XX (Shargrol) on  Biological-Psychological-Cultural  Early Woundedness

In the most painful patterns are the greatest opportunities for liberation.

Jenny wrote, “a sense of self that is radically codependent . . . fear of abandonment. . . .  I’m aware of this pattern metacognitively.”

I’m only bothering to mention all of this [about early woundedness] because reactive patterns have a way of repeating over the entire course of the meditative path, and they seem to keep doing it until the heart of “the problem” is really experienced. This probably isn’t always true, so take this with a grain of salt, but a dominant reaction tends to come out when the shit hits the fan in “real life” or when Reobservation-like mind states dominate during practice. It’s good to know it metacognitively, but there can be gentle breakthrough when you are okay with experiencing the physical sensations of this without getting sucked into the various proliferations of the basic reactive pattern.

I’m not saying anything you haven’t said, but for what it’s worth, what you have just described is consistent with the Biocognition “Boundaries of Abundance” (Martinez) Model that I summarized on the “Read” tab on the “Theraputic Models for Meditators” article:


The theory is that our sense of self is vulnerable early in life to overwhelming negative experiences, and these experiences cause biological-psychological-cultural wounds that can be re-triggered. Positive states are also linked to wounds because this is the original context in which the triggering insult occurred. It’s inflicted by those with authority over you and on whom you are dependent for survival and often occurs within the context of intimacy, love.

As a result, wounds cause limits to dimensions of happiness because they are re-awakened by both similar insults and similar contexts of happiness. You can experience joy only to the extent that you feel worthy of the experience; wounds associated with happiness are the limiter of joy.

The treatment method is structured desensitization. Find a safe place, a safe posture (solid seat, warm, back protected), imagine happiness flooding your body, stay with it, but then look for the “kill joy” negative feeling, that is the wound. Gently experience the sensations of wounds without judgment. A more active method is to apply an antidote by creating a healing field, as described below.

For abandonment, there tends an adrenaline-based flight or flight response, and the body is a sense of coldness, isolation, and fear. Interestingly, the reaction can be to become codependent, to commit to an external thing, group, idea, but the healing field itself is a commitment to oneself. So spend some time feeling the sensations of the wound without reacting, get used to feeling those sensations without changing them or running away from them, and conclude with feeling the sensations of making a commitment to yourself. (You have to decide what the commitment is, but as important is the feeling of making that commitment to yourself, for that is the healing field.)

This stuff is endlessly mentally complex, but actually fairly biologically simple. Until the sensations of the trigger can be experienced without setting off the reaction chain, these patterns tend to happen. The tricky thing about desensitization is the dose has to be small enough that we can sit with it, otherwise trying to be with old wounds just re-entrenches the wound. So go easy.

(It could be the “coldness” of your last sit was uncovering some of the abandonment sensation, or it could be 3rd jhana or any number of things so it’s impossible for me to guess.) All of this kind of stuff is really common in meditation, which is why I put that page together on therapeutic modalities. It’s not that we have to do the psychological “work” instead of meditation, unless things really are clinical, in which case therapy is the fast lane to progress, but the same dynamics are revealed during meditation, so it’s worth having some understanding of different theories.

Eventually we get really good at noticing a reaction as a reaction, regardless of what it is, and we allow it to play out without resistance, leaving the “awakened” version of that consciousness. Insecurity becomes generosity, fear becomes clarity, passion becomes discriminating precision, and so on.

Hope this helps in some way.

By the way, have you noticed how you tend to post a lot as part of your response? That can be something to watch, too, because it could be part of a codependency dynamic. It isn’t wrong at all to look for support from other people, the tricky thing is to do it in a way that doesn’t re-trigger the original bodily reaction and to move to the “commitment to self” as quickly as possible. Sometimes the object of codependency will just switch to another one. (I haven’t had time to think through that last point, but it just came to mind; please disregard if it was totally off base!)

Oh, and one last point: The great value of the Reobservation insight stage is we get to see all of this shit play out right before our eyes. This is why the Dark Night is so ultimately helpful and is actually a treasure. If we humans didn’t see the consequence of our subtle patterns playing out in a big way, we would never have the impulse to tease all of this out. So shit hitting the fan is a great experience that really shines a spotlight on things that otherwise stay latent. Hmm, but I guess that’s already been said.


Surrender and the Cold Shoulder

I just finished a sit that was really weird. I was almost instantly in fourth jhana, with eyes closed, and then fifth. There are moments when I’m pretty sure there is sixth. Anyway, the jhanas are very hard for me to resist, and they seem to be getting only stronger. I will tend to forget to investigate, and then I have to open my eyes and wrench myself out and over the state to engage in vipassana.

When I did open my eyes and see what would arise, I saw (and heard) everything very noticeably not synchronized but instead jerky and jarring – like a movie on a broken projector. When I would move my eyes, shift my gaze, there was a visible ratcheting effect. At one point, the ratcheting was moving up the wall and then down, like it was all spinning, too. I closed my eyes again and felt like my head was heavy and I was falling forward into some vastness. There was a moment of absolute surrender, and then a pulling back. After this oddness, my back suddenly felt icy cold.


Parenting Parents

It is really, really important for it to sink in to my thick skull that this path is my own, that others will cross it in ways that are both magnificently helpful and harrowingly painful, but that all such crossings are teachings, especially in that they are transient, uneasy, and ownerless. It is good to be free of illusions, no matter how painful the uncoupling.

