Resistance, not Content, as the Problem: The Lesson of Meta-Anxiety

What follows is an edited and somewhat redacted entry from my current, password-protected practice journal, Lighthearted. People have on occasion asked me for the password to that journal. I expect that it will someday be public, but I’m too close to the sensitive matters in that journal to publish it right now. My wisdom needs to mature some more before I have full clarity on the skillful means concerning publication of that journal. Sorry for the tease. . . .

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I’ve not been writing about preliminary results of current formal practice because not much has evolved since the shifts beginning at the end of May. My focus has been not on signs and wonders but on my inner life, specifically on ways emotional purification has and has not been keeping pace with the traditional signs and wonders. Sometimes lately I’ve felt defiant, rebellious, and lied to by the traditional texts. I’ve been confused by my teacher’s advice to stop esoteric pratices and simply love others more, for I feel my loving people too much always has been and actually still is the problem, the chief obscuration that will have to dissolve for me to reach buddhahood. How can loving others “more” be the solvent when I do not know, at bottom, the difference between clinging to another and loving him or her?

As an adult child of a severe and abusive alcoholic father, long deceased, I don’t know what loving someone unconditionally truly is. So pouring forth ever greater quantities of fake love is not, as I see it, the answer. A greater quantity of ultimately narcissistic/needy, fear-of-abandonment-based overloving of others is definitely not the prescription. Until I can change the quality of my love from false gaming to true freedom and generosity, I need in relationship to others to practice “loving detachment” and to emphasize learning to love myself and heal past trauma. This work  has not been accomplished, so now I’m attending Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings, which I at first found strangely passive, as recounted in the following conversation with my friend Alex.

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Jenny

We have talked more than once about tantra as remediation. Dzogchen as a theory, though, is that you need nothing else besides Dzogchen. And, in fact, dropping into the causal model is pulling even more so out of the timelessness model. So J will normally tell me not to drop out of timelessness into causal. But sometimes he does give me some tantric work.

Alex

Right, but what do you do when you get really pulled out of the timelessness model?

Jenny

Well, I asked him that. Because I’m pulled out not on the cushion, but in the jungle. And he said, “Nothing.” He said, “Continue the cushion practice.” He said eventually the jungle will stop vexing me because of the work done in Trekchod on the cushion.

Alex

Right, right. I think that too, but only in theory, I have not verified that. For thogal and trekchöd are indeed magic, the best magic.

Jenny

But, you see, I’m feeling lately like that isn’t enough. I don’t know if that is because I’m right, or because I’m just in a doubt funk.

Alex

Doubt funk aaaand . . . there is narrative there. I think we mentioned it briefly on the call: disappointment. The narrative being this: “I was told this was all I needed, and shit still happened; hence, this doesn’t work.”

Jenny

Yes. Or hence I’m impatient.

Alex

Yeah, they work together. Impatience arises because there is clinging to the narrative: “This should be flawless.”

Jenny

Which is a codependent trait: Perfectionism. Russell on Awake Network once said something really profound to me. I had said that I thought I had messed up my path somehow. And he said, “You can’t mess it up, Jenny. It is your path.” I took that to mean that whatever happens on the path is the path, that everyone’s path differs. It is not some perfectionist ideal, but whatever is happening in your life.

Alex

Riiiiight. So go back to trust, and Adult Children of Alcoholics will give you more details about the disease, and that is always useful.

Jenny

Yeah. I wonder about that. Because part of me feels that sitting around and talking about our codependency patterns and childhood trauma in a way just keeps it going. Meaning that identifying the problem isn’t necessarily solving it and may in fact be fetishizing it. Why/how does it help to sit in a circle and share the narrative?

Alex

Here’s another question: What happens if you listen to another person’s narrative, within trekchöd? What would happen?

Jenny

What happens is tender compassion and love for that person.

Alex

Right, and that has effects.

Jenny

Ah, okay.

