Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Ego death

Our mind is an amazing reality that emanates from a brain composed of different cells and neurons which function differently, yet results in a seamless understanding of the world and our selves. In a balanced way, our right and left hemispheres function so that we bring together very different modalities to form a balanced worldview, which is both analytical and compassionate. Unfortunately, most of us are not balanced due to a host of reasons and tend to be either overly analytic or overly affectively sensitive. For the most part, our left-brain rules the day and this hemisphere is the home of our ego (sense of self).

Our ego mind perceives the world in a possessive and resistant way, which creates attachments and judgments. If we like (a judgment) something, our ego attaches in a favorable way. If we dislike (a judgment) something, our ego attaches in an unfavorable way. This clinging to conditions results in a brittle, judgmental and inflexible perspective of our selves, others, and life. Whereas a balanced mind recognizes our interdependent union with all life our ego mind denies this and treasures exclusivity and independence.

The three poisons of the mind are manifestations of this out of balance ego exclusivity. As we grow and mature these poisons create strife for our selves and others. We respond to this strife in one of two ways: Blame and denial or learning. The first response just exacerbates the poisons whereas the latter choice moves us to the realization they are rooted in our out of balance ego mind.

Life, in essence, is structured so that we either awaken or we continue to suffer. If we live long enough and are open-minded, we will eventually come to see the truth, and when this transformation happens our ego (as the exclusive judge) dies—so to speak. The fact is this sense of self never dies but it is “reborn” in a transformed way—a balanced way so that we see the world in an enlightened fashion.

This transformation can be facilitated through Zen whereby we learn to quiet the constant left-brain chatter that emanates from our ego with its judgments and critiques, which normally overshadow our compassionate nature. This chatter is so loud and relentless that we could easily go through life with very little, if any, understanding of our pure and true nature which makes life worth living. It is unfortunate that few of us follow this path toward breakthrough and remain ignorant of our full human potential.

Breaking through occurs when our left-brain chatter comes to a halt and we become aware of our always present true nature. This is a matter of subtraction—a sort of shedding—rather than adding or seeking. Lao Tzu put it this way...“Empty yourself of everything. Let the mind rest at peace. The ten thousand things rise and fall while the Self watches their return.” And this...“In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired. In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped. Less and less is done until non-action is achieved. When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.”

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The eye-glasses upon our nose.

Seeing only clouds of delusion.
Zen Master Huang Po (Huángbò Xīyùn) was one of the most important and revered teachers of all time. Among other contributions he was the teacher of Lin-chi (the founder of Rinzai Zen) and the promulgator of the inherent nature of the One Mind, being everything. His teaching on this reflected the Indian concept of the tathāgatagarbha—the idea that within all beings is the nature of the Buddha. Therefore, Huang Po taught that seeking the Buddha was futile as the Buddha already resided within: “If you know positively that all sentient beings are already one with Bodhi (e.g., enlightenment, Supreme Wisdom), you will cease thinking of Bodhi as something to be attained”

This principle is one of the most difficult for aspirants to comprehend since the vast majority of the human race firmly believes Enlightenment IS to be attained and may spend their entire phenomenal lives seeking what they already possess. This idea of no attainment was eloquently articulated by the following:

“If an ordinary man, when he is about to die, could only see the five elements of consciousness as void; the four physical elements as not constituting an ‘I’; the real Mind as formless and neither coming nor going; his nature as something neither commencing at his birth nor perishing at his death, but as whole and motionless in its very depths; his Mind and environmental objects as one–if he could really accomplish this, he would receive Enlightenment in a flash. He would no longer be entangled by the Triple World; he would be a World-Transcendor. He would be without even the faintest tendency towards rebirth. If he should behold the glorious sight of all the Buddhas coming to welcome him, surrounded by every kind of gorgeous manifestation, he would feel no desire to approach them. If he should behold all sorts of horrific forms surrounding him, he would experience no terror. He would just be himself, oblivious of conceptual thought and one with the Absolute. He would have attained the state of him, surrounded by every kind of gorgeous manifestation, he would feel no desire to approach them. If he should behold all sorts of horrific forms surrounding him, he would experience no terror. He would just be himself, oblivious of conceptual thought and one with the Absolute. He would have attained the state of unconditioned being. This, then, is the fundamental principle.”—Huang Po (The Zen Teaching of Huang Po: On the Transmission of Mind)

