Letter to Daniel about the Theme of Projection in His Draft Memoir
31 December 2014
My thoughts on revising “My Spiritual Quest” follow. They actually became quite an essay, one that you may find circuitous rather than linear. Nonetheless, I hope you’ll read it.
The comments in the Quest piece started to become too crowded. In the file, below all this, I do engage in a reader’s conversation with you rather than editing at this point. Perhaps high-level general editorial (revisionist) thoughts via this essay will be more workable somehow now, at some level.
Refine Anti-Projection as Purpose in the Introduction
First, as I discussed in an email message weeks ago, I think that the first order of business is to fine-tune your stated purpose for giving this narrative as part of your book.
You want to stop “projection” onto you? That’s fine. But because this is a dharma book whose elsewhere stated purpose is to be of benefit to others, it seems to me that you will need to bring the anti-projection stance in line with what is of benefit to your reader (practitioners and maybe other teachers), not just you personally. Otherwise, you are actually reinforcing the mode of projection: You are setting yourself up for a new round of it by making yourself personally the focus of consideration in the memoir introduction—and doing so tersely, sometimes seemingly harshly (but this mainly in the front matter of book), with no explanation of benefit, of what the reader stands to gain or lose in how this issue is decided.
By the way, I’m not going to be entirely happy with this book until that statement in the front matter (“I will go out of my way to alienate anyone who projects onto me even a little bit. . . .”) undergoes a similar, if briefer, transformation. But we’ll wrestle over that again later, if wrestle we must, if wrestle you even will.
Okay. Here is Chah on not clinging to a teacher (notice the extended teaching here on not projecting):
I don’t mind that you criticize me. Ask whatever you wish. But it is important that you do not cling to the teacher. If I were absolutely perfect in outward form, it would be terrible. You would all be too attached to me. Even the Buddha would sometimes tell his disciples to do one thing and then do another himself. Your doubts in your teacher can help you. You should watch your own reactions. . . . Wisdom is for yourself to watch and develop. Take from the teacher what is good. Be aware of your own practice. If I am resting while you must all sit up, does this make you angry? If I call the color blue red or say that male is female, don’t follow me blindly. One of my teachers ate very fast. He made noises as he ate. Yet he told us to eat slowly and mindfully. I used to watch him and get very upset. I suffered, but he didn’t! I watched the outside. Later I learned. . . . If you watch others at most ten percent of the time and watch yourself ninety percent, this is the proper practice. At first I used to watch my teacher Ajahn Tong Raht and had many doubts. People even thought he was mad. He would do strange things or get very fierce with his disciples. Outside he was angry, but inside there was nothing. Nobody there. He was remarkable. He stayed clear and mindful until the moment he died. Looking outside the self is comparing, discriminating. You will not find happiness that way. Nor will you find peace if you spend your time looking for the perfect man or the perfect teacher.
This is a crucial message and a model of it, don’t you think? Notice Ajahn Chah is not concerned with his own welfare here. He in fact states at the outset that he doesn’t mind being criticized and that he remains accessible to answer questions. His point seems to be that teachers are imperfect, harsh, or contradictory helpfully, because being imperfect thwarts the student’s idealizations and throws the student back onto his or her own mindfulness. Can some version of this kind of explanation help your readers who are bent on projecting onto you? (By the way, it just now occurs to me that Ven. Chah is with this passage admitting that the limited-action/limited-emotions models are untrue, for he is quite evidently talking about the imperfection of teachers who have finished the insight path—“Nobody there”!)
Look, you obviously have a very high IQ; most of us don’t. You have achieved arahatship [MCTB fourth path], and most of us haven’t and won’t. You have modeled intense personal resolve and perseverance, and most of us are comparatively lazy and wishy-washy. You have made a helpful and financially rewarding career, authored a book, published papers, been interviewed, presented public talks, and become a leader in a fledgling movement; most of us struggle just to get the weekly washing done. You are charismatic when inclined to be; most of us are flies on the blank wall when we are lucky to be even that and there. You are the “Overlord” on a site forum composed mostly of brawly young guys who celebrate you primarily as a rebel to—ironically enough—emulate.
