In the psychology of personality if we use a model such as the Enneagram, we are helped to face our emotional avoidances. This is a huge step towards cultivating psychological wellbeing. If you are coping with an unexpected dire illness or accident, extended family issues that involve your spouse or other family members, abusive behavior by a boss, or any other intense experience, how do you react? We each have a strategy of avoidance.
Previously I highlighted three avoidances, failure, pain, and vulnerability. Let’s examine three other common avoidances. One is to experience intense stress as internalized anger, not anger that devolves on others but anger at oneself for not being perfect and so allowing the situation one is facing to have manifested in the first place. Those who avoid this kind of anger see themselves as moral standard-bearers and they see the potential for perfection in the world. Yet they can never make the world as perfect as they perceive it could be. The panacea for internalized anger is to try to bring an ever-expanding awareness that the way things are is perfect in itself. To see the “imperfections” caused by stress as perfection inherent in the way things are.
Another avoidance is feeling ordinary, living in a mundane. The cause of stress is processed as a feeling that you are special. Stressful situations are to be avoided and they pull you into a messy emotional morass where you do not belong. You are ill because you thought of yourself as too special to take healthy precautions, those routines are for others. Your extended family is in turmoil because no-one realizes your uniqueness and they blame you for relationships not running smoothly. Your boss is rude and harassing because (s)he does not appreciate your creativity, and anyway (s)he should never have asked you to do those mundane tasks in the first place. The panacea for those avoiding ordinariness is to cultivate compassion and empathy and see the basic goodness of all life in every moment lived—whatever that may be.
A third avoidance is not to form connections on an emotional level. You overvalue privacy and independence and draw back from personal conflicts. Engaging in stressful situations drains you and you guard your time and energy. You try not to let stressful situations arise by continually signaling your unwillingness to engage. You can easily withdraw into the safety of your mind, pull up the drawbridge of communication and interaction and literally not be present, even if you are in the same room. The panacea for those who avoid interacting on an emotional level, however low key, is be present in a calm, balanced and non-judgmental way that can be helpful to everyone in charged situations. If others feel your presence and attention they will accept and appreciate your rational perspective.
A methodology I teach for us to be able to enter our avoidances and include them in our emotional development is to write a letter to Dear Anger, or Dear Ordinariness, or Dear Emotional Connectedness. Ask what you are avoiding and why. Write a reply to yourself from these mind states. Continue the correspondence until you begin to engage with the avoidance. This is hard inner work but one way to ensure our psychological wellbeing.
In my next blog I’ll look at the final three common personality avoidances.
You can read more on the avoidance and other aspects of the psychology of personality in my books Know Your Parenting Personality and The Enneagram Intelligences. More information at http://www.janetlevine.com
, mind structure
Winter Solstice 2012
Breathe, relax, center and smile. Let things come and go, and just let be. It’s not about trying not to think but about letting things come and go. Learning to relax, just be,center, and naturally meditate is a well known spiritual secret that people ought to be able to learn and integrate into life. Like mental flossing, it keeps one open and free, calm and clear.
–Lama Surya Das, Dzogchen Center, Austin, Texas
Season’s Greetings, I decided this year instead of a rundown of where I have been and whom I was with, and what I saw and what I didn’t see. As well as what happened to me and what didn’t happen, I’ll share two useful “message” out of the hundreds that come my way each year. The first is from one of my Buddhist meditation teachers, Lama Surya Das. How often this year I have heard these words in my head “breathe, relax, center and smile.” It is such a powerful mantra, and so useful as a centering or attention practice.
The other (below) came my way from another teacher, Lawrence Hillman, who quotes the Apple visionary, Steve Jobs (who literally changed our world). I love Jobs’ imagery of connecting the dots of our lifelines.
My heartfelt wishes to you and yours for a healthy and fulfilling 2013. May we all “connect the dots” awaiting us and learn a little more about where we are going.
Steve Jobs once said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
At this threshold moment in history, I wish to remind you that nobody can predict what will come in the future and that if you trust that part of you that knows this, you will connect the dots in due time.
, Janet Levine
, mind structure
Several times a year, with permission, I use this blog space to share student responses to what they are learning in my classroom. This is the response of a high school senior to an introduction to meditation practice.
1. The Universal Breath
The diamond mind of sharp, concentrated focus and the profound physical state of relaxation create a terrifyingly brilliant experience. Meditation, deeply and intricately connected to Eastern philosophical cultures, allows an individual to follow one’s own breath to find an inner state of harmony and to develop an awareness of one’s basic goodness. Compassion for one’s self and others is crucial in a harmonious society. Through meditation, guided by the breath, one can leave the chaos and distractions of the external world for inner tranquility. Few things are universal. However, the gentle inhale and exhale of breath, bringing oxygen to the bloodstream and thus enabling life is a common, shared experience throughout the human species. In accordance with Eastern teachings, inner goodness—or the innate and natural tendency toward good—exists within every person, just like the breath. With attention to the breath, one can journey to find ones inner goodness and gain the experiential knowledge that comes from meditating.
2. Confusion or Liberation
Many teachings of philosophy incorporate a metaphor indicative of the closed minded nature of the majority of human beings, whether it is the metaphor of the cave in Plato’s The Republic—where all the people watching the shadows on the walls of the cave are in utter disbelief of the world outside and shun the man who has seen beyond—or, as depicted in Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, the people who cannot look within themselves to find their own inner goodness and instead live in fear of themselves and the world around them. Our consciousness manifests within the universe in two distinctive states: confusion or liberation. Liberation is the state of enlightenment and meditation is the means by which one can access such a state of internal clarity, peace, and harmony. As outlined in Shambhala, basic goodness is the innate good of “being alive” regardless of more material things such as “accomplishments or fulfilling our desires.” To acknowledge basic goodness is to recognize our “actual connection to reality that can wake us up and make us feel basically, fundamentally good.” Through meditation, one can become awake, acknowledge the superficiality of society while maintaining an unshakable understanding of true, basic goodness. Meditation has given me a refuge as I have seen a glimpse of the universe within myself.
