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Exploring the Fundamental Tension in the Bodymind

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"I’ve found it interesting to notice and get curious about the undercurrent of restlessness or dissatisfaction that shows up sometimes in my experience and I suspect in that of most other human beings as well. We may find that this is sometimes quite strong and overt, and at other times, it is a very subtle, barely detectible undercurrent—a slight tension in the bodymind that is perhaps almost always there to some subtle degree, even in moments of pleasure. 

It often manifests as the attempt to manipulate, control, change or understand experience. It might show up for some as an effort to identify as awareness and not as a bodymind, or as an effort to be mindful (to “be here now”) all the time. It might be the sense that something needs to happen, shift, clarify, drop away or be found. It might be a feeling that we can’t stand being here in this mind or this body or this situation. It emerges from a sense of separation—a sense of fundamental lack, of not being okay, of something missing or something frightening or threatening. 

Nisargadatta described consciousness as an itching rash that comes upon us. Consciousness seemingly divides up the indivisible wholeness and freezes formlessness into apparently separate forms, giving rise to the sense of being an encapsulated separate self and the inevitable feelings of dissatisfaction, lack and endless seeking that follow from that. Buddha called it suffering, the delusion of being a persisting, separate somebody, driven by fear and desire. 

Adi Da, a controversial America  guru (about whom I have very mixed feelings), often posed the question, “What are you always doing?” He was pointing to what he called the self-contraction. And he said, "Your suffering is your own activity. It is something that you are doing moment to moment....You will continue to pursue every kind of means until you realize that all you are doing is pinching yourself. When you realize that, you just take your hand away. There is nothing complicated about it. But previous to that, it is an immensely complicated problem.” He also said, “The self is just like this clenched fist. Relax the fist and there is nothing inside... We are never at any moment in the dilemma we fear ourselves to be."

We often think so-called spiritual awakening is about getting something or finding the Truth. But it’s more about seeing the false as false, seeing through unnecessary mental activities, noticing and relaxing that metaphorical clenched fist in the bodymind. And we can’t actually “do” relaxing—that would be a contradiction in terms. In the seeing (i.e., awaring) of the tension, there is a natural relaxing that happens by itself—the storylines begin to lose their believability and their grip loosens. The clenched fist opens. It isn’t a willful efforting—it’s a relaxing, a letting go, an opening, a surrendering. It happens spontaneously. And it rarely, if ever, happens once and for all. It’s always about right now. 

And sometimes, relaxing doesn’t happen. And then, it may be possible to notice that even the contraction or the tension is never really a problem—it is simply an impersonal energetic movement of this aliveness, a momentary dance that presence is doing. Taking it personally, giving it meaning, viewing it as “The Obstruction Standing Between Me and My Awakening” and then trying really hard to get rid of it, is all only a new meta form of the very problem it is trying to cure—a problem about the problem. 

This efforting to get rid of effort, or trying to stop trying, is a common unintended side effect of otherwise potentially helpful pointers and practices such as recognizing ourselves as boundless awareness or impersonal presence, or “being here now,” or even attending talks by someone like Tony Parsons in which we are told that there is nothing to do and no one to do it. All of these things, when slightly misunderstood, can inadvertently feed into the very problem they are designed to expose or undermine.

The medicine that we need to cure a physical illness often has unintended but unavoidable side effects. For example, radiation treatments successfully and blessedly dissolved a cancerous tumor in this body that would have killed me, but it also caused some secondary collateral damage that continues to unfold (as they knew it would, and as I was told about in advance, and which was a price I was willing to pay). 

In a similar way, spiritual practices and pointers can also have unintended collateral side effects or potential pitfalls. They can inadvertently reinforce the sense that “this isn’t it,” that “something needs to happen,” that there is someone here who needs to do something to finally be okay or complete or happy or enlightened. They can reinforce a dualistic sense of success and failure, okay and not-okay, a striving for future results, an endless evaluating of how we are doing, comparing ourselves to others, and believing that the speaker at the front of the room or the author of the book has something the rest of us don’t.

As with the radiation that cured my cancer, this doesn’t mean these pointers and practices are terrible and should not be used. It seems to be part of the journey from Here to Here that we inevitably stumble into various misunderstandings and their associated pitfalls (or unintended side effects), and then eventually (with luck), we wake up from them—or we don’t, and that, too, is simply how this dance is dancing. 

Often different teachings serve as antidotes to the unintended pitfalls of other teachings. Thus, in my own journey, Toni Packer helped to dissolve some of the pitfalls inadvertently induced by Zen; radical nonduality helped to dissolve some of the pitfalls inadvertently induced by Toni’s approach; various Buddhist teachers and more encounters with Toni helped to dissolve some of the pitfalls induced by radical nonduality; and so on and on. 

In one moment we need mindfulness meditation, in another moment we need Rupert Spira or Gangaji or Adyashanti, in another moment we need Karl Renz or Jim Newman or Peter Brown, and in another moment we need Robert Saltzman or Shiv Sengupta. It’s not about one being right and the other being wrong. It’s about pulling the most recent rug we’re standing on out from under us again and again and waking us up to THIS, right here, right now. The mind is infinitely skilled at turning rug-pulling and rug-less-ness into an imaginary new apparently solid rug upon which we can stand. Thus, waking up is not once-and-for-all, but always NOW. 

So, you may find it interesting to give open nonjudgmental attention to the persistent sense of restlessness or dissatisfaction—feeling it in the body, that subtle or not so subtle tension, agitation or unease, and also seeing the thoughts and storylines that generate and sustain this unease. Not trying to fix or undo it or get rid of it, because that’s just more of the same efforting, but simply being aware of the whole thing—not thinking of it as a problem, but SEEING it as the neutral and only-possible expression of reality at this moment. This can be an interesting exploration, and if it invites you, I suggest approaching it lightly, with curiosity and interest, not in a goal or result oriented way. Allow it to do you, rather than you trying to do it—which is actually always how it is. 

And remember, we are never really in the dilemma we imagine ourselves being in. The whole story of being lost, bound, incomplete, etc. is all imagination. There is no separate, independent, persisting person to be any particular way for more than a nanosecond. There is ONLY flow and nothing IN the flow. And paradoxically, the ever-changing flow never departs from the immovable instantaneous timeless immediacy of HERE-NOW."

- Joan Tollifson

Edited by VeganAwake

“Everything is honoured, but nothing matters.” — Eckhart Tolle.

"I have lived on the lip of insanity, wanting to know reasons, knocking on a door. It opens. I've been knocking from the inside." -- Rumi

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