His expositions reflected the same principle expressed roughly 1,600 years prior in the Bhagavad-Gita, which spoke of the eternal, yet obscured nature of the Self:

“Once identified with the Self, we know that although the body will die, we will not die; our awareness of this identity is not ruptured by the death of the physical body. Thus we have realized the essential immortality which is the birthright of every human being. To such a person, the Gita says, death is no more traumatic than taking off an old coat.”

If we could grasp and experience our essential nature, all fear for our destiny would disappear, we would awaken to our truth and realize Enlightenment in a flash. Yet we are lost in a cloud of delusion as one would be when looking through the lenses of eyeglasses positioned upon our noses.

Saturday, July 14, 2018


The driving force that has compelled all cultures at all times is the desire for freedom. How we understand this desire defines us all. Read histories from all cultures and you’ll find this force at work. Wars to subjugate others, for being set free and independent, to the shaping of religions (e.g., The Exodus)—It’s all there and continues to this day.

But one stem on this branch of freedom addresses the motherlode of all bondage: Bondage of the mind—The firm conviction that we are in bondage and slaves to desire. No other compulsion is more endemic and pernicious than this one. And until we awaken to our inherent freedom, we will never be free. Beneath the apparent trap, lies freedom and the two can never be apart.

So strong is the desire to escape the tyranny of consciousness, and the restrictive boundaries of perception—to unlock the prisons of thought in which we trap ourselves, all in hope to reveal a better version of who we are, that when all other forms of freedom are achieved we remain unsatisfied and feel the compulsion to move through a door of awakening to the bedrock nature of who and what we are.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Big or small. What’s the size of your house?

What size is your house?
Wisdom is continuously recast. Nevertheless, wisdom is wisdom and adapts to many different situations. It fits rather nicely into the Buddhist context, which is quite similar to the Christian context, which says “you are the body of Christ: the spirit of God dwells within.” Oh, by the way, the Gospel also teaches that Gods love is unconditional but like the contrast between allegiance to either God or money, we like to mix things up a bit and say that while Gods love is unconditional, ours surely is not. 

The manner in which this divided kingdom idea plays out from a Buddhist perspective is that we are the house (just like Jesus said) and our house can’t stand divided. There are seemingly two rooms in our house. One of those rooms belongs to a phantom who is wholly dominated by money and possessiveness. That guy is called “ego” and he thinks the whole house belongs to him. He is just a guest but has delusions of grandeur. The other room belongs to the host who owns the house. The guest just comes and goes, bobbing around like a cork on the tides of life. But the host never moves. He is the solid rock upon which the house is built. And here’s the real truth: this house is never divided even though it looks as if it is. Looks are deceiving. You can’t see the host; just the guest. We can’t see what doesn’t move.

And the house? It’s neither big nor small. It’s both because this house is all that there is from smaller than an atom to the vast reaches of space. The house is your mind.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Moving In

The process of moving into a house is similar to the process of spiritual integration. The first step is to find your house then comes a long process of getting rid of stuff left over from the previous tenant. Slowly you begin to arrange the new furniture and settle in. But this is just the beginning. Through living, we track in dirt and create clutter. Then we have a choice—we can either allow the dirt to accumulate or adopt a practice of continuous cleaning which never ends.

