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Implementing Spiritual Teachings

What does it mean to be spiritual today? In this podcast Rob Scott and Kerri Kannan discuss how to implement spiritual teachings in a down to earth and realistic way. This interview is from a show that Kerri runs called World Awakened on Blog Talk Radio.

Topics covered include:

It’s a great interview and I was really happy that Kerri invited me to be on her show. Give it a listen.

[audio:https://s3.amazonaws.com/robscott-audio/HowDoWeImplementSpiritualTeachings.mp3]

Looking Through Other Peoples Eyes

Many talks I’ve given have been about the perspective shift of being able to look through other people’s eyes. And while this is a deeply important skill to develop to inform ourselves and to evolve, if not done from a place of health, it can lead to enabling co-dependent behavior.

Healthy perspective shifting includes:

  • Understanding that someone beeping in a car might be late and it might not be about you.
  • Making the effort to see a situation from your loved one’s eyes during an argument.
  • Taking the time to listen to a co-worker to really understand their needs.
  • Consciously integrate shadow elements of ourselves (part of the 3-2-1 process from integral theory).

Perspective shifting is paramount to evolving and growing. But we need to do it consciously and mindfully. When we don’t, looking at the world through other people’s eyes can lead to unhealthy co-dependent behavior.

What is co-dependence?

  • Someone who exhibits too much, and often inappropriate, caring for persons who depend on him or her.
  • Co-dependence can also be a set of maladaptive, compulsive behaviors learned by family members in order to survive in a family which is experiencing great emotional pain and stress caused, for example, by a family member’s alcoholism or other addiction, sexual or other abuse within the family, a family members’ chronic illness, or forces external to the family, such as poverty.
  • Codependency advocates claim that a co-dependent may feel shame about, or try to change, his or her most private thoughts and feelings if they conflict with those of another person. An example would be a wife making excuses for her husband’s excessive drinking and perhaps running interference for him by calling in sick for him when he is hung over. Such behaviors, which may well lessen conflict and ease tension within the family in the short term, are counterproductive in the long term, since, in this case, the wife is actually supporting (“enabling”) the husband’s drinking behavior.
  • My simplified definition is when we lose ourselves to the idea of another. When I am looking at my life solely or primarily through your eyes.

What is the difference between a healthy perspective shift, and losing oneself in another through co-dependent behavior? The difference is when we know who we are. Other’s perspectives should inform us, but our actions need to remain based on our own values. This touches deeply on understanding our values and beliefs. And while this could be a whole other talk, our values and beliefs need to be understood, and at least peripherally mentioned here.

My first talk I said that beliefs are an error of taking an opinion and treating it as a truth. What I meant by that is that an unconscious, unexplored belief is an attachment that limits, or affects, how we see the world. But we all have beliefs, we all have values, even though there is an ideal groundless state of being. To express ourselves as humans, as selves in relation to others, we need to be clear on what our attachments, beliefs and values are. The more we know about who we are as people, the more evolved, awake, and informed we are.

Gaining the skill of looking at the world consciously through other people’s eyes is an important growth for people. But we need to use the idea of an other’s perspective to inform our own perspective, not lose our own perspective to someone else.

[audio:https://s3.amazonaws.com/robscott-audio/LookingThroughOtherPeoplesEyes.mp3]

Learning to be Detached

I was recently having a discussion with a good friend of mine. He mentioned that people who have had trauma and have learned to detach to protect themselves would make great Buddhists. They may have spent their lives not attaching to things because things or events had hurt them in the past. A trauma survivor may have learned to “turn off” from arguing or painful situations.

First, let’s forget Buddhism and just talk about healthy detachment, which is what this person meant. Secondly, let’s explore what detachment is and is not. Healthy detachment actually has a lot of attachment in it, it’s just what we are attached to that counts.

A detached person can shield themselves from pain and other things attachment leads to. So isn’t detachment what some of the great traditions are teaching? Shouldn’t we all not care about good and bad and learn to fully detach from the material world, etc.? In actuality, detaching at a certain point can be very detrimental to us. But true healthy detachment isn’t the same as trauma induced detachment. True detachment is involved and aware. We are always somewhere, attached at some level to something, so we need to learn what attachment and detachment are.

Moments arise, and they just keep arising. We are capable of accepting part of what is going on: a conversation, a bus coming at us, snow falling, whatever. A healthy brain functions in a state of deletion. There are always billions of things occurring while the present moment creates itself. So that healthy brain chooses what to attach, or pay attention, to in any moment. The thing is, we don’t only have all that’s actually going on in an objective sense to choose to attach to or be a part of, we also have our thoughts.

