18 June, 2012

Delusion and The Fictitious Mind

I touched on this concept peripherally in "You're crazy and so am I," and it's something I would like to expand on in more detail.

In a Thomasine context, we don't really do much talking about Archons or The Demiurge; it's not because those concepts are flawed or phenomenologically untrue, but rather because the Thomasine corpus doesn't talk about those concepts by those names.

What most Gnostics call The Demiurge we call The Fictitious Mind. Buddhists might call this "Self."  Many theists might call this Soul or Spirit.  The Fictitious Mind is that thing you think is you. It's that thing you identify as an unchanging and unshakable.

The Fictitious Mind is an amalgamation of our most deeply held beliefs about our experiences. It is an object that we have created based on our inability to understand reality. It has many defense mechanisms. They're not unlike Agents in the Matrix; once we begin to question the Fictitious Mind, the Fictitious Mind rebels and begins the process of reinforcing its hold on our experiences.

We describe Delusion as one of the defense mechanisms of the Fictitious Mind. Delusion is that subtle, insidious capacity within all of us to convince ourselves that what we think, feel, and believe about our experience is really true. It manifests in many forms. Its goal is to keep the Fictitious Mind in control. It's what allows us to think that the stories our Fictitious Minds tell us are real and credible.

If I make a mistake at work and immediately move to blaming another employee or my boss, perhaps that's a Delusion, because I want to believe that I committed no wrong or that I was not at fault.

If I say "I dislike Christianity/Islam/Hinduism because all of those people are violent or immoral or they believe the wrong things about God" that too becomes a delusion. It's a delusion which allows me to think that those Others are not capable of compassion or of charity or of clear thinking.

Experiencing Delusion isn't an issue. We all do that. It's what we do with Delusion that matters. If I look at a situation at work and see what really happened, perhaps I can see that I wasn't blameless in whatever happened. Maybe I needed to pay more attention or I need more training or I simply haven't had enough experience to know how to make better decisions in that kind of situation.

If I am aware, I can liberate myself from the need to experience my present situation through Delusion.

11 June, 2012

Treebeard is my homeboy

On the back of my last post about the fact that there are pitfalls in contemplative or meditative practice, my continuing inability to transcend humanity as a meditator, and the wisdom of combining retreat with sex and/or romance, I'd like to talk about something related: pace.

One of the reasons I haven't written a book which contains all of the really cool super-secret Thomasine practices I only discuss with Initiates is pretty simple. It's not because the un-initiated are spiritually impure or because the stuff I say or recommend that people do is particularly special and in need of protection, it has to do with preparedness. 

I discuss stuff with Initiates because I know them and they know me. We talk about their practice and what's happening as a result of that on a fairly regular and constant basis. 

I could dump all of the doctrine (e.g. the stuff I teach) into a book, and you would know all about the Fictitious Mind, Delusion, The Illuminated Mind, Ignorance, Arrogance, Comfort, Attachment, Passions, Motivating Emotions, Nepsis, Hesychia, Illumination (or at least what I know about it), and a whole host of other topics.

However, it would probably not do a whole lot of good. Thomasine practice is something that grows over a period of time. It's a slow, gradual thing. My own teacher called it putting the mirror in front of your face. It's done slowly. 

First we talk about why people choose to engage in this kind of practice (e.g. Suffering), then we talk about Ignorance and Arrogance, and then we talk about Perception and Observation. There are exercises that go along with these. After that, I usually introduce some practices to cultivate Nepsis (or Awareness). Then meditation is introduced via Luminescent Water, with an admonition to start slowly and not to spend large amounts of time in meditation initially. Then maybe we'll talk about a meditation designed to expose "negative" emotions, and perhaps after that we'll talk about one called The Mirror and work on the concept of self. 

What you're introduced to and when all depends on you and on your teacher. 

Why does it work this way? Well, I like to avoid people saying things like "I feel like I've lost my self-identity" or "I feel like I've been encouraged to destroy my personality" or "I feel like what you've taught has caused me to suffer."