It is the same with the path of Zen. Before we can move in we have to realize that there is a new house. Before that point, the thought of moving can’t even occur. Once we come to this realization we have to make a slow transition of moving out the old tenant (our ego) along with all of his/her accumulated baggage, which can be massive. The idea of moving into a completely clean house with our new belongings is not going to happen. We move in and over time discover stuff left behind which we thought was gone. So then we begin. As we clean we find not only the accumulation of new dirt but also remnants of our old tenant.

The analogy is not perfect but close. The goal is to integrate—To one day eliminate all remnants of prior occupation and become a whole person, living in a house with no divisions or barriers separating our noumenal and phenomenal aspects. One part of us is complete and perfect; the other part is a work in process. The job of bringing these two together never ends. Clouds come and they go. Tides swell and subside. There is war and there is peace. There are people we like and those we don’t; events which we find disturbing and ones we cherish. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity...” Enlightenment is complete and it isn’t—Letting go is hard work but that is the way of Zen.
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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

21st Century Nagarjuna.

Meet Nagarjuna
It’s time to pull poor Nagarjuna out of the closet and dust him off. Our world is possessed in a sea of rights vs. wrongs, governments trapped in ideological deadlocks, wars, and conflicts based on the same, and religions likewise immersed in egocentric self-righteousness that results in an ever increasing division of denominations and sects.

So that we begin this dusting off in a familiar fashion I need to introduce readers to Mr. Nagarjuna. The fellow lived a long time ago, roughly 1,800 years ago (150–250 CE) and according to modern scholars, was thought to have resided in Southern India. In the Zen tradition, he is the 14th Patriarch. He is also recognized as a patriarch in Tantric and Amitabha Buddhism. While considered a philosopher of incomparable standing he put no stock in philosophy claiming as his mission to be the apologist of the Buddha’s transcendent wisdom: beyond any rational articulation. In that sense, he was a sort of Apostle Paul of Buddhism. The Buddha attempted to convey, with words, matters beyond words and like Jesus was consequently recondite and rarely understood. Nagarjuna set out to correct that and in the process created what is now understood as The Middle Way (or the Madhyamaka school of Mahāyāna Buddhism).

The reason he is so important in today’s world is that he was able to show, in a less mind-boggling way, that we live within a world of seeming contradictions that are not contradictory. To most, we live in a relative world, governed by conditional rights vs. wrongs with nothing beyond that. Nagarjuna used the logical method of his era to articulate how there is no contradiction (even though there appears to be). At that point, ancient Indian scholars employed a method of logic called a tetralemma: a method with four dimensions (affirmation, negation, equivalence and neither). In terms of rights versus wrongs it would look like this:
  1. Absolute right exists: affirmation of absolute right, negation absolute wrong
  2. Absolute right does not exist: affirmation of absolute wrong, negation absolute right
  3. Absolute right both exists and does not exist: both affirmation and negation
  4. Absolute right neither exists nor does not exist: neither affirmation nor negation
So long as this method of logic is used alone there is no way to reconcile either a conditional absolute right or a conditional absolute wrong, but that is where Nagarjuna began. Then he went to the next level: to the unconditional (beyond rational understanding) and pointed out there was a fifth dimension: none of the above. He thus created the Two Truth Doctrine of conditional truth and unconditional truth. That doctrine stated: “The Buddha’s teaching of the Dharma is based on two truths: a truth of worldly convention and an ultimate truth. Those who do not understand the distinction drawn between these two truths do not understand the Buddha’s profound truth. Without a foundation in the conventional truth, the significance of the ultimate cannot be taught. Without understanding the significance of the ultimate, liberation is not achieved.”

Allow me to translate for you. What we ordinarily consider truth is conventionally conditional but there is an ultimate truth beyond convention and these two (while appearing as two), are actually just two sides of the same thing. They arise dependent upon one another and neither can exist without the other. One of these truths is a truth of discriminate opposition (this vs. that: right vs. wrong...the core dilemma), but the other truth is a truth of indiscriminate union. We must use the conventional truth to lead us to the other higher truth since the conventional is the coin of common logic and communications (words) and we use this truth to know how this truth is different from the higher truth. BUT unless we experience the higher truth we will forever be lost in a rational trap.

