The Psychology of Meditation
Meditation is a way of working with neurosis of ego, so in order
to understand the psychology of meditation we must understand the dynamics of
that neurosis. According to Buddhist psychology, the basis of ego is the tendency
to solidify energy into a barrier that separates space into two entities, I and
Other; the space in here and the space out there. This process is technically
termed dualistic fixation. First there is the initial creation of the barrier,
which is the sensing of other, and then the inference of inner or I. This is the
birth of ego. We identify with what is in here and struggle to relate to what
is out there. The barrier causes an imbalance between inside and outside. The
struggle to redress the imbalance further solidifies the wall. The irony of the
barrier creating process is that we lose track of the fact that we have created
the barrier and, instead, act as if it was always there. After the initial creation
of I and Other, I feels the territory outside itself, determining if it is threatening,
attractive or uninteresting.
Feeling the environment is followed by impulsive
action, passion, aggression or ignoring. Pulling in what is seductive, pushing
away what is threatening or repelling, ignoring what is uninteresting or irritating.
But feeling and impulsive action are crude ways of defending and enhancing
ego. The next response is conceptual discrimination, fitting phenomena into categories,
which makes the world much more manageable and intelligible.
fantasy worlds are created to shield and entertain ego. Emotions are the highlights
of the fantasies while discursive thoughts, images and memories sustain the story
line. A story of ego's hopes and fears, victories and defeats, virtues and vices
is developed. In highly neurotic people, elaborate subplots or problems then develop
from the initial drama. The subplots become very complicated and compelling, often
overshadowing the main drama. In psychotic people, the subplots completely overshadow
the main drama.
The different stages of ego development-the initial split
of I and Other, feeling, impulse, conceptualization and the various fantasy worlds-are
technically referred to in the Buddhist traditions the five skandhas. From moment
to moment the five skandhas are recreated in such a manner that it seems the ego
drama is continuous. Clinging to the apparent continuity and solidity of ego,
ceaselessly trying to maintain I and Mine, is the root of neurosis. (This effort
clashes with the inevitability of change, with the ever-recurring death and birth
of ego, and therefore causes suffering.)
One sees the world in terms of I
and the Threat, I and the Seduction; and consequently either moves out and tries
to grab hold of phenomena or holds back from them, withdrawing into a defensive
posture. Such clinging creates a sense of alienation which panics us into struggling
to restore the balance that has been upset. Seemingly pleasurable objects become
more seductive and seemingly hostile objects become more threatening. So the more
one struggles either to gain pleasure or avoid pain, the more one creates dissatisfaction.
One can go so far as to lose contact with the ground, which is psychosis. Or one
can stabilize in a defensive way, which is what a neurotic person does. The particular
neurosis you create depends on your style of relating to the world-defensive,
seductive, manipulative, encompassing or ignoring. But whatever your style, the
degree to which you are neurotic depends on the extent to which you are struggling
to make yourself comfortable; which is ironic, because it is the effort to make
ourselves comfortable that creates the discomfort.
On the other hand, there
is the possibility of breaking the chain of panic and struggle by opening to what
is, by dropping the attempt continually to maintain one's security. One can define
meditation as a process of letting go, of giving up conflict, not in a passive,
spineless sense, but in the sense of being present yet not manipulative. So we
are faced with the moment-to-moment alternative of either opening to space, of
being in harmony with it, or of solidifying and fixating it.
One must be careful
not to fall into the trap of superficially letting go. What one is doing in that
case is trying to compensate for the discomfort of life by smoothing it over,
by trying to make oneself at ease. In the case of highly neurotic persons, their
awkward attempts at easing their discomfort are obvious. But in the case of spiritual
techniques such covering over is harder to detect. Rather than softening reality,
meditation is a process of clearly seeing it. A good example is Don Juan's approach
to fear. He does not offer Carlos a technique to dilute fear. Instead he tells
Carlos to live with fear, live with death, make death his companion, make fear
his companion; but never succumb to them.
Excerpted from GARUDA, a 1976 publication
put out by Vajradhatu Publications ©.