The Value of Lineage.
There’s a big man sitting at the front of the room. I find it hard to discern if he is big, as in full of himself, or big, as in he’s on to something.
The vibe of the two differs, but can easily be confused at first glance. I need to stay put, take my time and listen, take in the whole being in front of me.
Eventually judgement arises: He’s full of shit, I think, or, he’s just full of himself. He really loves sitting up there, in front of the crowd. He’s an attention addict, but I’m not sure he knows it himself. Whatever insight he has, it is not coming through tonight. This man is more lost than me.
The thought “maybe it’s me who is full of shit” crosses my mind, but I toss it aside, for now.
“Let me bless your mala in the mother Ganges,” he says, and looks at me. One hand on top of mine, eyes saying something more like, “Can we fuck now? Am I not the most radiant being you’ve ever met?”
On the inside, I’m on the floor crying with laughter because it’s the most outrageous pickup line I’ve ever heard, and I’m having an amazing time finding myself in the middle of this cliché.
I put my necklace in his hand and say, “Great, take this and bless it,” while silently giving a blessing to him: “Bless this man, bless this man, let him be loved.”
In his mind, he is giving me a gift, and in my mind, I am blessing him. “Email me,” he says. I throw away his card that same night. The necklace is a gift.
So what is it, really, that we gain by studying a tradition, apart from cultivating your poker face? I’m talking about a spiritual tradition here, but it could be any kind of lineage: cultural, family, work…
In a lineage, what we understand now, and the way we articulate our experience, is shaped by past generations’ studies, practice and ideas. How do we get sharp enough to be able to discern the difference between what a teaching is, and the person giving the teaching?
Teachings may be life-altering for us, yet the person giving it may not yet embody it himself or herself.
When we learn a tradition, we get concepts thrown at us: big ideas, theories and other people’s experiences. It’s a jungle to navigate, and if we are not used to the jungle, it can be quite confusing. “This is it,” they all say. “This” for us, is still a “that”.
For us to bridge the gap between us and “that”, and realize the depth and truth of a principle or a teaching, we usually have to take what seems to be a big detour.
This is where we ourselves gain experience. Not a single generation will be able to escape this part of awakening to one’s self, yet our evolution builds on the previous generation’s trek. The detour is not a detour. It’s all we have. It’s our life story.
During the journey, we have to sharpen our judgement skills, because there will be so much wisdom thrown at us which in the end will turn out to be pure stocking stuffer.
The power to discern.
“When you have an injury or a body or mind breakdown and you take the time to go through the process of healing it and knowing how you need to care for it so it never bothers you again, you have gone through a conscious evolution.
It is hard to fall back into unknowing.People who just have it “fixed” through meds, surgery, or any other modality that does not require their participation usually wind up back in some pain or restriction at a later date.
Your body and mind need you for their maintenance and well-being. Your life is richer when you actually develop this relationship.” ~ Yamuna
Does anyone have it figured out?
I personally don’t think a single human has it figured out — why we are here, what the meaning is, what will happen after this life-experience — no matter how awake they are, no matter how authoritative they are, or how many workshops on spiritual practice they have taught.
So many teachers look over a crowd instead of at the crowd.
The ideas and traditions are all mere attempts to describe something that is so near to us that we will never be able to understand it, let alone describe it using language.
If we take life’s big questions to the very point of demanding an answer, “What is the purpose of life?”, for example, no one knows.
You will get many answers. But no one knows. Simple as that. It’s beyond our capacity to understand. It may always be. But since we are such nosy f***ers, we keep asking the question.
It’s easy to get lost in someone else’s description, yet we really need someone else’s experience to find our own. It’s real-time evolution because when we have been taught a structure, when the brain theoretically knows something, it will shape our experience.
This is where lineage, heritage, plays it’s part: to re-shape our personal world.
Learn the sequence, then forget it.
When we hear something for the first time, most often it has nowhere to land.
We may react with a “This is simply not true, at least not to me,” or “How dare this person say or write this or that?”
We rebel against the unknown. We know it potentially has the power to get us unstuck. The reason we eventually come to terms with the risk of getting unstuck is this: the only thing scarier than being unstuck is staying stagnant in this place we are presently calling ‘reality’.
Reacting to what is new is not wrong, it is a reaction. We react from our conditioning, our previous life story. So, to break through, we have to consider the reaction as possibly being untrue.
Even if we feel strongly, even if is suits us to uphold this specific pattern, even if we are afraid, let’s consider the reaction and see what happens if you let it be only that — a reaction. Not the end. Not the beginning. A reaction.
Either what you heard is simply not true or perhaps a new perspective — a door-opener, a negative trigger that triggers understanding.
Of course, the opposite may also be true. You may have a recognition of something new and it immediately resonates with you and reveals a deep understanding. It happens. But mostly we challenge the new.
It needs to be challenged to see if it holds, otherwise we may just say Yes to someone else’s vision of the world. And if we look at the history of the world, that’s just a bad idea. Bad shit happens when we follow, without questioning, the leader or the leading ideas.
As seekers, we deeply care about freeing ourselves from the unhealthy stories we tell and live our lives by. It delights us when we start to see more clearly, getting to know that which was never, and will never be ours, yet is the only thing we have.
It is easy to become dogmatic, crediting a system or tradition for showing us a map by naming it The One.
A tradition helps us to focus, relax and understand the flow of thoughts, feelings, and the movement of spirit; yet each and every tradition comes up short.
