Archives for the month of: March, 2013

At the recent Nondual
Wisdom and Psychology conference
, John
Prendergast
briefly introduced a simple, 3-stage model
for awakening. Here’s my understanding of this model:

  1. Waking up – this includes the spectrum of spiritual
    openings that people describe.
  2. Waking down –
    integrating the waking up experience into life. Bringing it down
    into the body.
  3. Waking out – expressing
    awakeness in the world.

The second step is
an interesting one; it is not all that different from the process
of psychological healing that one may undergo in therapy. This is a
time of transformation, healing and moving towards wholeness.
During this part of the process we face difficult emotions and melt
away entrenched habits as we give up anything that is no longer in
accordance with the true self. Everything I have described so far
can happen in therapy as well, so where’s the difference? The
difference lies in what becomes available during the first step.
The first step wakes up the fire of awareness. My experience of
this fire was of a withering internal gaze; withering because it
would cause internal blocks and momentary delusions to melt away.
This fire of awareness makes the transformation that happens in the
second step faster and easier. I could go as far as to say that it
takes over the process of transformation and all one can do is step
out of the way so as to not slow it down. I think that there is
more to the first step. I think it actually makes a deeper
transformation possible. This deeper transformation takes the
ego-transcendence of spiritual practice and brings it right into
the middle of life. It opens us up to a greater intimacy with
everything and everyone around us. It allows us to be flexible
where before we were rigid. From this place we can radiate out our
particular flavor of awakeness everywhere around us – this is the
third stage, waking out. You may have noticed that I described the
first stage as a spectrum. That’s because awakenings come in
different shapes and sizes and it seems to be pretty rare that
someone goes “all the way” in just one hit. This leads me to the
spiral process of awakening wherein we experience a spiritual
opening and once the dust settles begin the process of integrating
that opening into our lives. This transformation period is fueled
and guided by the opening we just experienced; its depth and impact
are likely also related to that experience. Having gone through
this period of waking down and having emerged on the other side
transformed, we now live from this newfound freedom to the best of
our ability until we hit the next insight and begin the process
again. Bringing this into the world of therapy, I believe that this
model shows how helpful spiritual practice is to finding
psychological well-being. It also shows that spiritual practice and
psychotherapy aren’t easy to separate. And, it tells me that any
amount of spiritual insight can be helpful on the road to
wholeness.

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I try to keep a holistic awareness when I look at my practice. This means I include things like nutrition, exercise and academic work in mind in addition to meditation. Lately, the physical element has been receiving more attention because I’ve fallen behind on taking care of my body and I’m feeling some of the consequences of that. Over the last few days, I’ve been looking at a lower carb diet and I’d like to share some of my process around that.

I look at diet and exercise as long terms habits I would like to develop or improve (as opposed to short term interventions). For me, this means finding a way that I can eat healthily and maintain it over time without struggling and without feeling deprived. I’m aware of the difficulties inherent in changing such basic habits and I’m approaching this change slowly.

I’ve already made a large change in my diet several years ago when I started eating (mostly) gluten-free. This change, even though it was pretty large, was much easier than I expected it to be. I think one reason for that is that I allowed myself to cheat sometimes when it was worth it (ref: Larry Niven’s fuzzy pink law). An unexpected consequence of this one change, by the way, was that I started paying attention to what goes into my food and as a result started eating better in general.

The first step I’ve taken in planning this new diet is to start tracking my food. Using a relatively simple app on my phone I can track most everything that I eat. This is helpful in a few ways:
I’m becoming even more aware of what I eat.
I can see how many calories I eat and where they’re coming from (carbs, fats or proteins).
I can see which foods “cost” me the most.

It’s this last point that helps me in designing a diet that I can work with. Since I’m aiming for a lower-carb diet I’d like to see what elements of my current diet contribute the most carbs; this will allow me to decide which of these I’d like to drop (or reduce), which I really want to keep, and which I can save for rare cheats. I think this approach will allow me to come up with a diet that is both healthy and satisfying and therefore sustainable.

Another thing I’m starting to do is changing my environment (m kitchen, in this case) to fit the new diet. This mostly means more veggies, especially ones that I can easily snack on, and less chips. I already include nuts as a sometimes-daily snack that I enjoy but I’ve been neglecting my veggies for a while. Creating an environment that is supportive of a new habit has been helpful for me. It makes it easier to engage the new habit and more difficult to fall back into old patterns.

Next, I plan to keep looking at my diet and figure out additional options for breakfast (especially when I’m in a rush), more options for snacking and more ways to get veggies into my meals. At the same time, I’m also trying to become more physically active. A holistic or integral approach means looking at more than one aspect of life, how they interact and how they can support each other in reaching my goals.

The following two pieces are from a treatise by Catherine of Genoa a Christian mystic from the late 15th century. I added some of my own commentary in between.

“Chapter VIII: Of the Necessity of Purgatory and How terrible it is.

When I look at God, I see no gate to Paradise, and yet because God is all mercy he who wills enters there. God stands before us with open arms to receive us into His glory. But well I see the divine essence to be of such purity, greater far than can be imagined, that the soul in which there is even the least note of imperfection would rather cast itself into a thousand Hells than find itself thus stained in the presence of the Divine Majesty. Therefore the soul, understanding that Purgatory has been ordained to take away those stains, casts itself therein, and seems to itself to have found great mercy in that it can rid itself there of the impediment which is the stain of sin.”

The beginning of this paragraph is absolutely beautiful to me: there is no gate to Paradise; God welcomes all with open arms. Such a succinct image of divine love and acceptance! If only she had stopped there… but then it wouldn’t be much of a treatise on purgatory. The rest of the paragraph I understand as a clear description of human nature: comparing ourselves to an unattainable image of purity, we deem ourselves unworthy and choose to live in a purgatory of our own making so that we may one day be worthy. God is standing there, willing to take us in, just as we are, but we say “No! Not yet!”.

“No tongue can tell nor explain, no mind understand, the grievousness of Purgatory. But I, though I see that there is in Purgatory as much pain as in Hell, yet see the soul which has the least stain of imperfection accepting Purgatory, as I have said, as though it were a mercy, and holding its pains of no account as compared with the least stain which hinders a soul in its love. I seem to see that the pain which souls in Purgatory endure because of whatever in them displeases God, that is what they have willfully done against His so great goodness, is greater than any other pain they feel in Purgatory. And this is because, being in grace, they see the truth and the grievousness of the hindrance which stays them from drawing near to God.”

I think that in the second paragraph it’s possible that the author is projecting her own self-judgement onto God. She already said that God is willing to accept us just as we are, so where is this displeasure coming from if not from our own lack of acceptance? I would like to suggest that the only thing we need to purge ourselves from is this self-condemnation and the one thing we need to learn in this purgatory-on-earth is the ability to show ourselves the same acceptance and love that God is offering us at the gateless gate of heaven.