PGST Reflection: The Three Poisons

Posted by on Aug 15, 2011 in PGST Reflections | No Comments

“Three objects, three poisons, and three seeds of virtue” is a pithy slogan from the lojong (mind training) teachings of Tibetan Buddhism.  In the passages below, from her book Start Where You Are, the Buddhist nun and philosopher Pema Chodron delves into the meaning of this slogan.

“In the Buddhist teachings, the messy stuff is called klesha, which means poison.  Boiling it all down to the simplest possible formula, there are three main poisons: passion, aggression, and ignorance.  We could talk about these in different ways – for example, craving, aversion, and couldn’t care less.  Addictions of all kinds come under the category of craving, which is wanting, wanting, wanting – feeling that we have to have some kind of resolution.  Aversion encompasses violence, rage, hatred, and negativity of all kinds, as well as garden-variety irritation.  And ignorance?  Nowadays, it’s usually called denial.

…There’s nothing really wrong with passion or aggression or ignorance, except that we take it so personally and therefore waste all that juicy stuff.  The peacock eats poison and that’s what makes the colors of its tail so brilliant.  That’s the traditional image for this practice, that the poison becomes the source of great beauty and joy; poison becomes medicine.

…In terms of “Three objects, three poisons, and three seeds of virtue”, when these poisons arise, the instruction is to drop the story line, which means – instead of acting out or repressing – use the situation as an opportunity to feel your heart, to feel the wound.  Use it as an opportunity to touch that soft spot.  Underneath all that craving or aversion or jealousy or feeling wretched about yourself, underneath all that hopelessness and despair and depression, there’s something extremely soft…

When we do that, the three poisons become three seeds of how to make friends with ourselves.  They give us the chance to work on patience and kindness, the chance not to give up on ourselves and not to act out or repress.  They give us the chance to change our habits completely.  This is what helps both ourselves and others.  This is instruction on how to turn unwanted circumstances into the path of enlightenment.  By following it, we can transform all that messy stuff that we usually push away into the path of awakening: reconnecting with our soft heart, our clarity, and our ability to open further.”

When approaching our Daily Actions in conjunction with PGST, some form of klesha is often waiting for us at the threshold.  If one has set out to “work on the outline of my novel for at least twenty minutes” three forms of resistance can often happen: 1) I must write this f*&^%ing novel! – it’s my last shot at the brass ring and true redemption!!  2) I can’t write this f*&^%ing novel!  What’s the point anyway? – I’ll never finish – it’s masturbatory bullshit!! 3) Who cares about this f*&^%ing novel?  I’m going to go play video games and smoke a joint.  These three examples of resistance are the three poisons in full effect.

If we remain at the mercy of any of these poisons, odds are, just as Pema says, either we act out (smoke, drink, eat, sex, titillate, consume, distract) or repress (pretend we are truly engaged with real action while we futilely attempt to manage our emotions and neurosis).  So how do we allow the poisons to “become three seeds of how to make friends with ourselves”?  How do we swallow the poison and, like the peacock, create our colorful and magnificent brilliance?  The TAG! Inventory process used in PGST is a gentle tool that can help us move toward this transformation and grounded transcendence.

 

TAG! (Truth Acceptance Go!) is a simple written inventory system of acknowledging we are in some form of fear/resistance/obsession.  We physically articulate and name what I would call the Core Old Belief or what Pema would call the “story line” and then surrender this looping thought spiral by accepting and embracing our current emotional state (uncomfortable yuckiness and all!) and gently moving into the Next Right Action.  By becoming conscious of the three poisons, they become not only signposts that we are on the path (for facing obstacle is the path), but also fuel for the path itself.  As Pema says “underneath all that hopelessness and despair and depression, there’s something extremely soft” and we may come to discover that this soft and vulnerable center is where all real creativity is born.  The three poisons, if handled properly, can then be seen in their true form; angels heralding human growth, and not the marauding demons they appear to be when first encountered.

PGST Reflection: The Birth-Hour Of A New Clarity

Posted by on Jul 24, 2011 in PGST Reflections | No Comments

In his much celebrated Letters To A Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke offers these inspiring words –

“Works of art are of an infinite loneliness and with nothing so little to be reached as with criticism.  Only love can grasp and hold and be just toward them.  Consider yourself and your feeling right every time with regard to every such argumentation, discussion or introduction; if you are wrong after all, the natural growth of your inner life will lead you slowly and with time to other insights.  Leave to your opinions their own quiet undisturbed development, which, like all progress, must come from deep within and cannot be pressed or hurried by anything.  Everything is gestation and then bringing forth.  To let each impression and each germ of a feeling come to completion wholly in itself, in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of ones’ own intelligence, and await with deep humility and patience the birth-hour of a new clarity: that alone is living the artist’s life: in understanding as in creating.

There is here no measuring with time, no year matters, and ten years are nothing.  Being an artist means, not reckoning and counting, but ripening like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storms of spring without fear that after them may come no summer.  It does come.  But it comes only to the patient, who are there as though eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide.  I learn it daily, learn it with pain to which I am grateful: patience is everything!”

