How do we feel like we’re a part of nature, the ecology of our own heart and mind? How do we feel not on the earth which I’ve talked about as the most disconnected. Even though we know we’re part of nature, they still think we’re separate somehow. As we move more to being part of nature we have to say “Look, we’re not a foreign body. We are an emergent expression of the universe.”
Life is already always there. It just is.
When the elements formed together on planets, clear light was just waiting to pop into the matter, and there was a moment when it was right, and then all these single-celled organisms start manifesting, then complex multi-cell, then the next thing you know, we have this primitive nervous system, the dorsal, that contracts, like the sea anemone pulling back or even the turtle that goes in the shell. That is in our bodies, all the way back to single cell organisms.
Then we developed the higher functioning fight or flight system, there was more energy, we consumed more energy, we could run away, we could attack, then even more advanced we could start using the computer of binary thoughts in the frontal lobe, this/that, here/there, up/down, left/right, to organize.
All along it was animated by the subtle body, which is life itself, and is the primordial awareness that is the nature of reality.
That backdrop is actually important because the dorsal and the fight or flight systems are autonomic, like our heartbeat, we don’t do them with the conscious frontal lobe.
We are part of nature doing its thing and there are certain dimensions of our experience where, as life evolved into more complex organisms, we being one of them, we could start to know that we’re aware. Then we could look at what is awareness, then we realized it’s empty and everything is part of it.
We live in a nervous system with all of these levels. To break it down, there are two parts of our entity, those that take place in relative linear time and those that are out of time or in the eternal present, the timeless now. The subtle body lives beyond time, it doesn’t have time issues, it’s like the most refined pure energy there is, it’s the nature of reality, it can be aware of the timeless nature itself, which it is.
The more primitive nervous system stuff actually is not so much in time, it just responds, like a venus flytrap, it’s reflexive. The more modern brain actually created the concept of time, it lives in and creates relational things in that zone. Then there is the nervous system which can draw from the unconscious and when a stimulus in the environment comes up in the unconscious, the alayavijnana or the shadow or the unconscious, something stimulates this seed or memory which doesn’t actually need time, it’s just energetically stored in the luminosity. Then up comes a whole response, and then we think all these things about it.
Now we can talk about triggers that we have and our shadow.
What we’re talking about with the shadow is that which I don’t know about myself, that is stored probably in the alayavijnana, the karmic subtle body, as well as the nervous system. There is memory and the historical story in the frontal lobe, all these levels of identity, that all work together.
For example, it has only recently come into my consciousness that I was attached to a certain way of holding onto that role or ambition of being a successful dharma teacher. That ambition is so powerful. It’s so close to my bodhisattvic compassionate longing to help people, which is my heart. Now that I see it, I can let it go, which doesn’t mean I’ll stop being a part of this sangha, I’ll keep going, but I have dropped some of the ambition, the layers of that. But I didn’t see it at all.
So bringing back the multifaceted jewel, when we’re looking from a certain facet, we often don’t see another one. When we’re coming from certain perspectives other ones might not be as available to us.
We also talk about the eclipse where we contract and focus on things. That is at the discursive level. But even when we just take a certain viewpoint, even a practice viewpoint, it is a certain aspect of our experience, but then with another practice viewpoint we focus on different facet of reality. So not only does our conceptual mind have facets our true nature has facets. There is no one way to experience true nature. It is unlimited.
For me, the shadow stuff is so striking because it is what I don’t know about myself. What is going on in me right now that I don’t know. I don’t know. So I’m working on that, I’m curious, not because I have to be perfect, an A+ student who knows all my shadow. I don’t think it ever ends. I think it is just part of the dimensions of being. Maybe it does, but it is probably more helpful to leave it open and just be curious. Will I keep learning forever?
Where are my triggers? What are the things that trigger my nervous system? The nervous system, remember, has a direct line to the shadow. In ways that the frontal lobe does not, the nervous system connects directly into the channels of the subtle body and the unconscious and the alayavijnana.
The frontal lobe needs filters to function because if it gets overloaded it shuts down and then we go back into our survival responses. That’s why at night we dream stuff that is too painful sometimes to think about during the day. That’s why in trauma we black out events, we literally can’t remember them for long periods of time to help our nervous system regulate and keep developing so that we’re not shut down and fail to thrive.
These levels of our being are amazing. Talk about nature in action. So much of us is autonomic – nature – so we’re definitely of and as nature.