Consequently, when I recently stated in the “Birthing MCTB2” thread that you are actually quite traditionally Buddhist by my reading (much more so than Kenneth, for instance), there was round dismissal of any such reading. Many of these quite young men simply refuse to see you as traditional in any way or even as morally upstanding as they subscribe to moral relativism. Those readings of “traditional” would otherwise interfere with their quasi-adolescent hero worship of the James Dean dimension, the dharma cowboy trope, the bravado.
If you look at the current bottom of the “Birthing MCTB2” thread, you will see comments by some of these young men to the effect that they are afraid I (older woman, schoolmarm, domesticator) will ruin this book by domesticating your “voice.” One guy even says to me that it is your rebellious personality that brought him “into the fold” (a fold, as of sheep). With some evident unease over my interventions, he pleads with me to back off from whatever he imagines I’m doing, even though he hasn’t yet seen any part of MCTB2 or the influence I may or may not have had on it. Another college-aged guy urges you—through me—to actually stop being so darned “Buddhist” as you were in MCTB1! Oddly fixated discussions these—ones that give me pause because they are so focused on negotiations over your persona that they disregard your actual message! Truly, you are an object of projection if ever there were one, despite whatever you’ve done to date to prevent or stop it.
By the way—and apologies for several forthcoming paragraphs of what might initially seem to be a mere digression—I encountered something similar on Awake Network: a weird possessiveness over you, one very clearly against me, by those who’ve known you much longer than I and were compelled to let me know the fact of their longer acquaintance with you. What I finally sensed over there was at bottom jealousy, or at least possessiveness (or territoriality) and presumption to put me in my proper place with regard to you, MCTB, and the DhO.
For example, during a discussion primarily with other DhOers there about path models and stories of your final awakening in MCTB1/2, several AN “elders” piled on and tried to shut this discussion down, stating something like, “I’m sure Daniel himself would like for people to stop attending so much to his own path models.” I told them I didn’t understand that comment, for you were about to publish a whole new edition of the same. Then they asked me if I had your “permission” to discuss the “editing process.” I replied that we were discussing it publicly on DhO, right under your nose, so I had presumed it was fine to discuss editing process, which is a pretty standard editing process, after all, not exactly some secret. When several DhO people and I continued to discuss MCTB1 and 2, we were then called on the carpet for being “cultish.”
I was really taken aback by these reactions. I don’t think we were being anything but what we were used to being on DhO, although maybe that is “cultish,” as I’ll discuss in a minute. Now, this said, it is also true that I personally have had all these off-line exchanges with you around the edges of the still-undisclosed MCTB2 (and for a while discussions with you into my own practice); all the conversations have been very intense from my perspective and therefore hard for me to separate out from my own current dharma discussions and own practice and reflections thereon: Because I’m working for numerous hours on this book almost every day, every week, month after month, for better or worse your voice and ideas are in my head continually. Shutting that fire hose of input off cold in online discussions has been difficult if I’m to say anything at all, and apparently I didn’t negotiate some tacitly predefined line in a way people long in charge of AN approved of.
The Great Schisms were before my time, so I’m unsure how much of this weirdness toward me and other DhO/MCTB diehards was a vestigial territoriality informed by those schisms, but there seemed to be something else below the surface there—not sure what. Now, I have many personal failings and faults, but I don’t tend toward jealousy and possessiveness myself, so when I finally figure out that others interacting with me may actually be jealous of me, territorial, or possessive over a mutual somebody, it is usually quite late for me and a rude awakening. In short, I realized too late that I should never have discussed MCTB2, the work on it, or you even “as a public figure” with anyone over there, ever, period. I therefore deleted my AN account, wiping all my posts, all my comments, and my entire practice journal out completely the very minute I adequately reflected on all this. This seems like the right thing to have done, if quite after the fact.