Alex

And it nurtures your love and compassion in a nonaggressive setting. It gets you into the real Mahayana, Or it teaches you to be genuine about love instead of overly emotive.

Jenny

Right, because we don’t cross-talk. We just listen.

Alex

Right. It is super healing. It has a mechanism, a dharmic mechanism if done properly. If the meeting is bad, as in conflictive, then forget it.

Jenny

Yeah, I sometimes feel, “I wish we could actually discuss this.” But discussion would likely lead away from purity and into rhetoric. And the point is not to manhandle anything into being someone else’s solution.

Alex

Right, right.

Jenny

It is fascinating, because in our society we don’t usually really listen. Listen to another person. The meetings are interesting because the power, intimacy, and cohesion is in the silence.

Alex

Yes.

Jenny

There are people in there who have been through worse hell than I, unspeakable hell.

Alex

Listening heals them and you. There is something to listening, something very deep, Space-y, open.

Jenny

Yes. It is interesting that the rules say you are not to hug the person sharing or even hand him or her a tissue.

Alex

Right! That is wonderful.

Jenny

Complete nonmanipulation.

Alex

That’s true love, if you ask me. Emptiness.

Jenny

Yes.

Alex

So there you go: ACA is indeed practice.

Jenny

Yes. Wow, this exchange really clarified that.

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This is the specific sīla practice I need, not trauma prolonged exposure therapy via mutual gazing (which for me was retraumatizing), not focus on service to others, but precisely this: Become truly self-empowered and truly self-loving. This begins with returning to my own insight and intuition as my primary teacher, to having faith and confidence foremost in my own self-insight.

Recently, anxiety has arisen intensely for the first time since 2014. But, as the dialog below shows, my feeling anxiety is not the problem, as my crushing anxiety or wishing or repressing it away is not the antidote. Practice is to stop holding myself to ideals that are not for me yet realized. The way to realization is radical acceptance and, in particular, self-acceptance in the imperfect here and imperfect now. Not ideals, but reality.

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Jenny

So would you say that mixed states is restlessness and feeling down at the same time?

I’ve never been diagnosed with bipolar but years ago I voiced to my neurologist that I think I might have some form of it. My diagnosis was “agitated depression,” which is basically restless anxiety-driven depression. But really things have cycled for me from hypomania to depressed mood as long as I can remember. But since I had my first A&P at age 12, I’m not completely clear on whether that cycling was Progress of Insight stages or real psychopathology. Either way, the cycling stopped, although lately I’ve had the first resurgence of anxious preoccupation since stream entry.

Noah

Yeah, it’s similar to what you describe.

Jenny

My bet is that I would not be experiencing anxious preoccupation at all right now had I not gone off Cymbalta. That fact gets back to my point: What is the relationship of medication to awakening? Do buddhas need Prozac? Would we expect a living buddha with diabetes to stop taking insulin? Are the two situations parallel, or is the analogy false? Are mood disorders physical diseases?

Andrew

Well the medical data seems to suggest that sometimes they are.

Jenny

Yes. In my case, a depressive episode comes with as many physical symptoms as mood symptoms, such as inability to sleep and total loss of taste of all food. Food literally has zero taste. It is like eating cardboard, so there is something wrong with taste buds or the brain’s interpretation of the stimulus. This is not a matter of mood and seems to me unlikely to be secondary to mood. 

Early behaviors in a depressive episode are extreme social withdrawal, isolation. I was told I have major depressive disorder and that it is endogenous, not situational. So a brain chemistry imbalance. But how does that neurochemical imbalance come to into being? I think the data shows that a lot of time it is from early trauma.

So if buddhahood releases all trauma, will that fix my brain chems too?

One topic on my mind a lot lately is “What is a buddha?” What are we trying to achieve here? Is it perfection on all axes of being? Maybe this seems like a dumb topic, but, seriously, like Noah, I would choose never to be overtaken by anxiety and depression again to being able to leave a hand imprint in a rock or read others’ minds.

