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Culadasa on the Deconstructing Yourself podcast 3 June ‘19

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Culadasa (aka John Yates) discusses meditation and psychotherapy with Michael Taft. They get into the differences between Samatha and Vipassana, the Dark Night, spiritual bypassing, and a whole lot more. 

iTunes
https://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewPodcast?id=1240056193#episodeGuid=https%3A%2F%2Fdeconstructingyourself.com%2F%3Fpost_type%3Dpodcast%26p%3D8050

Michael’s website
https://deconstructingyourself.com/podcast/culadasa-on-meditation-and-therapy

RE: Culadasa on the Deconstructing Yourself podcast today
Answer
6/2/19 3:25 PM as a reply to Paul.
Great episode! 

He explains how psychotherapy is needed to treat problems that meditation often can't solve. Then he describes his own childhood traumas and experience of going through psychotherapy. Furthermore, he adds that awakening and dharma can even perpetuate hidden neurotic patterns. Many interesting details on relation between (repressed) emotions and awakening.

All in all, very honest and realistic perspective.

RE: Culadasa on the Deconstructing Yourself podcast 3 June ‘19
Answer
6/6/19 9:37 AM as a reply to Paul.
(Originally posted on Reddit)

I see some people questioning Culadasa's level of awakening because of his latest interview, where he described how he went through psychotherapeutic process and discovered suppressed emotions. Coincidentally, I was puzzled by similar questions for a while before the interview was released, and this seems like a good timing to share what I have learned after researching this topic.

When we look at highly advanced and awakened meditators, that dedicated their lives to the Dharma, we always see that they are not perfect, and that they may need psychotherapeutic help to overcome some of their “stuff”. For many of us, it has been very hard to accept this fact at first. However, if you look it from a neutral observers perspective, it is indeed a dubious assumption to say that meditation techniques invented in centuries B.C. (although immensely powerful) are a cure for every possible psychological issue, and that the entire scientific field of psychology has just been wasting time and hasn’t discovered anything new since then.

Awakening is like healing from a mental illness we all have (Buddha’s metaphor), and it’s, by words of those who have reached it, the most valuable “achievement” a human being can accomplish (as a matter of a subjective experience). You remember a famous Shinzen’s quote about how he would rather live 1 day awakened that 20 yeas unawakened (Culadasa agreed with that in a Patreon Q&A). So, Awakening means eliminating delusions that cause type of suffering known as ‘fundamental suffering’, and that’s a complete game-changer, BUT that does not automatically eliminate all “sankharas” (conditionings, mental dispositions) you had previously. Many of your old habits and traits may or may not change. That’s highly unpredictable.

That’s why you often hear people warning that meditation cannot replace psychotherapy, because awakening is about relationship we have with content of our consciousness, not about the content itself (such as removing emotions or habits). (Thus B. Hamilton’s quote on awakening: "Highly recommended. Can't tell you why.") Hypothetically, any kind of content that arises in an ordinary mind can also arise in an awakened mind. Awakened mind has more capacity to deal with it skillfully, to paraphrase Kenneth Folk: “Absolutely everything that arose before (anger etc.) arises now, but it passes so much more quickly because it is not ‘me’ any more that the wind that touches my skin is ‘me’”. However, a large number of factors decide how the conditioning will be treated in a real-life situation. We have different personal values - one teacher may decide to work on replacing all anger with metta, but there are others (whole traditions in fact) that firmly believe that they can paradoxically help their students by provoking them with angry behavior. Sometimes the conditioning is so deeply ingrained that you need a help of a therapist, just like Culadasa needed it for his suppressed emotions (caused by an extremely traumatic childhood and hard life), or Shinzen for his procrastination problem etc. They deserve a great respect for that, and for their honesty, while many teachers become totally absorbed in this total-enlightenment ego-trip and ignore their issues until it leads to a disaster. TMI purifications are, as it’s written, like going through years of therapy, but you can spend years in therapy and still have some remaining issues, can’t you?

The point is: I doubt that more than a few of us here will spend more time meditating than Culadasa, Shinzen or Daniel. What are we trying to accomplish by dogmatically clinging to the imaginary friend in form of a psychologically perfect meditator? In real world, we are going to just be disappointed again and again. The evidence for psychological imperfections of highly awakened people is just overwhelming. Allegedly “full awakened” ones are either dead, far away or anonymous. Shinzen Young had this realization when he found out that the most awakened being he ever met has been acting in an unethical way. That discovery, he said, was the worst thing that ever happened in his life. (You must admit it, not many of us here are going to have experience with more awakened people than Shinzen did.)

Imagine awakening and sankaras like a spider in the center of an endless web. Awakening is killing the spider. But the majority of the web has remained intact. Why? Well, it is totally unrealistic to think that a single cognitive shift can remove all the conditioning related to negative emotions in our mind. Brains just don't work that way, you cannot delete thousands of neural pathways with one strike. Also, sometimes negative emotions are useful. If you see your child in danger, isn't fear going to make you react more quickly when needed, when there is no time left for rational contemplating? Isn't anger going to be a useful biological motivator and energy-booster if you need to physically defend your family? Now, how can awakening selectively eliminate your conditionings in the most practically convenient way? It can't! Because it doesn't.