And I participate little on the DhO anymore, a trend that I expect will accelerate, with my disappearing more and more and maybe altogether, because (1) I have a hard time finding common cultural and intellectual ground with adolescent and young men looking for a masculinized rebel-hero rather than primarily for the traditional Buddha dharma, and (2) many of these young men are openly suspicious of me and, frankly, likewise, evidently a little jealous of my “rapid rise in DhO rank” (something close to actual words during the feminist controversy), access to you, influence over MCTB2, or whatever.
Maybe a revived Underground would work for me and perceived “others” and outliers. Maybe women would open up there if we could find them. Maybe older, mature people would enter the mix. Maybe the advanced practitioners like Nick would share again as in the olden days. Who knows until the experiment is run? But it is unwise for me to expect much of anything, given the now homogenous starting ground, and maybe that is best since expectation leads to death. The path is lonely and, like everything else, in other respects always changing. So when this book is done, perhaps I’ll wander off to who knows where next.
Anyway, this is all to say that Sawfoot speaks at least partial truth when he says the DhO is a cult of personality, that personality being yours. It largely is. I’m positive that wasn’t and isn’t anything like your conscious intention, just as the masculinist youth bent isn’t. But both of these outcomes are nonetheless primarily your responsibility now, for you are, to quote Pawel K, “our dear Overlord,” right?
I’m a middle-aged, mature, intellectual, respectably accomplished woman comfortable in her own skin and not easily given over to hero worship, yet how did even our interaction start off? The same: You seemed the perfect teacher and man, the one to absorb and transform all my fantasies of enlightenment into realization. Dangerous thoughts? Absolutely. Normal detour? Again, yes, as you said so yourself. The resulting blowup and thwarting was helpful, perhaps, and almost certainly necessary and maybe even subconsciously brought on by me for that reason, although it was accordingly painful for me and almost cost whatever channel of exchange still survives here.
If this can happen to an older, intelligent, accomplished woman who read MCTB (at least the Mastery parts) multiple times and tried to take all the warnings seriously, how much more so is it going to keep happening to all these very young men and boys who are impressionable and in their formative years?
As I’ve now substantiated ad nauseam, therefore, the problem with your recurrent admonishment about projection is that it is your problem and responsibility, really, not the unsuspecting, ignorant reader’s. Against all apparent intentions, you’ve somehow contributed to the causes and conditions of this pattern, and apparently you’ve failed to see how you have had it coming when it comes. If you want to stop or at least reduce projection, as I know you do, then my sincere, well-meaning advice is as follows:
♦ Explain precisely what you mean by “projection,” perhaps offering a list of examples of projection situations. Yes, this is necessary, for I myself didn’t know exactly what you meant by “projection” until very recently. (For example, on the Black Sphere practice update thread, I honestly couldn’t trace what had upset you so much when someone commented that you always seemed to be in some epic struggle that was unpleasant. That comment seemed then and, upon my rereading, continues to seem innocent. The pointed response you aimed at that person for “projecting” onto you honestly made me scratch my head. It did help months later when you explained that that whole thread was on the heels of Sawfoot’s Fairies diatribe, but my point remains that there is really and truly a disconnect between what you see as inappropriate “projection” and what seemingly projection-prone DhOers think they are doing when they engage with you. Please make the connection plainer if you sincerely want this pattern to change, as I have no reason to doubt that you do.)
♦ Depersonalize the issue by framing it as a problem that all teachers (most, or well-known ones?) face, not just you.
♦ Be honest, understanding, and perhaps a little forgiving. Admit that it happens all the time, that, as you wrote me, “We all did and do this. We all project ideals of perfection onto those in teacher roles.” Admit that you did so too. (Why aren’t scenes of how you did this too in your narrative, by the way?)
♦ Explain what teachers in general have to lose if they allow projections to run riot, or even encourage them.
♦ Chiefly, explain what the practitioner has to lose, particularly in terms of practice, in whether projection runs riot.
