Teaching June 2010: Some thoughts around form and emptiness.

Teaching June 2010: Some thoughts around form and emptiness.

Addressed to therapists but also, in a broader sense to everyone in relationship.

What I have learned from Milarepa, a Tibetan rogue then saint of the 11th century, in particular is, that when I don’t like what arises, I try not to get rid of it but rather, get to know it better by schmoozing it. Offering tea with finely cut cucumber sandwiches, would be the English way but schmooze will do.

It is not my job to teach how to manufacture objects.  Much of my work is very subjective.  It is almost impossible to have a “this is how it is” approach to the Spirit.  On the other hand, in the “real world” many objects that come into our lives, nowadays, are accompanied by instruction manuals which tell us how to assemble them.  It is unfortunate that many of these manuals are written in a language which apparently, was learned without the aid of an instruction manual, but, be that as it may, there is an inference that if the instructions are not followed, the object will not take its required form. That seems very valid for objects.

Once we have learned the instructions and have successfully built an example, we can safely assume that the process will work for everyone who can follow the instructions.

This, I suggest does not apply to spiritual work as each person’s path will be mediated by a different life experience.  There cannot be an embodied experience of the absolute, whatever form you see that as taking, by walking someone else’ path.

For this reason I get cross with some of the dogmatic approaches of both Christianity and Buddhism.  “It is said……” is followed by a long speech, evidencing a massive feat of memory but with no reference to time, place or space.  On the one hand, this is not an embodied experience but a concept and on the other hand, it reifies the original experience, that of the first proposer of the tract, and turns a felt sense, a genuine mystical experience, into a commodity or dogma.

“Monasteries are like collecting-station for hollow drift.
The priestly life … is deceptive and illusory to me.
Of such prisons I have no need.”


It seems to me that both Jesus and the Buddha exemplified that life must be lived: embodied, not conceptualised in feats of memory about other people’s lives.  I believe that neither of them made much reference to other people’s lives, they were too busy being present.

It is very important that we do not regard spirituality as a thing, an object that is somehow “out there.”  I see spirituality as being, rather, an experience of being the truth of one’s life.

I like this quotation from Jack Kornfield on the subject;

What Happens to Most Pieces of Truth

One day Mara, the Buddhist god of ignorance and evil, was traveling through the villages of India with his attendants. He saw a man doing walking meditation whose face was lit up in wonder. The man had just discovered something on the ground in front of him. Mara’s attendants asked what that was and Mara replied, “A piece of truth.” “Doesn’t this bother you when someone finds a piece of the truth, O evil one?” his attendants asked. “No,” Mara replied. “Right after this they usually make a belief out of it.”

-Christina Feldman and Jack Kornfield, in Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart
from Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book

I want to go further and say that whatever state that the human being is capable of realizing, is already in place, present, inherent and the natural state.  The work to be undergone therefore, is the awareness expanding into the embodied awareness.  Without the embodiment, we remain with the concept.

“You do not need to do anything.

Remain at your table and listen

Just wait.

And you need not even wait.

Just become quiet and still and solitary.

And the world will offer itself to you,

to be unmasked.

It has no choice.

It will roll at your feet in ecstasy.”

Franz Kafka

We are not come together in this writing to learn how to do something.  We are not developing more amazing techniques in some therapy.   We are on a voyage of discovery of who it is that is doing the work, and what it is that separates us from the source of everything.   It is a voyage, first of all, into the Health which is at the core of all of us. And from that place of Health, and I might say beauty, to approach that same place in the other that we may call client, friend, family, or even enemy.  So that they bring to their awareness, the Health that lies at their heart, centre, or core whatever you want to call it.

So that is our journey – I might say it is essentially a journey without end.  Why is it a journey without end?  Because it is a journey to a realisation of that which is infinite.

Quote from Thomas Merton.

“The things we really need, come to us only as gifts, and in order to receive them as gifts we have to be open. In order to be open we have to renounce ourselves, in a sense we have to die to our image of ourselves, our autonomy, our fixation upon our self-willed identity. We have to be able to relax the psychic and spiritual cramp which knots us in the painful, vulnerable, helpless “I” that is all we know as ourselves.”

Recently, on a course that I was conducting with advanced level therapists, one remarked that it was his observation that a direct transmission was taking place.  His actual words were, “ you are giving a direct transmission aren’t you?”

My immediate reaction was to hotly deny this and distance myself from any possibility that I thought or intended any such thing.  Inflation!  Horror!