Yes indeed!  From my point of view, we can substitute “Real Action” for “Works of art” and Rilke’s words are of equal truth and magnitude.  Real Action begins with an acceptance of “infinite loneliness.”  Let’s say the Daily Action, according to our PGST plan, is to “spend at least 20 minutes writing lyrics to a new song.” It’s just us and the blank page – and really, just us and our intention.  No one, no entity, no force, NOTHING can allow us to actually and truly enter the intention except our own act of will.  We can ache at times for someone to “do it for us” – to merely “get us started.”  We feel certain we could take over once the ball is rolling, but to stare into the void of doubt and the endless permutations of result, to feel blinded by an eclipse of shame and fear (and surely we must clip and order these feelings before moving forward? – No!  Herein lies the trap!); to make a choice, to ACT – in this we are always, on the human level, truly and infinitely alone in the moment of actual and real decision.

And the will is good for entrance only, it is a simple key, it is neither the heart nor the soul nor the compass nor the crux of creation.  The “undisturbed development” that Rilke speaks of happens through and inside of Real Action.  When we stand on the sidelines, outside of action’s realm – IN THE HEAD (i.e. in fantasy) – and attempt to control emotion, thought or result, we end up bludgeoning ourselves with will and not using it as the practical and ontological springboard it is meant to be.  Will is the Gateway to Action, and Action + Obstacle = Growth.  What is the Obstacle? – Whatever resistance we encounter during Creation/Action.  The Obstacle IS Creation/Action; they are inseparable parts of a whole.  And the growth cannot be seen or touched.  The great trap is to attempt to get a taste – an experience of the growth before entering Creation/Action.  Instead of picking up the pen and letting strange and vulnerable words manifest onto the blank page, we can fall into the endless pit of looking for the growth – “I’ve been attempting to write a great song for years, where has it ever gotten me? – Really? Months ago I took some notes, never followed through – why the &^$# is this time going to be different!?  And I’m __ f(*&)ing years old – who writes a great song at my age – maybe I should google some people I dig, see how old they were when they wrote their first big hit – but I don’t care about that really – I just want art!!  Was their any sign of true art in those notes from months ago – or in anything I’ve ever written!?  No!! Now that I’m thinking about it I see nothing – no art – I’m a *&*^% hack!!!”  We entered this mental maelstrom to get a tiny sneak peak at growth, but we end up in a self-hating hell, most likely not leading to entrance into true Creativity/Action but to some form of unconscious “acting out” – compulsive behavior, fueled by a grinding, abusive self-will as opposed to the lonely but powerful gateway of the will in balance.

Growth will happen – this is the guarantee of Action.  But as Rilke says, “it comes only to the patient, who are there as though eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide.”  This, I believe, is the eternity we experience in true Creativity/Action – not when we think about Creativity/Action, not when we attempt to manage the ambiguous feelings and exhaust fumes of neurosis that are happening on the periphery, but when we create through/with the internal/external obstacle AS IT IS. And if we have the dignity and courage to engage in this sorrowful/blissful dance with Obstacle, then “the birth-hour of a new clarity” may not be seen on the horizon, but as the poet Wallace Stevens says “things dark on the horizons of perception, soon become accompaniments of fortune, but of a fortune of the spirit, beyond the eye, not of its sphere and yet not far beyond”.  In essence, we may rest assure that if IN ACTION then clarity and growth are waiting.  Their rising is inevitable, not at a time appointed by the tick-tocking of the ego, but at the noble discretion and endless grace of Divinity/Fate.

PGST Reflection: Usefulness From What Is Not There

Posted by on Jun 15, 2011 in PGST Reflections | No Comments

Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;

It is the center hole that makes it useful.

Shape clay into a vessel;

It is the space within that makes it useful.

Cut doors and windows for a room;

It is the holes which make it useful.

Therefore benefit comes from what is there;

Usefulness from what is not there.

These beautiful and mysterious words are from the translation of the Tao Te Ching by Gia-Fue Feng and Jane English. They seem to me a wonderful poetic fugue on the idea of embracing the emptiness.  This idea is one of the prime building blocks of PGST and part of the living philosophy from which it flows.

In the first session with a client, when we craft and articulate three Super Objectives (the Imperfect Direction that comes from ones heart – that which one feels Called To Do), one of the first things we discuss is the idea that these Super Objectives cannot be worshiped.  If our goals are our gods/salvation then they will also be our devils/tormentors.  Connecting this to the passage above, the Super Objectives are the clay vessel and the ACTUAL EXPERIENCE OF TAKING ACTION on the goal is the “space within that makes it useful.”  Real Action occurs in the Empty Space; Real Action IS the Empty Space, which the Ego often finds repugnant and useless.