In addition, I think it is fine, probably necessary, for you to lay out on the table that you are a human being with feelings too and with the right to a private, authentic life. In this connection, my own (now schooled) sense is that projections of ideals onto you feel like demands: You are trying to be straightforwardly helpful and responsive to many people, and when people idealize you or vilify you as a result of the help you freely offer, then ensues a big quagmire-like distraction from productive, efficient exchange. It makes you feel imposed upon, literally. Such projections eat up your limited time and energy and therefore make sharing useful information with anyone less likely. This reading is correct, no? Go ahead and say something to this effect, if so, in the introduction to this personal narrative. Try to gain the reader’s sympathy with your position and situation; most don’t want or mean to harm you, after all. Most also don’t have anything but a vague, abstract, inadequate notion how demanding your professional life is, believe me, for I myself am just now learning the rigors of your schedule and work.
Rhetorically speaking, though, readers will hear most what affects them directly. Instead of making how this issue affects them simply, “I will go out of my way to alienate you”—a preemptively punitive statement that, ironically, will just bring on more vilification and misunderstanding, as it did in the reading group I was in—how about explaining, as does Ven. Chah, exactly why these kinds of interactions are bad for everyone involved, including the practitioner?
The drawbacks to vilifying someone who has something worthwhile to teach and is willing to teach it are rather evident: The person on the attack, in defending turf, cannot hear reason or explanation. Frankly, these people are lost, so there’s not terribly much you can do except avoid giving them any easy handle by which to dismiss you for others (ie, you can reduce the noise caused by your own harsh-seeming, quotable dismissals, like “I’ll go out of my way to alienate anyone”).
So much for thwarting vilification. As for those people projecting fantasies and ideals, as you write try to remember first that these people don’t consciously intend you personal harm and that some of this is probably going to remain unavoidable when they first encounter you, MCTB, and the DhO; they simply don’t see the ignorance involved in idolizing you, which is why it is called “ignorance.” So why not make this issue something you can teach these people to understand better? Isn’t it true that this is a practice issue, as Ven. Chah thought? Please transmute this projection problem into a teachable benefit, instead of continuing to contract it into terse Mexican standoff moments wherein your preemptive take-no-prisoners cut becomes the very reason future readers either vilify or idolize you for being that rebel.
Please reread that last sentence.
Some of the drawbacks of the teacher-perfection-fantasy projection that occur to me—since I so magnanimously blazed through the crash course for the edification of your readership—are as follows:
♦ It is actually unkind to impose on a teacher even with what sounds nice, glorification or reverence, because these projections are implicit demands for someone to live up to something he is not or does not want to be. These projections are a serious blind spot in practice of sila. Ironically, idolizing a teacher (or author, leader, spiritually advanced dharma friend, whatever) is really like robbing that person of his (or her) humanity and right to have his own needs halfway met (time, energy, clarity).
♦ It is a rejection of self-reliance and owning responsibility for one’s own practice and mindfulness, whereas self-reliance is a value that you speak for throughout your book and model in this narrative of your own quest.
♦ Ideals of perfection and idol-fabrication are really disguised aversion to suffering, avoidance of investigating the here and now of one’s own suffering. Fundamentally, it seems to me, idealizations of this kind are a radical subversion of insight practice itself, a hope that a rescuer will deliver some customized magic formula that will amount to a shortcut, divine grace, salvation.
Am I close to understanding? If so, then please rewrite the intro to the Quest accordingly, for the benefit of all beings, which group, by the way, does include you.
I hope I’ve not said or done anything new to offend, for that is the last thing I wish to do. I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking through, working through, this projection matter myself. Although I’ve made numerous mistakes in this respect, which I regret, I sincerely mean well for everyone involved. I continually work to renew what it means to do the best I can. I’m doing the best I can, Daniel, and I know you are too.