Then he stated a subset of this doctrine and said that conventional truth was a matter of perceptible form but the higher truth was of imperceptible emptiness itself (thus what the Buddha had said in the Heart Sutra/Sutra of Perfect Wisdom: Form IS emptiness. Emptiness IS form). Nagarjuna reasoned that if this ineffable dimension of emptiness was valid, then it must apply to everything including emptiness, thus empty emptiness, which creates an inseparable feedback union back to form again. The two are forever fused together.

So how does this affect the problems of today? It “can” revolutionize the dilemma of egotism and self-righteousness. When properly understood, and experienced, it means that the obstacle standing in the way of the experience of the higher truth is the perceptible illusion of the self (ego: the conventional conditional image) and once that illusion is eliminated we experience our true self (unconditional non-image) that is the same for all people. At this higher truth level there is no discrimination and consequently, there is no absolute right vs. wrong but neither is there not an absolute right or wrong (independent of each other). Everything is unconditionally, indiscriminately united, yet not conditionally. Thus it can neither be said that truth either exists or does not. If all of us could “get that” the conflicts of the world would vanish in a flash and we would at long last know peace and unity among all things.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

To Have or To Be?

It has now been sixty years since I sat in my high school algebra class. I remember very little of that classroom except for one thing that has stayed with me and been a guiding force throughout my life. That one thing was a banner my teacher hung above the blackboard that read, “He who perseveres attains the expansion.” I imagine she meant it as an encouragement to stay the course and learn algebra. I understood it in a much broader sense: as a way of living—to stay the course through adversity and never give up, particularly during times of extreme suffering. At the time I knew nothing about psychology, religion or spirituality but those words of encouragement took me into the realm of all three.

My childhood was a mixed bag of both suffering and fun. The fun part was an escape from the suffering, but I never really escaped until decades later, when due to a crisis of major proportions, I entered the realm of self-understanding. And that led me to psychology, religion, and spirituality. I suffered, and I got to a point of readiness when I was desperate to fathom why.

In the beginning, I first became aware of Zen because rumor had it that the practice was all about understanding suffering and finding release. It did both. But I was unclear how and why, and that took me to psychologyErich Fromm and Carl Jung. Fromm’s ideas were as nearly identical to those of The Buddha as possible, and I came to realize something very important: people have a tendency to regard spirituality and psychology as two different matters, and this is not true. Both spirituality and psychology are concerned with a single matter: the human mind.

My life has been regulated by that basic principle of perseverance. I never understood the compelling force until I began my study of the mystics and enlightened psychologists. It is that force of self-determination, that struggles to be free of bondage to things; so dominating today. Perseverance through thick and thin, good times and bad, never wavering from the desire to be free, (as it did for me) that compels us all who don’t settle for things, but demands for themselves something beyond things as the basis for self-actualization.

There’s a Youtube video of an interview with Erich Fromm. I encourage you to take the time and watch it and as you do appreciate this interview happened sixty years ago, yet the social and cultural conditions he described then are as real now than in 1958 (even more so).

 Many people are off-put with mystical matters, thinking, “oh, that’s not for me,” but most everyone wants to understand themselves. Note in particular Fromm’s comments concerning people’s ideas concerning means becoming endsA haunting premonition of the attitudes today. We have created a vacuous society that relies more and more on things and less and less on what matters.

As always, Erich Fromm speaks with wisdom, compassion, learning, and insight into the problems of individuals trapped in a social world that is needlessly cruel and hostile.”Noam Chomsky.

Monday, July 9, 2018

In the world: enlightened social responsibility.

