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.


Linda-Sama said...

"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."

I heard Jack Kornfield say that anyone who thinks that you're never supposed to get angry or upset when you're on the spiritual path is living with "kindergarten spirituality."

His book "A Path With Heart" is a must read, Christine!

Emma said...

I didn't end up reading this book after all, but I'm following your discussion of it with interest.

So, I didn't read the part of the text you're referring to, but I certainly agree with what you say here. I think this is a very, very important point.

Ellen said...

I'm actually not sure where your quarrel with Cope lies, Blisschick? I don't think he would disagree with anything in your post except perhaps the last line, that craving and aversion aren't a problem.

He does divide human longings into two sorts, afflicted and non-afflicted. Only the afflicted ones need to be worked on.

"Is all longing afflicted? Is all desire really afflicted? What about longing for my beloved? What about longing for God? For love?"

Kind of poetic...He goes on to say that not all longing is afflicted.

How can we tell which are afflicted? Afflicted states are:

Meditation, and apparently yoga though I don't personally know how, helps us distinguish these states in ourselves.

I don't think there's any problem for Cope in our having good minds, imagination, planning ability, etc. etc. It's more the 'not allowing things to be as they already are' type of situation, not accepting reality, as it were, that is problematic. For me, for instance, it is not natural to accept bad feelings. But if I can accept, they eventually dissipate. Or if I cling to my good experience of eating chocolate cake, I already worry about the experience ceasing while I still have it, and so cease to enjoy it.

Anyhoo, I enjoy your bookclub and have to put in my two cents!


Christine Claire Reed said...

Linda-Sama, Yep, Jack Kornfield. Love him. I've read some of his work but not that one.

Ellen, Yes. Like I said, just a bit of a disagreement with him -- the end part that you mention. I don't see our minds as divided and I don't see it as helpful at all to see them that way.

I totally agree with all the stuff about afflicted versus non-afflicted. Of course. It's attachment, stuck-ness that gets us in trouble.

Though I also don't see anything wrong with thinking, "oh, my cake is almost gone..." ;)

Ellen said...

note to self - must invite sister out for birthday cake today. Yum - craving has begun! :-)

Rowena said...

Oh I'm not reading, but the discussion is interesting. I like to think that in nirvana we are totally at peace, in the state of being one with the universe, we are totally at peace, in death and afterlife we are totally at peace.... but here in this living, we are meant to struggle and learn and fail and get angry and desire and overcome our failings, and on and on... that's the search. That's what it means to rise.

Maybe we can have moments where it is all at peace, but life is so tumultuous, and like you say, we are desiring, imagining, striving animals. We have peace, then we move on to the next struggle, the next desire.

And that is all okay.

Getting lost in the desire... maybe that's the problem. Knowing that the desire is transitory and we can transcend it... maybe that's where the state of enlightenment is.

Don't know. I've had an early beer, so maybe the buzz is talking.

Christine Claire Reed said...

Rowena, If that's a buzz talking, you have one smart buzz goin'! :)

Well put. Moments of peace. Knowing we don't have to be entangled. Exactly.

differenceayearmakes said...

I got something slightly different out of this chapter. You can check my blog for the post. It has been rather had to put it into words. Sigh, I talk better then I write.

Jei said...

I have to agree that we are connected to, literally tied up with our emotions for life here on this planet.

Whether it's the happiness we receive from love or the gut feeling we get as the hair stands up on our arms when danger is near...our emotions ups- downs, happiness, sadness, fear, joy and anger all carry us along on this path.

de Chardin said, "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience we are spiritual beings having a human experience."

C.Douglass said, " Jenny get your HEAD out of the clouds all of the time...your here in this body. Your earthly experiences are just as important!" (my dad)

We are here in this life, creating this world as we go along and what we feel contributes to the whole of it.

I started reading the book...