Choose and Continuously Foreground One Theme
I suggest that you keep in mind the differences between autobiography and memoir. Autobiography is factual, event-oriented, chronological, and exhaustive in terms of breadth. Memoir is concerned chiefly with the inner life, thoughtful reflections on events; employs the techniques of fiction (dialogue, scenic description, flashbacks, etc.); is overtly thematic and essay-like; and selects life content only as it serves to elucidate the chosen theme.
Memoirs cause the reader to face down a choice; you want to frame that choice as such and illustrate with your life stories what is at stake in how something is decided, negotiated, navigated. You want this to be a memoir, an essay with thematic coherence, depth rather than breadth, and selective, discriminating use of personal content. You don’t have room or time to write an autobiography. More important than lack of room or time, you need a continuous theme in order to align the events as illustrations serving your anti-projection purpose and, more broadly, fitting the purpose of MCTB2 as a whole.
So, thematically speaking, what is the purpose of MCTB2 as a whole, especially over against other dharma books? It seems to me that these themes come up repeatedly:
♦ Self-reliance, personal empowerment
♦ Adherence to time-tested fundamentals of effective practice rather than pop psychology, myths, and personality dynamics
♦ Egalitarianism and independent eclecticism over authority and dogma
♦ Bravery, perseverance in the face of some increased suffering and loneliness on the path
♦ Optimism, positive attitude, faith requisite for both effort and surrender
Everything in this list is really the self-reliance, effort, energy side of that paradox at the heart of spirituality. You can see how—along with the metaphors of cowboys, James Bond, and hardcore heroic questing—all this power-effort-independence makes for what in American literature as a field we called the American male text. So, as a dharma practitioner conditioned as a woman, and as a feminist theorist of American and Southern literature, I find it fascinating to see in this edition the surrender, loving-kindness, receptivity, intuition, and poetry side come much more to the fore to make an actual paradox stand in relief.
I’ve elsewhere referred to this new balance as marking a gradient or a continuum between effort and surrender. It brings a larger context to bear on the balancing aspect of the Five Faculties. It starts with emphasis on tremendous questing effort, but ends in a faraway land with smiling silence from your teacher and with a simple walk to a domestic tea table. There is something so lovely and, yes, perfect about this story. I’d say that this is the theme of this new edition—how one has to intuitively feel one’s way along, discovering how to proceed, how to rebalance or seek a new point along this continuum, how to let the dharma find one, how to surrender and allow. It takes effort to proceed on only the resources of one’s own intuition, yet intuition is an opening, receptivity. You see, the effort-surrender paradoxes abound, self-replicate. They are much more nuanced, koan-like, and interesting than just another (male) narrative of American independence and trailblazing, much more interesting and inclusive than the identity-reinforcement of would-be badass dharma cowboys.
This theme clearly permeates Part I, so the more you can use parts of your life history to teach the slippery and self-replicating paradoxes of effort and surrender, then the more this memoir will read like a deep and organic part of this book, and not a tacked-on, dispensable appendix meant merely to appease voyeuristic aspirants to all you have attained.
How does this theme of continual, intuitive adjustment toward balance fold back into the purpose of thwarting projection? I’ll leave that an open question for you to ponder, except to say the various definitions of “mindfulness” itself form paradoxes, and except to wonder aloud whether Kenneth and Bill as mentors you perhaps idealized and felt deep disappointment in have something key to do with all this.
Remember that what you went through at any given point in your life need not have been thought about then in terms of your theme now. A theme is a highly fabricated and conventional overlay on disparate past moments. Bundling and thematizing confer unity, coherence, and purpose on an essay, which are necessary.
Carve Away Anything Lacking Depth or Integration with Theme
In comments below I mentioned Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. I don’t recommend that you read that book, but there is one idea I like in it—the idea of writing personal narratives as several deep “cups,” as opposed to fulfilling a continuous timeline. A “cup” in this context is one scoop out of your real life timeline. You dip down and lift it up out of the rest of the story of your life, extracting it wholly, and you fill that cup to its depths and to overflowing. You scrutinize the immediate beforehand, the external scene, the opponents and allies, the words spoken, the words withheld, your inner conflicts, your decision points, and the effects of your decisions, words, and actions. You are going for depth of treatment in select cups, not for broad timeline continuity. Reveal events as openings into both your younger and current mind and heart, your evolving inner life. Events are just events, after all. They are opaque and less interesting, less human, than how they generate the monologues of your heart and mind.