Covered with the slim of injustice
There appears to be a contradictory challenge in many spiritual pursuits. Picking and choosing often seem like resisting just action resulting from self-inflicted karma of the past. And by resisting we attempt to alleviate our own suffering by violating the principle of karmic justice, thus contributing to more bad karma and corresponding suffering. We rarely recognize how such suffering leads to the eradication of the ego and on to a higher level of spiritual life.

On the other hand, there is a temptation to avoid appropriate social responsibility based on the flawed notion that those who suffer deserve to suffer because of their own past karma and by interdicting this process we merely exacerbate their own learning process, sparing them from spiritual advancement. Closely aligned with this avoidance comes the matter of discrimination and judgment. We know that to discriminate between good and evil seems to necessarily involvement judgment. So how do we walk this razor’s edge between enlightened social responsibility while not tampering with the karmic process leading to a heightened spiritual awareness?

There is a delicate balance between being in the world but not of the world: the fine line of being flawed and not flawed at the same time. To explicate this seeming dilemma it is perhaps helpful to turn to a couple of ancient stories and a few contemporary examples. 

The first story concerns Huike the second Chán patriarch. He was a scholar in both Buddhist scriptures and classical Chinese texts. Huike met his teacher Bodhidharma (the first patriarch) at Shaolin Temple in 528 CE when he was about 40 years of age. Legend has it that Bodhidharma initially refused to teach Huike who then stood in the snow outside Bodhidharma’s cave all night until the snow reached his waist. In the morning Bodhidharma asked him why he was still there. Huike replied that he wanted a teacher to “open the gate of the elixir of universal compassion to liberate all beings.” Bodhidharma refused, saying, “how can you hope for true religion with little virtue, little wisdom, a shallow heart, and an arrogant mind? It would just be a waste of effort.” Finally, to prove his resolve, Huike cut off his left arm and presented it to Bodhidharma as a token of his sincerity. He was then accepted as a student, and Bodhidharma changed his name from Shenguang Ji (his secular surname) to Huike, which means “Wisdom and Capacity.” Try to imagine the depth of anguish Huike must have endured prior to this that inspired him with such motivation and determination. Can any of us, in honesty, say that we show that sort of resolve?

Huike did not immediately display wisdom but instead struggled to find The Way. It took some years before he found the key that unlocked the gate of the elixir of universal compassion to liberate all beings. On one occasion Huike said to Bodhidharma, “My mind is anxious. Please pacify it.” Bodhidharma replied, “Bring me your mind, and I will pacify it.” Huike said, “Although I’ve sought it, I cannot find it.” “There,” Bodhidharma replied, “I have pacified your mind.” Upon hearing this Huike realized enlightenment.

The second story involves ten stages of the gradual Chán school (Soto) illustrated by Chinese Chán Master Chino Kukuan, who painted ten pictures illustrating the steps to emancipation. The movement from anguish to freedom has been depicted in many ways since Buddhism began to take shape but in essence, the key that unlocked Huike’s gate of the elixir of universal compassion is the same gate in these ten-fold stages. And that key entails a seemingly strange illusion: being liberated from the beginning yet remaining unaware until the true mind realizes it has never been imprisoned in the first place. If we are already whole, then we can’t become whole. Nevertheless, the quest to become whole and emancipated is an ageless and futile proposition because the true mind is what is seeking. Trying to find your true mind is like looking for your eyeglasses while wearing them. 

These ten pictures depict the search for an ox, an allegory for the search of our true nature. Although awakening is instantaneous, the practice, which precipitates it, may be experienced as occurring in a series of stages. This may be understood as gestation and then suddenly birth. The ox-herding pictures are an attempt to aid the progress toward enlightenment by exemplifying certain steps, which begin in darkness and proceed in stages ending in enlightenment and a return to the world (which was never left). But having gone through suffering associated with being in bondage of the mind, the return is accompanied by a radically altered view of what bondage is and an appreciation of genuine compassion.