We can leave being associated, or attached to this moment and go to an imaginary future, or a remembered past. A dysfunctional brain tends toward not being able to manage these attachments. Someone who has been severely traumatized may have a hard time choosing the things it attaches it’s brain to in a way that society would deem appropriate.

That said, many people who have been abused may learn the ability to detach from an abusive parent. They use their mind to manage a situation and separate from pain. But detaching from what is is not a blanket good or evolved thing to do. In fact, as necessary as that might be in situations of overwhelm, I’d suggest that it’s much more healthy to stay attached to what is going on, and continually widen our capability to attach to more and more of what is going on.

So if I’m saying we should attach to what’s going on, why is the talk called Learning to be Detached? Because it’s actually the opposite of what a trauma survivor might learn to do. We want to attach to what is, and detach from our own desires, expectations, and delusions. We want to learn to be more and more OK with what is, with this moment.

A healthy happy person is in the moment, meaning attached to what is, they are not however attached to how it’s supposed to be. This talk is not selling blind acceptance, and we should move toward our goals, but it is important to not be consumed by them. Accomplishing goals relies on attachment and discernment. In contrast, an unhealthy detachment is just disconnected. No attachment to things that can hurt us, but no attachment to things that bring joy either. No connection with isness.

So the difference is in what we are attached to. We should try to be aware and attached to what is. If we’re attached to a certain outcome, we’re beginning to detach from what is. If we’re completely disconnected, and not interacting with anything that is, then we’re deeply unhealthy. But in contrast, if we detach from unhealthy attachments, which are usually our own beliefs and agendas, then we are tending toward being more awake.

Show song: Satisfied Mind by Jeff Buckley

[audio:https://s3.amazonaws.com/robscott-audio/LearningtobeDetached.mp3]

The Problem With Self Protection

Our self is more than partially defined by the assumptions and beliefs we hold about the world. Our emotions arise as that self rubs up against it’s edges. Emotions often tell us when our boundaries, or self, have been compromised. There is no doubt that we need to work on our understanding of emotions. Teachings that help us understand our emotions I label as self protection teachings. Again, those teachings are very important.

Once we understand self as the accumulation of our own beliefs, we can learn to drop it. I’ll call the experience of dropping beliefs experiencing no self. That doesn’t mean our self stops existing, it just means we learn that we are not as attached to the self, and that it can be put down for pure experience from time to time. Practicing meditation is the expression of no self.

Because many think self is the root of desire, and hence unhappiness, some spiritual teachings discuss limiting or denying self as a spiritual practice. It is important to understand that experiencing no self doesn’t make the self unimportant. It is not something that should be shunned. To the contrary, it should be learned about deeply. Much of life requires understanding of ourselves and others boundaries.

Possibly to combat the erroneous notion of suppressing self, emotional teachings often end up defending self, which is one of the reasons I call them self protection teachings. But while it is important to not deny self, those teachings often make a different error. They fail to mention that our self may not be healthy. While emotional intelligence is crucial to self knowledge, we shouldn’t blindly assume that the self we find once watching our emotions is healthy or correct. Many people in touch with their emotions act quite horribly. It’s neither the answer to deny self, nor to accept it blindly. We need to learn to work with self.

Learning to work with self takes nothing away from the importance of emotional intelligence or self protection. However, to be truly wise, we need to be able to judge ourselves and be open to change. Blindly following our present boundaries does not allow us to evolve. Suppressing or shunning self only leaves us fragmented and unhealthy. We need to learn about self, and no self, and allow both to change and evolve.

[audio:https://s3.amazonaws.com/robscott-audio/TheProblemWithSelfProtection.mp3]

Shining Light on the Shadow

Part of evolving as a human being, and part of the teaching that I’m trying to promote, is about bringing awareness to all the aspects of our lives. One of the big accomplishments in psychology has been identifying and naming what’s been called the shadow. To understand the shadow we’ll try to describe a fictional “whole self” and then discuss damage that occurs which can create shadow.

What is a whole self? We could say that it is someone fully identifying with all the ways he/she can interact with the world: Thinking for objective experience. Emotion and body for subjective internal feeling. Spirituality for a larger context. Having access to all those experiences is what we might call being whole or fully self. (FYI – This is a different meaning of self, a more healthy meaning, than what I normally use to describe self.)