Having got some of the chatter of my ego out of the way, as that is what we are talking about, I am able to see a slightly different picture.

Having worked now with a few more groups since then and with the trace of that thought implanted somewhere in the back o0f my mind, I realise that when two or more people are working together in joint practice, at a deep level, there is indeed a transmission but it is not from ego to ego but rather from the third presence, which is created at this level of relationship, onto all the other parties.  There is a resonance here with Jung’s concept of the “chymical” wedding and the birth of the “puer aeternatus”. There is no doing, only an exchange of being. My observation is that the awareness of the process as a concept may be held by the practitioner or the practitioner and the patient or even neither.  The work is done by the work that is created, not by the personality of the participants.  I also observe that whilst the work remains at  this level and “happens”, and, as the systems are homoeostatic, it is safe.

Something happens. How the body’s experience of the event is translated later by the patient or the practitioner into language, will depend on factors such as culture, age, gender, state of health etc., of the two individuals.

At this level the work can be truly transformative and results from the intelligence of one joining with the intelligence of the other, to allow a third and greater intelligence which operates with a precision far beyond the capacity of the intellect.  I see no overt action, only the remembrance of the original matrix and opportunity to let go of the accumulations of life experience, undigested, that that brings.  It is worth repeating that the subject is not the practitioner but rather, the third.  I call this third, the Spirit.  The Spirit is not a product of the ego.

This dynamic can be correspondingly more powerful in a group of more than two if the level of withdrawal of intention to do, is withdrawn by all the parties and only the intention to hear or follow, is in place.  Perhaps we might better say “when only the intention to be present to what is, is in place.”

“I think, therefore I am.” Is the famous phrase coined by Rene Descartes.  This has become the motto of the modern mind.  Descartes championed the mind-matter split.  Since then, Western science, philosophy and education have been based on the subject- object divide and the human-nature divide.  Much of our social and political paradigm stems from this dualism.

From this dualism flow individualism, industrialism, humanism, capitalism and egoism.  Dualism also gives birth to fragmentation, separation, alienation and isolation. (Satish Kumar in Resurgence – issue 199.)

I lay no claims to being a seer but it seems possible that the end of the second millennium and the beginning of the third may well become known as the post- Descartian, post-Cartesian, if you will and the beginning of the rebirth of Wisdom.  It is perhaps time for Knowledge, as differentiated from Information.  We are stuffed with information but information is always about something and implies a separation from the object.  This separation leads to alienation, judgement and a doing of something to or sometimes for, the object, based entirely on incomplete information.  Because incomplete, therefore false.

To be sure, the last days of overweening superiority of the Intellect will not be bloodless.  The ego will not quietly allow a co-dependence with another.  The paradox of the ego is that we cannot get rid of it.  Who would be the subject and who would be the object?  What we can do is to enlighten it.  Know it and work with it.  Thus, we become whole and real.

What I think and certainly hope, is that we are working towards a realisation of the CO-dependence of ourselves, the planet and everything in and on it.  Life may become joint -practice in which I realise that “I am because we are.”  (A South African perspective).  This roughly, is the message of Deep Ecology, one of the latest and most comprehensive sciences, in my opinion.  A science which seems to be truly searching for a unification practice.  Not just a theory.

I am so excited by the potential of Craniosacral therapy as a tool for the establishment, or perhaps reestablishment, of the practice of co-dependent arising, to use a Buddhist expression and at the same time, very aware of its capacity, so subtle, to be a bolster for mechanism, information gathering and manipulation.  In other words a denial of SELF expression -self as distinct from ego.

We have discussed elsewhere, that doing less is more.  We have gone further and said that doing nothing, just being, with the only intentionality being to hear, receive, accept, acknowledge, validate, is sufficient.  These values lumped together, I call trust.. In this acceptance of who we are, we remember who we meant to be and are in the possibility of rebirth into that intention.  Intelligence is contacted.  To contact this intelligence, which is Universal, may mean sinking into awareness which is below the intellect.

I am told we need to do more than enter the stillness of awareness.  I have no judgement about that need.  I make the observation that it is not necessary, just a need!  The need can then be accepted like all other manifestations of the intellect.  Stillness is not an escape from anything, it is a dynamic process which allows the whole to come into unfoldment.  It is not easy to hold and involves practice in being in the present without the rabbiting of the past and the future.  It is one way to go.