Now we are in the world and the question becomes, “What role do we play in this vast drama of life?” Do we intercede? Or do we accept things as they are, regardless of how they appear? Do we have a responsibility to fight injustice and evil, or stand apart and watch with detachment the destruction of society? And to answer this thorny question we turn to Plato and his allegory of The Cave

Plato wrote this allegory as a part of The Republic around 380 BCE. The larger purpose of The Republic concerned Plato’s ideas of justice, as well as the order and character of both a just man and a just city-state. The Cave specifically addressed the effect of education, and the lack of it, on our true nature. The allegory is structured as a dialogue between Socrates and Plato’s brother Glaucon. The setting for the story involved people who have been imprisoned in a cave (their own mind), chained in a fixed position so they can’t move, with a fire at their back, which casts shadows on the cave wall of themselves. They are left to see only their shadows and thus come to believe they and their shadows are one and the same thing.

The two observe this situation while Socrates points out to Plato’s brother the despicable nature of the prisoners plight as well as the civil, spiritual and political obligation by those who see the truth to those remaining in bondage. When the truth is pointed out, the prisoners lash out and excoriate those who wish to free them claiming that they, instead of their intended deliverers, are right while their liberators are wrong. They would rather remain chained and protective of their convictions than be set free. Such people surround us to this day; denying what is crystal clear.

Given this conundrum, Glaucon asks Socrates why the liberators need to endure the slings and arrows of the prisoners but instead just enjoy the truth and let those in bondage remain pleased and in bondage. And it is here that Socrates states his case for a just man and his duty to society. According to Socrates/Plato, a just man is one who has found the truth and rather than “taking the money and running” returns to honor his duty to assist those trapped in their ignorance, which just happens to be the same definition the Buddha offered for a Bodhisattva: a suffering servant (also the name given to Jesus).

The Cave conjures up the antithesis of just men in the contemporary characters of congressional members who do “take the money and run,” and of Paul Ryan who reflects the teachings of Ayn Rand who saw little need for government. In his eyes, there are “takers,” dependent on the entitlements of government. The view of a just man and his duty to society held by these gentlemen (and a host of others) was the opposite of the view held by Plato. Just let them eat cake (Qu’ils mangent de la brioche in French) is their mantra.

So back to the questions: “What role do we play in this vast drama of life.” Do we intercede? Or do we accept things as they are, regardless of how they appear? Do we have a responsibility to fight injustice and evil, or stand apart and watch with detachment the destruction of society? To many, the answer moves along the path of self (ego) preservation and the easy way: the safe way where they can avoid challenges to their tightly held dogmas of destruction. To them, there is a clear right and a corresponding clear wrong: “makers” and “takers.  But there is another way: the way of the just Bodhisattva who fights for the rights of those still in bondage, trapped by the shadows of the mind, in spite of the slights and arrows cast at them. They have seen a light of truth and know it is not theirs to possess. They gladly become suffering servants because they have been in bondage themselves and know in their marrow how ignorance is not bliss. When they see injustice, evil and self-destructive actions taking place, they do intercede and fight for those unable to fight against the tyranny of the mind and are covered with the slime imposed on them by those who care only for their own profit regardless of inflicted harm to others. 

There seems to be a subtle and fine line between liberating people in physical bondage and bondage of the mind. We must fight for those who are physically imprisoned in one way or another, be it oppression of race, gender, sexual preference, politics, religion, finances or any other form of unjust discrimination, yet recognize that until people are freed from bondage of the mind, there will never be ultimate freedom and liberty for all. The mind is everything! We must be in the world but not of the world.  If we, who have endured suffering and found release, don’t help those in need, we too will continue as doomed to a hell we deserve.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Watcher

“Empty yourself of everything. Let the mind rest at peace. The ten thousand things rise and fall while the Self watches their return.”—The opening stanza of Chapter 16 of The Tao Te Ching

This post is more than likely going to result in a big yawn since the message should be self-evident, but probably not. Go see a movie (it’s instructive to my point) and you’ll undoubtedly notice two things: (1) You are sitting in your seat and (2) you’re seeing moving images on a screen. No-brainer. Watch TV; Same thing. Neither of those images is real and you know that. 

