The arising of insight is a lot like lancing a boil: a lot of nasty stuff no one wants to see comes out, and though I’m better off for it, it takes a while to heal. While it does, there’s a mess to clean up.
This is the Dark Night as endlessly discussed by the Pragmatic Dharma lot. The resistance to the death of another part of the sense of self can be weird, embarrassing, shit scary, and often downright vicious. The mind spins a million stories about how some aspect of life is causing this pain, which tells you a lot about how we rationalise rather than see some objective reality. When under attack, the mind seeks a place to strike back at, and as a human I love finding someone to blame.
It’s like a kid having a tantrum, and like a kid, I often lack the insight at the time to realise how I’m making life difficult for myself. I don’t understand that the sharp needle is that of a vaccination, and wiggling around is making the injection hurt more. Turning around and hitting the person who is trying to soothe you is the natural and unpleasant response. Blaming friends for unhappiness that was just a result of clearer seeing; leaving my job because the happiness I seeked had to be someplace else that was more spiritual and wholesome; ignoring family members because they couldn’t understand that I was in existential pain, and it wasn’t about anything they could fix. I’ve done all of these. Generally being a bit of a grumpy, entitled shit is my usual one, though.
At the moment the resistance is coming across as a smug sense of spiritual superiority, with a sense of irritation with those who aren’t making some imaginary grade in my mind. I’m trying to do humble service work, and a little bit of fluffyness that has arisen in conjunction with it has instead inflated the ego. People who do discursive, self-reflective, pleasurable and ineffectual practices are up for attack. I’m not getting too fussed about it, as they’re just arising thoughts, and the best solution is to do the opposite: I need only to stop ruminating, turn my attention outwards, face fear, and put my heart and soul into saying yes to the process. But it is a sobering reminder that I am far from a saint.
It’s difficult because, as with all the most convincing lies, there is a seed of truth there. Endless dharma discussion can be a dead end. There is certainly an argument for service work being the ultimate expression/cultivator of awakening. It’s possible for awakening to become a hobby, a brand, an identity enhancer. But that doesn’t mean no one should talk about practice, that endless service work is required, or that you shouldn’t enjoy your connection with others as a Muslim or Pagan or whatever you may be. There’s a balance, and unless you can claim to be perfectly keeping it, then telling others to sort it out is horrendously arrogant.
Perhaps my own demographic is prone to this kind of narcissism, with our endless selfies and journeys of self-discovery (not to mention this bloody blog post). If so the Pragmatic Dharma warnings that say keep it to yourself are a necessary and complementary antidote. When you’re hurting, choose the people who can best help you, rather than howling at the moon. These are writ large in many a tradition, and of course are ignored by those without the eyes to see them, whether perennially or temporarily. That’s to be expected really. Been there, done that. Gives you a lot of patience and compassion for yourself and others when they blast the pain of revelation all over the shop.
I am attempting to be as little of an annoying sod as possible, though, and to do what might well be Rule One: apply the practice to everything. When you’re happy, apply the practice. When you’re sad, apply the practice. When you don’t want to, when you think you can’t, when you think you shouldn’t, when you don’t feel up to it, keep noting, praying, serving. If you do, then you will still mess up, but less. And that’s all that can be asked for, really.
Peace Pilgrim says: when your God-centred self is under attack by your selfish, conventional self, then keep a humble attitude and use any anger energy to do something worthwhile. This was the best advice I never took when I was seriously spiritually seeking with a fervour I can’t reproduce any more – trusting God has seriously mellowed me out for the most part – and the energy of that battering on the locked doors in my mind echoed through it and drove me a little loopy at times.
It is that trust that prevents me having such strong reactions, now. I’m more and more aware of counterproductive human efforts, and I won’t lie and say I don’t think that I have at least a bit of clue about how to practice well these days. So, on one hand, it’s lonely, frustrating, and a game of endurance to see the world not doing what I know would help. But that in itself is part of the game of craving and aversion, as I can’t know the end result of anything in this world, and I’m only banging my own head against a brick wall, being caught coming and going. I can only think that this can only end with the extinction of grasping and the self, and in the meantime I’m trying to be a little more humble, ‘cos I’m not sure God’s got that in his plan for me. S’ok, I trust the old sod.