“Therefore benefit comes from what is there”.  Benefit is defined as “an advantage or profit gained from something” and the Ego, if not in its proper place, desires benefit with unbridled lust. The Imagined Benefit is only the leaping off point for True Usefulness and if left to it’s own devices becomes THE TRAP.  This holds true not only for the Super Objectives but the Daily Actions that we break them into.  Lets say that the intended Daily Action was to “do a written brainstorm for at least 20 minutes on ideas of how I might expand my new business.”  If instead of actually entering the UNKNOWN SPACE OF THE ACTION we delay and attempt to gain power and comfort from Benefit Lusting then our internal monologue might be akin to something like this  – “Okay, okay – this is going to feel GREAT, this is going to be GREAT – If I brainstorm for 20 minutes on ideas of how I might expand my new business, then I will be able to take my business to the next level and I will experience radiant success which will transform the fabric of my life!! – I’m finally going to get what I deserve – this is going to be AWESOME!!”  Or it could be of the opposite nature – “What’s the friggun point of doing a lame brainstorming session – my ideas never lead anywhere!  It’s too late in life for me to begin this doomed endeavor – I’m wretched and reek of failure!!”  Either way, the feelings and thoughts around this feared, inevitable doom or around the longed for, radiant success can quickly become the Golden Calf that we bow down before.  We think these thoughts and feelings are leading us into Action, but the ruse has begun!  The succulent and vibrant thoughts/feelings become the primary purpose and when we barely dip our toe into the pool of Action and lose this yummy sensuality, we pull back, out of Action completely (which never really began), saying to ourselves, “Damn it!  That’s not working – where’s the shiny, happy, doubt-free glow?!!”  We then return to fantasizing about Action in an attempt to conjure up the tasty and distracting pleasure/pain instead of ENTERING THE EMPTINESS OF REAL ACTION.  Let us not waste vitality in the impossible dance of thought/feeling management but Simply and Actually enter the Action sit down and literally write for at least 20 minutes.

Real Action is “what is not there” because it cannot be thought or felt or seen – it hasn’t happened yet. Yes, while in Action, thought/feeling/perception is taking place, but these all serve Action and happen of their own accord – they are unmanageable – THEY ARE NOT THE POINT OR THE LIVING CENTER.  Real Action guarantees nothing but provides everything.  Creativity is born of the Void and the Empty Space.  The Imagined Benefit, the Hoped Result is just the bait to lure the Ego into the joy of Actual Creation – the sublime bliss and infinite nourishment of True Human EXPERIENCE.

PGST Reflection: The Laws of Habit II

Posted by on Mar 16, 2011 in PGST Reflections | One Comment

This week I will continue my Reflection on a passage from the essay “The Laws Of Habit” by William James.  James says –

“It is very important that teachers should realize the importance of habit, and psychology helps us greatly at this point.  We speak, it is true, of good habits and of bad habits; but when people use the word ‘habit’, in the majority of instances it is a bad habit which they have in mind.  They talk of the smoking-habit and the swearing-habit and the drinking-habit, but not of the abstention-habit or the moderation-habit or the courage-habit.  But the fact is that our virtues are habits as much as our vices.  All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits – practical, emotional, and intellectual – systematically organized for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly towards our destiny, whatever the latter may be.

…There is a passage in Darwin’s short autobiography which has been often quoted, and which, for the sake of its bearing on our subject of habit, I must now quote again.  Darwin says: “Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds…gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays.  I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great delight.  But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me.  I have also almost lost my taste for pictures or music…My mind seems to have becomes a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive…If I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept active through use.  The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.”

We all intend when young to be all that may become a man, before the destroyer cuts us down.  We wish and expect to enjoy poetry always, to grow more and more intelligent about pictures and music, to keep in touch with spiritual and religious ideas, and even not to let the greater philosophic thoughts of our time develop quite beyond our view.  We mean all this in youth, I say; and yet in how many middle-aged men and women is such an honest and sanguine expectation fulfilled?  Surely, in comparatively few; and the laws of habit show us why.  Some interest in each of these things arises in everybody at the proper age; but if not persistently fed with the appropriate matter, instead of growing into a powerful and necessary habit, it atrophies and dies, choked by the rival interests to which the daily food is given.  We make ourselves into Darwins in this negative respect by persistently ignoring the essential practical conditions of our case.  We say abstractly: “I mean to enjoy poetry, and to absorb a lot of it, of course.  I fully intend to keep up my love of music, to read the books that shall give new turns to the thought of my time, to keep my higher spiritual side alive, etc.”  But we do not attack these things concretely, and we do not begin today.  We forget that every good that is worth possessing must be paid for in strokes of daily effort.  We postpone and postpone, until those smiling possibilities are dead.  Whereas ten minutes a day of poetry, of spiritual reading, or philosophy, provided we began now and suffered no remission, would infallibly give us in due time the fullness of all we desire.  By neglecting the necessary concrete labor, by sparing ourselves the little daily tax, we are positively digging the graves of our higher possibilities.  This is a point concerning which you teachers might well give a little timely information to your older and more aspiring pupils.”

Emotional and intellectual habits can often be very deceiving – we falsely see them not as habit but as Conscious Choice.  In regard to the work with Practical Goal Setting Technique someone may say, “I didn’t do the 20 Minute Actions this week because I didn’t have the time; other more pertinent tasks came up” – there may be some validity to this statement, but there is also, in my experience, a highly likely chance that the individual has The Habit of convincing oneself that something else needs to be done when confronted with tasks that bring on a high level of emotional or psychological resistance. I think these enfeebling intellectual and emotional habits can lay so hidden and yet be so powerful that a direct confrontation with New and Empowering intellectual/emotional habits can be extremely difficult – often the Old subsumes the creation of the New at the inner drafting table without full conscious realization.  Therefore the creation of New and Empowering PRACTICAL AND PHYSICAL HABITS is a very rewarding place to begin, as it is my experience that the PRACTICAL can tame the emotional and intellectual in an amazing, gradual and awe-inspiring manner.