So far, so good. Now take it to a not-so-evident level—You see the world and it moves. There is still you but is what you’re seeing real? That is taken for granted as being real but as far as your mind is concerned it is no different from a movie or TV. Your true mind doesn’t distinguish. It just notices movement and you could be asleep and, in principle, it is the same. Dreams come, they go and there must be a you who sees what moves. That you, the true Self, is a constant. Yet it is not yours. It never moves and it can’t be found. It just watches, listens, smells, tastes and feels. It perceives everything but in itself is nothing.

“Look, and it cant be seen. Listen, and it cant be heard. Reach, and it cant be grasped.

Above, it isnt bright. Below, it isnt dark. Seamless, unnamable, it returns to the realm of nothing. Form that includes all forms, image without an image, subtle, beyond all conception.

Approach it and there is no beginning; follow it and there is no end.

You cant know it, but you can be it, at ease in your own life. Just realize where you come from: this is the essence of wisdom.”—Chapter 14 of The Tao Te Ching

Monday, May 28, 2018

Toxicity and emotional septic systems.

When examined closely, there is a very curious correspondence between how a septic system works and different states of consciousness. More than likely city dwellers don’t know about septic systems since they’ve never lived in locals where city services aren’t provided. So for these folks, a brief explanation is required.

Let’s begin with what the word septic means. It is taken from the Greek that means “putrefaction” and has a couple of significant uses. Septic systems are located in the country where there are no city services to accommodate discharged waste from houses. This waste flows into a large tank that ideally contains adequate bacteria—microorganisms that break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. The “cleansed” water then spills over and runs into a leach field in the yard where the liquids evaporate. So long as there are adequate bacteria in the main tank, all goes well. But when the quantity and quality of the bacteria are depleted or weakened, the solids don’t break down which then spill over, enter the leach field, backs up into the main tank, and over time the tank fills up with too much solid waste and the system fails.

Our consciousness system is quite similar to a septic system. Think of repressed traumatic stress as emotional shit that is suppressed into our subconscious. The “bacteria” that is supposed to bleed off this build up are stress-reducing activities. Among the most valuable forms are breathing exercises, meditation (particularly Zen), guided imagery, exercise, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga and odd as it may seem: sex (which releases a hormone called oxytocin that acts primarily as a neuromodulator in the brain). Unless these activities become integrated into our every-day routines the emotional shit builds up, bleeds into our conscious state and gums up the works, just as occurs in a septic system where bacteria is compromised. The unfortunate result is a limited ability to handle minor, ordinary stress and this becomes a downward spiral that can end badly.

People who become gummed up with infection can, and do, die from septic shock. The death rate for those so infected is between 25-50% and results from a compromised immune system. Diseases such as peptic ulcers, cardiovascular disorders, migraines, and hypertension have been associated with persistent distress, with medical care professionals estimating that nearly 70% of doctor visits are directly related to ongoing stress. Septic shock (as well as these other consequences) is a serious condition that is indirectly related to accumulating stress. How that occurs works like this: Stress is an everyday experience that suppresses our immune systems. Why does stress buildup occur? Often times, in attempting to get on with necessary functioning, victims of trauma, suppress the experience(s) and related emotions into their subconscious where they leak out in the process of living. The capacity to handle building consequences of stress seems to be limited. And unless we work hard to develop lifestyles that allow us to vent emotions associated with building stress, we become both emotionally and physically putrefied which leads first to impacting our normal functioning and on to death.

The idea that our mental/emotional state and our physical state being separated is, fortunately, being recognized as an archaic notion and scientists are finally coming to realize that there is no such division. The mind/body is a single entity with a clearly defined feedback loop. What affects us emotionally, affects us physically and vice versa.