Thursday, November 19, 2015

Cocoon, Creativity and Life

I co-taught a Shambhala Training Level II recently at the Madison Shambhala Center. This is the first time I have taught this material, and I was nervous as hell. The main teachings in Level II relate to "cocoon" - Trungpa Rinpoche's image for the solid sense of self we build with our habits and avoidance of life.

As you can see in this post, I've been working personally with doubt and choice, agency and hiding out a lot lately.

So I know it is important. Really, really important. But it is so, so hard. Why?

How we hide out, keep ourselves busy or numb is crucial both to life and also to creating. It's also very subtle. We speak most often in creative process of a "block" - how many students come to me because they have "creative block" or "writer's block" or "there's just a wall there" - it's a part of the pathos of our society to solidify what stops us creatively.

We don't say that as much in life, but it exists in life as well - blocks to what we want, obstacles that can't quite be named, but are surrounded by activities like: procrastination, non-prioritizing, avoidance.

Most people think this is outside, external, or if they recognize it as "getting in my own way" they think they have to "get more disciplined, firmer, harder on myself." But Trungpa Rinpoche suggests the opposite.

He actually says we have to find the fear within our cocoon - which is us creating that creative or life block, not just this once but momentarily, constantly - and cradle that with our loving kindness.

Say what?!

Loving kindness. One of my most common misunderstandings - still, to this day - and also that of quite a few people I encounter - is that by "gentleness" he means something akin to "indulgence". But that's not it. There's a spectrum of gentleness, and to borrow a term from Pema Chodron, I suspect that "indulgence" is a "near enemy" of gentleness - something we mistake for it. At Dathun many years ago, Arawana Hayashi sent me to look up both in the dictionary - not the same word.

What if our preference for watching a serial TV show on Netflix instead of working on our novel were like a child who strayed off their homework and off to do something else? What if our addictive habit - say a really damaging one, like drinking - were like a child who wandered off the playground into traffic? Instead of screaming at ourselves or silently seething or looking the other way, when we really love ourselves - our inner children - we go after them with kindness, express our concern, and figure out how to make the situation more workable.

I am NOT suggesting this is a quick fix. Every time I choose to watch a TV show over reading dharma or answering emails from my clients, I have to battle a huge round of self-anger. But what is under that is fear - fear that even if I do those things, I'll never be enough. I'll still be fundamentally bad.

When teaching Level Two, I had to keep choosing - to go to co-teach the weekend, to give meditation instruction, to give a talk on cocoon - I had to keep choosing to do it.

Giving myself agency so I wouldn't use it against myself.

Let's practice together. Especially as situations like Paris hit the news and flood us with anger and intensity, enrobing all of it in kindness - starting with your own emotions, if doing it for the terrorists is too hard or the victims too overwhelming - is key. 

Don't just take my word for it.
Give it a try yourself.
Gently, slowly, develop a trust in vulnerability.

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