Let’s examine what often happens when one attempts to create a new thought habit directly, i.e. “positive thinking.”  Let’s say I have committed to “Brainstorming for at least 20 minutes on possible investors for my new business” and I decide it’s time for the brainstorming session to begin, my mind might start to chatter away along the lines of, “Yes, but once I come up with this list of possible investors I have no idea what to do with that list – what the hell am I going to say to these people?  And I’m beginning to have serious doubt about this entire new so-called business – what if it’s all a f&^%ing pipe dream??!!”  Then I might decide to counter this churning doubt with the attempt to implement a new thought habit – “Wait, this is doubt, I’m going to break this old voice – it’s NOT a pipe dream – my new business WILL be a vital and thriving success – I CAN brainstorm for 20 minutes, anyone can do something for 20 minutes, so I can do this now, even if it doesn’t lead anywhere and I do turn out to be a deluded dreamer destined for failure that’s okay because I hate myself – What? – Shit – I’m going back to bed” – and I lambast myself all the more for my wretched failure at the attempt to think positively.  This is often the result when attempting to out think our negative thinking.  If there were no subconscious layering, then the attempt to simply talk differently to ourselves would perhaps be much more effective.  But if the subconscious contains a habitual pattern that is pulsating with “You can never finish what you start; you are destined to fail” then this pattern possesses the conscious self-talk and we lose the fight of thought mastery.

But what if the New Habit we practice is PHYSICAL, and we imperfectly enter into it REGARDLESS of what we are thinking or feeling?  It may be seemingly emotionally or psychologically torturous, but it’s only 20 minutes!  So when the Old Thought Habit begins to bore in one can, instead of attempting to beat the subconscious at it’s own game, simply DO Something Else, i.e. something else besides thinking! So as I move toward my desk where I plan to brainstorm and old Mr. “What if this is all a f(*&ing pipe dream??!!!” saunters onto the stage and stops me in my tracks, I can practice taking contrary ACTION, not contrary thought – my answer to “What if this is all a f(*&ing pipe dream??!!” can be to sit at the desk, write the words “Possible Investors For My New Business” at the top of the page and begin to make the list.  I may write a name down and then I get hit with “What a stupid idea!?  He will never invest!” – my response is to come up with another name and write that on the list, not to engage the Old Thought Habit but to gently and imperfectly bring my attention to the task at hand.  In this way, Empowering, Actual and Physical habits are being forged and created – the habit of doing a committed task no matter what one is feeling or thinking; the habit of using mental pain as an invitation into Action; the habit of practicing and developing Real Attention and Intention instead of launching into the viscous trap of attempted thought mastery and control.

PGST Reflection: The Laws Of Habit I

Posted by on Mar 1, 2011 in PGST Reflections | No Comments

PGST has been highly influenced by the thought and words of William James.  Today I would like to focus on an extended quote from his essay “The Laws Of Habit”.

“It is very important that teachers should realize the importance of habit, and psychology helps us greatly at this point.  We speak, it is true, of good habits and of bad habits; but when people use the word ‘habit’, in the majority of instances it is a bad habit which they have in mind.  They talk of the smoking-habit and the swearing-habit and the drinking-habit, but not of the abstention-habit or the moderation-habit or the courage-habit.  But the fact is that our virtues are habits as much as our vices.  All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits – practical, emotional, and intellectual – systematically organized for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly towards our destiny, whatever the latter may be.

…There is a passage in Darwin’s short autobiography which has been often quoted, and which, for the sake of its bearing on our subject of habit, I must now quote again.  Darwin says: “Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds…gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays.  I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great delight.  But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me.  I have also almost lost my taste for pictures or music…My mind seems to have becomes a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive…If I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept active through use.  The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.”

We all intend when young to be all that may become a man, before the destroyer cuts us down.  We wish and expect to enjoy poetry always, to grow more and more intelligent about pictures and music, to keep in touch with spiritual and religious ideas, and even not to let the greater philosophic thoughts of our time develop quite beyond our view.  We mean all this in youth, I say; and yet in how many middle-aged men and women is such an honest and sanguine expectation fulfilled?  Surely, in comparatively few; and the laws of habit show us why.  Some interest in each of these things arises in everybody at the proper age; but if not persistently fed with the appropriate matter, instead of growing into a powerful and necessary habit, it atrophies and dies, choked by the rival interests to which the daily food is given.  We make ourselves into Darwins in this negative respect by persistently ignoring the essential practical conditions of our case.  We say abstractly: “I mean to enjoy poetry, and to absorb a lot of it, of course.  I fully intend to keep up my love of music, to read the books that shall give new turns to the thought of my time, to keep my higher spiritual side alive, etc.”  But we do not attack these things concretely, and we do not begin today.  We forget that every good that is worth possessing must be paid for in strokes of daily effort.  We postpone and postpone, until those smiling possibilities are dead.  Whereas ten minutes a day of poetry, of spiritual reading, or philosophy, provided we began now and suffered no remission, would infallibly give us in due time the fullness of all we desire.  By neglecting the necessary concrete labor, by sparing ourselves the little daily tax, we are positively digging the graves of our higher possibilities.  This is a point concerning which you teachers might well give a little timely information to your older and more aspiring pupils.”

