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Buddhadharma : Summer 2012
34 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SUMMER 2 0 1 2 working or becomes bogged down, we realize, “Well maybe I need to distribute the weight. I can get more traction on one of these other limbs or wheels of practice.” We have a lot of skillful means in the West, including the psychological one, to give us more traction and distribute this weight more evenly. BUDDHADHARMA: It seems part of the challenge is actually know- ing whether you have a problem. How do you know whether you’re suppressing or avoiding something, particularly if you haven’t experienced a major emotional or psychological trauma? ANDREW HOLECEK: Often we don’t know, and that’s the issue. I think from a psychological and spiritual point of view, fun- damentally if you’re not happy, if you’re not satisfied, then you are probably avoiding something. On a very deep level, of course, we’re avoiding our buddhanature all the time. I have experience with people who suffer from depression, and I’ve discovered that if you look below the depression you will often find anger. If you look below the anger, you’ll often find sadness. If you look below the sadness, you’ll find fear. And if you look below the fear, you’ll discover its root in existential anxiety—the fear of emptiness. What this alludes to is the complexity and profundity of our levels of avoidance. GRACE SCHIRESON: Many people are unaware of how they’re repeating patterns—patterns that began when they were about two years old to cope with their pain. One way they can become aware of these patterns is for the teacher to notice that the student is stuck in a certain way of relating. What I also notice is those students have difficulty work- ing with other people. They get stuck in old patterns from earlier relationships, and I see those patterns coming out in their relationship with me and their relationship with other sangha members. ANDREW HOLECEK: I notice two extremes that people get into with their practice when difficult emotions surface. One is they just abandon it. “Practice is too much trouble, it’s causing too much pain, things are getting worse.” Instead of realizing that this dirty laundry coming up is actually a good sign, they go, “Wait a second, this is the small print in the spiritual con- tract. I didn’t sign on for that.” And they abandon it. The other extreme is they give meditation too much weight. They think, “I need to practice more. I need to do a three-year retreat. I need to get back into practice.” The problem there is we forget that in many traditions—in Buddhism, in Ashtanga yoga—the practice of meditation is just one of many limbs. In the Buddhist thirty-seven limbs of enlightenment, meditation practice as we know it is encapsulated in only a handful of those limbs. If we put too much weight on one limb, it’s going to bend, buckle, and eventually break. So we need to practice all eight aspects of the load, to distribute the eightfold path. We need to balance it across different spectrums of our life so our entire life becomes a practice, and not just what we do on the cush- ion. When that happens we have more traction. Switching analogies, instead of riding precariously on a unicycle, and spinning our solitary wheel, we now have an eight-wheel-drive vehicle. If our formal practice of sitting on a cushion isn’t GRACE SCHIRESON is a clinical psychologist and dharma teacher in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. She is president of the Shokagu Zen Institute, which pro- vides ongoing training to Zen priests and sangha leaders, and founder of Empty Nest Zendo in North Folk, California. ANDREW HOLECEK is the author of The Power and the Pain: Trans- forming Spiritual Hardship into Joy. The founder of the Forum of Living and Dying, he teaches extensively on spiritual hardship and the Tibetan views of death and dying. In 2003, Holecek com- pleted the traditional three-year Buddhist meditation retreat. JOHN WELWOOD is a psychother- apist who leads workshops on the integration of psychological and spiritual work. A student of Tibetan Buddhism for more than thirty-five years, he is the author of Toward a Psychology of Awak- ening: Buddhism, Psychotherapy, and the Path of Personal and Spiritual Transformation. PHOTOS(LEFT—RIGHT):UNKNOWN;TOMHAWKINS;UNKNOWN