrow self that thinks it is God.

So you cling to the dead bodies of blame and drama. Even during the period of your Vow clinging to dead bodies is the greatest challenge.

I have found one tool from Judaism to be of great value during the period of your Vow. It is called Hitbodedut, solitude. Hitbodedut is the practice of getting away from people and isolating yourself with God. It was the centerpiece of the spiritual practice of Nachman of Bratzlav, the great grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, the 17th century founder of Hasidic Judaism.

Make time each day of your Vow to be alone. I usually do this early in the morning. I take an hour and walk about four miles. I walk through the graveyard, the town square, and the college campus, and I do early enough that I never bump into anyone.

While I walk I talk out loud with God. I talk to God about my Vow and how things are going. I thank God for all the help I have received thus far. And I ask God for whatever I need to make the remainder of my Nazirite period a success. Sometimes when I practice Hitbodedut I run out things to say. When that happens I sing to God, chanting the Divine Name HaRachaman (The Compassionate One) over and over again. Whether talking or singing to God the result is the same: my narrow self fades away and the spacious Self shines forth.

Why does this happen? What is it about talking out loud to God that shifts me from narrow mind to spacious mind? I think hitbodedut works because it shines a light on the dead bodies I drag around with me all the time.

As it turns out, must of what I have to say to God is rooted in dead thinking. As I pour out my heart to God, I am really pouring out my drama, and the drama is always wrapped up in dead thinking.

I have done something similar to this in psychotherapy. I have shared my dramas with therapists, but there is a fundamental difference between therapy and hitbodedut. In therapy the therapist tries to help me free myself from my drama. In hitbodedut, God doesn’t do a thing.

God does try to fix my problems at all, and that makes all the difference. When my therapist offers me advice, and makes suggestions as to how I can drop the dead bodies I carry and change my life, I actually cling more tightly to dead bodies and resist making changes.

This is not unique to me, though I suspect I have developed resistance to change into a high art. Most people resist change, and even begin to resent those who point out the changes that need to be made. But God doesn’t do any of this.

When I open my mouth and talk to God I get to drag the corpses of dead thought with me as much as I like. God never interrupts me or offers advice. God never points out that I am repeating myself, or that it is my refusal to drop the dead bodies that is causing me such pain. On the contrary, I get to cling as tightly as I want to as much pain as I want.

And then something odd happens: I get bored. There is no payoff for carrying the corpses with me when I talk with God. My therapist at least feigns interest in what I am saying, but God doesn’t give me any feedback at all. And with the feedback I get tired of schlepping the corpses around.

The more mochin d’katnut talks the more tired it gets. And the more tired it gets the less energy it has for blocking out mochin d’gadlut. As the active blocking of spacious mind stops, the insights of spacious mind come through effortlessly.

All of sudden I know what is dead thinking and I have no desire to cling to it at all. I am not saying that I am suddenly corpse-free, but that without any effort on my part to let go, many of the corpses I carry simply fall away.

I am, of course, not expecting you to take my word for this. You must experiment with hitbodedut yourself. Nor am I saying that there is no need for therapy. I think therapy can be very helpful. I am only sharing with you my experience with hitbodedut.

I resisted doing hitbodedut for years. The entire process seemed ludicrous to me. First of all, talking to God as if God were Other violated my panentheistic understanding of God as the source and substance of all reality. There was no other, and therefore no one with whom to talk. Secondly, asking God for anything seemed selfish. It reduced God to a Cosmic Concierge whose only concern was to do my bidding. Third, doing it out loud made me very self-conscious; I felt foolish, and the things that came out of my mouth were embarrassing.

At the urging of my rebbe, however, I devoted some serious time to hitbodedut practice. I discovered that I resisted the practice not because it didn’t work, but because it does work.

“Let me see if I can help with your objections,” my teacher said to me one day as I complained about hitbodedut. “First, if God is all, God is also Other.

“You always use the analogy of the magnet. A magnet cannot be a magnet without a positive and a negative pole. God cannot be God without being both Self and Other. If God is all, how can you limit God to not being Other?

“You also say that everything you have is a gift. So, who gave it to you if not God? God as universe, God as lover, God as friend, God as other is always gifting you with life.”

“But that is not the same as my asking God for specific gifts,” I objected.

“No, it is not the same. When you ask God for what you need, no matter how small and petty, you are not ordering God about like your Cosmic Concierge. You are reminding yourself that you cannot do anything without God’s help. Isn’t that what you discovered with the idea of growing your hair. You can’t grow your hair; you can’t beat your heart.

 “OK, now realize that you can’t buy a car, find a lover, or even land a job without the same active participation of God. You are not bossing God, you are admitting to being unable to control your own life. Hitbodedut is an act of profound humility. And that is why you have to do it out loud.

“When you ask for what you need from God out loud your narrow mind really gets to hear what it is saying. You can glide over the deeper fact of uncontrollability when you say these things silently. You can fool yourself into thinking you are only saying them to yourself. But when you say them aloud, they become God focused and unavoidable.”

And that is the point: to make the fact of your being unable to control your life an unavoidable reality. Hitbodedut has proven to be one of the most important spiritual practices in which I engage. Indeed, I do this daily along with my daily sitting meditation, walking, and writing practices.

You may find it worthy of daily practice as well, but for now simply look at it as a tool for the period of your Nazirite Vow. The more you talk out loud to God, the more clear the dead bodies in your mind become. And once you see them for what they are, the habit of clinging to them simply drops away.

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