Because of my father’s alcoholism, the severity of which killed him at age 45, I have a sense of self that is codependent, which is normally the case for children of severe, abusive alcoholics. I grew up parenting my parents, and that perversion of the normal direction of basic protection means I pitied my parents. I have lived by parenting my parents.

There is nothing scarier for a child than to pity her parents. I developed a twisted form of compassion that is based in and bound up with my own fear of abandonment and unworthiness. I’m aware of this pattern metacognitively and have been since I read the AA literature in my early teens. So nothing new here, yet it is amazing how insidiously
codependency can worm its way into otherwise straightforward relations. Surprise! Gotcha again!

Not that the recent difficulty stemmed only, or even mostly, from my past. It stems from Daniel’s own private difficulties, too. But now at least we know, and knowing the truth, as usual, leads to freedom.

“Letting Go” as a Practice Sand Trap

Last night while sitting for samatha (calm-abiding, concentration) breath meditation, I felt blockages catch up the breath at the level of the throat and chest. My mind was swimming, and I noticed that certain petty
stories obscuring energy arose and that my mind chased after the stories for long whiles, indulging in them. Then I remembered that I was intending to focus on and enjoy the calming breath, that I should “let go” of anger by letting go of the stupid, infuriating stories.

Effort as Practice Trap

However, I then realized deeply, because as personal experience, something I have only read here and there before now: I cannot “let go” of anger simply by foisting this agenda for release on the actual inner situation I, through karmic propensities, find myself in. In other words, intending to let go is trying to make something different from “what is” happen. It is aversion to here and now.

Consequently, what I ended up intentionally letting go of during this sit was the injunction to “let go” of anger and return full focus to the calming comfort of the breath. Instead, I remembered something more I had read in Thanissaro Bhikkhu about having to master states of mind before letting go of them. Although I did cease chasing after the crazymaking stories, I invited the anger itself in for the duration of the sit. I observed what it was doing to snag my breath in the throat and chest. Mindful of this discomfort, I realized through adherence to direct experience that anger is an inside con job.

Anger as an Abandonment Recital

Truly, whoever I’m angry at isn’t the object; I myself am the object of all that red steam. If I crack that con fount open and admit some clearer light, anger is seen to be really a frightening degree of sadness — a horror of abandonment.

Anger as Best Door to Insight

Anger is never itself, you see. It is a sham emotion, a delusion the mind fabricates and then 100% believes in only because being angry at x seems  less devastating than feeling hurt, left out, betrayed, or rejected by x. Paradoxically, in this sense, anger is important to feel and not to simply “let go” of, as if that were even possible–it is important to invite it to stay the night within a framework of Right View. It is in fact the best emotion to begin insight practice with, because it is, I further realized, the prototype for all emotion-delusions that the mind fabricates.

Interestingly, when I examined my anger this way and knew it intimately, “letting go” was the natural result, at least for the rest of the sit. Only – it wasn’t really “letting go,” which still implies some fiat on my part. 

Ajahn Chah on Separating Mind from Feeling

After I opened my eyes and rose from the floor, I started reading the collected works of Ajahn Chah, who happened to address this very realization in the passage I randomly opened to:

“When we say the Buddha told us to separate the mind from the feeling, he didn’t literally mean to throw them to different places. He meant that the mind must know happiness and know unhappiness. When sitting in samadhi, for example, and peace fills the mind, happiness comes but it doesn’t reach us, unhappiness comes but doesn’t reach us. This is how one separates the feeling from the mind. We can compare it to oil and water in a bottle. They don’t combine. Even if you try to mix them, the oil remains oil and the water remains water, because they are of different density.” 

When you really thoroughly know a thought-fabrication, in other words, you automatically experience the mind as separate from it:  “We say that we separate mind and feeling in this way but in fact they are by nature already separate. Our realization is simply to know this natural separateness according to reality. When we say they are not separated it’s because we’re clinging to them through ignorance of the
truth.” This is why we must meditate — to replace delusion with such insight.

Samatha-Vipassana as One Practice

Another realization during this sit was that Thanissaro is correct: samatha (calming) and vipassana (insight) meditations are not actually two separate types of meditation; instead, there is more properly samatha-vipassana, where stillness gives rise to discernment, and discernment gives rise to stillness (they help each other along by turns). I’m not at all advanced in samatha, so it was astonishing to have experienced vipassana at all, which is often taught as attainable only after stability in samatha. Thanissaro is always stressing that meditation requires individual experimentation in using one branch as a crutch for propelling the other forward; now I understand — through experience — what he means!

Language as Nonconstative Performance at Best

Another paradox ripening as I write is that none of this “stuff” can be satisfactorily reduced to language and transmitted to others — especially by a beginner, like me. The evidence for what I’m speaking of is existential, experiential; where there is no effort to meditate, there will be absolutely no apprehension of the ways in which beings fabricate delusion and believe that delusion is inescapable “reality.” Nevertheless, I was helped early on and am still helped by those who have taken the trouble to try to reduce meditative insights to words. They point to a mere hint; I walk on now beyond that trailhead alone.

Postscript 3 Years Later

[A full 3 years and several awakenings after having written the above entry, it is interesting to note that I’m now cycling back around to work, at a deeper level, on the same obscuration – anger as fear. I’m doing so through some advanced Chöd-like tantric practices and work on first and third chakras. As my teacher says, “The victim and the perpetrator are bound together, and if you identify with being the victim and aren’t willing to feel what it is like to be the perpetrator, then you won’t free up the clear vajra energy underneath anger.” These more current practices are documented in my current journal, Dharma by Daylight.