Dealing with seriously messed up sights/imagery

Brother Pussycat, modified 11 Years ago at 12/21/11 1:29 PM
Created 11 Years ago at 12/21/11 1:29 PM

Dealing with seriously messed up sights/imagery

Posts: 77 Join Date: 12/21/11 Recent Posts

This is my first post. I learned of this place via MCTB and have found much good advice and inspiration from the people here. And I'd like to ask for some help.

To cut a long story short, I will soon have to analyze a work that contains some [really sick imagery, at once gory, gruesome and deeply dehumanizing (basically torture and pseudomedical experiments). It remains to be seen how much attention I'll have to devote to it. Hopefully a quick look will be enough; but even then, I'm really afraid of this imagery getting stuck in my head and haunting me for years to come.

I suppose I'll be able to use the 3 Characteristics against the physical disgust (not that it will be easy), but the sheer dehumanizing factor and the awareness of the depths of human depravity I'll have to witness are something I have no idea how to deal with.

I realize that there's most likely no easy way through this, but any advice will be greatly appreciated.

Peace, joy and safety to you all.
Jake , modified 11 Years ago at 12/21/11 2:19 PM
Created 11 Years ago at 12/21/11 2:19 PM

RE: Dealing with seriously messed up sights/imagery

Posts: 695 Join Date: 5/22/10 Recent Posts
Hey Pussycat :-)

welcome to DhO!

I don't know what your practice orientation or background is, but Tonglen could be a useful practice in this context. Basically the idea is to breath in the suffering of others (as a felt/imaged cloud of black smoke, for example), dissolve/metabolize it in your own body (the black smoke dissolves and turns to vibrant, happy light, say), and then breath that goodness back into the suffering beings, where it takes the form of whatever may most benefit them (say, the perpetrators may benefit from an infusion of compassion and goodwill, the victims an infusion of physical relief and loving-kindness, etc).

The practice reverses the usual tendency to avert from unpleasant experiences and grasp at pleasant or "good" experiences. In situations like this the reason images get "stuck" is because the full experience of them is aborted due to aversion, so they keep returning until they are completely "digested".

This practice will also train your mind to see the empty impermanence of pleasant and unpleasant experiences, and to see the degree to which suffering and happiness are being projected as felt-images in your own mind by revealing how fluid those experiences can be. One result is increased emotional autonomy as we become more connected with the actual feelings we are actually feeling, and learn that to the extent that we can leverage an insight into no-fixed-self within or beyond bodymind, we can learn to intentionally enact wholesome feelings with greater ease in response to even the most objectively awful circumstances.

Pema Chodron has some good practical teachings on Tonglen.

Bruno Loff, modified 11 Years ago at 12/21/11 5:01 PM
Created 11 Years ago at 12/21/11 5:01 PM

RE: Dealing with seriously messed up sights/imagery

Posts: 1094 Join Date: 8/30/09 Recent Posts
I have no advice, not having had such an experience (not at the level of graphic intensity you refer to). So what follows is all highly theoretical from my part.

If I were in a similar situation, I would try to take the events represented in the photos as facts, hoping that I could learn from those; if nothing else, I think it would be a terrific opportunity to prop up my own dedication to a practice promoting peace on earth — I would think something along the lines of "the very passions that caused these events to pass are still operating in me, in the form of greed, anger, indifference, etc — let these images feed my determination to put such passions to an end."

It's not a thing of the past, either — it still happens every day. Try "civilian war victims," or "starving child", on, you'll find many modern-day photos. For some reason I find it so easy to forget that this happens every day!

There was a period during which I was recurrently assaulted by the image of a hunger-stricken war-torn african child (such as this one). This motivated my practice quite powerfully at that time. I eventually fell into a severe case of over-striving (tension, fatigue, frustration), and stopped using that kind of fuel for practice.

But it occurred to me now that it makes sense to be as happy as humanly possible emoticon I owe it to these people, not to weep for them, but instead to weep no more, else I remain an accomplice of the human tragedy emoticon

Perhaps such a frame-of-mind will help you see these images as facts, and have such an experience nurture your felicity, rather than your despair. If you choose to do so, of course.
Brother Pussycat, modified 11 Years ago at 12/22/11 3:08 AM
Created 11 Years ago at 12/22/11 3:08 AM

RE: Dealing with seriously messed up sights/imagery

Posts: 77 Join Date: 12/21/11 Recent Posts
Hey, thank you both for the advice. Luckily it seems that I'm off the hook, and won't have to go through this after all. But I can never know what life will bring, so I'll keep your words in mind.

Jake: I'm wary of Tonglen; I heard it's reserved for advanced practicioners (and I'm a dabbler at best), because if you're not thorough enough with the part where you process the suffering and turn it into light, you can draw lots of crap on yourself, lllness, misfortune, stuff like that.

However, thank you for reminding me about the simple fact that such images *can* and *have to* be processed, and how they are a good opportunity for developing insight and basic goodness. Also, while I'm reluctant to do Tonglen as such, your post reminded me that I can still send loving-kindness to the victims and perpetrators.

Bruno: Very good point about how how the awareness of such atrocities can both fuel one's practice and make one 'overdo' it... You're right, nothing good may come from practice that leaves one feeling drained and useless. We should always return to what is wholesome.

Again, thanks to you both.