The heart of PGST is the use of daily, bite-sized, imperfect “At Least 20 Minutes” Actions – meaning whatever the daily task at hand is, one is only committing to do it for at least 20 minutes.  20 minutes a day, that’s it.  In the first session with a client we may hone and shape two Super Objectives that are articulated as such – “To Finish An Honest And Delightful Draft Of My Screenplay By July 8th 2011” and “To Have A Daily Routine Of Exercise That Gets Me In Great Physical Condition, Lifts My Spirit And Promotes Deep And Lasting Health”.  We then break these down into a Simple and Direct Weekly Plan that might have the client on Monday “Brainstorming for at least 20 minutes on an outline for my screenplay” and on Tuesday “Spend at least 20 minutes engaging in some form of exercise”.  Clients often communicate some form of an idea to me that resembles this – “Okay, 20 minutes riffing on what the outline of my screenplay might look like – walking aimlessly around the neighborhood for 20 minutes in the middle of the day – yeah, sure, I can do these things but, come one, really now – I want to FINISH A REAL SCREENPLAY and GET IN GREAT SHAPE – I don’t have time to f&*^$ing dilly-dally, that’s why I’m coming to you – LET’S REALLY DO SOMETHING!!!”  I then often go on to talk about, in my own way, how 20 minutes a day “provided we began now and suffered no remission, would infallibly give us in due time the fullness of all we desire.” This is often met with begrudging and wary acceptance and perhaps the attitude “Well, I will clearly do these simple 20 minutes things each day, that’s easy enough, but I have doubt they will offer true and lasting change”.

When meeting for the second session it is quite common that only one or two, and very often none of the 20 Minute Actions were entered into.  The client often has a sense of bewilderment and regret when speaking of the attempts to engage the Weekly Plan – “How could I not gently brainstorm on a general outline for 20 frigg’un minuites???!!!”  Or sometimes the attitude is “I just wasn’t feeling it this week – maybe I need to change the Super Objectives”, or even (and this attitude is often amorphous and disguised) – “I don’t think the really, really simple one tiny step at a time, start at the gentle beginning approach is right for me – I need to jump ahead to the middle or the end”.  All of these attitudes and experiences are very typical and very human, and all the clear progeny of HABIT.  As James says “All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits – practical, emotional, and intellectual – systematically organized for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly towards our destiny, whatever the latter may be” – these emotional and intellectual habits can often be very deceiving – we falsely see them not as habit but as Conscious Choice.  Someone may say, “I didn’t do the 20 Minute Actions this week because I didn’t have the time; other more pertinent tasks came up” – there may be some validity to this statement, but there is also, in my experience, a highly likely chance that the individual has The Habit of convincing oneself that something else needs to be done when confronted with tasks that bring on a high level of emotional resistance. I think these enfeebling intellectual and emotional habits can lay so hidden and yet be so powerful that a direct confrontation with New and Empowering intellectual/emotional habits can be extremely difficult – often the Old subsumes the creation of the New at the inner drafting table without full conscious realization.  Therefore the creation of New and Empowering PRACTICAL AND PHYSICAL HABITS is a very rewarding place to begin, as it is my experience that the PRACTICAL can tame the emotional and intellectual in an amazing, gradual and awe-inspiring manner.

PGST Reflection: Pleasure and Suffering

Posted by on Feb 16, 2011 in PGST Reflections | No Comments

This week I would like to continue exploring the powerful words of the philosopher and activist Simone Weil.

“Suffering and enjoyment as sources of knowledge.  The serpent offered knowledge to Adam and Eve.  The Sirens offered knowledge to Ulysses.  These stories teach that the soul is lost through seeking knowledge in pleasure.  Why?  Pleasure is perhaps innocent on condition that we do not seek knowledge in it.  It is permissible to seek that only in suffering”

Knowledge through suffering!  YAAAAAY!!!   At first glance, this doesn’t appear to be the most enticing motivation in regards to moving toward what we feel/sense we are Called To Do.  One might say, “No, see, I want to get my new web design business off the ground because I LOVE designing and putting certain skills I’ve honed to use, and I believe this can create opportunity and security for my family – this business will ultimately bring me PLEASURE, that’s why am so moved to do it!!!” We attempt to amp up the Happy Juice, “get off” on thoughts of a glorious future, and hope the creaky yet tantalizing vision of said future will provide the fuel to catapult us into the needed action.  I think many of us have the experience that once we hit the first natural and necessary obstacle this Happy Juice seems to leave us and with it the motivation to continue – “Yeah, no, I was going to spend some time brainstorming ideas on how to get the business off the ground, but I’m just not feeling it anymore – too much f@*!ing doubt!!!”  At this juncture a very common trap is to run off an pursue the elusive Happy Juice – “If I just go out and smoke a cigarette….”, “I’m going to watch some hilarious stuff on YouTube for awhile that will…”, “F it, I’m gonna LIVE tonight!!  Go out and PARTY, and then that will help me find my way toward creative expression, because I will use that energy…” – and the thoughts are often not this cohesive – it’s more of a PULL that rides the line between conscious and unconscious thought – a SIRENS’ SONG – an impulse that, if it did have voice, might say “Follow me toward blissful pleasure and I will then give you the energy, peace and motivation needed to fulfill your responsibilities and be truly creative – by giving into me I will then give you the energy needed for Knowledge/Action”.  Sure!  Sounds fantastic!  But like the ancient mariners, the sound of the Sirens’ Song does not offer what it’s delight seems to promise, we fling ourselves overboard and risk drowning in the waters of unconscious destruction.

