If, according to Erich Fromm, the emergence of the `mature man’ is the aim of both Oriental Zen and Occidental psychoanalysis, and if the man on that level has shed his petty fears of insecurity, his one-sided logically reasoned propensity, there is hope for human beings to arrive at a better grasp of the meaning of reality. That this implies the shedding of greed in all forms and the overcoming of ego-worship goes without saying. Thus satori, or what we attempt to define as enlightenment may, in the final analysis, be instrumental in a person’s emergence on the apex of maturity in its widest possible connotation and within a thoroughly humanistic frame of reference.
It is important to note that Fromm says, ‘shed his petty fears of insecurity’. He does not say, shed his Insecurity! Being, I suppose, highly insecure, I take great comfort from that statement.
As a teacher and as a person, perhaps better, a person who teaches; distinguishing who I am from what I sometimes do, I am not asked to be perfect. I am only asked to work towards an expansion of awareness of my insecurities and to work towards being increasingly able to be compassionate with them. I would explain compassion as seeing what is, as fully as possible, without judgment. The without judgment is the difficult bit and is at the same time the gateway to awareness.
Around February, for the last several years, I seem to enter a Black Dog period. It is my “drama queen” month. This period is my reminder of mortality on the one hand and my embodied experience of why I teach the Blessing of Insecurity, perhaps even, my justification for teaching such a subject.
I would say that we all suffer from insecurity, to one degree or another. Mostly we try to get rid of it or at least mask it. Seldom do we see it as a gift which keeps us on the very edge of presence to who we really are under all our reactivity and dis-empowerment, which comes from identifying with an accumulation of undigested life-experiences. We are not those experiences but we do, so easily, allow ourselves to become the victim of them.
A very vivid description of this edge; has been compared to “licking honey off the edge of a razor blade!” The phrase originates from an 8th century text, “A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life” by Buddhist poet and visionary Shantideva.
My habit is to be a workaholic. This is not who I am, it is something that I suffer from. When I stick to my practice and meditate a couple of times a day, I am able to spot this suffering, instead of just re-acting and can then be a little compassionate with myself and just take all the shoulds out of the equation and I notice what I am doing. In this very noticing, without the conceptualizations, lies the relief,: I realize I am meditating, not being driven, and the suffering is no longer there.
When I teach this subject, I am not teaching from a place of superiority, but rather, from a place of resonance with all suffering. What is offered is the human being, warts and all, and the students seem to appreciate this. There is resonance; there is joint practice, not a didactic. Another entry will discuss ”the Teaching, not the Teacher, but this is an introduction to that subject.
When, like many ordinary people, I fall out of practice and suffer a crisis of some kind or another, then that presents a reminder of my in-attention and I have a choice again. This is the blessing.
“You are old, Father William,” the young man said, “And your hair has become very white; And yet you incessantly stand on, your head -Do you think, at your age, it is right?”
I don’t know if it is right; the discussion is fruitless. It is what I have habituated myself to do and only when I come into awareness of what I am doing do I have the opportunity to do something else.
It is so easy to think that what we feel and think actually comprises who we are. In my head, I know that I am not that and whatever arises has no intrinsic permanence. I know that and it is fundamental to being able to call oneself a Buddhist; however, that is not how it feels, in the midst of the experience. The reactivity is the disempowerment; the awareness is the detachment from dis-empowerment
Let us look for a moment at what Buddhism says about Insecurity: there are just four fundamentals (they are known as the four Great Seals) and they are:-
- All things are impermanent and there is no essential substance or concept that is permanent.
- All emotions bring pain and suffering and there is no emotion that is purely pleasurable.
- All phenomena are illusory and empty.
- Enlightenment is beyond concepts.
Incidentally, Dzonngsar Jamyang Khyentse says about enlightenment that “it’s not a perfect, blissful heaven but rather, a release from delusion.”
Many people have heard of the renowned Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. They are important; they are a wonderful path to living a more focused life; and they are relative and impermanent by all the criteria in the Great Seals.
The nearest that Buddhism gets to permanence is to say that we hold these statements to be true until someone, scientist or other, can prove them not to be true. If this happens, we will abandon them! After some 2500 years plus, they remain in place. The Dalai Lama (paraphrased in word but not in meaning)
I’ll come back to this list later but, for the moment, I will continue more generally about Insecurity. I have described Insecurity as being symptomatic of undigested life experiences that have crystallized into a form that we assume to be our identity. It is that form, that apparently solid identity that dictates what we teach, what we learn and where we come from when we do either of these things. In order to make any sort of pretence at encouraging the emergence of Spirit, which simply is not an object of the personal intellect but rather its ground, then we must surrender some, at least of that which keeps us separate- that very same individual self, which is impermanent.
In order to live fully,
I must live on the edge of insecurity.
This place is dynamic and
every minute or day that
I live in that dynamic expands my awareness.
If I am not expanding
my awareness, I am dying.
Blessed are the insecure.
In this writing, so far, I have talked about Insecurity and have tried to suggest that it is not a bad thing, but rather an opening to greater awareness. I have also hinted at Impermanence, and have extended that concept by implication, to Birth and Death.