The story of how you attained arahatship is already such a beautiful cup. It is moving because it doesn’t skim along the surface of external events, trying to fit in as many facts as possible to perfunctorily cover a broad, continuous timeline. Instead, the sense is that for that one piece you sat still and long with just that one little story. It is as if you allowed that story space and time sufficient to write itself, to well up as a completed and contained offering. That’s what is meant by “cup.” It lets us see ourselves reflected in your heart, your vulnerability, in the deep desire for awakening that led you through so much heroic effort to the brink of the last heartbreak and surrender (and then hurrah, the triumph!).
Actually, everything after Kenneth disappears from the narrative does this and is really quite good, quite workable. I think that most of the stuttering around and merely factual timeline-enslavement occurs around Kenneth, for obvious reasons, and in some of the earlier childhood parts. I’ve inserted suggestions in comment boxes, but I think that the childhood events in general can be reduced so that the quest proper is featured more prominently.
So long as childhood stories are made to clearly support the theme—say, effort/empowerment or vulnerability/surrender, or both in paradoxical equipoise—then they can stay, and they don’t need to be connected into a line by means of perfunctory and surface-y summaries of other intervening years, additional A&P Events, or whatever. Allow just quietness to be between the crucial self-contained cups on the same theme. That’s all you need to accomplish right now. You don’t need to explain all the merely external events that occurred during all the time between your chosen cups. You don’t need transitions. You don’t need to convince us that your memory is accurate and factual. Allow each cup to reach its own depth, be its own essay, be what it has become. Between those, allow silence.
I suggest that, where I haven’t, you create simple working headings, like “Cup 1.” Once the contour and depth of each individual cup exists, then cutting away everything else becomes easy. Next pass, we put the cups in the most rhetorically effective sequence, which may not necessarily always be chronological since this is an essay and not an autobiography (eg, some childhood memories may work best as flashbacks from the IRL later adult vantage points.). The cups will already be sufficiently connected by virtue of supporting your theme (effort/surrender and their endless train of paradoxes) and purpose (that we not succumb to idealizations, projections, dependency on others).
Yes, this does likely mean you will have to peel off and file away what does not serve to elucidate your theme. That’s what masterful authors do: They cut, cut, cut. Faulkner said to student writers, “Murder all your darlings.” So do it. Murder them! Or I’ll do it—hand me the twirling swords, or scalpel, and I’ll blithely murder them where they lie!
It would pain me to see you cut some of the lovely childhood stuff, I admit—but that is probably because I happen to personally identify with it, especially the story of your being 3 years old and in the yard, almost remembering something like a past before life, because I had an uncannily almost identical memory at the exact same age (3) in the same place (back yard by the flowers). Nevertheless, if it can’t be made to say something about your theme, then it probably needs to go. This said, children’s ability to attain jhana or feel into something pre-life probably has something to do with their openness, receptivity, lack of control, even vulnerability—dimensions we seem to unlearn as we grow up. These childhood cameos can be interesting flashbacks embedded in other cups about the paradoxes or lessons of this openness, or in adult narratives of when you actually did remember some childhood content.
Okay, Daniel, that’s all I’ve got at this point, but it is plenty, no? I’ve pulled into the file everything I know about from your life. You need to do some more work, consolidate new stuff I inserted from DhO posts (and Prologue) that overlaps with original, and make and execute on decisions via my comments, before I can be of much editorial use.
