Saturday, August 6, 2022

Don’t Stuff a Rising Threshold

I wrote last year about the Sanskrit term satchitananda, which has perpetually been tough for swamis to define. You may have heard of a celebrity guru by that name, but he didn't coin it, he just copped the term, which dates back millennia.

I offered the word "bulletproof". Modern English coughed up this gem, and no serious swami would quarrel with its suitability. FWIW, I retconned some of the writing in this extract:
Once you begin to realize that you're here to pretend you're in a dramatic narrative - you've essentially been playing a role in a movie, raptly viewing yourself on-screen in real time - you no longer have reason to inflict stress and suffering on yourself. Such is the power of reframing. You're bulletproof!

With less sense of embroilment and stakedness (the "attachments" Buddhists keep going on about), the world seems less enthralling. You no longer get bent out of shape from needing things to go any certain way. It’s all mild entertainment, a Disney ride despite the horrors and heartbreak. It’s all worn lightly. It’s like serenely walking home from a horror film.
Meditate enough (I use this very stripped-down system, and strongly suggest skipping the rest of the web site) and you will become bulletproof.

Here's the surprise about gun shots to a bulletproof chest. Even if you deflect them - ala Superman or a cop wearing kevlar - the bullets still really hurt.

Bulletproof does not mean numb. You feel pain. You just don't suffer from it. Suffering stems from the stories we tell ourselves about pain (present or imagined), not from the pain itself. Pain is compulsory, while suffering is optional. So here's something to bear in mind:

As you settle into satchitananda, there's a compulsion to act like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Whoopie, nothing can touch me! You tightly pack the fantastically expansive space. As your threshold rises, you fill it in with work and commitments and stress. Much more of those things than would normally be viable.

It works ok if you're working for a higher purpose. Helping people. Being of service. This is how useful change happens. You'll be consumed in the process like a charcoal briquette - i.e. "leave it all on the field" - but it's a noble endeavor.

It's problematic, though, if you take this course while mired in the banal American grind. Running a business. Aspiring. Hustling.

There are levels of pain no quantity of morphine can touch. There is a point where the pain from deflected bullets aggregates into bona fide trauma. You remain peaceful, disengaged, and bulletproof, but you are torturing your mute, obliging body. This is self-cruelty even though you feel fine where it counts.

Most people are very tightly gripped by the hoo-haw of swirling drama they opted into, suspending disbelief to orchestrate the most thorough possible immersion. No one's born a diehard Yankee's fan. One starts with mild interest, and eventually voluntarily works oneself into a crazed froth where absolutely everything hinges on playoff results. Baseball's just a game, sure, but we can easily will ourselves to forget that. And everything on this planet - even your most sacred and meaningful stuff - is like that. It's all a mere game you chose to invest in. This is a light world for light entertainment in which we invest - to enhance the emotional ride - to the nth degree. But, in the end, every bit of it is "just a game".

We grip tightly (again: just to enhance the emotional ride) on many levels, mostly unconscious. So when we first experience satchitananda, it's only from the outermost layer. You're still prey, under the hood, to fraught grippy neediness, even having relaxed and surrendered a bit.

If you maintain your meditation practice, satchitananda will bake in deeper. In time, you'll assume it's complete saturation. But it's not. It's a few percentage points. Your experience of the world has become so different from most people's that you imagine vast transformation when it's really just been a quick haircut.

So if you subject yourself to more and more gunfire due to faith in your bulletproofness, you will create - beyond the body trauma I described above - unconscious trauma in the parts of your psyche not yet saturated with satchitananda. Your unconscious grippy artifacts may be quietly freaking the fuck out. Yikes.

That's the main problem, and it must be handled. This is where self-love comes in. I'm not a fan of self-love. I grew up among severe narcissists in a country that tends strongly toward narcissism. I have the tendency, myself, though I've been Clockwork Orange-ing it for so long that it's a pathetic stunted whimper rather than a monstrous roar. So it takes a lot of pivot for me to recommend self-love. Most of us need self-love like the Sahara needs sand.

But whatever you've done to raise a threshold - or if a threshold has risen spontaneously - you must take pains not to infinitely pack infinity. In the case of satchitananda, you must methodically manage the pain level in those parts beyond the halo of deep peacefulness. Don't load up your peace with strife, even though peace is vast and strife is illusory. There are levels of pain no quantity of morphine can touch

I'm describing a fairly common predicament, per this posting's title, "Don’t Stuff a Rising Threshold", though I chose the most arcane possible example (satchitananda is not something most people experience beyond brief moments, aka "peak experiences").

Normally I choose relatable examples to ensure accessibility. Not this time. But I invite you to extrapolate this advice to more relatable realms. Two examples:

John Henry

Consider the tale of John Henry, a steel-driving railroad man whose heart exploded trying to keep pace with the mechanical engine designed to replace him.

John Henry was no weakling. John Henry was mighty. He was great. John Henry had a lot of heart. Just, alas, not infinite.

Heating the Ocean

Don't ever try to heat the entire Atlantic Ocean.

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