A conversation yesterday reminded me of a teaching offered during my Fisher Hoffman process that has been key for me along this journey since I first heard it 25+ years ago. Ellen, our facilitator, told us practices like meditation or pranayama can wind up adding another layer of obfuscation instead of taking us deeper, depending on how we approach it.
She used a chart about the diamond heart, culled from A. H. Almaas*. It’s a simple set up, showing a diamond at the center with a series of circles around it. The diamond represents our true essence. The first circle represents the “bad” ideas we got about ourselves and who we are at an early age based on the criticisms and teachings that took us away from essence. It surrounds the diamond heart and covers it.
The next circle is the set of behaviors we adopt to keep other people from seeing the unpleasant things we believe about ourselves in the circle beneath. Once you’re living with those two circles of mask covering badness, the only way to get back to your true self is to go through those two circles, to penetrate the mask and the illusions about being wrong or unworthy, etc.
Meditation and pranayama, in quieting your mind and helping you zero in on the truth, have the possibility of opening pathways to help you get to the center. But they can also be used to create a layer of calm and serenity that pointedly ignores the troubles lying beneath the mask and then you just have a third circle keeping you even more separated from your essence.
I’ve known a lot of people who’ve gotten into any one of several ancient traditions with its own form of meditation who managed to meditate for years without ever resolving an issue or penetrating the circles. Insight Meditation is one example I’ve encountered. The initial teachings are just basic mindfulness meditation practices. There are other practices if people advance through the teachings where there’s a lot more work about identifying thought patterns and beliefs and letting them go.
But many people find such relief in the serenity and calm from just doing basic mindfulness practice that they become addicted to meditating in order to create the facade of calm that keeps them from looking at anything roiling beneath. Ellen called it “narcotizing” (among a long list of ways in which she thought we all tend to narcotize). I’ve known a number of long-time devotees of vipassana and other forms of meditation who have clearly been using meditation to hide more than to illuminate.
I immediately recognized I’d been doing just that. I was in a bad situation at the time and I kept meditating and doing pranayama to calm down the angst I felt. It’s not that it was bad to do it — once I understood the process, those practices helped me to calmly figure out what to do and to have a fairly peaceful confrontation. But until I saw what was happening, the practices just helped me to bury the hurt and anger I felt. The problem is even trickier when it’s repressed memories you’re keeping buried.
Ever since then I’ve periodically realized I have to check in about this. I still practice yoga, meditation and pranayama enough to stay in a pretty peaceful place. Once in a while I check in and see I have stronger feelings about something than I’m letting myself feel because the practices keep smoothing everything over. Again, once I’m aware, the practices are a help in figuring out the best path toward resolving the feelings. But if I don’t check in, it’s easy for me to use them to keep from feeling; burying things and keeping a rigid front in order to be sure they remain buried is a major trait for me.
I see Americans in general as being inclined to hiding from looking deep within, so it’s an issue for most spiritual seekers in this country (maybe all of Western civilization?). Just be aware as you create all the peace and calm with meditation, etc.: are you letting them open you or using them to hide from your truth?
*Either culled or they learned the idea at the same time — both learned Fisher Hoffman and other teachings in classes/workshops they attended with Claudio Naranjo in the 70’s. Ellen died some years ago so my source for the origins is gone.