Andrew

Can the human system ever be “perfect?” By this I mean as a biochemical system. Buddhas still age, break down, and die. So the history seems to suggest that it doesn’t fix the body. But as far as never being “overtaken by” those ailments, even if they manifest, seems to be whats pointed at.

Noah

I feel very strongly about medications and awakening, which means (of course) that my opinion must be right. That the thing the Pali canon describes, regardless of what is written elsewhere, necessitates not needing mood stabilizers, likely not attention drugs or antidepressants, either. Alzheimer’s medication, yes.

Andrew

Doctors today don’t know what they are talking about; they definitely didn’t 2500 years ago.

Noah

Sounds good!

#NotMyDharma

Jenny

Okay, a couple of thoughts:

First, on this response from Andrew: “Can the human system ever be ‘perfect?’ By this I mean as a biochemical system. Buddhas still age, break down, and die. So the history seems to suggest that it doesn’t fix the body.”

The big, big end-deal on the path of Togal is to attain the Body of Light. This is, of course, an other-dimensional “embodiment.” So, per the dogma, the biochemical body fails, but that has no effect on the spirit, or the Light Body.

No one really disputes the fact that the biochemical body is subject to old age, disease, death, and decay. But then you make this distinction: “But as far as never being ‘overtaken by’ those ailments, even if they manifest, seems to be whats pointed at.”

What if the manifestation is identical to being “overtaken”? Because in the case of anxiety and depression, that is my point: The manifestation of the biochemical disease is in itself the “being overtaken” by emotional and other symptoms. So your distinction is a false one, and it only begs my original question.

Andrew

Well, doesn’t that seem to indicate a complete “dis-attachment” toward the body. No longer identifying it as “you.” So even if those ailments “overtake” the body, they wont be “overtaking” you.

Jenny

That sounds like dissociation to me. You cannot will yourself into detaching from or getting on top of a severe depression. It takes over your entire organism, like cancer. So long as brain chems are wrong, detachment is not an option.

Andrew

But awareness is unstained.

Jenny

Awareness might or might not be unstained, but depression is a physical illness, and the symptoms arise from biochemical insufficiencies in the brain. The symptoms include, but are not limited to, mood deterioration. Can one be in utter misery, in suicidal depth of misery, and still be “unstained” awareness of that and all else? Does that even make sense as a logic construct?

Are you positing a symptomless depressive illness?

Andrew

I think so [that it does make sense logically]. If there is no identification of those things as problematic, then does the awareness suffer the illness?

No, there will be symptoms, most likely.

Jenny

So dissociation. That’s the answer. I know I am depressed, but I don’t feel it.

Andrew

I don’t Know. I’m guessing here.

Jenny

Or I feel depressed, but depression isn’t, from some sort of meta-perspective, a problem . . . somehow.