Trust the Tide, or whatever you call that energy, it will take you there.  Only, you have to trust it!

If you have to know what is going on, then you are reducing the possibilities.

The following are a few notes, taken verbatim from a course held recently beside Lake Garda, in Italy.  The venue was a Buddhist centre and the extracts may serve to illustrate from “real” experiences, some of the concepts outlined above…

Claudia:  I had this release, it felt as if something came out of me that had been stopping me being myself. It seemed to be something like a spirit that came out of me. Other things have happened, but this was the most important aspect of the session.

Inka: Claudia is sharing something that I did not want to share but now I will. At one

moment I really understood the significance of love.

Mike: Why didn’t you want to share that?

Inka: I know it’s important, but I wanted to keep it to myself.

Mike: I thought it was perhaps something like that.

The important thing is that if we try to hang onto things we lose them. Sooner or later we lose. On the other hand, if we freely give them away they come back a thousand times. What they say in Christianity is: “Cast your bread upon the waters.”

Inka: It’s true, but I am having a hard time to put this into words.

Mike: It is very difficult but the purpose of this group, for all of us, is to share

ourselves not just our goodies; not just our sweets. To share our difficulties and our humanity. That is the big gift that we can give each other.

The tendency that we all have, is to make sure that what we give the other person is beautifully wrapped and nicely sanitised. The real gift is to give ourselves just as we are.

Inka: We were talking about this difficulty of putting things into words. I told Claudia that there is no need for her to understand. We agreed that words change things and they don’t often show things the way they are. I am not justifying myself but, in this case, I thought I would ruin the experience with words. (we all know that one, don’t we?)

Mike: Yes, that can happen – I am going to take a risk and I am going to go one stage further.

It often happens with me, that if I try to describe something that I know is not my experience, it becomes a description of an experience, not the actual event. However, there may be some resonance within the other person, not of the same event, but a comparable sensitivity in themselves.

So I may have given the other person something – that is a gift – it may not be the same as my experience. And it may be that whatever they have received is an important experience for them. The only risk of loss is to my own ego that wants to hang on to that feeling.

That is why I said it is worth trying, because your intentionality is to give a gift to the universe and the only possibility of loss is to that artificial condition that we call me.

Does that make sense to you Inka?

Inka: Yes. It’s very clear.

Mike: So, in Mahayana Buddhism, which this place (we are in a Buddhist teaching centre)is a part of, they have a tradition of the bodhisattva. A bodhisattva is an enlightened being who chooses to keep on coming back into form as a person, so that he or she can help others find their illumination until everyone is illuminated.

In effect, to take that vow of becoming a bodhisattva is to take a vow for ever. To keep on and on being reborn in order to be of service to other people; which means giving and giving and giving. The only thing you have to give which is truly your own is your own enlightenment, and even that you have to give away.

So you see what I am trying to say to you. If you hang on to your own enlightenment you are irrevocably attached. Give it to your friends. It will probably come back. OK.

Good, thank you.

Another day:

There is another very important teaching and it goes something like this. We cannot get what we really need by waiting for it to be given to us. We have to ask for it. Demand it.  Take it.

Do I make any sense here? Whether we are talking about liberation, or whatever you want to call it, there is no freedom if we are given freedom. All we are getting then is a debt to the person who is giving us freedom.

Question: Can you repeat or re-phrase that?

Mike: Let me continue with this point for just a moment as it is very important. If somebody takes off our chains we are not free because we are in debt to them forever.

Does this make any sense to anyone, as it’s a very tricky area this? If you see little birds they sit there with their mouths open and mummy comes along and pushes some worms into it; that is normal with babies and children. But it only addresses physical growth – you could say it is mechanical and is concerned with the nourishment of the body but not the nourishment of the spirit. If we are not going to be chained to the dogmatic teaching, freedom needs somehow to be taken…

Translator: Sorry what needs to be taken – I didn’t understand?

Mike: Spiritual growth. Otherwise we are putting on another chain of debt. This is why I say: “What would be useful or what do you need?” That way you are getting in touch with your own expanded awareness; awareness of lack or need, rather than waiting for the teacher to pass on another 10,000 words that he has learned by heart and which originally applied to another person’s experience in another time place and cultural relevance.

If on the other hand, we just listen to repetitive teachings we are only getting what the teacher needs to give us. It’s a joint practice between the two. That’s why I keep saying at the beginning of each course: “What do you need?” “What would be useful?”