3. The Essence of Now-ness
A spiritual warrior is “one who is brave” and such bravery must manifest in “the tradition of fearlessness”; “ultimately…the definition of bravery [is] not being afraid of yourself.” I often feel disconnected and almost alienated from the world around me when my mind and body are pulled in different directions and even divisions of my mind—my heart, my soul, my conscious attention, my focus, etc—are at odds with one another. In a chaotic world, it is easy to fall victim to compelling and yet opposing forces. If one allows this to happen, the luxury of introspection is lost, as is the awareness of basic goodness. As “synchronizing mind and body is looking and seeing directly beyond language”, I find meditation weds my deepest, most profound inner conflict: how to understand science and religion in relation to one another. The answer, lies within the gentle, peaceful harmony that is buried within each of our chests and can be traced to the gentle rise and fall of the chest with each deep inhale and each beautiful exhale.
Poet Li-Young Lee speaks about the power of the breath and how, when one pays attention to it and trains oneself to go beyond the shallow, superficial few seconds we have usually allot each breath, one can change their perspective. With deep breath comes deep thought. Reality transforms as we ground ourselves to be present in each moment as our lungs fill to their full capacity. Meditation is a perpetual state of introspective focus, the union of body and mind, and comes to find peace within reality. To be afraid of nothing is to be “experiencing that very moment of your state of mind, which is the essence of ‘now-ness’.”
4. Meditation—Access to Clarity and Alleviation of Fear
Throughout our guided meditations, I have become deeply invested in the experiential aspects of learning. My personal experiences have been profound. In the first meditation, I focused intently on the breath. I felt my lungs open as my posture improved, my shoulders rolled back and my head aligned with my spine. As breath pushed my diaphragm out, and my focused dropped from the tension of worldly thoughts, I felt the bright warmth of light radiate within my chest cavity. To articulate my experience in the most juvenile of manners, I felt a tingle, an excitement that radiated from my concentration and my breath that I experienced as a child when waiting for Santa Claus to come, with his mystical reindeer and brightly wrapped presents, on Christmas Eve. In coming out of the first mediation, I found it curious to equate the two experiences, but as I internalized the innate sensation, I realized that I found hope, pure joy, or, ultimately, unadulterated goodness through meditation. As a child, this sensation is easily accessible, as we are not so grounded in the superficial realities we engage in later. However, as we grow up, we fall into our roles in society, becoming fearful of the back corners of our minds. Meditation is our access to clarity and alleviation of fear.
My second experience meditating came to me when I heard our teacher say, “Good, the energy in the room is much better now” as everyone’s focus had dropped from their heads to their bodies. In a focused trance I had forgotten those around me. As I heard the vibrations of her voice, reminding me of their presence, I shifted my focus to the energies in the room. Immediately, from the blank, dark of my mind, a spiraling gold light materialized, twisting towards me. Shocked, I abandoned the image and dropped down to the breath once again.
Back in class, we spoke about transformational figures and monks who had devoted their entire lives to meditation.; we spoke of how those individuals have an incredible presence and that their goodness emanates from them at all times. On some level, I believe that everyone has an energy that radiates from within. Without the clutter of language and the trivialities of words exchanged, we can sense others’ presences as I intensely experienced in my meditation. Through meditation, we can find the true, good energy within ourselves and channel it. The Dalai Lama responded in the movie “Kundun” when asked if he was the Lord Buddha, “I believe I am a reflection, like the moon on water. When you see me, and I try to be a good man, you see yourself.” In this manner, each person has unknown, universal goodness within themselves that can be reflected in the eyes of others.
5. Harmony Between Mind and Body
In abandoning fear, in diving within myself, in finding harmony between body and mind, I have unearthed a compassion for those around me, as well as for myself. Fear inhibits our potential beyond belief and above my desk, I have the quote “Be fearless: What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” as a constant reminder that so often, the bars of our cages—cages that define our social and cultural experiences in life—are fashioned from our own thoughts of fear and apprehension. To release oneself from such negativity is to sit gently on the earth and allow the soul to reunite with the sky, to find harmony between body and mind is to access basic goodness. To meditate is to find “drala”: “the unconditioned wisdom and power of the world that [go] beyond any dualism.” Meditation allows me to understand my ego and the societal cultivation of empty materialism so as to align myself with the metaphysical or the universal spirit of goodness. Through meditation, I see myself, and those around me in relation to the earth and the sky.
, high school
, human rights
, mind structure
It has been an interesting couple of weeks. I have been on holiday with my son, my niece (his cousin), her husband and their two baby girls, aged 4 years and 17 months. We have been visited by my ex (my son’s father) and by my son’s friend. That makes three generations under one roof and provides a petri dish for examining family dynamics. At times I have found that I was listening attentively to a four-year old as she recited the story of “Cinderella” and then I created and play-acted with her our own post-modern ending after the ending, while also playing a game with the baby of repetitive calling of our names to one another, listening to my niece’s logistical plans for the day, and my son’s account of the baseball game the previous night. I observed how space opened in me to be attentive and accommodate the various interactions. This is situational dynamics that I am sure many of you recognize. I enjoyed the shift of energy and the non-stop activity from six am until somewhere around eleven pm.
, human rights
, mind structure