This article speaks deeply to my experience.
Blessings ~ Molly
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by Jack Kornfield
For most people meditation practice doesn’t "do it all." At best, it’s one important piece of a complex path of opening and awakening.
In spiritual life I see great importance in bringing attention to our shadow side, those aspects of ourselves and our practice where we have remained unconscious. As a teacher of the Buddhist mindfulness practice known as vipassana, I naturally have a firm belief in the value of meditation. Intensive retreats can help us dissolve our illusion of separateness and can bring about compelling insights and certain kinds of deep healing.
Yet intensive mediation practice has its limitations. In talking about these limitations, I want to speak not theoretically, but directly from my own experience, and from my heart.
Some people have come to meditation after working with traditional psychotherapy. Although they found therapy to be of value, its limitations led them to seek a spiritual practice. For me it was the opposite. While I benefited enormously from the training offered in the Thai and Burmese monasteries where I practised, I noticed two striking things. First, there were major areas of difficulty in my life, such as loneliness, intimate relationships, work, childhood wounds, and patterns of fear, that even very deep meditation didn’t touch. Second, among the several dozen Western monks (and lots of Asian meditators) I met during my time in Asia, with a few notable exceptions, most were not helped by meditation in big areas of their lives. Many were deeply wounded, neurotic, frightened, grieving, and often used spiritual practice to hide and avoid problematic parts of themselves.
When I returned to the West to study clinical psychology and then began to teach meditation, I observed a similar phenomenon. At least half the students who came to three-month retreats couldn’t do the simple "bare attention" practices because they were holding a great deal of unresolved grief, fear, woundedness, and unfinished business from the past. I also had an opportunity to observe the most successful group of meditators - including experienced students of Zen and Tibetan Buddhism - who had developed strong samadhi and deep insight into impermanence and selflessness. Even after many intensive retreats, most of the meditators continued to experience great difficulties and significant areas of attachment and unconsciousness in their lives, including fear, difficulty with work, relationships wounds, and closed hearts. They kept asking how to live the Dharma and kept returning to meditation retreats looking for help and healing. But the sitting practice itself, with its emphasis on concentration and detachment, often provided a way to hide, a way to actually separate the mind from difficult areas of heart and body.
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Joy comes not through possession or ownership
but through a wise and loving heart.
~ Jack Kornfield