Of course admitting that the pursuit of pleasure is ultimately a false path to Knowledge and Action, does not necessarily engender the urge to move ourselves into suffering.  “Wait a second Captain Martyr!  If I embrace suffering I’ll get stuck on some sick masochistic trip – and isn’t that as much a form of self-bondage as the pursuit of pleasure?”   Yes – it certainly is – but I don’t think this is what Weil means when she speaks of suffering being the only path to knowledge.  We do not attach to or conjure the suffering, but when it arrives, of it’s own accord (there are tools we should be willing to use that can help us be sure we are facing Actual Suffering and not a conjured, facsimile used as an escape route from Truth) we can make friends with and accept it.  An example of this might be that I’ve made a list of potential investors for the film that I am truly moved to create, and so my task is now to call one investor off the list and pitch him or her the film.  As I pick up the phone, my heart becomes leaden and heavy with a nervous and gripping shame – “Maybe you’re not really moved to make this film – and who are you to ask anyone for money?  You should be doing something more noble with your time then making a pathetic and wretched movie – why didn’t I become a doctor!?”  Besides, with the way I’m feeling, I’ll never be able to properly pitch this film – I’m such a f*&%#ing loser!!!”  As we said earlier, this is often when the seductive melody of the Sirens can heard in the lessening distance.  But if we can embrace and move into the suffering without developing an unhealthy attachment to it, then true Process is in effect.  In regard to my cinematic phone call, I might have the attitude of – “Yes, I am feeling strange shame and ugly doubt, but it is workable energy, I can feel this and drop the story lines that I’ve built up around this very human series of emotional pulsations – I can take gentle action through this energy and allow it to be the fuel for the process itself.”

To practice welcoming with open arms the suffering (doubt, shame, insecurity – humanity) that any actual and vital relationship/engagement will bring about – this is not self-flagellation, but quite the opposite.  Suffering is the bridge back to reality; the organic engine that moves us from the bondage of self and into relating and creating.  At each level of growth, no matter how minuet, we are presented with a seemingly comforting escape pod to some version of Never-Never Land – “Wait, I don’t have to grow up yet, I can chill out here for a bit longer, my old toys can still be fun, I know they can!”  But that is the cheap lie.  We wish that pleasure could lead to knowledge.  But, deep down, we know that only the acceptance of suffering truly does.

PGST Reflection: Attention and Will

Posted by on Feb 8, 2011 in PGST Reflections | No Comments

The philosopher and activist Simone Weil had this to say about Attention and Will –

“We have to try to cure our faults by attention and not by will.

The will only controls a few movements of a few muscles, and these movements are associated with the idea of the change of position of near-by objects.  I can will to put my hand flat on the table.  If inner purity, inspiration or truth of thought were necessarily associated with attitudes of this kind, they might be the object of will.  As this is not the case, we can only beg for them.  …Or should we cease to desire them?  What could be worse?  Inner supplication is the only reasonable way, for it avoids stiffening muscles which have nothing to do with the matter.  What could be more stupid than to tighten up our muscles and set our jaws about virtue, or poetry, or the solution of a problem.  Attention is something quite different.

Pride is a tightening up of this kind.  There is a lack of grace (we can give the word its double meaning here) in the proud man.  It is the result of a mistake.

Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer.  It presupposes faith and love.

Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.

It is only effort without desire (not attached to an object) which infallibly contains a reward.

With PGST, we ultimately break down the Super Objectives into daily, bite sized, imperfect “At Least 20 Minutes” Actions – meaning whatever the task at hand is, one is only committing to do it for at least 20 minutes.  If the task is “To brainstorm on ideas for a Delightful and True short film”, then, perhaps, the Will is what gathers the materials (and this is an important part of Process and Will is needed) – pen, paper, timing device, computer, etc… – and the Will is what picks up the pen and writes “To brainstorm on ideas for a Delightful and True short film” at the top of the page, and the Will is what places the tip of the pen on the page…now what?  Will cannot take us into “inner purity, inspiration or truth of thought” i.e. True Creativity, but many of us at this point attempt to force the Will to do our bidding, we “tighten up our muscles and set our jaws”, we attempt to violently beat the Will into submission “Give me some f*&*&ing brilliance over here!!  Or at least a decent idea you piece of s*&t!!”  Needles to say this approach breeds stagnation and self-hatred.  But when we gently take our focus away from the Will and place it on Attention (and maybe another way of articulating this is that we take Attention off the Will and place it on the Action) something much more compassionate and interesting begins to happen.

