Commentary on Surgeries and My Experience in the Field of Awareness
Juliette Perry, LCSW
My previous paper described my surgical experiences which brought up a number of points I would like to discuss. The scope of that paper did not allow for extensive elaboration, and I would like to address some of the more important issues in this commentary.
In my previous paper I discussed the notion of desire. Desire manifests itself many ways in the human experience. For my purposes, I use this concept in the spiritual sense. In my early life, I yearned for something that I could not identify with words or formulate with my mind. Yet my body, through gnosis, knew it. When I was taught to meditate, I experienced the recognition of what I could not name. It felt like a rediscovery of the felt-sense of Being and Presence that is timeless, eternal and never-ending. What I had always known was suddenly manifest within my consciousness. I finally had a name and context for the Field of Awareness. This in turn fueled my desire for more and more of the fullness within the Field.
My experience of the Field is embodied rather than coming from mind alone. Desire of the mind dwells on a lack of a thing, often obsessively demanding more. When I finish meditating, I do not feel deprived or that somehow a thing has been taken away or lost. Rather there is a felt-sense of desire of the heart and body. Residue of the fullness, energy, light, and timelessness of the experience remains, viscerally fueling praxis. In meditation there is a sense of reaching through the veils that shroud “What Is,” which become less dense each time I sit. There is a cumulative effect over time fueling the desire to go deeper.
In my original paper I briefly described how I handled post-hospitalization meditation or praxis. Illness of any sort or anxiety and loss can interfere with praxis and make it almost impossible to meditate. This was very frightening and threatening for me. The impulse to force activity and fight the helplessness is a common response for so many of us. With guidance, I learned to simply rest, allowing my awareness to be in my body and avoid the area that the pain was coming from. Pain can be all consuming, so finding a part of the body that is the least affected to gently focus on is imperative, even when the focus is intermittent. Medications and discomfort interfere and seem to dull or completely obliterate awareness. However, simply allowing whatever happens to occur naturally taps into the Field of Awareness with its aspect of timelessness even though we are not completely conscious of it. I would sleep on and off, always coming back to resting and gently focusing even for just a few minutes at a time. As I improved and my focus became less affected by medications, I would silently say a mantra while maintaining my internal focus. The result of this approach was a quiet acceptance that would begin to develop through the underlying timelessness that cut through the inevitable impatience with the process of recuperation. Although this was not my normal meditation process, it worked to get me through the initial post-surgical periods when I could not sit and evoked a sense of continuity of practice.
The experience of tolerating a long period of recuperation without some form of practice creates a very disconcerting disconnect. It makes the healing process extremely arduous evoking feelings of helplessness and at times hopelessness. I realized very quickly after my first surgery that I needed to do something regarding practice because my mental state was suffering. The simple formula I described greatly altered my experience and was one of the approaches I used to make the multiple surgeries doable and ultimately a learning experience.
Through the years of meditating, it has become clear that there is a protective quality to the Field of Awareness. This does not mean that difficulties, traumas, or profound grief do not occur. Rather, the cumulative process of sitting in meditation year after year allows one to be present to “What Is as It Is” within timeless Awareness. It is the ability to be present with the unfolding of life without the unending commentary and value judgments that the mind insists upon. The commentary and judgments may still arise, but they are more like a faint distant rumble of thunder that does not draw attention. They cease being the organizing principal that formulates feelings and action. Rather, compassion, gnosis, and discrimination formulate action and the arising of subsequent emotions. When completely present within timelessness, there is no figuring out or planning. The body is open and Awareness is embodied. When experienced through the Field, the true nature of circumstances is revealed and appropriate responses and actions occur. What direction one should take simply becomes apparent. The “answers” and subsequent feelings arise into consciousness very naturally.
Negative emotions may arise, and, in fact, some may be appropriate to certain life experiences. When these emotions arise naturally through the Field, they are indicators and can be used as a tool. Anger is an appropriate response to certain life incidents and may be necessary for survival. The difference between receptivity and passivity is vast. Receptivity is inherent in the Field because oneness is relational. As one sits, the relational aspects within Being are immediately obvious as spaciousness and embodiment opens. Oneness becomes apparent. Passivity leads to a lack of agency and a forfeiting of the self to whatever influences happen to be at any given time.