Shadow literally means to obscure the light. A shadowed element of self is a part of us that we don’t identify with. Commonly that can be an emotion we don’t relate to, or it can be how we relate to our bodies, minds, or spirituality. Any part of self that we have become disidentified with can be termed the shadow. Again, our shadowed elements are any part of us that we don’t have the ability to identify with directly. Shadow elements are often brought on by trauma, and solidified by our beliefs. Working with shadow is extremely difficult primarily because we don’t see what we’re not conscious of.

How do we find our shadow? We begin to find our shadow by looking at things that bother us – anger in other people or situations – behavior we know we do, but deny as “us”. Often this will be perceived as someone else’s “stuff.” It can be out in the world, but shadow can also express itself in our dreams. Therapy can help us find the shadow, in fact most of what therapy tries to do is work on reintegrating splintered parts of self and foster becoming whole.

To begin working with the shadow we make the effort to bring aspects of our self into 1st person experience. Literally taking 3rd person experience and working to make it 2nd person, and ultimately 1st person – via role playing dialog and perspective shifting. This is a great way to reintegrate shadowed elements of self.

Referenced: Integral Theory

[audio:https://s3.amazonaws.com/robscott-audio/ShiningLightontheShadow.mp3]

Turning Subject Into Object

Turning subject into object is both a concept and a practice. In this talk I discuss the difference between inner and outer experience and how that relates to subjective and objective experience. We need to define perspective – subjective experience is what I identify as “me”. Objects exist within my awareness, but are not “me”.

An interesting point to note here is that even things I identify as me can be objectified. I have a foot, but I am not my foot. My foot is still me on some level, but I am able to objectify it. That ability to objectify internal experience is important.

If we find we are angry, that is our subjective experience. Turning subject into object would be backing up from that anger with a question: What am I right now? That shines the light on our experience and objectifies the anger. We can’t see the subject, we are the subject. But we can see things once we objectify them.

You may say, but Rob, I see myself get mad all the time. That’s true on two levels: One level is that you flip between subject and object to some degree all the time, and the other is that you see it now, when we’re objectifying it together. But learning to do this as a practice can lead to profound change in your life.

Who is the self that backs up from the subject to objectify it? That is the age old question. Another question to ask is which of these perspectives is self? That really depends on whose talking. Self can mean egoic separate sense; or it can mean, in some Indian traditions as an example, the cosmic oneness. We can get lost in words very quickly here. But the aware self in the background is what is often termed either just “awareness” or “authentic self”. Ego would normally be considered the smaller self.

The practice of mindfulness is a subjective experience, practice of awareness is an objectified experience. We need to do both. When you are angry, you are smaller. When you are aware you are angry (have objectified the anger, but not dissociated from it) you are larger. You are the anger and potentially the solution.

So how do we make the subject the object? We use introspection, questions, and cultivate awareness. The desire to see what you are brings this objectivity to the situation. We see as objects what we are. This is the practice of meditation. What is arising for me in this moment? We can make a practice of it, or we can do it when we realize we are unhappy.

Just the simple action of making the subject the object allows us space for change.

Referenced: Integral Theory

[audio:https://s3.amazonaws.com/robscott-audio/TurningSubjectIntoObject.mp3]

Turning Anger into Compassion

Anger has it’s place. It is there to move us. It tells us things aren’t right. But we don’t want to get lost in anger. We need to be conscious of it.

Compassion means: Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it.

There are two phases to turning anger into compassion. Phase one is looking at the situation from the other person’s perspective. Phase two is understanding that people must be in pain to act the way they act.

There are things that people do unintentionally that upset us. Phase one would be to take the time to see things from the other person’s perspective. There is really no need to be upset once we understand that we are all trying to get somewhere in our car. Once we see that that person doesn’t know our situation, and was just acting probably as we would act if we were them. That perspective allows space into the situation. It allows perspective and understanding.

Then there are times when the other person is actually being malicious. They are trying to sabotage us in our work environment, take our job, abusing power, trying to embarrass us in public, or they are treating us poorly in one way or another on purpose. What do we do then? Well, you still use phase one, which is looking at the situation from their perspective. Once we realize that that person is doing something we don’t understand, we try to find compassion.

The way we find compassion is we begin to realize, right now, that people don’t act poorly like that unless they are in pain. Unless they have been wronged in the past.

I will point out that it’s interesting that humans don’t need to be taught to lie. A small child will lie about being caught in the cookie jar all by themselves. But that’s just self preservation, it’s not really malicious.

If we make it a practice to one, look at problems from the other person’s perspective, and two, understand that people are in pain and act poorly because of it, we can turn our own anger into compassion.

[audio:https://s3.amazonaws.com/robscott-audio/TurningAngerintoCompassion.mp3]