How to handle the Kenneth and ex-wife disclosure problem I can’t tell you. I don’t know Kenneth’s tolerances for airing diverging views, your truths that he still denies, but, as I wrote in the last pile of emails I’m not sure you had a chance to get to, you will need to mitigate making him a bad guy, for he is obviously your friend and there must be an overriding reason for that, something that survived all that horribleness. Moreover, making others complete bad guys will make the maker seem like a bad guy. So you have to humanize the reasons we all make terrible decisions sometimes. Okay?
Incidentally, one reason to keep going with the cups approach is that when you quickly dash down a line of surface-y facts and events in succession just to fill in the timeline, this quick succession can make you seem extremely emotionally volatile and completely bonkers. Maybe you think you were, but, if so, there where good human reasons for that, and they aren’t told. Look, for instance, at the place where you mention off-handedly that IMS kicked you to the curb for having too much rebellious energy. That remark comes around a bunch of other nutty stuff. So if you are going to mention being kicked out of IMS, which seems sort of like a big deal, then you need to slow down and tell that story, make it a cup, humanize it, humanize where you were in heart and mind when that happened, why it happened. You have to normalize it. If it isn’t that important, isn’t worthy of a cup, doesn’t further your theme, then I would delete all mention of it. Otherwise, that mention, in the midst of the other nutsy stuff, is likely more of a misrepresentation of yourself than silence on it would be. Think about it.
I suggest that you tackle this memoir when you have a big block of time. I’m not sure why, but working on this narrative drains my energy in ways Part I never did and requires big blocks of time and running on momentum to engage. I do think a revised version should go in the book. What the heck: Let’s shoot for 1,000 pages to this book! 😉
Now I will turn to Part II. You have plenty to think about and work on when I’m not feeding you Part II chapters.
Part I is beautiful, Daniel. I think it is ready for posting out to the community. Now all we have to do is exert the effort we did on Part I just five more times!
PS: Oh. I just listened to one of your early Buddhist Geeks podcasts with Vince, “Enlightened Teachers,” and you are talking about projection of ideals in a different context there that I don’t think I have heard you say that way elsewhere. You are talking about how projection by teachers themselves of their own idealization when they are “up on the pedestal” to teach perpetuates this entire culture in which students will support and feed such teachers but will have a hard time waking up, and a hard time believing that they can ever wake up, because of the huge gap that apparently exists between these idealizations and the students’ own humanity. This is an additional angle on the projection issue: You take issue with teachers for doing this, for projecting themselves as sanitized, for the cultural ramifications of that dishonesty. So I can see why you would be especially dismayed to be idealized since idealization perpetuates this teaching culture that you are working to correct so that enlightenment can be more realistic, more down to earth, more attainable.
Unhealthy Effects of Goal-Oriented Practice
Yeah, oddly, pre-stream-entry I had extremely clear Fear, Misery, Disgust, Desire for Deliverance – and in
exactly that order, for 4 to 6 weeks each – but Reobservation never presented clearly, and I don’t remember being irritable or mad as hell like I’ve been this time around.
This time, Fear, Misery, and Disgust have been subtle, and now Reobservation is kicking my ass. I just read the MCTB2 draft version of the Reobservation section, and it does seem to emphasize this grrr aspect, this wanting to torch everything and run screaming naked through the hot desert of no return. Oddly, it also does mention having to see into all these fantasies about “attainments,” including projections onto a teacher, ideals of perfection – all the unhealthy components of goal-oriented practice – in terms of the suffering and dualistic split they effect.
Exchange with Daniel Ingram about Reobservation
I’m so sorry for my current volatility and the frustration aimed specifically at you. I realized last night that Reobservation is kicking my ass. Not that I regret standing up for future women on your site, and not that I think there isn’t unnecessary and unhelpful nuttiness on that forum (extending to moderation, leadership, boundaries) – but valid issues with which I’d normally be more patient are indeed being magnified and amplified through very old frustrations, very old interpersonal scripts of my own, and I feel like I’m banging my head against a wall and want to torch everything.