So the triggers are great, they are the messengers of the protectors of the nervous system. I’ll give a few examples. For myself, if my fingers start tingling, I know something is wrong in Nick Land. Maybe not “wrong” but there is an alarm going off. You might feel hot, short of breath, you might feel claustrophobic. If I get claustrophobic in an open space I’m at 9. It’s like my nervous system is screaming “GET OUT OF THE BUILDING!” but I can’t because it’s everywhere when I feel like that. So that is a very strong message that there is something huge going on in my nervous system from the unconscious. Panic attacks are angels from Pure Realms sent to wake us up. They seem like demons, but if you look at them as enlightened beings, protectors, manifesting to tell you something is so off that you’re not aware of. These triggers are signals.
So what are some of your signals? What are they asking you to look at in the shadow of the unconscious?
This is not even conscious, it comes up habitually, from a conditioned state of mind, meaning it autonomically arises from the unconscious into the 6th consciousness.
Our subtle body is already awake. The subtle body is pure awareness. This blissful light of aliveness. There is no problem with any state that arises. It is how we’re working with it and how we understand ourselves.
These things that are autonomic, not in our control. We’re part of so many things that we can’t control, but it threatens our cultural identity of having a sense of dominion over nature or control. We’re afraid of how autonomic a lot of our experience, and then we shame ourselves for reactions we can’t even have had the entity to control because they are not even us.
If I have a panic attack, what I’ve noticed is if I don’t engage the frontal lobe, meaning the 6th consciousness, in thinking about it, if I stay in the subtle body and freak out with it, as it, it doesn’t spiral. But if I start to fight it, and I know that so well, that feeling of “This shouldn’t be happening! No!” Once you get into that spiral, it just gets worse and worse and worse until I’m exhausted and then it starts to subside. Why? Because I gave up, surrendered.
What if we lost the autonomy and allowed the autonomic, we allowed things to be as they are?
There was never a question about how beautiful we are in our nature and what we are. We’ve turned practice into a credential for goodness when in reality our goodness is unquestioned, but we don’t have a culture that can feel that. We are primordially perfect. And, as Suzuki Roshi said, there is room for improvement. It’s an and, not an either/or. Why is that so hard to understand? Because we live in a society where, from the day we are born until now, we’ve been told otherwise, that there is an ideal and we’re not meeting it. We want to be the person that is okay, that taps into our deep survival.
As we do the exercises we learned to help us regulate our nervous system, please remember that they are not intended as a “fix it button”; trauma response does not mean broken. Trauma response is brilliant, it’s a deity, I’ve been calling it a protector, but let’s call it a deity. It is Nature Deity manifesting. If we look at it that way, that is truly possible. We can practice looking at it a different way and having respect.
I’m not saying we should all be able to do that right now, but it’s more about remembering we’re perfect as we are, and what is the perfect thing for our journey right now? Wherever we are is exactly the perfect teacher and teaching for us. Just talking about all of this, all of us sharing such similar experiences, is so helpful. Most of us don’t talk about this with anyone else, so it is very cool to have it as part of our sangha.
One of the things that is most important about the gestures is that they are somatic triggers. We are literally reversing what we often think of as a negative thing in the nervous system when we’re triggered into fight, flight or freeze, that “Oh No! I’ve been triggered!” It’s actually the essence of safety that our nervous system can respond like this and just do things. It’s survival itself. It doesn’t have to have that layer of negativity. It can be scary, though, and we’re not in control, so we have to work with that as practitioners. What we’re doing with the gestures is we’re actually triggering or initiating inner experience.
I look at the gestures as like a martial art. You’re learning the katas and then you can apply them in your life as martial arts. As you get more familiar with them, when you study martial arts you learn a series of movements, or katas, and you do them over and over again so that when someone punches you, you just do it, your body knows, you have muscle memory, so you’re training through repetition of the movements
Here we’re using the martial art of inner experiences, so as we do this gesture, the corresponding verses really help. That can help us frame it. “Just being, natural aliveness as itself, nothing to accomplish, nothing left undone.” But then we just try to experience, what does it mean to just be, and be alive, and as we’re just being, we’re corresponding that feeling of just being and being grounded, and being alive, with this gesture. As we do it over time, just like a martial art, suddenly this will have power, but only if we do it over and over, you have to put in the reps, the energy, but if you keep training your body-mind, nervous system, and your subtle body to do these things, they will have power.
Our life is the real topic and the gestures are these martial arts that help us navigate the subtle body, nervous system and our life all at once, instead of preferencing practices of separation and stillness and all of that. That is fine, but honestly, we can achieve very comparable, if not more helpful states of realization and awareness, if we’re actually seeing life as the teacher in every moment.