I often speak to clients of the “At Least 20 Minutes Action” as a Gentle, No-Fail System – it doesn’t matter what happens during those 20 minutes as long as you show up and with imperfection, gently bring your ATTENTION, whenever it strays, back to the task at hand. And where does the Attention stray? – I think to Will, often via the seemingly bedazzled path of Fantasy and Result Worship.  Fantasy – “I deserve/I long/I am supposed to be someplace else; perhaps someplace Better or someplace Worse, but definitely some-f*&^ing-place ELSE!!  Result Worship – “If I get this task done it will lead to ______, where I will finally have the peace and power I deserve” or “If I don’t get this task done I won’t get ______, so I will never get the peace and power I deserve”.  So perhaps when Will becomes intoxicated on Fantasy and Result Worship it then oversteps it’s place and attempts to rule the kingdom by violence and coercion (often while playing the innocent victim) and is then engulfed by the strangling yet seductive force of Pride.

Weil says we “can only beg” for True Creativity/Brilliance – we are powerless to guarantee its arrival.  “Inner supplication is the only reasonable way” – and this, perhaps, occurs through Gentle Attention (AWARENESS) on the Action – not Attention on Fantasy/Result, for Attention on Fantasy/Result ceases to be Attention; it morphs into Will.  And Will cannot manage, make sense of, or CREATE anything from the hollow shade of Fantasy/Result.  A terrible and fevered seduction does occur at this juncture though – Will begins to believe that it can manage the Fantasy/Result, that it can make sense of the this fractured un-reality.  The pursuit of this lie binds us further into the dark and stagnant trap. But Gentle (LOVING), Imperfect Attention on Action (THE OTHER), even for only 20 minutes, or one minute for that matter – one second of True Attention and Action is all that is actually required – is the key that opens the trap and allows, once again, the first taste of Eternal Creativity.

PGST Reflection: Three Act Structure

Posted by on Nov 10, 2010 in PGST Reflections | No Comments

When working with clients I often speak of the Three Act Structure that I believe is contained in the arc of every Human Action.  It is my contention that Theater and Film use this structure because they are replicating a natural process; reflecting back a great truth about the human experience of engagement with real action.  This is why we take such delight and can even undergo profound catharsis at the viewing of staged drama.  Theater shows us that which is perhaps the essential nature of our humanity – the ability to take conscious action and the impossibility of control in regard to the result of conscious action.  I believe the playwright Samuel Beckett may have described the Three Act Structure of Human Action best with his famous quote. “I must go on.  I can’t go on.  I’ll go on.”

Act One is “I must go on”!  Whether it’s cleaning the closet, writing a screenplay or starting a new business, any initial impulse of true creativity is often imbued with a sense of great enthusiasm and visions of grandeur.  “This is going to be great!  What a unique idea for a screenplay – a time traveling robotic unicorn who saves the universe – Yes!  When I accept my Academy Award I’m going to wear a leather tuxedo!  I must get started on the script right away – I feel this is something I must do and nothing shall stop me!”  So one sits in front of the computer, opens a new file and begins to take notes on the Brilliant New Idea.  What happens?  More then not, the aura of clarity and optimism begins to almost immediately dim and recede while a new pattern of thought immerges – “Wait…robotic time traveling unicorn?  That’s the lamest idea ever! What was I thinking?!  And even if it was a decent idea – Who am I kidding? – I’ll never finish an entire screenplay – I never finish anything.” But then, at our great moment of despair, another chain of thought dramatically enters the inner fray – “Ya know…maybe this is the wrong time to be writing a screenplay.  What I should really do is focus on that idea I had for my own web design business! Yes, that’s it!  And I’ll begin tomorrow!”  I call this phenomenon “First Acting”, and it can be a powerfully addictive habit.  We experience the emotional/psychological “high” of the First Act, the delectable euphoria of a New Idea and want it to never end so we keep seeking new First Acts instead of entering into the natural darkness at the gateway of the Second Act – “I can’t go on”.

We often get to the precipice of “I can’t go on” and then abandon our action entirely, retreating towards the titillation of a new First Act.  The tendrils of Doubt and Hopelessness, a sense that “All is lost”, “What’s the point?”, “I don’t even want to do this frigg’un thing anymore!” – some version of this will always occur during the Second Act of any given action – It is an organic and needed part of the action!! Our call is to not run from the demonic onslaught of self-conscious “Oh, what a rouge and peasant slave am I” fragmentation, but to Accept and Go Through It – become one with the Void by actively entering it with no real hope for salvation. This Second Act journey is almost always a process; a series of minor retreats, fortifications and painful recapitulations of the Doubt Engagement we thought had been mastered.  Eventually, through an alchemy   of Effort and Grace, we find ourselves at a real level of active acceptance and are able to truly “go on” – the Third Act. 

The Third Act reminds me of a scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Indiana has to step off into a great chasm, having blind faith that an invisible bridge will catch his foot.  We are faced, to a greater or lesser extent, with our own Holy Bridge every day.  This bridge that will provide safety, guidance and entry to the Next Level cannot be seen, felt or even imagined – we are given no evidence that the bridge exists, yet, like Indiana, we must willingly place ourselves into the viscous maw of Fear and Failure by STEPPING FULLY INTO REAL ACTION.  Then, seemingly out of nowhere, sometimes apparently seconds before the impending final fall, some modicum of Actual Security manifests beneath our feet.  This manifestation is a “result”, but we shall come to see it is never, thank God, the exact result we longed for in the First Act.  It is something more beautiful, necessary and profound then we could have ever imagined when we began the cycle of action.

