Archive for May, 2011

Retreat – mental detox

I was reading this blog post: http://beeyoga.wordpress.com/2011/05/27/to-cleanse/ and was inspired to think about what a detox or cleanse might look like for me.

Although I am not overly paranoid about toxins in my body, a physical cleanse would be very beneficial.  Lately I have been very aware of how physical issues have a profound effect on my state of mind.  As my post-pregnancy hormones have shifted and I have been re-regulating my thyroid supplements, I have noticed big differences in my patience, quickness to anger, and overall energy level.  Since I am still nursing, an intensive body-detox regimen is out of the question (if I even had a prayer of having enough self control to carry one off, which I don’t).  However, a body/spirit cleanse could take many forms.  It is a retreat.  It is a spiritual practice.  And since spiritual practices are medicine, they can be prescribed individually.

I am addicted to electronic stimulation: internet, tv, movies, and my cell phone.  I am sure it affects how I think and feel and I do feel a bit of withdrawal when I have been off the internet for too long.  After the initial withdrawal, I feel more relaxed and less keyed up.  I also have a soda problem (although this has gotten better in recent weeks).  So my ideal cleanse/retreat diet would mostly target my mind and spirit.

Practices would include:

– avoiding the computer, email, and cell phone (although writing this blog seems okay)

– turning off the television

– spending time outdoors everyday – being in nature is very grounding for me

– drinking lots of water

– eliminating junk food/sugar/high fructose corn syrup

– no soy (phytoestrogens are not so good) or pork (this one my husband suggested).  Eat more natural foods

– practicing Mindfulness, Silence (speaking only what is necessary and kind)

– head covering

– daily meditation/prayer/quiet

– getting more sleep (i.e. going to bed before 11)

Starting small would be best – maybe just a day or two.  I know it takes more than a few days to change deep habits, but as BeeYoga suggests in her post, you have to train yourself to run a marathon.  I’m not sure when I’ll start – maybe next week so I’ll have a chance to shop the Farmers Market on Sunday first.  I’ll let you know how things go.


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Watching my daughter slowly transform from a baby into a toddler has given me an opportunity to reflect on Buddhist teachings of non-Self or Anatta.  There is part of her that seems the same – some continuity – but she is also changing all the time.  Who, or what, then, is my daughter?  And who, or what, am I?

Our roles change throughout our lives and with them, our identities are continually changing.  There is nothing that can be held onto as solid and unchanging.  We perceive solidness and consistency because our minds seize onto things and create an illusion of firmness and consistency.

When I left my Buddhist tradition, I thought I was rejecting the doctrine of Anatta.  I thought I believed in a Soul and thus could not be Buddhist.  I am coming to understand that the Buddhist teaching of non-Self is subtle enough to encompass my thoughts about Soul, Spirit, and what carries on into future lives.  Buddhism teaches that there is no solid, fixed entity that takes rebirth, but merely a continuity of experience, propelled by states of mind.  How the “Self” moves from life to life is no different from how it moves from one moment to the next.  Although we perceive a continuity of experience, this perception is an illusion created by the mind.  In reality, every moment we are born anew, although in dependence upon our previous experiences and states of mind.  How tightly we hold on to our past determines how strongly we are influenced by it.

In Unity services, our minister would sometimes talk about the idea of letting one’s story fall away.  There was a mental image of a jar filled with sand which we carry around with us as a weight and a burden.  We can make a hole in the jar and allow the sand to flow out.  We do this by abstaining from continually reinforcing the stories we tell about our Self.  We reinforce the stories by the messages we give ourselves and by the stories we tell other people.  We reinforce our stories by the labels we give to our daily experiences.  When ones story is allowed to fall away, we are free to perceive the Truth of our experiences and we are free to connect with God.

The story teaching is another way of teaching about non-Self.  Although we may reinforce our identity as mother, wife, teacher, daughter, young person, old person, healthy or ill, beautiful or ugly, all of these labels are a creation of the mind.  They reinforce our sense of continuity of Self, which is also an illusion.  The illusion is stripped away through practices of Silence (future blog post planned on the Quaker virtue of Silence) and abstaining from retelling one’s Self-story, mindfulness of the present (without labeling experiences), and awe for the wonder that is the unfolding of ourselves and the people around us.

A caveat is necessary.  Dwelling in a state of non-conceptual thought or “being in the eternal present” is not the same as Enlightenment.  Many self-styled Gurus in the spiritual marketplace may try to convince you otherwise, but do not be deceived.  There is a fine line between a non-conceptual mind and a mental breakdown.  Acquiring a depersonalization disorder is likewise not the same thing as realizing non-Self or Emptiness.  Altered states of mind are just states of mind and are neither good nor bad.  Altered states of mind are subject to the same impermanence as conventional states of mind.  Tibetan Buddhism teaches that Enlightenment is a permanent state of mind that holds both conceptual and non-conceptual minds simultaneously, perceiving both Ultimate reality and Conventional reality at the same time.  That is much more than a trance state.

