This is the second post in a multiple part series. For the introduction and table of contents, see part 1.

Working With the Manure of Everyday Life

In the book Meditation in Action, Chögyam Trungpa (1991) offers a possible solution to the question I posed in my previous post. Trungpa begins by recognizing the common split between spiritual and everyday life and the difficulty this split creates for many.

[P]eople tend to make a very sharp distinction between spiritual life and everyday life. they will label a man as “worldly” or “spiritual”, and they generally make a hard and fast distinction between the two. So if one speaks about meditation, awareness, and understanding then the ordinary person, who has never heard of such things, obviously would not have a clue and he probably wouldn’t be even sufficiently interested to listen properly. And because of this division he finds it almost impossible to take the next step. (p. 25)

It is probably true that many find mystical texts unapproachable and even confusing. Others may try some form of meditation and quickly quit because it seems to be hard. Trungpa sees that as a problem to relate to the “man on the street”. He suggests that make an effort and provide, “some way of finding out, some concept that he can understand and which will still be related to his life and will still be part of his life.” The way to create the connection is not by trying to change the person, quite the opposite, “start off by just accepting the character of that person, who may be completely worldly minded, and then choose one particular aspect of his activity or his mentality and use it as a ladder, as an anchor, as a vehicle so that even the man on the street can give birth to bodhi.”

By meeting each person exactly where they are and exactly how they are we can find the seed of awakening that is already gestating within them. In order to help that seed grow, says Trungpa, we must meet that person fully so that he may be able to use the most painful aspect of his character as part of this process. This person may already be struggling, trying to solve a problem he cannot solve because, says Trungpa (in a similar vein to Deikman), “in his search for a solution he merely substitutes other activities for the ones he has renounced.” If we meet the person in this place, where the pain is beginning to be known, we can use just these simple, direct, and ordinary things that are already part of his life and we need not rely on arcane mystical texts or practices.

In this approach we take samsara, the world of confusion, to be the vehicle to nirvana, or liberation. We are like a skilled farmer that collects the rubbish from her farm, composts it and spreads the resulting fertilizer over her lands. Out of this smelly and dirty matter, rise all her crops. Trying to rid ourselves of samsara in order to find nirvana, says Trungpa, is not the skillful way. Start by recognizing, studying and then working with desires, passions and other negative things. Work with the life you have, and let that be the seed of your realization.

According to Trungpa, we need to be specific in this work, generic solutions do not apply here. While there may be general tools that many find useful, we need to connect to each person in this moment of experience and study that. This points at the importance of personal support in the form of a teacher, guide or coach. The external perspective of another person allows them to see the moment we move from being active to passive or in Deikman’s terms, the moment we fall back into the trance. The clear pointing out of this moment shows us exactly where it is that we need to bring our awareness.

In addition to this pointing out, it is helpful to have some theories and frames of practice. In the spirit of Trungpa’s “Manure of everyday experience”, I would like to provide two such frameworks that I believe many today will find relevant. While the two frameworks are specific in their focus, I believe that we can use them as “entry points” into the greater process of de- automatization. These are the places where a modern person may already be collecting some “manure”. By meeting the person at this pain point, we can use them as fuel to engage in practice.

The first framework focuses on our relationship with food. As a basic human need, food has been part of spiritual traditions for millennia. Many ancient practices revolve around limiting food and the enjoyment of it but I do not believe this is necessary. In the next section I’ll present a framework that offers a different way to relate to food; supporting health and well-being while allowing us to enjoy food and eating. The second framework revolves around the use of information technology. Like food, information technology is now an inseparable part of our lives. Many, however, have a dysfunctional relationship with technology. I’ll offer a way to relate to technology consciously, placing the human back in control of the tool.