Expressing anger becomes a choice through gnosis rather than the gut-level reaction that comes from the mind. Grief and sorrow may also arise and are experienced as fully as joy and love. When experienced within the context of the Field of Awareness and timelessness, there is no tendency to shy away from what is painful. Emotions are experienced consciously as the natural result of “What Is” and a part of the fullness of this life. There is no actual freedom from suffering. “What Is, Is,” but it is seen from a different “view” as the unfolding of life’s majesty and sacredness. This ability to “see” clearly in the light of timeless Awareness, and the ability to experience the natural arising, allows one a felt-sense of protection, safety, and appropriate action even in the most difficult of times.
Another aspect of the Field is the luminosity within timelessness Awareness. The body becomes progressively infused with more and more light each time we sit in praxis. This strengthens and expands the Vass Body or Body of Light, which in turn allows the recognition of Oneness and the unfolding of compassion. In time, the luminosity of existence becomes completely apparent. The Body of Light within the timelessness of Awareness metabolizes current experiences as they arise as well as those in the past. Memories remain but residual damage or scarring do not. Fear and anxiety may arise but have little hold. Rather these feelings are experienced energetically as waves that dissipate out into Presence and timelessness. This experience underlies the resulting certainty of safety, which is very powerful and incredibly comforting. It allows one to approach life with ultimate confidence regardless of what may arise.
The process of accessing the Body of Light or the Field can certainly be interrupted. My own experience is a case in point. Even after years of praxis, the traumatic experiences I had with my surgery in 2011 foreclosed my ability to consciously access the Field of Awareness which also can happen if one stops practicing. As Awareness of the Body of Light develops, there is a natural opening and closing of our ability to access the Field. Initially when we start meditating, we sit in Awareness then go about our daily lives in forgetfulness until we have practiced long enough that we start to remember to access the Field regularly or that access just naturally arises. Over time, we are progressively more present, and we begin to live our lives within the Field of Awareness. However, just because we are not conscious of the Field or the Body of Light does not mean it does not exist, but rather it is not apparent to us. It also does not mean that it will not occasionally arise on its own. This shift in “view” happens whether we have ever meditated or not.
Timelessness is the most important quality of the felt-sense of safety and comfort of the Field. It is also the most mysterious. Time with-in timelessness and timelessness with-in time is an experience we have all had whether we meditate or not. Time is a completely elastic experience that creates that odd sensation of where did it go after one has been absorbed in an activity, something of beauty, or a person. The trauma I experienced through the years of bodily assault could not have been tolerated without my daily experience of absorption within the Field of timelessness. Growing up, I had a highly developed ability to dissociate due to difficult childhood experiences so that I could hide from pain and fear. That changed once I began to meditate. Fortunately, after the last surgery, when I had the perception of foreclosure, I did not retreat into dissociation. Although my mind had taken over, I knew that I needed to meditate even though it had become so challenging. I made myself sit even if just for a few minutes at a time using breathing exercises and a mantra to assist me. As I described, in time I was able to sit longer and longer. I began to experience glimpses of the timelessness of the Field as well as feel the energetic waves and vortexes within my body.
These momentary experiences helped to take me out of the dead space within which I felt trapped. It was a salve that encompassed my Awareness and permeated and soothed my Being, creating a sense of relief even for just a few minutes at a time. During those minutes, struggle to sit ceased and my body opened with no fear or anxiety. Over time, the recovery process continued. As timelessness opened, I calmed down. My experiences in meditation were not as they had been before, but within timelessness that becomes irrelevant. Once the shift that I experienced some time ago occurred, it was apparent there had been no intrinsic loss of the Field. There never is. There is simply obscuration and a change of “view.” The natural opening and closing of the Field is always there and these experiences have given me a deeper understanding of the part timelessness plays.
During illness, or in severe pain, anxiety and fear within time, in a certain way, feel almost timeless. The never ending pain drives one into timelessness through the seemingly endlessness of it. Pain, anxiety, and fear become like a vice on one’s body and mind. Spaciousness implodes and one’s interiority is simply encompassed by sensation that is unrelenting with no specific solution. Retreating into dissociative and autistic states is often a means of escape. Medication can dull the sensations, but they are always present unless unconsciousness takes over. Clearly the sense of timelessness experienced in this manner is vastly different than what is experienced while practicing. During that period of time just after the last surgery, I felt trapped and encompassed by the opening of such intense darkness that there was no sense of a way out. I was locked into the concrete operational, which intensified the pain, horror, and agony as my mind was immersed in on going solipsistic rumination that was totally enervating. During the initial phases of this experience, the power of the anxiety and fear was extremely intense and overwhelming. I had never experienced anything like it in my life. In retrospect, I have wondered if my years of praxis which built up of a reservoir of energetic power and refinement may have intensified those devastating experiences.