I am no longer looking for Enlightenment and am content to follow a gradual spiritual path (or a pathless meandering).  I am deeply suspicious of any quick paths (see future blog posts on Buddhist Tantra) or quick fixes in general.  So none of these ramblings are intended to suggest that devoting oneself entirely to acquiring esoteric wisdom or realizations is the best use of one’s time on Earth.  What I do believe is that remembering these wisdom teachings and being mindful of them, can provide enough of a crack in one’s fixed view of the world to create the breathing room to grow.  Psychology and learning theory teaches us that the most efficient pathway to real learning is through action, by trying different behaviors.  The crack in the facade of how I view my Self and Others provides the breathing room to allow for different actions, and thus learning/growth.

I learn when I pause to observe my daughter being herself (and not my ideas of who or what she is).  I learn when I pause to observe my thoughts and feelings in the moment.  Maybe I am not who or what I thought I was.  Maybe the Buddhists are right here.  I cannot cling to any of these concepts of who or what I am and who or what anyone else is.  They change.

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This morning I attended my local Unity church (www.unity.org).  The minister’s lesson today spoke to me about how we deal with spiritual confusion.

Just to be clear, I often suffer from spiritual confusion.  My spiritual confusion is tied to the way I habitually conduct my search for Truth.  I have gone about this search by reading everything I come across and attempting to figure out where God/Spirit is in that religion or path.  I believe that all religions are true in a sense.  I believe there are countless paths to God.  So when I read new ideas I do not think “this is wrong,” I think “how can this be true.”  I try to figure it out like a puzzle or an intellectual exercise.  Because I usually operate from the assumptions that I am capable of figuring things out intellectually and that I must solve my problems by myself, spiritual confusion arises.  This confusion involves an overwhelming feeling of being cast adrift and unsure of what to believe and how to practice.  The confusion can be paralyzing.

Paralysis is what I must avoid.  Paralysis does me no good.

So, how does one deal with spiritual confusion and a paralysis of spiritual practice?

The Buddhist group I was formerly involved with had strong opinions about this question.  They said that spiritual confusion is the inevitable result of listening to contradictory teachings.  They said that the solution is to limit one’s view: to abstain from listening to others who are on different paths; to abstain from reading Dharma books from other traditions; to commit oneself wholeheartedly to a single teacher.

In a sense they have a point.  One way to avoid spiritual confusion is to chose sectarianism.  That is, to focus oneself entirely on what one is confident is a good, or even the best, path.  This can be good for developing a deep practice without “distractions” from the outside world.  However, there are also some major downsides to this approach.  While other paths may still be respected at least in theory, in practice isolation breeds extremism.  Listening to only one set of ideas tends to produce a mind that sees one’s personal path as the best or only way to salvation.  This sectarian view can foster minds of hate and spiritual egotism.  One’s personal growth may be stunted by shutting out ideas or practices that help one to better understand and practice spiritual truth.

I personally always ignored this teaching.  I found in my experience that reading other Dharma texts from other traditions helped me to understand matters more clearly.  For me it was like looking at a diamond from different perspectives.  Rather than only seeing a couple of facets, I could explore the gem from multiple angles and have a fuller experience of how I related to that Truth.

The lesson today at church addressed an alternative way to deal with spiritual confusion.  The minister suggested that the problem is not the various contradictory ideas, but the way our mind seizes on them and creates conflict between them.  He referenced Hegel’s dialectical model in which Thesis and Antithesis are necessary for Truth to emerge and that Truth is the Synthesis of the two opposing views.  Synthesis, however, does not emerge from intellectual gymnastics.  Synthesis emerges from the Grace of Spirit.  If we can just observe the ideas or the conflict without identifying with them and without being consumed by them, then we create space for Spirit to come in, to offer guidance and inspiration.  This is another way of saying that we must practice non-attachment, even to Truth/Dharma/Beliefs.  When we do not resist, when we do not wrestle, when we simply let things be and accept them as they are, we create space to see things as they really are and to know Truth.  This is a very Buddhist view.

The minister also suggested that since God meets us where we are, we may receive the antithesis (or conflict) we need to move us further along our path.  Sometimes the blessings of Spirit come in strange packaging.  Less conflict, is therefore the natural result of having less attachment to a point of view.

He said, “do not hold onto any belief system.  Always stay open.  Don’t get locked in, but be open to being expanded in consciousness.”

So perhaps the solution to spiritual confusion is to stop struggling.  Stop struggling and invite God (and the Spirit within) to show you the way.  This opens the way to divine inspiration and guidance.  This is the dawning of wisdom.

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