There is just one Truth and there are ten thousand million people on the planet. I haven’t counted them recently and every time I do somebody else gets born. So there is just one Truth so for however many different people there are on the planet there are that number of different ways of realising the Truth. That’s why I say: “What question comes up for you?”

You see what I’ve done now is made everybody think [laughter] whereas before I started that everybody was cruising along quite nicely thinking nothing was going to be disturbing; I can look forward to five days rest without a computer or a telephone or cooking or shopping or driving or looking after other people.

Maria: It seems as if the two themes of birth and death are very close together.

And for me personally, at this period of time, there have been many questions around birth and death.

Mike: My overall statement about the two of them is that they are not separate.

Birth isn’t a beginning and death is not an ending. They are mere stages in a continuum; a continuum of continually coming into form and going back to essence.

That of course is not always how it feels on an emotional level.

Maria: Maybe my question is: “How to stay inside the continual coming and going?”

Mike: I think the answer to that must lie in awareness.

That which I call ‘I’ is not a fixed object, it is a set of relationships, of experiences. Who is the experiencer? In other words I am looking at the word awareness; awareness of birth and death. If I am aware and in the present (which means almost the same thing because to be aware is to be present), the awareness is not being born and is not dying. Being born and dying are the object – the subject is the awareness taking form and losing form. I suppose the question then is -which we can just leave as a question is: “What dies and what is born?”

The difficulty in this is that this discussion is taking place at the level of intellect. The intellect is itself a form which we can observe, or the lack of intellect, or whatever it may be; so is a feeling. It is a manifestation of what I call Intelligence but that, as I said, is intellectualising about something that is not the intellect. In that sense, all this conversation is reductionist; that is what we do the whole time; remain dualistic.

Yvonne: For me, during the past year many things have happened and since the last seminar I have opened new pathways.

Mike: Yes I have seen that in you. I can’t quantify it but you seem to have opened new doors.

Yvonne: It’s been very chaotic. I haven’t been well and I was not well before and although there is chaos in my life, I am very quiet and that is extraordinary.

Mike: I think this is possible and it reflects what Inka was saying about her pain. We cannot get rid of chaos, there is chaos in the universe, it is the nature of the universe.

But we can develop a form of stillness in observing that chaos without becoming it.

Yvonne: I think so. Things have to develop by themselves and the important thing is to be there -not to protect yourself from being in it but living through it.

Mike: Sure and somehow not getting too attached. If we struggle to try and get rid of that chaos, whatever and wherever it may be, all we are actually doing is feeding more energy into the chaos.

Yvonne: I also reached a kind of awareness and you will all laugh. I was seven years old when I decided to become a doctor and now I am fifty years old. Someone tried to make me think I had taken the wrong path for this long period of time, but I have really become aware of the fact that it has not been wrong. And the other little thing I want to add is that I am sorry for arriving late and that during the meditation I asked for clarity, as that is what I need.

Mike: I think what you have said is very important. Whatever your path is, it is just as good, not better or worse, than anyone else’s path. The point is to do it sincerely and nobody else can tell you what your path should be. All paths lead to Rome as they say chauvinistically in Italy!  At the level of the spirit all paths lead to the cause. Medicine is a very fine route, in the same way that I had a student in Spain who mends washing machines which is also a fine route as he does it very sincerely and he is very good at it. Teaching craniosacral therapy is a fine route, so is being a housewife or a lawyer or a shaman. It is not possible to say one is better than the other. However, one thing you can say is that it matters that the person does whatever they do from their heart and not just from their head.

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5 thoughts on “Teaching June 2010: Some thoughts around form and emptiness.

  1. Thank you for your posting Mike – this way of non-doing is a very potent theme for me at the moment as I realize more and more how afraid I am of non-doing – and the fear for me is a very embodied experience – I feel it as a tightness and restriction of breath in my upper body and also in my hips. I used to call it apathy or resistance, and it is, but now those terms seem a bit generic and even somehow a bit distancing from my real experience of the fear of non-doing.
    I feel a fear that this will always be the case, but was thankful to read Thomas Mertons lines particularly, and also Rilke’s words of just waiting – they give me hope that this non-doing is indeed enough.
    Deirdre (O Connor), Shillelagh, Ireland

  2. Thank you for this respose, Deidre. It ties in very well with a thought that people have often heard me voice, “let the synergy of the relationship do the work,” In other words, in this case, we bring into awareness the fear (rather than just continuing to be a blind victim of it) and how we react to it. We can see that this is a pattern that we keep on bringing forward from a past that goes back, probably, for ever.
    Now we are in the present with the fear, we feel it in the upper body or the hips, we have a relationship to fear, IN THE BODY, it is incarnate.
    It is real; it changes; it must; everything does. We have let go of the unmoving concept of FEAR to which we were so attached and come into a tightness in the body.
    Incidentally, my lower back ache (old age) is better this afternoon!


