“One by one, each thing is complete
One by one, each thing has it.
It and dust interpenetrate, it is already apparent in all things.
So without cultivation you are already complete.”
I read this quote once at a zen retreat as I was instructed to by Zen master Dae Kwang and it opened a door in my mind. Without cultivation, I, everyone, is complete. We are always judging ourselves to be short of the mark in some way. As a therapist, people come to me because there’s at least one place in their life that they need to work on to improve themselves, their lives. It is our thinking that leads us to feel this way. We set up ideas of who we should be or how the world should be and then we don’t measure up—we are incomplete. If you go back to the root of the word translated as “sin,” it means to miss the mark, which, of course, assumes there is a mark to miss. And we, as humans, are always missing our mark. When humans developed the thinking mind, that threw us out of the garden of completeness. Each moment is complete just the way it is, but then we start thinking about it.
This is the starting point of Buddhism. Gautama looked up at Venus, the morning star, and said,” No problem,” or something like that.
Years later at another retreat I had a deeper experience of that completeness. We were doing a meditative walk in the snow and the line of zen students was snaking up the hill. I looked around at us walking on the snow covered hill, and in the moment it all seemed perfect, complete. And ultimately that is how each moment is, but our mind is not in the place to receive that. We practice meditation, bioenergetics, yoga, Qi gong, go to therapy and many other things so we can learn to rest in that more and more, however “without cultivation we are already complete.”
Disease is an old concept and and as a concept can lead us astray. Sometimes disease is an old friend. In conversation with a chiropractor friend, she talked about how functional medicine wants to trace the problems back to the root, rather than focusing on the symptoms.
Two stories demonstrate looking past the symptoms to the roots. My bioenergetic trainer told a story about getting diagnosed with borderline hypertension, and was surprised considering her history of practicing bioenergetics and self-care. She had tried some things, including medication, and they hadn’t worked. As I remember the story, she went to Dr Alexander Lower, founder of bioenergetics, and he talked to her and had her take some bioenergetic positions. He told her that when she stood, she leaned forward on the balls of her feet, tensing her calf muscles. She took this observation with her and worked on standing in a more feet grounded position and the hypertension cleared up.
Another story involved a violinist and Fritz Perls, founder of gestalt therapy. A famous violinist had developed a problem where the hand that held his violin cramped up during playing, keeping him from finishing pieces. He had gone to various psychiatrists with no result and eventually went to Perls. As I remember the story, Perls had him play the violin for him and immediately saw what was going on. As he played he brought his foot back behind the other foot which cause increased tension in the that foot and slowly worked its way up his body until his hand cramped up. Perls worked with him applying awareness to his stance and the problem ceased.
Sometimes we get so focused on a particular aspect or way of looking at a problem that we miss the wider perspective. Often, the wider perspective is the body, either via food, or behavior, or held tension. When I worked in the field of chronic pain, the physiatrist I worked with talked about how a person focusing their attention on the pain reinforces the pain, sending more attention and signals through the nervous system. This over time increases the pain.
Sometimes the disease becomes a friend. People focus so much attention on a problem or an aspect of a problem that it is all they see. They have it so long it becomes like a ‘frienemy.” We need to fix “the anxiety,”” the depression,”” the relationship problem,” but we are used to having it around.
My philosophy drawing from my experience with zen and buddhism shifted my perspective. In zen, there is the idea of buddha nature, or intrinsically awake and healthy awareness inside each person. This translates into the idea of basic health, or “basic sanity” as Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche put it. My belief, reinforced by my training in hypnosis, is that inside each person is the wisdom, experience, knowledge to resolve their problem if it is drawn out of them. This means that in working with people, our focus is on the natural health, wisdom and healing capacities that we have inside us.
So let us focus on attending to basic or natural health as the foundation of personal change. Let us open the therapy process to wider area of focus. This shifts the perspective to the whole person and their relationships with others, with the world. We can begin with basic health People can to do physical things to be well—to eat well, exercise, and sleep. This includes energy practices or methods, such as bioenergetics, qi gong, or acupuncture, to promote a free flow of energy in the body. Cultivating basic awareness, mindfulness, leads to a sense of themselves as a whole and interconnected with the people and life around them.
Finally community, having a healthy social support network, is the matrix, the ground of change. Two women who I treated with chronic pain seem a good illustration of this point. Regularly their pain was often in the 7-8/10 level when the came in Monday mornings. One weekend, both of their husbands went away for the weekend. On Monday, both reported their pain down at the 2-4 level.
Supportive relationships and community, or lack there of, can be the crucial piece in helping a person move beyond their problems, and a group can be that community, those relationships.
Next up: The healing power of groups
Tiny pearls of dew on the grass. A slight chill in the air–end of summer. I seem to have settled into a place of peace. Overgrown leaves of grass crisscross each other–– a tangle of green with tips of dew, glinting in the sunlight. Small drops of moisture floating down through the air. At times one can settles into these quiet places. A slight rustle of the trees.
Just being present in the moment, the senses come alive and open up to more of what’s around. One pull at the thread of sight leads you into a sound of a bird and soon one is in a tapestry of the senses, and you are a figure in the weaving, interwoven.
This happened once during a vipassana retreat, settling into a place of peace and deep awareness, seemingly without effort. I asked the monk U Silananda about it and he called it “Grace.” Maybe because otherwise he couldn’t explain this state happening to someone like me, with so much thinking going on. He said these experiences come and go. They aren’t a permanent state. What else would you expect a Buddhist monk to say? But for a moment there it was, just like today.
We want permanence, but it is best to take it as it comes, and today I am very content to let things come. Another rustle in the top of the trees. The increasing warmth of my body as the sun rises in the sky.
There is a scene in the novel Taipan where the “taipan” a very pragmatic and not very religious man was sitting in a Jesuit Garden. He’d just been through an emotional ordeal which had been resolved with the help of the Jesuits. And he was just sitting there appreciating the garden in the moment, appreciating the beauty of the world and the life around him. The abbot enters and pauses, watching the man. Eventually he approaches the man and says to him, “You were very close to God right then.” The taipan disputes it. But there he is settled in the moment feeling connected with the life around him, even if he doesn’t want to recognize it as being close to God.
Of course, then we have to get up and face the rest of the world with its challenges. And our challenge is carrying this space out into the world. There is the story of a Zen master shouting at his student, “God does not exist…” the man turns around to leave and the Zen master says quietly ,” but he is always with you.” It’s good to remember—its always there even when we’re not aware.