I sometimes browse Rick Ross's forum, and these are all things I've read from people who've followed folks like Eckhart Tolle and Ken Wilber. My own teacher used to tell me about students who he felt he moved too quickly with, which ended up with students having adverse reactions. I've done that in the past, too. It's one of the reasons I stopped teaching for a while; I needed to have a better understanding of what I was doing.

So, I try to move slowly with people whether they come to me with no experience in contemplative traditions or whether they come to me steeped in Zen or Advaita or something else. I also don't indiscriminately publish large volumes of material or "teach" via big seminars or online distance learning scenarios. 

I get to know you, you get to know me. Gnosis is a flowering conversation. It blooms when it blooms. There's no prize for first place, because this isn't a race. If you bite off too much too soon you could puke cookie all over yourself or you could choke on it.  

10 June, 2012

On the Laboratory of the Mind

I sometimes use the phrase "the laboratory of the Mind" to describe meditation. It seems to be a good way to describe what happens during the experience of meditation; we go within and examine our experience, and sometimes we tinker with the experimental protocol to achieve particular results.

Sometimes those experiments can go awry.

Meditation can sometimes lead to the surfacing of unpleasant thoughts or memories. Sometimes these thoughts or memories are tied to deep Attachments; they can happen to the beginning meditator and to the experienced meditator alike. I recently had an experience where I was overwhelmed with anger due to emotional Attachment surrounding members of my family. It was deep enough that I hadn't realized it was there until it surfaced during meditation earlier in the week, and it sucked me right in to the inferno that is anger.

I write about this experience for a few reasons. One, I feel it is important for the people who read this blog to understand that although meditation is a very liberating thing it is not without potential pitfalls. Secondly, it's important to understand that even people who teach this stuff can still Suffer just like anyone else. Hopefully there is more awareness of the roots of the suffering even while enthralled by it, but it still happens.

Lastly, a reader asked me a question about a group of Tibetan Buddhists in Arizona who made the news recently owing to some of their more interesting practices. The head teacher of this group used the phrase "The Laboratory of the Mind" and the reader in question has heard me use the phrase to describe meditation.

I want to be clear that I am not affiliated with this group. I don't really know anything about them. I don't encourage "teachers" to have any kind of romantic or sexual relationship with "students," in large part because sexual attraction and romantic love are very deep sources of Attachment. The practice of meditation, as I have mentioned, is not without potential for emotional turmoil, and to complicate the relationship between "teacher" and "student" with romantic love or sexual congress is unwise.

Meditation retreats are very intense due to the propensity of participants to spend much of the time in retreat in one form of meditation or another. The "teacher" or retreat leader is often tasked with counseling participants regarding things that surface during meditation, but when one's "teacher" is also one's lover or sexual partner, it becomes more difficult to do so from an impartial perspective.

Personally, I do not engage in the practice of retreats longer than 24 hours or so. The last time I arrange such a gathering it was over a weekend with an two four hour blocks for meditation each day with breaks inbetween to talk, eat, read, or do other things, and even those sixteen hours of combined meditation were intense enough that some participants felt there was too much time for meditation.

A three year retreat is, in my opinion, far too long. I understand from reading Brad Warner's new iteration of Hardcore Zen that three year retreats are a part of Tibetan Practice, but I still have reservations about retreats of such extraordinary length--espeically combined with sexual or romantic relationships.

05 June, 2012

What's the deal with the Thomasine Church?

Q: What happened to the Thomasine Church?

A: That's kind of a complicated question, actually. I don't know if I would say that there's a real organization called "The Thomasine Church" right now; it never really existed as a legal entity on paper, anyway. We were a group of people who gathered together to study a particular philosophy and practice a "spiritual path" inspired by The Gospel of Thomas and other Thomas-influenced texts.

Like all things involving people, things changed. People's interests waxed and waned, I went back to college, people got busy. There was apparently some sort of internal schism that I was only peripherally aware of, and some people left the organization.

In the years since that has happened, those of us who were initiated into the Thomasine Church continued to learn, to practice, and to grow.