When we have reached the end of our journey with a certain school of thought or movement (which is usually not directly after your this is simply not true reaction to your first encounter), then you yourself put on the captain’s hat.
We need to step out of the vehicle which has taken us this far and take a look around. First a tradition activates us, then it limits us. As a structure has been downloaded into your awareness, where your actual experience can land and be understood, things will become clearer.
A structure download helps us understand, but it will still fall short of giving you a full understanding. There simply isn’t a way to get full understanding. There is always more.
If we get stuck in the intellectual space of our practice, never letting things settle and just living a little, we shortchange ourselves of the pay-off. Sometimes the recognition of what we are gets overlooked even by the schools trying to guide us in a way to find who we are.
Knowledge of a system becomes more valued than the actual living of a system. What starts in wanting to unify and open, brings us full circle by first teaching us how to separate, how to make the whole in to pieces.
We can really only understand the big picture by looking at the pieces making up the whole. Starting with what is right in front of us, figuring out our relationship to ourselves and others, separating before we can unify. But what if we never stop separating? Dare to step out and integrate!
We are human beings, having a human experience. We will still be humans when we awaken to different parts of existence. Being human is what we are. It’s the gift we’ve been given. Why all this effort to tame the very nature of who we are? It’s a natural question to ask.
It seems we lose our ability to understand something when our energy is too scattered. When thoughts are all over the place and are too many at once, we have no chance to discern what needs our attention and what does not.
Lineage gives us tools to collect ourselves, but it doesn’t know what is really going on. It can’t. What it can do is provide one angle, one explanation out of many.
I would love to hear a teacher say that this is what it’s all about — life — right here! This is the only real we’ve got. Are you going to deny the in-your-face-here-I-am-this-is-your-life part of life and only theorize?
Seclude yourself while teaching that this life is so full and we should all be in full engagement with each other?
My practice leaves me in humility, humble before the shortcomings of myself and my teachers. It’s okay to not have it figured out. Some are into the theory, some into the application of the theory to one’s life, some into both. All of us are needed, and whatever place we are in our explorations is perfect.
“We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.” ~ Primo Lombardi
I watched a show the other day on the wisdom of the collective. It was about the accuracy of the expert vs. the crowd. There was a cow, an expert, and a crowd. When asked how much they thought the cow weighed, the crowd all put a note with their guess in a box.
The expert made his guess, and then the average of the crowd’s guess was compared to the guess of the expert.
Even though some people in the crowd had been way off, with guesses of 200 kg or 1200 kg, when the collective guess was added together and then divided into an average, it was more accurate than the expert’s. The cow weighed 584 kilos — the crowd guessed 581 kg, and the expert 495 kg!
Spiritual practice, in my opinion, gets dangerous when the wisdom of the collective is ignored over the opinions of the expert. There is a need for all of us to be led to a certain extent, to be held and guided on in what is the right direction.
But there comes a time when we have to break away from the ideas of someone else and start to listen very closely to our own being. What am I experiencing?
I asked a very sweet Zen teacher the other day: “What is the problem? Really, what is the problem?”
He didn’t understand me. It was a poorly articulated question! I wanted him to give me his view of the problem of life.
“Since we are all trying to solve the existential dilemma, what is your take on the problem? What is really the problem with being a human being and being okay with that?” is what I wanted to ask.
Is a lineage valuable if it devalues holistic humanness?
I see the worth in, and have reaped humongous benefit from, sticking to a tradition — great benefit by seeing where I get stuck in my own conditioning. It’s taken me to a place where many patterns of reaction have faded since I’ve realized their true nature as untrue.
I still act out many of my patterns; oh yes sir, I do! But less.
I thank all the teachers I have met and who have guided me to this recognition. I am greatly indebted to you, you have my love and total adoration.
But I still have to ask: “What is the real problem, can you articulate?”
Because it may turn out that you are listening to someone guiding you towards the solution of something that for you is not even a problem! If it’s not a problem to be a human being having a human experience, well whoopee, how unuseful to try to solve that sucker.
If I don’t investigate and find out what my opinion is, it means that I refuse to take a chance at the weight of the cow. And then, maybe, the collective wisdom is less because of me. Who knows?
If we put all the traditions together, stir them up and then divide them the middle way, holding all parts of all things together, will it turn out to be closer to the truth than either one of the lineages separate from each other?
Experience is bigger and more down to earth than tradition. Knowledge sure helps anchor the experience, articulating the experience, but it can never be the experience. When a map is close to shared experience, it makes it easy to find the way, even when you enter new terrain.
If only one part of you gets the say — only intellectual reasoning, or only experience — well, we all know what happens then: there is a disconnect, and each disowned part will in some way start to make itself heard by injury, exhaustion, stress, sleeplessness, or in any other way it expresses itself.
Your detour will add to the collective wisdom and become part of the evolution of a tradition. Your opinion will be rebelled against by next generation who will be looked down upon by the generation after that. It’s how we grow, how we learn. It’s the gift of a lineage.
It gives a boundary, something to consider, rebel and grow against.
But never comply because someone else told you so! Or because I told you so…
So we follow the orange signs and go about our lives, taking the longer, more eventful scenic route. Perhaps by the holy river Ganges.
P.S. Thank you, sweet man, for blessing my mala in the Ganges. You taught me something valuable that evening: that we are all human, and at times, we all use power to get what we want, and others may see straight through us while we are at it. If we are lucky, our behavior gives the other a smile of recognition and serves as a reminder to stay real. So, thank you for the reminder.