PGST Reflection: Attitude and Intention

Posted by on Oct 27, 2010 in PGST Reflections | No Comments

The Roman Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius spoke of Things we have power over and Things we don’t have power over. One of the basic tenants of the Stoic philosophy is that if Man has understanding of and puts his focus on what he does have power over his life will be Happy and Just, or in the words of Ralph Waldo Emmerson, “Do not cumber yourself with fruitless pains to mend and remedy remote effects; let the soul be erect, and all things will go well”. So what do Ralph, Marcus and the rest of the Stoic’s say that we actually do have power over? – Attitude and Intention. That’s it! Our Attitude and our Intention in the moment – only this and nothing else. Not our Feelings, not most levels of Thought, not the Material World, not Other People and their Opinions, not the Past, not Result – only Attitude and Intention. Another way to speak of Intention is to call it Action – REAL ACTION – not thinking of action, not dreaming of action, not fantasizing about action – but truly entering into the action of the moment, which becomes the gateway to Reality.

An example of Real Action/Intention as opposed to Fantasy/Thinking would be this: Let’s say you’re a professional actor and you’ve made a decision to do a written brainstorming session for twenty minutes on ideas for how you might procure a highly effective new agent. If you truly intend to create the brainstorming session, then you truly do the brainstorming session. You get a notebook, a pen, sit in a comfortable place, have a timing device in front of you, set it for 20 minutes, put the pen against the paper and begin to make markings for 20 minutes!! During the process you ask yourself “How might I go about procuring a highly effective new agent?” – then you literally write down whatever ideas surface, no matter how ridiculous or inept they may seem!!

If I were to literally follow the above directions (or something in a similar vein), anyone observing me would have to agree that I was indeed intending to do a written brainstorm for twenty minutes on ideas for how I might procure a highly effective new agent. I cannot control the RESULTS of the session – how many ideas I like or feel “good” about, the amount of ideas, the feelings/thoughts I have while writing – I can only Intend/Do. I may even be five minutes into the session and someone sneaks up from behind and clobbers me in the back of the head with a baseball bat! The session is now over! But you would still say, “Well, he clearly intended to write for 20 minutes, the Result was he did not finish due to circumstances that were outside of his power.” On the other hand, if I were to get up after five minutes and spend the next twenty minutes on Wikipedia reading about the history and influence of the animated character Scooby Doo – my intention has changed! It would be Fantasy/Delusion if I were to profess, “No, no, I really intended to do the brainstorming session, but somehow, through magical powers outside of my influence I found myself lost on the net!” Now one may have a deep and powerful HABIT of killing time on the net when experiencing certain feelings, but as soon as one becomes aware that one has left the writing table and is now mindlessly surfing the web the possibility arises to gently go back to the intention/task at hand. The entire Change Of Intention/Action can be avoided if one says to one’s self (in essence, have the attitude) that “No matter what I FEEL or THINK I am going to sit here and brainstorm for twenty minutes – It is MY INTENTION to do this thing AND I WILL”.

As mentioned above, changing course in mid-stream and not accepting responsibility for it is an example of Fantasy/Delusion. So is this – I have no notebook or pen in hand, no timer set – no decision has been made and no Intention entered into – I walk around my apartment thinking in a vague way “Ya know, I said I was going to do that brainstorming session today, so I guess I’ll begin…what could I do? – I could…I dunno, I uh…damn this is hard – I’m hungry – Did I tivo Family Guy? – I hate myself”. Anyone observing this would say, “That’s a guy pacing around, lost in thought with a grimace on his face” – a man with no intention. The amazing thing about entering into Real Intention is that it can hold all the doubt and uncomfortable feelings – the Human Being is designed to enter into Action while holding psychological doubt and volatile emotion.

It is my contention that one may come to find that psychological doubt and volatile emotion are perhaps the divine fuel for True Action. The mistake we often make is to stray from the ennobling path of Real Intention and attempt to manage or control doubt and emotion – which cannot be done; it is not within human power. What is in our power is the ability to, in a gentle way, make friends with doubt and emotion and bring ‘em along for the ride as we move with dignity into the Reality of Action/Intention.

PGST Reflection: True Discipline

Posted by on Oct 12, 2010 in PGST Reflections | No Comments

In his classic guide to enlightened living, meditation master Chogyam Trungpa has this to say about the idea of Discipline –

“When discipline begins to be natural, a part of you, it is very important to learn to let go. For the warrior, letting go is connected with relaxing within discipline, in order to experience freedom. Freedom here does not mean being wild or sloppy; rather it is letting yourself go so that you fully experience your existence as a human being. Letting go is completely conquering the idea that discipline is a punishment for a mistake or a bad deed that you have committed, or might like to commit. You have to completely conquer the feeling that there is something fundamentally wrong with your human nature and that therefore you need discipline to correct your behavior. As long as you feel that discipline comes from outside, there is still a lingering feeling that something is lacking in you. So letting go is connected with letting go of any vestiges of doubt or hesitation or embarrassment about being you as you are. You have to relax with yourself in order to fully realize that discipline is simply the expression of your basic goodness. You have to appreciate yourself, respect yourself, and let go of your doubt and embarrassment so that you can proclaim your goodness and basic sanity for the benefit of others.”

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