What we’re doing, what I’m inviting you into is, for example, when I do a gesture that maybe I don’t want to do or connect with, there is something there for me. It is too raw, it’s dipping me into the shadow a bit or the shadow is coming up or the trauma or I’m being triggered a little. This is why it’s not whether we like something or not. The deeper question is do I really want to learn and grow? And the answer is not always yes. Sometimes it’s “NO! I need a break.” That is also part of our practice.
The stuff that we don’t know about ourselves, it’s not the goal to know everything about ourselves, the joke is we’re changing and there is new stuff we don’t know about ourselves, new moments of things we don’t know are being born. That is so humbling. We don’t come into the world with a certain quotient of neuroses and we get to work it down.
The idea of enlightenment is just so useless. Realization is good. There is realization, continuously unfolding realization, but if we think learning ever stops, why would it, what good is that, for who, how would that be helpful?!
One of my favorite quotes from Suzuki Roshi is from when someone asked him “Where is the Buddha now?” and he said “Out there somewhere working on themselves.”
Isn’t endless learning more fun anyway? Who wants to kill it and be dead? Life is always unfolding and expressing itself. Why is learning new things a problem? Especially as we go deeper in our realization, it’s the joy of endless exploration, that’s the fun. Why not be open, fully, truly?
However, when I’m scared and I don’t want to know something, what is in my shadow that I don’t know, what about myself do I not know? I know some of my triggers, but what is humbling is by the time I am feeling really triggered in a certain situation it is often already at a point where I’m offline.
I’m okay with not knowing things in some ways, but when I feel like it’s going to threaten my survival, it’s so hard. So this is something I work with. Can we accept dying, can we accept losing our job? That can happen. Maybe it’s not the end of the world. How does that feel, when I name that, surrendering fully to what is happening in your life? Does it feel terrifying, empowering, both?
One of the things that I find so paradoxical here is that surrendering to what is in this moment, or dying into the present, there is still our true nature. This luminous aliveness is still here and feeling things. We can go up into hope and fear and all the thinking about things but I feel like that isn’t the deepest place to make decisions from. The deepest place of making decisions is dropping into our nature and realizing “I can’t help but want what I want. I can’t help but have goals. I can’t help but be driven.” That isn’t even the problem, it’s wonderful, go ahead.
So many people come to the spiritual path wanting to bypass heartbreak and just have the good stuff. Sure, just shut everything down, don’t have any desires, let go of your desires. Some spiritual traditions promote this as the highest accomplishment. Desires aren’t the problem. Rather, can you be alive in the full cycle of energy and stay lucid? The whole point of being lucid is to share and test and learn and expand. My path and what I think we’re all drawn to is how do you be fully who you are and you just live through that in your true nature. You participate in that. Whether it goes your way or doesn’t, you’re not afraid to just be who you are. It comes up naturally. True nature likes to play.
In our subtle body or true nature we have everything we need already, right now, we’re perfect. When we give up trying to get somewhere else and really come into our heart, we feel completely content just being. Being itself is happiness, it’s bliss. It’s already okay. You are everything you wanted. We are everything we have ever wanted, right now, in our nature, without doing a single thing. And the paradox is, therefore, we want to go do things and express it. We want to play. Why wouldn’t we? We just express that, but we express it from a place of being enough already.
When I sit in the forest and die into just being in the forest, the irony is, when I really do that and give up everything, I’m like “Oh my gosh, I feel so creative! I’m so inspired.” When I’m tight and telling myself “You better create something!” I don’t feel creative. When I give up and say “I have everything I need” I can’t be stopped. I feel like that is the paradox. Of course we’re going to do stuff and of course we’re going to be and manifest, but when it comes from that place of feeling like we need to not be here and be there instead, no matter what we do it goes wrong.
That is why I mean by dying into the present, not doing nothing, but dying into “Okay, I’m here, this is it.” Sometimes when I do that, I’ll see these funny thoughts I hold like “You mean, you’re 48, just sitting in the woods on a Sunday, and no one knows you’re alive and you’re totally happy?” “Yeah….being here is pretty magical…I don’t know if there is anything else I need to accomplish…” Then I can do stuff. I love that.
The paradox of giving up into empowerment or being empowered by surrendering. It doesn’t make sense until we do it and then “Oh, that!” Another Suzuki Roshi quote, one of my favorites, “If it’s not a paradox, it’s probably not true.”