Here I would like to insert a verbatim conversation between myself and others during a recent course in Italy, which engages with these subjects in a “live” session. These exchanges were recorded during the opening session of the third and final segment of a three part course, each part of five days. Between them, the contributions touch intimately on the causes of insecurity, the forms that insecurity takes, how we work with insecurity and the blessing of insecurity, when embraced.
Maria: It seems as if these 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 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, which we can call relative or personal.
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 an accumulation of experiences. Who is the experiencer of that thing we call I. Perhaps that is closer to the source, but still, necessarily, relative? 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 noticing the coming into being of form.
I suppose the question then is – which we can just leave as a
question : “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, (or the lack of intellect, or whatever it may be;) which we can observe, as 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.
Inka:I am having a hard time at the moment to express exactly how I am feeling and what I am thinking. I do have a question but I am not sure how to express it.
The time since our last seminar has been a very intense period and has been about the integration of my insecurities and how to deal with the pain in my stomach.
Mike:What does that say to you?
Inka: I have been thinking about it a lot. I think there has been some overlapping of
different things. I now feel good it is completely over. I still don’t feel well inside but I myself feel very well and peaceful.
Mike: So it is possible to have a pain and be peaceful?
Inka: I have experienced at times this possibility of being perfectly present with pain and how that presence would affect my pain and it has been very useful.
Mike: Anything you would like to put in? (addressing someone who hasn’t yet spoken)
Yvonne: For me, in this 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
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 part of 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 present – not to protect yourself from being in it but living with 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, the energy of awareness, 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 (she did) and now I am fifty years old. Some people tried to make me think I had taken the wrong path at that time, but now I have really became 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 means of livelihood and it is useful. I had a student in Italy who mends washing machines which is also a fine livelihood as he does it very sincerely and he is very good at it and it is useful. Teaching craniosacral therapy is a fine livelihood. It is not possible to say one is better than the other. However, one thing you can say is that the spiritual person is the one that does whatever he does from his heart and not just from his head.
Stella: I didn’t really feel much like coming here but, on the other hand, I know that coming here is the right thing to do because I stop.
It has been a nicely, important period of time. I had to assist my mother, she has done well on her own until recently, but I find I have a lot of anger towards my mother. I think I have done well with what I have done with my mother recently and have been able to look at my anger. So I now think that it is a good thing for me to come here and leave her alone for a few days as it means I am liberating myself from chains.
Mike: Is she aware or does she suffer from dementia?
Stella: She is aware.
Mike: I mention this because my wife’s mother is not aware, at least not at the obvious level. I am convinced however, that even if people don’t have any cognitive thinking left in their head, there is some level of awareness and we need to honour that.
Stella: But it’s important for me that my mother is aware because that means I cannot tell myself lies. I found out from looking at her that I don’t like her very much and this hurts me because she is my mother. That means I have to come here.
Mike: Sure – I think stopping is very useful. If we can stop and be present there is
something that is called the eternal present, or now. Time is a kind of concept, it was invented by people (that is literally true.) It’s a concept. To be able to be present continually is fantastic.
Your mother didn’t give you anger. I don’t believe one person can give another person anger. It is a human emotion – it’s in all of us as is fear, as is joy. Nobody can give it to you as it’s not an object; it’s part of the human psyche. This is very difficult: if somebody gives us the opportunity to examine our anger and work with it so that we are not so re-active to it, and it is not so potent – that is a gift.
Stella: In fact I have said this is a very good period of time and I thought of giving thanks
Mike: Yes I understand – I very gladly heard what you said. I am just amplifying it.
Stella: And I never get angry at her, or angry at myself, but I can see her very well.
Mike: Many of us are better are being at compassionate with other people than we
are with being compassionate with ourselves. Perhaps that is the next stage.
Laura: In this moment there is a great big chaos. Many things are present at the
The period of time since the last seminar has been very intense and full of things. I am facing on the theme of illness and death of people close to me and with this theme going on inside myself, there are questions about the meaning of my life. Many moments I think what I am doing is not useful, so I doubt my usefulness. Since the last seminar, I have noticed that I do things with more trust and creativity. The other theme is that there are more things about myself that are difficult to accept. I am having a hard time doing everyday tasks, there is some kind of fear when I meet with other people and I have to relate to another person. My life strategy has always been to adapt to the other person and it is very difficult to enquire: “who am I? what do I want? what is the path I want to follow?”
Mike: What occurs to me immediately is that everything you said, to some extent, has
a down side and an up side.
What I think we can focus on is the enormous upside of what you are saying because what you are actually talking about is an increase in awareness of your own process, and from that comes an awareness of an increase in potential in what you can do.
By noticing some of your habituations, you have opened the door to not being habituated to them. Does that make sense?
I should like to close this session with another quote from Lewis Carroll;
“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly,
“I–I hardly know, sir, just at present–at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”
“What do you mean by that?” said the Caterpillar sternly. “Explain yourself!”
“I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir,” said Alice, “because I’m not myself, you see.”
“I don’t see,” said the Caterpillar. Lewis Carroll