  3. As always Mike, this post resonates at a deep level with my experience, particularly the idea of “schmoozing” that which arises in me that I don’t like. Recently I have had more than the usual number of opportunities to invite my nemesis to tea. For the past 15 years I have relied on my practice as a massage therapist for financial support, massage being more in demand where I live than Craniosacral therapy. However, my hands can no longer function under the strain of such physically demanding work, so, as of June 30th, I quite doing massage entirely. In the face of the current economic climate this decision seemed counter-intuitive, yet, I felt quite positive that all would work out when the decision was made. Craniosacral clients have been few and bills have piled up on my desk, still it seemed that I was riding comfortably along within the tide. That all changed recently when my chest contracted suddenly, and with such force, that I suspected I could be having a heart attack. This is an interesting dilemma / opportunity for those of us who have no health insurance. Resigned to my possible fate, I remained very still and became fully present to the gripping, contracting force taking my body hostage. I recalled having had an anxiety attack, a somewhat similar event, thirty years earlier. Noticing the slow wave-like momentum of the ever tightening contraction, I wondered how it was that I had previously been so unaware of the FEAR. Whether this was an actual heart attack or an anxiety attack, it was clear to me by that time that I was experiencing raw fear. And something (dare I say the excellent training I have had) allowed me to welcome this experience, to schmooze it. My mind was not without it’s chatter during this event, but that too was invited to this soiree. And for all the intensity, when the party was over (it lasted perhaps 20 minutes), I simply felt myself again. I never gave it another thought until reading this post.
    Julia Marie Gillett, Ridgway, Colorado, USA

  4. Dear Julia Marie,
    Thank you for that very personal response to what I call the Milarepa approach to Mara or demons.

    I know you have stressed one side of your reactions for the purpose of this article and I just want to add that, as you well know, we do not have to throw away our intellects in order to be in tune with Intelligence and the Spirit. The left brain has a place and it may persuade us to have a test on the physical level as well as surrender on the spiritual level. The two levels do not have to be mutually exclusive; they are co-emergent – as some of us might say.

    Much love


  5. This teaching has really resonated with me as well. It never ceases to amaze me the levels of work that show up over time, it seems there is always more to learn/experience/embody, just around the corner. I am currently “working” with a client who has stage 4 cancer and is experiencing a fair amount of pain. It was both perplexing and reassuring to me that on her very 1st appointment I kept getting the message “don’t interfere”. It was a potent reminder to stay in the present moment and just observe, be her body’s confidante so to speak. I have always felt, even in the massage therapy work that I do, that the body has a story to tell, and if we just listen it will tell us what it needs.

    My clients always seem to want to know what it is that I am “doing” in the session and this client was no different. We talked about the message of noninterference and how it applied to this type of work. She is also receiving therapeutic massage from another therapist and other types of treatment so she thought perhaps that would be interfering. I explained that that was not necessarily the case, that she should check in and see how she felt and whether or not she felt they helped her in some way. Recently she asked me again what it was that I did because it made her feel so serene and at peace. The answer actually came in the treatment we did right before her question. After all these years struggling to explain what I as doing! Whew! Very simply, I am just holding her, holding whatever it is that arises, pain, joy, sorrow, disease, health, etc. and I am joyfully receiving whatever it is, there was absolutely no judgment as to “this is good” or “this doesn’t seem right, should I try to help the body get rid of this?” (that’s been a tough one to quiet for some reason). I was able to simply observe and allow things to arise & pass without concern. The message “don’t interfere” helped so much, and whether it came from my mind or her body/mind/spirit or somewhere else doesn’t matter, it released my ego’s… is there something I need to do? The answer was simply to be present, acknowledge and appreciate whatever shows up. Working with her has really allowed me to shift into another, dare I say deeper, layer of Trust in the Intelligence over the intellect, and it is such a wonderful way to work.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for teaching this work. 🙂

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