Monday, June 22, 2009
Reading Stephen Cope: How Craving & Aversion Aren't the Problem
Typically when I read a book written by Stephen Cope, I end up underlining sections and putting stars, exclamation points, and smiley faces next to them in the margins. I am having a very friendly conversation with Stephen.
But this chapter felt different, and instead of my usual, preaching-to-the-converted types of markings, I ended up writing whole sentences wherein I was having a bit of an argument with him.
Let me start by saying that his differentiation between afflictive states and non-afflictive states are vital to any understanding of yoga, meditation, or most spiritual practices that are meant to bring us to a state of ease in our own lives.
Afflictive states create discord between us, our minds, and our lives. We are attached to certain outcomes, and when we don't get them, we fall into pits of despair or become entangled in ever-spiraling levels of anger and frustration.
Herein lies the possible stumbling block.
Many people get confused. They think that residing in a non-afflictive state means that they are forever peaceful and calm; nothing ever can ruffle their feathers again; everything is groovy and blissful.
They think that it means being mindfully present to the exclusion of fantasy or daydream or planning. They think it means accepting what life hands you with a pleasant half-smile. They think it means never wanting or desiring again.
Not at all. That state would better be described as "dead." (We then use these impossible standards to judge ourselves as failing some spiritual test.)
For example, as humans, we are designed to imagine. We are designed to imagine, let's say, how to take down that larger-than-us animal for dinner so that we might survive even though we don't have giant claws or legs that can propel us over the Serengeti at 30 mph.
We are designed to imagine how to protect our families from the predators that do have those claws and those legs.
It is our brains and our imaginations that made it possible for us to (over) populate the planet. (The good or bad of this is not our topic today.)
Imagining means musing over possibilities that reside in a never where -- a place and time that does not yet exist but that we could through the second step -- action -- make manifest.
So it is in our very nature to spend time contemplating the past -- and the mistakes we have made so that we might not make them again -- and dreaming of the future -- perhaps a future without the flu or a future where no one starves or a future that includes a book or a piece of art that only you could create.
Cope says that "craving and aversion do not exist in the deeper, luminous parts of the mind."
But to divide our minds into parts like this seems to miss the whole point.
We are, at our cores, animals. Craving and aversion -- that is what we are made of.
It's what we do with those things, how we react to them that makes us human, that creates luminosity.