Okay. You see the problem I’m having. I don’t think we’d tell a diabetic buddha to stop taking insulin because his shakes and brain fog and low mood shouldn’t be a problem if he or she has unstained awareness. But there is a double standard with mood disorders. Even though in the case of bipolar and in the case of unipolar endogenous depression, the root cause is biochemical. Really I would no more go off Cymbalta than off insulin (if I were diabetic). The only reason I’ve gone off Cymbalta is weight gain, no spiritual “test.” People still tend to treat mental illness as if it were a moral failing, and teachings and teachers who do so, in my view, have zero credibility in this matter unless they both suffered from an endogenous mental illness and, upon reaching enlightenment, found it completely cured. Then, and only then, can I take what they have to say on the matter seriously.
Andrew
Well I agree that one shouldn’t tell one to go off medicine they need. Now a Buddha might not care if they die of diabetes or might not care they feel depressed, but I suspect they would choose to take those drugs. And in this case, what I mean by “care” is to be motivated by suffering.
Jenny
This topic gets more and more confusing. None of us knows what a buddha is, in reality. That in itself is interesting, if not dumbfounding. We are working toward an end we have only vague idealistic notions about. J stated to me that his test of realization is whether one can undergo physical torture with zero reactivity. I am nervous about having arthroscopic surgery under sedation Friday. I cannot imagine undergoing true torture and not reacting to that. What does “reacting” actually mean in the context we are inching toward here?
A lot of what Alex was saying on here the other night made sense to me, in that he pointed to ideals based on the experience of long-term retreat of Eastern full-time yogis, not based on the “jungle” of our mercurial postmodern western lives. And he said our unique karmic situation calls for reformulation of the buddha-dharma. In that reformulation, for example, my now attending the Adult Children of Alcoholics 12-step program is practicing the Dharma.
Andrew
Shinzen has also talked about what he calls “the Syrian test.” Torture.
Jenny
Standard dogma. I’m watching a film clip about H. H. Menri. Just heard him say that when he first became the head of the tradition he used to stay up all night, worrying. Do we have an exemplar who passes the no-worry torture test?
Andrew
Shinzen said he could probably do it. Maybe with a few months training first.
Jenny
With a few months training? But a buddha would already be there, the training done. A teacher who shall remain nameless can have a root canal done without anesthesia because he is a master of concentration and hypnosis. That doesn’t mean he is a buddha. So if it requires training, and if one says “probably” but doesn’t put out, then how can that count? It is conjecture and speculation until proven. And the self-reported root canal story—who was there to verify it? Has the dentist been interviewed? Why are photos taken of UFOs always fuzzy? A lot of what appears in my texts to mark the stages of the esoteric practice is just dogma. Cultural filters. J said something interesting in his last message to me. He said that he pointed me away from the Tibetan texts for a reason. So in a sense he was saying what Alex was saying: that it is going to be different for us in the West, both in method and result.
Noah
Whatever “realistic” is, I’m aiming for “good enough. . . .” On a spuds retreat in May T was talking about anagami versus arahant on a 10 Fetter level. He described [the difference between the two] as similar to dividing a number in half endlessly and never getting to zero. What’s the difference between never suffering  and suffering five minutes, twice a year? When he says [elimination of] suffering in this context, he means negative content, not just nondual awareness.
Andrew
I’m not sure he meant negative content.
Noah
Perhaps he meant only subtle clinging. But Culadasa says he doesn’t have negative emotions. There’s a talk where he says he forgot how anger feels.
Alex

Greetings amigos. Medication. I like medication and practice. It serves a purpose, just like having right conditions for practice. I did like 8 years of tantra without medication and about a year with medication. The 8 years without medication were fruitful, very fruitful, but hard. A year of tantra with medication, was more fruitful still. 

I take Escitalopram, I think in the U.S. this is Lexapro. I still feel emotions, but they don’t drag me down as much. This allows for more productivity without being stressed out and faster serenity when sitting. If, however, I don’t do any of my responsibilities and that affects me somehow, medication wont stop stress. Stress is gone only with sila and view abiding. And Sila happens more often on medication because I am less distracted by heavy emotions. So that’s that.

What is a Buddha? I don’t know yet. I have never met one in person.

As for psychiatric conditions and dharma, I believe some are reversible, and others are irreversible. In fact, again going back to the concept of “freedoms and advantages of the precious human rebirth” as discussed by the Tibetans, such Precious Human Rebirth implies having the mental health to learn and practice the Dharma. In my book, that includes stuff like addiction and maybe even severe depression. If addiction is present, in a hc way, there is no way the dharma will rise in that person, and the same thing I think about people with severe depression, or similar conditions.

Jenny

Dzogchen doctrine and pretty much Tibetan Buddhist doctrine in general is that the only way to be a living buddha is (1) you are born a tulku, or (2) you completed the four stages of the visions. Personally, I see no reason to amend that position unless and until there is some reasonable basis to believe there is another way. I don’t believe Advaita Vedanta leads to the same extent of awakening as Buddhist paths. I also do not believe Theravadin arahatship is equivalent to Dzogchen Togal buddhahood. If there is comparable evidence to the contrary, I’ve not encountered it but would be open to reviewing any that comes forward, esp. if it isn’t just one person.