It is better to start with a “beginners mind”, without clinging to preconceived notions about awakening. If we start just with a perspective of an non-buddhist normal guy, then awakening is a miracle. If we start with notions about psychological perfection, then we’ll lose motivation because it’s “not enough”. Culadasa said that it is better not to try to imagine awakening at all, because what we imagine will probably end up to be a super-human variation of the same cravings that prevent awakening.

Also, we may have to swallow many hard truths. For example, developing your meditation practice with the ideal of overcoming all negative emotions (or trying to imitate a perfect archetypal picture) may have harmful effects. There’s a surprising study that says that advanced meditators are less mindful of their bodies (that is probably related to the fact that their emotions hurt less, as Culadasa described in the interview). Awakening is, as we said, about relation, not about content – and we might need to psychotherapeutically treat the content in a different way than in meditation. Of course, the basic mental capacities that are needed for awakening (mindfulness, stable attention etc.) are going to be of immense help in doing psychological work. Both mental and physical health should be everyone’s top priority, along with awakening. These axes of development are interrelated, but not the same – for example, you can be awakened and have very bad mental and physical health (although you are going to suffer less because you won’t have this giant layer of stress related to identifying with illness, therefore – you are going to have problems but you’ll be much more equanimous with them in comparison to an ordinary person). That’s why meditation has become an integral part in modern psychology and self-improvement culture – the mental “muscles” it builds are the most valuable ones for improving yourself in almost any domain. But the end goal of meditation – awakening, is primarily about removing the delusion of separate self (and accepting reality as it is), and not primarily about improving “self” and changing reality (although awakened person will have more potential to do these things skillfully, if they are motivated and have adequate tools).

And what about traditional Buddhist ideals about how perfect the Arahats should be? With available information we observe in the real world, it is reasonable to assume that it’s a myth. If there are made-up stories and imaginary ideals in every single religion that ever existed, what makes you think that ‘our’ ‘religion’ is 100% free from that stuff? After all, suttas describe Buddha as having 40 teeth and a “well-retracted male organ”. Smart people have been challenging some of the myths about perfection even two thousand years ago (thus the ancient debates such as whether it’s possible for an arhat to ejaculate in sleep).

Maybe a person can be a bit closer to the perfection ideal if being raised in special conditions and then spends decades meditating in a cave for 16 hours a day. But does this have any practical meaning for us? Also, would that person be capable of normal functioning in modern society? Maybe he/she still wouldn’t be completely free from negative emotions, just like you probably cannot eliminate basic urges like hunger.

The ideas we have about awakening are just concepts colored by our cravings and clinging. Just as someone can non-spiritually crave to become rich (so she/he can escape from suffering financial limitations), meditators usually have spiritual cravings to escape the "worldly" trivial domain by reaching awakening, (implicitly) imagined as some permanent ecstasy, instead of deep equanimity and acceptance of life as it is (produced by reducing perceptual delusions). We cling to the archetypal image of perfect teachers because it gives us comfort, just like "perfect" parent figure gave us when we were children. This unreal image has caused immeasurable suffering in the past, and is used for millennias by teachers with narcissistic personalities.

Just the mere fact that all awakened people use the toiled like everybody else, shows us that real-living people are not continually existing within the stereotypical cloud of the "Buddha" archetype we have in our heads. (You could find a trillion ways in which this analogy is wrong, but just visualize your favorite teacher in this or other equivalent private situation, with all the details - and ADMIT it makes you feel at least slightly uncomfortable, because it subtly tilts your mind in the direction of realizing that every teacher is not an archetype, but a human being, a mammal). Archetypal image of a wise flawless teacher is an abstraction, a simplifying concept, NOT a total reality of any individual human being.

(PS The text doesn’t imply that Buddhism is completely without psychological (content) purification techniques, just that we have modern improvements today. That's why psychotherapists are useful, otherwise Dharma teachers would be enough. Just like medicine existed in the time of the Buddha, but we made new discoveries in the meantime.)
 

RE: Culadasa on the Deconstructing Yourself podcast 3 June ‘19
Answer
6/6/19 9:46 AM as a reply to Griffin.
On other words, welcome to the real world, populated with real people.

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RE: Culadasa on the Deconstructing Yourself podcast 3 June ‘19
Answer
6/6/19 9:50 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Haha! Thanks! It really feels like that. Sobering.

RE: Culadasa on the Deconstructing Yourself podcast today
Answer
6/6/19 9:53 AM as a reply to Griffin.
This is a great episode, and I found it both very validating and relevant to my own experience.  I've been going through a very similar process over the past year, down to the conflict between a "build up resentment because I'm not speaking up for my own needs" subpersonality and a "overprioritize others needs" subpersonality, including it seeming very multiple-personality-ish at times.

RE: Culadasa on the Deconstructing Yourself podcast 3 June ‘19
Answer
6/7/19 1:39 PM as a reply to Paul.
I take issue with the "something is trying to kill you" perspective of his oncologist, that he believes. I think the perspective that illness is caused by unresolved psychological issues can lead to patient blaming themselves for their illness, e.g. "If only I had been able to let go of / work through x, y, z issue, then I wouldn't have cancer." This can add insult to injury for a patient.

I'm not saying that the mind doesn't affect physiology or healing, but focusing on psychological solutions for physiological problems can be counterproductive and lead to self-blame and delay effective treatments if the patient focuses on them exclusively.

Otherwise, interesting podcast and great topic.