Dr. Charles T. Tart on February 21st, 2010

Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,

Lecture 4, Part 9 of 19 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.

Student: I think you can bypass the mundane with anything, really. Can people do it because they’re drunk on Jesus too? Too drunk to recognize their family problems? And they do it with theory, abstracting everything away.

CTT: My wife and I are reading a biography of Einstein. When things weren’t going well, he really got into his theoretical work. I know about intellectual drunks like that. It’s a wonderful way of getting away from the realities of the mundane world. But of course, they’re still there waiting for you, and the people you got away from by thinking yourself away from them are now pissed off at you because you didn’t pay any attention.

(Laughter)

Student: Can you do that mindfully sometimes though? Knowing that you’re not doing it all the time, but knowing that okay, right now I just really want to be intellectual, so I’m going to go…

CTT: Yes. I think the general rule in the mindfulness tradition is not that “At every moment I must be perfectly enlightened and deal with everything in the optimal way,” but to be mindful of what you’re doing. And sometimes that may involve recognizing “This situation drives me absolutely bonkers and bananas and I’m going to kill somebody if I don’t distract myself for a minute! So, damn it I’m going to concentrate on my breathing and not on what that son of a bitch over there is saying to me. Or go watch a movie!” Yep. It’s not as if there’s any one behavior or internal strategy that is the optimal thing for all situations. And, of course, one of the virtues of mindfulness is that you get to know yourself better. When you do have to use a less than mindful, but effective, distraction or happiness inducing technique, you could probably use it more effectively.

Student: Do you think they work in the long term if you don’t have any of those sort of work that you’re doing?

CTT: Do which work? The –

Student: Like psychological work, or like therapy. I mean, say that you get really angry when people disagree with you, so I have to distract myself every single time I get angry. But I do that knowing that I’m going to get angry if I don’t stop myself. But do you think that works in the long term if you don’t have some other sort of practice combined?

CTT: No. I don’t think it does. Well, I mean it might work in the sense that you don’t kill anybody, so you don’t go to jail, but you do get ulcers.

Student: Yeah.

CTT: Or at least that used to be the fashionable theory that anger gave you ulcers. I don’t know if that’s true anymore, but there’s a level of behavioral suppression of stuff that will get you in trouble. Even if it may be psychologically stirred up and boiling inside, that’s much better than acting out in a way that gets you into really bad trouble. But then you want to go further and not just boil inside, but you want to get at the psychological source and begin to change it.

Now the mindfulness traditions would claim that the practice of mindfulness is all you need. No, no, I shouldn’t say all. It’s the main thing you need to eventually recognize those sources and change them. That eventually you’ll have insights into your personality that will let you change some of the more maladaptive psychological things, but eventually you’ll have the more important insights as to who you really are, which will make the big change. I don’t want to use the words “all you need” because they’ll always put this in context.

Buddhism is an eight-fold path. Meditation is one part of that, but you’ve got to have right livelihood, you know? If you make your living making land mines designed to blow up children, you’re not creating very good karma. And your actions toward other people have to be decent because they have consequences, which will again have psychological effects.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Responses to “How to Deal with Spiritual Bypass”

  1. Rocket says:

    I have noticed folks who become meditators before they do the more gutsy emotional work on themselves often turn the meditator thing into an ego trip … holier than thou … it becomes a defense I suppose.

    Others, and I think this is common, psychologist friends have commented on it ….. go for meditation training and get nothing at all out of it. I was one. I strongly suspect emotional “skeletons in the closet” that hijack consciousness making the necessary unperturbable stability, focus and relaxation impossible. It’s very hard work to become transparent to that emotional stuff. My experience is you have to return to the vulnerability of the child in a stable therapeutic container (psychedelics CAN speed it up like crazy too) to the time you sustained the original injury and then it transforms to tranparent immediately. Also most meditation instruction in the west leaves an essential step out, development of a degree of Samadhi first. Again emotional skeltons make the requisite degree of focus and relaxation almost impossible.

    “Yep. It’s not as if there’s any one behavior or internal strategy that is the optimal thing for all situations.”

    Perhaps one could say one must become transparent to the emotional reactions, thus no longer controlled (limited) by them. Then Samadhi becomes accessible …. insight or Vipassana is one secondary or knock on result of the presence of Samadhi. That has been my experience. It was not in the least subtle.

    “Now the mindfulness traditions would claim that the practice of mindfulness is all you need. No, no, I shouldn’t say all. It’s the main thing you need to eventually recognize those sources and change them. That eventually you’ll have insights into your personality that will let you change some of the more maladaptive psychological things, but eventually you’ll have the more important insights as to who you really are, which will make the big change.”

    Mindfulness may be all you need but emotional issues are a big obstacle to mindfulness. The Dalai Lama at a meeting of Neuroscience and Buddhists at Stanford in Oct 2005 flatly stated (paraphrasing) “mastery of the emotions” is what Buddhism has to bring to that table. We westerners have “special needs,” so to speak, before we have access to the wisdom of the Tibetans.

    • Right! To overstate it, psychologists know about how to deal (at least partly) with emotional problems and irrational defenses, but know nothing of the deeper mind meditation practice can reach. Meditaters tend to go for that deep stuff, but may be deeply blocked by unacknowledged emotional issues. Their teachers tell them to meditate more, which might do it after a zillion hours of further practice, but might be very inefficient compared to going and getting some psychological help to undo those emotional blocks. What I hope Transpersonal Psychology will be able to do some day, as we learn more, is to say, with high efficiency, when to meditate more and when to get some psychological help…
      I say a lot about this in my Waking Up book in a chapter on defense mechanisms and how they distort our efforts.

  2. Sandy says:

    In my own case, my counselor has been very surprised by how useful meditation has been for me. This is new territory as far as he is concerned. There are times when I need to work out problems with him in order to become unstuck with where I am in life. But other times the only thing that has helped is meditation.

    I think my counselor had previously looked at meditation as just being a good way to relax. Now he is asking questions about what else it may be doing. There is still the problem with meditation tending to increase the likelihood of having anomalous experiences. Sometimes I stop meditating because I don’t like that part, but the benefits generally outweigh the problems so I keep going back to meditation.

    Talking to a counselor has made coping with the anomalous experiences easier to handle. I don’t automatically interpret such experiences as being bad anymore. I’m learning to see the good in them. Meditation seems to be giving me at least a bit of control over the experiences. Somehow they seem to make more sense than they used to. So both counseling and meditation are helping me. It sure is a lot for me, and my counselor, to figure out though.

Leave a Reply

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*