I also doubt you can tell who is a buddha from how poignant their teachings are. I bet the majority of the best teachers in the world, say the top 5% of teachers, have less than buddhahood. Meanwhile, I think it is also likely that buddhas stay mainly hidden and are rarely seen in the public eye as teachers. J tells this story of a guy who achieved Rainbow Body on the Tibetan plains. He wasn’t a monk. He was a yak poop shoveler. No one had any idea until Rainbow Body how highly realized he was.

Alex
Rainbow body . . . sounds nice. But Buddhas who stay and teach sound nicer to me. I cant say Rainbow body is highest or not. I don’t think it matters. What matters to me is the benefit for one and others.
Jenny

Buddhas teach and render benefit on other planes, not only or chiefly this one.

Alex
I cant speak about that. I’ve read about it, a lot, but I haven’t seen it.
Jenny
I’ve experienced it. Many times. That the retinue and your highest teachers are not necessarily living here on Earth. Experiencing this is the fruit of tantra.
Alex
Right, but how many people know about dharma. Only beings in pure buddha fields? Yeah, I know the lore and I don’t doubt it.
Jenny
I’ve seen them in my bedroom. And felt them.
Alex
I just think we need more help in our realm, a lot more than feeling sacredness.
Jenny
Buddhas are supposedly ideally equipped to judge where and how they are most needed and best utilized. In fact, I think that is a big part of what defines “buddhahood.”
Alex
I think so too.
Jenny

I’m not talking about merely “feeling sacredness.” I’m talking about the advancement of one’s own practice by opening up to the buddha field and receiving teachings from the buddhas from other times and places. It isn’t difficult to do.

Alex
Still, Buddhas in purer realms are one thing. Buddhas like Shakyamuni are another. I don’t think one is higher or lower, but simply different ways of manifesting dharma. Even if you get the full empowerment of the trikaya in your bedroom, I still think that’s one way of dharma transmission, not higher nor lower. But aren’t we speaking of Buddhas in the flesh? Like shakyamuni? Like, how are they like? By the way, I think Shakyamuni was/is identical to buddhas in pure buddha fields. No difference, yet different too.
Jenny

Sure, we can circumscribe this discussion that way. I think what I’m trying to convey is that my connection to the sangha across time and space (and in dreams) has actually been the best teacher, better than my earthbound teachers in terms of felt presence and reliability. Shakyamuni is one of those teachers I’m talking about from across time and space. I don’t separate him out from the buddha fields and categorize him as lesser or other. He’s not currently living in nirmanakaya form, after all, and once a buddha, always a buddha. So to me that includes him in the buddha fields.

Alex
I see. I’ve only experienced dharmakaya aspect of Buddha, perhaps Samboghakaya, but not yet nirmanakaya.
Jenny
It is interesting that Shakyamuni had visions that were bardo-like before his enlightenment.
Alex
That night under the bodhi tree must have been quite a night.
Jenny

Indeed.

You know what’s funny? The anesthesiologist called me today, and I wanted him to promise me they would inject a local anesthetic into my knee before going in with their scalpels. He was curious why, and I had to explain that I had vivid dreams of you all during my colonoscopy, that I was practicing lucidity in sleep, and that I didn’t want to wake up in my surgery and feel all that pain.

Alex

Hahahaha!

