Feeling Separate

04/11/2012 18:07

During my first Vipassana retreat in a beautiful place in the Bernese mountains, we were asked to meet in groups once a day, to discuss our experience. I was convinced everyone else was an experienced meditator (is that even a word?) and reluctant to share how my mind just wouldn't stop babbling. However, as we sat down with the Buddhist nun leading the retreat and people started to relate their experience, I was surprised: We all had the same problem! Of course, everyone has a monkey mind, everyone has trouble sitting still. We are all afraid of that moment when everything goes quiet and whatever needs to bubble to the surface starts flooding your whole nicely arranged harbor. Worst of all, we are all reluctant to admit to that, we are afraid of not being good enough.

Isn't it funny how we always think we are the only ones with a specific weakness or problem? How we always think everyone else has it so easy and they have never even had to think about the things we struggle with. It also works the other way around. Often we think that we are the only ones who got it right, that our judgment of a person or a situation is the only one that makes sense and is admissible. Either way, whether self-confident or insecure, we always feel separate. Both inclinations nourish the impression that we are alone and separate from everyone else. This is nothing other than an excellent trick of our ego, so it can make sure it stays in charge. 

We may not be the same, but I do believe we all have the same two elementary fears in common: The fear of death or of loss and the fear of not being loved or needed. If you stop long enough to think about this, you realize that it's true. All of our negative actions and emotions like anger, jealousy, pride, aggression, greed, grasping etc., they all stem from the fear of being deprived of something or of someone's affection. The problem is, we believe in the illusion. Because we see ourselves separate, we also believe the fear is real, that our partner is actually giving us reason to be jealous or that we actually have reason to be angry at being wronged by a friend. But it's all in the mind. The mind tricks us into believing it's happening outside of us, when it's all our own paranoia being projected on the outside - like shadows playing on the wall. 

The Eastern philosophies all agree that the tool to rip the ego, the I-shaper, of its power is to use our higher, discriminative intelligence. Once we sit down and observe what goes on with the greatest honesty possible, we have the ability to uncover the mechanisms by which we are played. I agree that this is one antidote. A very hard one at that, because who likes to watch all this go down.

Then there is another one, in my opinion. Sharing and exchanging with honesty. Like it happened to me on that meditation retreat with total strangers. If you find it in you to speak about your experience without embellishing or concealing, you realize that we are all the same. We are all trapped in this vicious circle, we are all afraid to lose what we hold dear and to be alone. Inevitably, that recognition creates a sense of union and a deeper understanding for others. Also called, compassion.

A teacher training is an intense period of time because you see yourself from very up close. You are in a position to observe with awareness what goes on within, every day. In this context... Could it be that trainees are afraid to show what they think are shortcomings because the ego wants everything to be shiny and bright? Could it be that when we talk about such transformative periods of time we smooth things over because the truth sounds to intense? Could it be that people not involved in a teacher training think they could never qualify because they are not good enough (yet)? Could it be that, also in this context, we feel separate?

If so, then now you know what this blog is for.