Often people caught in this situation contemplate suicide. I was suicidal during my teens, but it never crossed my mind during this very difficult time. I believe that the desire for praxis that had built up throughout the years helped me through and mitigated any notions in that direction.
Through the course of time, there are many experiences that arise during meditation. Allowing these experiences to simply arise and to be what they are at any given moment is an essential aspect of praxis. The desire to grasp at what our minds want to qualify as the positive experiences and push away the negative is common. Although I had not been able to access the Field through the post-surgical experience, I realized just how attached I had become to my “positive” experiences and how much I looked for them when I sat. I was forced to give up my expectations, which partly allowed that very important shift to occur.
My first teacher discouraged any attention given to experiences or the discussion of them because of the tendency to become attached. I have subsequently come to realize the importance of acknowledgment and articulation of what is essentially beyond words, which gives a context and helps to bring forth an understanding that can be articulated. The trap is grasping on and looking for specific experiences no matter how pleasurable. My particular focus was on the aspects of bliss and rapture in the Field that are particularly seductive. If I did not experience it, a part of me felt somewhat dissatisfied and that it was not a “good” meditation. This attitude was not completely conscious; rather was much more subtle and insidious. Now, I see very clearly how easily I slipped into expectation, grasping, and attachment, which arrested the expansion of my awareness. Being present to “What Is” is exactly that. Allowing expectations to cloud awareness in any way or grasping for any type of experience will not allow for the fullness of possibilities. What makes each moment new is the arising. Looking for specific experiences shuts down the spontaneity of the process thereby breeding attachment. This becomes a cycle that is difficult to discern and break. Whatever arises simply “Is.” Any judgments are irrelevant and all praxis regardless of content is positive.
Another realization that I had during that same period of foreclosure was that I had been fostering an attitude of spiritual arrogance or smugness. However unconsciously, it became painfully clear once I could not access the Field. At first I was shocked and could not believe that the Light and timelessness of Awareness was eclipsed. My mind was spinning out of control, and I kept thinking that this could not happen to me. I had been practicing for so many years, how could the Field be inaccessible. I knew it was always there regardless of my ability to access it, but suddenly I was blinded. I kept thinking how I had been through all those surgeries and had always bounced back. I had naively thought that my “accomplishments” could not disappear and I would not again have to worry about disruption, but the severe damage to my body and psyche seemingly precluded my ability to access the Field.
Spiritual arrogance is very common among long-time meditators. Suddenly I could see the self-satisfied arrogance and smugness I had been holding regarding “my abilities.” It was apparent that my sense of self-identity had been predicated on my practice and my number of years meditating. I had been so fortunate through the years. I had never had a problem sitting nor had I struggled with fear and anxiety while practicing. Now I struggled just to sit for more than a few minutes at a time with fear and anxiety permeating praxis. As time went on, I began to see how my attitude in itself had been a factor in blinding me and foreclosing possibilities while in the Field. Despite the remarkable shift that occurred, the first few years of practice after that surgical experience were often arduous with a sense of “toughness” to get through it. It still is from time to time. I have also altered how I think of my years of practice and no longer count years or indulge in pride about what I think I know or have accomplished. When sitting in the Field of timelessness Awareness, all that is irrelevant. Obscurations come in many forms. I now understand how the mind can intrude in very subtle ways.
Loss is one of the most important and difficult topics in this discussion. The natural appearance and disappearance, the coming and going of people and life circumstances is something we humans struggle with throughout our lives. In the natural order of things, changes tend to be gradual over many years. However, few of us escape sudden and often traumatic events involving the loss of loved ones, our homes, our countries, our mental functioning, our bodies, or anything to which we are attached. The loss of what was and the resultant consequences of the unknown future, and how to cope with what will be, is often terrifying or at least unsettling. Nothing is worse than not knowing what is happening.