Jenny
He was like, “Well, you wouldn’t remember it.” And I said, “That’s even worse, as I’m working on releasing somatic trauma, not getting me some more of it.”
Andrew
Yeah, its weird how they give anti-memory drugs with anesthesia, like doesn’t that say something about how well they think it works?
Jenny
My roommate in grad school was in medical school, and she told me that patients on the OR table feel every bit of the pain. All of it. She said they moan and groan throughout the surgery, in pain. General anesthesia does nothing to block pain. What it does is (1) paralyze you and (2) wipe your memory of the pain. And for that reason, my roommate, now a doctor, will not consent to surgery under general. She gets hers under an epidural block only. She told me that the pain incurred during surgery traumatizes people. Like torture.
Andrew
Yeah, I believe that.
Alex
Ugh.
Andrew
So what did your doctor say to that?
Jenny
He told me that, after they give me sedation/general, then they will inject local anesthetic into the knee cavity before going further. I hope that includes the initial incision, but at least there is that, because a lot of doctors do it only at the very end. I had two nightmares this week that I was aware during the surgery but paralyzed so couldn’t tell them that their anesthesia was shit. Maybe the nightmares will stop now. Yeah, the amnesiac part of the med is CYA! Just memwash you. All clean!
Andrew
Yup.
Jenny

In other news, my practice has been incredibly beautiful for about 2 weeks. As I was looking on last night, I began thinking. I was puzzling again, as I have many times, that no negative state of mind seems to affect the practice. I can be sitting there with doubt, fear, whatever, and the signs and wonders rip anyway. Last night, I suddenly thought that maybe all this doubt and anxiety that has arisen lately is part of the dharmakaya release. That would explain why I lost all my anxiety before, and it stayed gone, but now it is arising so intensely since end of May, when that shift happened.

And that made me think about how on Wednesday I was freaking out about this surgery and the MRI findings. That night, I went online and was reading about pre-op anxiety, and everything I read said, “It is normal.” One article by a surgeon said, “I’m worried only by the patient who does not feel some anxiety; it’s not a haircut!” That made me laugh. And then I noticed that as soon as feeling anxious was normalized for me, and I said to myself, “Okay, so I have pre-op jitters; it is normal,” the anxiety vanished.

Alex
Yeah! that’s prajna.
Andrew
You had meta-anxiety, anxiety about your anxiety.
Alex
Prajna. This is the arising of anxiety = Okay, so I have pre-op jitters; it is normal. This is the ceasing of anxiety = “The anxiety vanished.”
Jenny
Yes, and that is what I learned from this. The larger anxiety was that I should not at my level of practice be anxious. So meta-anxiety. And when I accepted the anxiety, it stopped.
Alex
Wonderful! Which is Trekchod.
Jenny

Yeah. Trekchod via YouAreGonnaDie.com.

Andrew

LOL!

Jenny (Days Later)

Since surgery ended, the esoteric practices have continued in their splendor as long as I can stay awake for them. My recent realization that my emotional, physical, and cognitive state affects practice and results not one iota has struck me as a lesson of some kind.

I noticed this more than a year ago, but I thought I must be missing some connection, that surely if the inner state was “off,” then the efficacy of the practice would respond in some immediately noticeable way, with some change in display or some drying up of signs and wonders. But recently I saw that this is absolutely not true, no matter what my state of mind is, my actions are, etc. Nothing stops the progress, not even a protracted negative state of mind.

I think that the lesson here is akin to what I observed the other day about what Andrew called my meta-anxiety. Anxiety is not a problem; elaborating meta-worry about the anxiety is the problem. Similarly, other states, thoughts, and “negative” emotions that arise are not a problem; nonacceptance of them is. This is key. Resistance, not content, is the problem. Content is just content, the same as post-op knee pain is just pain. Radical acceptance is the practice. This includes forgiveness and self-forgiveness, compassion for myself.

During the earlier stages of my current practice, things were compelling, dazzling, miraculous, and so on. Now they seem more like a teacher of the “inner” “lessons,” even though the lessons are essentially the same as they were during ordinary insight paths. Resistance, not content, is the problem. The spectacle and magick aren’t the point; inevitability and steady presence no matter what is the point. In this, the inner light manifested as outer sign is the teacher and, through its changelessness under whatever inner condition, that outer sign shows the way.

The only thing that keeps me from cutting my arm
Cross hatch, warm bath, Holiday Inn after dark
Signs and wonders: water stain writing the wall
Daniel’s message; blood of the moon on us all