Last Dark Night, before stream entry, I had none of this; I had clear Fear, Misery, and Disgust, but no discernible frustration/Reobservation. This time it is reversed. The people at AN are cradling me, in a way, including Nick and Florian, so I’m thankful that I have that space and people who know what to say, so that I don’t bleed through at work and elsewhere.
May you enjoy your Buddhist Geeks time and dance party.
No worries. Part of the trick is definitely learning to roll with this in yourself and others. Given a large enough community of practitioners, it is basically guaranteed that multiple will simultaneously be in the Dark Night and having a hard time and basically nobody can really control the bleed-through and so these things are going to happen, sometimes often, unfortunately.
Soon enough you will see nearly all your dharma friends go through something like this, often multiple times, and, if they storm off in a huff, the trick is to just be there if and when they come back and realize that you also likely did it multiple times also, and this is okay, and we all move on.
There is a really steep learning curve to this stuff and it takes everybody time to get a handle on it. It gets easier for most as the cycles go on, but you never know when one will come along and kick your ass again. Remember when I said I went through about 27 of these ass-kicking cycles in about 6 years? All I mean by that is that I totally get the feeling and how compelling the issues can be and how hard it can be to get a grip on it, as the same thing has happened to me many, many times.
I am glad you are getting support: so good to have a community in which there are supportive people.
BG should be a blast. Thanks for the well-wishes and sharing the insights,
Thanks and, well, it helps to know where one is, that it is a stage. And it is interesting from a certain perspective to see clearly and feel viscerally for the first time the dots of parental abandonment and current idealization/perfectionism/codependency connected. Seeing the idealization includes seeing fantasies about my spiritual attainments and what they “mean” as fantasies, and that does include ways that, not really knowing you as a person, I have projected those fantasies onto you, made you into a symbol of what I want, and then projected disappointment as well onto “you.” So, yes, I’ve read the new Reobservation section, get it, and I’ll sit with it and just roll through it, and not let myself get caught up in
the psych shows too much, and not self-indulge in guilt, either, as I do trust you when you say you’ve been through it . . . many times.
Projecting ideals of perfection onto people in teacher roles is also totally normal, and reacting when they don’t meet those ideals is also totally normal. We all did and do this also. I am a guy with a few very specific skillsets that are unusually well-developed and the rest is pretty ordinary. Same thing turned out to be true for all of my teachers.
Stock and standard stuff to get used to and learn to see clearly.
Good to have insights into those things. Good to be seeing the issues clearly so wisdom can be brought to those patterns.
A New Beginning in Media Res
That completes the move of my Dharma Overground (DhO) journal over to this cozier, hopefully less nutty space [Awake Network].
All kinds of shit has blown up around and with me on the DhO for 3 full weeks. Folks seem to ascribe it to my being on second path, but that ain’t all of it. I had and have some valid contentions with that site, so-called moderation thereof, and other issues that I won’t name but people here know.
The question how much of shitty interpersonal stuff is path side effects and how much of it is not – well, that is hard enough, I imagine, for one to answer for one’s own part. But when people start answering for my own part for me, then I reckon that it may be they who are projecting their earlier path stuff onto me.
And then this rather arrogant condescension occurs, yea, even by the grandest of arahats. And evasions, evasions, evasions. And very subtle blame-without-blaming. This whole shitstorm has caused skeptical doubt to arise now, supposedly after first path, where I never had it pre-path. So either that ten-fetter stuff is utter nonsense, or I didn’t attain path after all. Well, what difference does it make, ultimately, what one calls it? Something happened. Something is going on.
I’m a shy person and not described by anyone who knows me at all as angry. I can be overbearing and perfectionist, but not angry, mean, or aggressive. Yet that is what I’m labeled now. So okay. And we practitioners are supposed to be doormats, or rather Teflon-hearted. And if the end is to become like those around me have been, then, yeah, not sure I want to go down this path, after all, and have my plain grasp of roles and boundaries smeared out of recognition until apathy and the near enemy of equanimity sets in like pathology.