I will speak from my experiences, but my observations can be applied to all forms of loss. Before that series of surgeries started, I had been in excellent physical shape. I worked out regularly and had always been very athletic. I had a history of back problems, which I had dealt with successfully through chiropractic, acupuncture, and a number of alternative modalities. I spent my time enjoying life through my relationships with friends and family, and engaging in most activities. I had an adventurous spirit, a good sense of humor, and an overall sunny outlook. However, in 1997 when the pain was far more intense than it had ever been, none of my usual attempts of dealing with it were successful. Soon I was unable to engage in my regular activities. As the years passed with each successive surgery, my body has changed, and I have experienced some impairment. As I began to comprehend that most of my bodily changes were permanent, I went through great emotional turmoil as my mind tried to come to terms with my new reality. My outlook and personality changed, becoming more serious, introverted, and less willing to connect with others. Fortunately, with time and continual praxis, most of these changes have mitigated, in spite of an additional recent surgery.
There is a grieving process with every loss, even the less important ones, because so much of these losses are tied to our sense of self and personal identities. When the mind is in control, acceptance is illusive and comes grudgingly. The hurt and sorrow experienced can develop into bitterness and resentment. The mind can rail against “What Is” through an on-going solipsistic rumination that can collapse the ability to access the Field. It was only through consistent praxis and the doorway of timelessness that I could contend with pain, lack of mobility, loss of functioning, and loss of a certain level of agency. I certainly had my moments of “poor me,” and each time I became aware that another ability or function had disappeared I experienced the grieving process. I especially grieved for the incredible amount of time spent dealing with doctors, hospitals, and recuperation. Time that I could never recoup. I found myself dwelling on what was and constantly looking back and reminiscing. There were parts of what I had known as me that seemed to fade and I could not access. However, when grief or loss is experienced through timeless Awareness, the result is a totally different “view.” The pain and sorrow are still there, but they are not the organizing principle of the Self or personal identity. Awareness expands out rather than imploding. The Field metabolizes experiences by disintegrating them into the expanse of “What Is” and Being. The acute ache dissipates, eventually transforming into the magnificent beauty of the on-going appearance and disappearance within Life. There is no loss within the timelessness of the Field of Awareness. There is simply “Is-ness” and “Being.”
Culturally we are oriented toward hope in times of crisis and loss. We are taught that we must maintain hope at all costs. It will help us survive by giving us energy and drive to over-come all obstacles. I have found that hope is a wicked two-edged sword. When I experience hope, I get caught in ruminations on “what if” and scenarios of triumph over my difficulties. Presence disappears and is replaced by phantasmagoria activating my mind toward a future that does not exist. Hope is driven by fear of the present situation and all that it implies. It is the intensity of this underlying anxiety that fuels the power, energy, and desperation of hope yet supplies an escape route based on nothing. The intense need that it breeds can lead to dissociation and autistic states. Once reality plays out with the unexpected and unwanted outcome that has nothing to do with what the mind has created, the result can be devastating. It can result in profound sorrow, rage, paranoid states, and terror. The trap of hope is very seductive, but staying with “What Is” within the Field of Awareness dissolves hope and mitigates any need for it. The mind with all its ruminations dissolves into timelessness and spaciousness of each moment just as it is. The judgments of good and bad become irrelevant and fade into the light changing one’s perspective or the “view.” Acceptance is the result, but it is based on Being and Presence rather than giving into the sorrowful acceptance of losing a profound struggle. Anything can be endured with in the timeless Field of Awareness. Even the depth of sorrow and loss can be transformed. It is replaced by a felt-sense of fearlessness that allows the unfolding of “What Is.”
My experiences over the last 18 years have been transformative. To hear that liberation must be sought through one’s personal life experiences or Dharma was an abstract theory that I found interesting when I heard it years ago. Through years of trudging through and consistent praxis, I have come to understand it viscerally as an embodiment or felt-sense of truth that these experiences are an intrinsic part of my Dharmic Path. My set of life experiences that will ultimately lead to liberation in this life or those in the future. This understanding has allowed me a tremendous freedom in how I live my life. No, I do not look forward to future surgeries and losses or the loss of the time I will have to spend dealing with whatever unfolds. However, when I am in the Field, I do not fear it, and I look at life in wonder as the unfolding adventure continues on.