I’m sitting in my bed in my house and slowly drinking coffee number two. Those who know me will know of my assertion that coffee number two is the best coffee of the day; certainly it tastes the best and perhaps that’s because the first coffee’s caffeine has kicked in and awareness has definitely opened! Well, at least to some extent.
Dr Richard Alpert, Ph.D., became Ram Das in a story which is partly told in the book with the title, “Be here now“. I have linked to a review site deliberately so that if you’re interested you might care to read the extraordinary range of responses this book has triggered over the very long time it has been around. This range of responses is part of the reason why “be here now” actually needs to be asserted. Think about it for a moment—where else can you be?
Yet, without a doubt, the evidence to support the need for this assertion is literally around you every moment of every day: most people’s bodies are physically present, and they are not. I have canvassed some of the reasons why this might be the case in an earlier post but it is another aspect I want to talk about today, triggered by reading a short article.
It was found on a site called “inspiyr.com“; full of interesting ideas about ‘how to live better’. The article that caught my attention is THIS one; and it’s about ‘how to release the inner critic and uncover your heart’s desire’. It’s short.
How does the voice of the ‘inner critic’ begin, anyhow? That it exists is something that is reflected starkly to me every time I present a relaxation session or a meditation session at a workshop. The overwhelming reports back is ‘I can’t do X or Y because all I can hear is the voice in my head’. For example, one of the beginning exercises is breath counting done in a particular way. Each breath out is given a number, starting with the number one. The instruction is, ‘as soon as you find a thought distracting you from holding your awareness in the sensation of breathing and the incrementing of the numbers, go back to 1’. Most people do not get past three.
The next exercise done is also breath counting but the new instructions are ‘when you get distracted by thought you simply note it then come back to the breathing count’. For the vast majority this is a much easier exercise, and it also shows a new practitioner just how many thoughts are generated in the mind every minute. Now, it’s possible to lose track of the count in this second exercise as well, but if you do, the instruction is simply to go back to the last number you’re certain you can remember accurately. One of the lovely aspects of this latter exercise is that one’s awareness opens up into a larger field where thoughts can be seen to be popping up and disappearing (and this can be the first experience of impermanence). The breath counting awareness is part of the larger field.
A Tibetan teacher I worked with once claimed that there are 60 new thoughts generated every second. That is a lot of thoughts! And it is true that in the beginning of one’s practice it’s almost alarming to see just how many thoughts come and go while you’re simply practising sitting or lying (or standing) motionless. If this is at all disturbing in your practise, my recommendation is simply to relax even more, and when you get distracted, gently bring the awareness back to the sensation of breathing. Becoming more and more aware of the sensations of breathing always brings you back into the present. Of course, if the voice in the head is a loud one, this can require some effort!
Getting back to the inner critic for a moment, I have decided it is not worth expending a microjoule of energy on asking the question ‘where does it come from?’. Looking in that direction necessarily means looking back into the past (and we would need to consider one’s relationship with one’s mother or one’s toilet training for solutions!). This way is a path of infinite regress because (as an ex-causal theorist) I can assert with confidence that behind every cause is another cause, and in between causes there are interposing causes—where to stop? And because we cannot change the past, it is a complete misdirection of energy to look for solutions there, except, perhaps, to be clear of what to avoid in the future. No, coming back to the theme of today’s post, there is only “What’s next?” as Lar often reminded us. Or, as Rudi asserted, “What do you want?”
As a practitioner of body work I have spent many hours listening to people tell their stories. One memorable day a woman sat on the couch in the clinic and talk non-stop for about 47 minutes. It felt important to me to encourage her to tell her story though if I were asked ‘why?’ in the moment I would not have been able to answer with any sensible or rational perspective. When she appeared to be flagging I would make encouraging noises like “uh huh”, and “go on”. Eventually she stopped.
She looked at me with palpable gratitude beaming from her whole body and she said “Thank you; that’s the first time that anyone has ever listened to me tell the whole story of my problems”. She paused. Then she looked down into space and said, “I’ve just realised this has absolutely nothing to do with how I’m feeling right now”.
There are so many interesting things here. One is the mind’s deep, intractable need to tell its story; ‘this is me, this is me…’ it says, endlessly. We live on a planet of nearly 7,000,000,000 people, and all of them are certain they are the centre of the universe. Then there is the dimension of the practitioner patient interaction which is normally called catharsis. In my view this is an incredibly useful process potentially, but only if it yields the ‘jump’ in awareness that this patient had in this moment.
I mentioned once before an epiphany was to realise that ‘pain is just a sensation and suffering is the story you tell yourself about it’. To hear these words will not change your relationship to your own story at all. For this to mean anything you have to be sufficiently present in the moment with this awareness to literally manifest itself; you feel it and you embody it; then you know it. And the voice in the head is the most common process that one is engaged in that takes one away from the present. And then of course don’t forget the good me/bad me version of the same story—it’s endless and “we don’t go there!”**
** the reference will become clear momentarily
To end today’s short post, I want to share with you a five minute video which epitomises all of what I consider to be useful in the interaction between a psychiatrist and a patient. It’s 12.5Mb, so you might want to be on a reasonable fast network before viewing.