I still talk with other Thomasine bishops, priests, deacons, and initiates. I still initiate and ordain as appropriate, and what I teach is more or less influenced by what my teacher taught me, albeit informed by my own experience and understanding.

So, the idea of the Thomasine Church has become a little more diffuse and less centralized. For me, it's about working closely with others who also have a desire to engage in this kind of meditative practice as a path to Gnosis.

I think it works better this way, to be honest. The idea of "church" brings with it the idea of buildings and pews (or people standing in a nave with clergy in the sanctuary) and structures that don't really have a whole lot of place in the bulk of what comprises Thomasine practice. Parish-planting and growing in the traditional sense of how many people come to Leitorgia or Mass or Sunday Service was never really what the Thomasine Church was about; this practice is, by and large, about being helped and helping along the road to Awakening and Liberation.

These days I mostly think of it as "the way I live." I sometimes call it "The Way" or "The Way of the Traveler" if I feel a need to call it anything at all.

02 June, 2012

Mailbag Q&A: What is Gnosis and more...

Q: Is Gnosis the same thing as Enlightenment?

A: I don't know that Enlightenment is even the same thing as Enlightenment. There's a lot of baggage surrounding the term Enlightenment, especially in terms of what happens to people who experience this state. I look at Gnosis as  process; I often liken it to the blossoming of a flower. If you aren't paying attention perhaps it seems that the flower has blossomed all at once, but if you really watch you'll see that it's a gradual process.

Q: Given your thoughts on Apostolic Succession how do you feel about initiation?

A: Initiatory experiences can be exceptionally useful. The Thomasine tradition is an initatory one. It's meant to be passed on from person to person. Initiatory events mark profound changes in one's life. We humans have a lot of initiatory events, even if we don't think of them that way; getting a driving license, registering to vote, graduating high school, entering university, and reaching drinking age are all examples of relatively common events which mark the end of one status and the beginning of another.

In the Thomasine tradition, Apolytrosis (the first initiation) marks your choice to become a part of our tradition, to walk down this particular road. It's a way of saying "Okay, I have chosen to do this thing, and I am going to recognize that in a formal fashion."

Sphragis (the second initiation) is a way of saying "Okay, I've done this thing for a while and, gee, it's kind of hard sometimes, but I still want to do it." Plus, you get to have some chrism smeared on your head, which is awesome, because it smells good.

On a more pragmatic level, undergoing the initiatory rites leads to an establishment of trust between "teacher" and "student" or initiate and initiator. It's also a reaffirmation of the relationship that has developed that led up to the decision to receive initiation from a particular initiator.

Some people ask me why I still use initiation instead of just putting everything in a book. One of the big reasons is that it's really quite difficult to "teach" this stuff in book or blog form; this whole thing unfolds in the form of an exchange between two people; me knowing you and you knowing me. I don't always "teach" everyone in the same order or the same way. Everyone is different, and a book is a bit too sequential for that, plus I can't know my reader like I can know someone I talk with over a period of years.

I've already talked at length about Apostolic Succession and how I feel about it. As an idea it's an anchor back to the person of the historical Jesus, particularly to the stuff he may have said to this guy called Thomas. There's no ju-ju or anything associated with it.

Q: If Apostolic Succession doesn't give you authority or spiritual power, where do you get those things from?

A: I only have the authority you give me; whether or not I have that authority and what I can do with that authority varies at any particular moment. My consecration as a bishop gives me authority to do certain things in a Thomasine context, but that's it.

I don't really use the adjective "spiritual" to describe what I do or how I live. Spiritual, to me, implies that we put this stuff into a box and cordon it off except for when we're doing "spiritual things" or we're with other "spiritual people." This stuff is too transformative for that.

Q: Do you get upset if people don't call you Bishop?

A: No. If I am introduced as "Bishop So-and-So" it's probably polite to call me that until I tell you it's okay to call me something else. Some people are really uncomfortable with titles; they have attachments of their own regarding what they mean, and if you're one of those people, I promise I won't mind if you can't bring yourself to call me "Bishop" if that's how we're introduced. If it helps, I am rarely introduced as "Bishop" outside of settings where one might expect to find bishops.