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App H - Seeker Story

These are quotes from my z-quest into Sharon Salzberg’s book “Real Love: the Art of Mindful Connection”, the retelling Zandtaomed is now advising is called a Seeker Story - explained in this advice. For a Seeker Story to have meaning it could hurt, it could concern parts of your personal history – shadows etc that you have chosen to bury to maintain your personal balance. I therefore recommend that this story be written under the guidance of an elder, a person who understands the path. This elder could be a meditation counsellor willing to work individually. At worst a personal close friend needs to be available – kalyana mitta. In my quote above I have already mentioned what I consider an important personal requisite, a meditation approach that includes the ability to do inner work.

These 3 memes are a summary of Zandtaomed’s following the path:-

They talk about path, vihara and faith (not belief), these are the foundation stones of life as a seeker – a “Seeker Story”. Here is my understanding of the path:-

In a sense the path is a consideration of conditioning and beyond, and what can take us beyond is awakening; conditioning and awakening are the two sections of a Seeker Story.

Recognition of conditioning is a constant throughout Zandtaomed. In our upbringing through our parents and education we build up an identity based on agreements. These agreements we make in the case of our parents through love, and they are not always agreements we want to choose; we accept that it is the way to do things out of love for our parents. By the time we reach adulthood we have an identity that has enabled us to reach adulthood and cope with the defiled world. This natural part of conditioning ends when we reach adulthood, nature’s intent is that as we mature into adulthood our conditioning falls away and we begin to follow our paths. But in practice this does not happen because in the defiled world there has developed societal conditioning that continues to create egos (attachments) that block us from following our paths. Seekers begin to let go of these blocks so they can follow their paths.

As my own understanding of the path has increased, I have found myself going over significant events in my own Seeker Story again and again, each time seeing those events slightly differently – with greater understanding (hopefully). For example at one stage I might examine the intense shyness of my adolescence, and yet see that shyness completely differently when considering the Inner Child. Each time we write about events such as that shyness it helps unblock further attachments that have been built up – this revisiting is a good process.

So there are two parts to My Seeker Story, releasing conditioning and recognising awakening.

Part 1 Releasing Conditioning

Step 1 Overview

There are four areas to consider in your Seeker Story for releasing conditioning:-

My Childhood Family
My Relationships – Lovers and Partners
My Identity
My Societal Life – Career and Education

Start with each – you choose the order and write an overview of events that you consider significant in each of these. Write as little or as much detail as you want. Your Seeker Story will revisit each of the significant events that you record at a later stage.

Complete the 4 overviews before reading further.

In your Seeker Story you are going to go deeper into each of these, the deeper the better – depending on how much pain is released and how much pain you can cope with. Throughout you discuss this with your elder, meditation counsellor or the friend (kalyana mitta) who is working with you.

As before you choose the order you are working on. For each of the 4 sections you now have an overview:-

My Childhood Family
My Relationships – Lovers and Partners
My Identity
My Societal Life – Career and Education

Start with whichever of these story overviews you want – Step1 Overview Details finished.

My Childhood Family

Step 2 Details

So far your Step 1 overview is not likely to have caused you pain (depending how deep your overview went). However there is likely to be a sense of apprehension with the process - something impending. Describing your upbringing is something we often do – I describe my own upbringing as middle-class conformity. As a superficial “social” description this hides much, but if we attempt to delve deeper such descriptions hide far more. What is important about the Seeker Story is that what is hidden will become part of awareness. Let me stress again that this can be painful and that you need a support person to help you. A person might describe their background as being “difficult because I had an alcoholic mother”. This might sound as if the person has come to terms with their upbringing, but it might also be a blasé cover-all that hides much pain. The purpose of a Seeker Story is to feel that pain and release it. This can be hard and you need trustworthy support.

Now that we have an overview of our childhood family, the socially-acceptable version perhaps, we are going to go deeper. Look at your overview and pinpoint the details that you know need investigating. Perhaps do this in meditation so that your inner guide can help you – can tell you the areas that you have been avoiding. Avoidance is a form of delusion, one of the kilesa – defilements. Delusion (moha) is a defilement that is essential to our defiled world, a world in which generally we avoid seeing the truth of what is done in our name. On a personal level we avoid seeing what has happened in our personal history, often creating a rosy image around what has caused a deep hurt – delusion. Or if there was so much pain we have created a repressed ego that we have relegated to shadow so we don’t have to face it; sadly shadow usually only works temporarily as what has been repressed often comes back to bite us – often showing itself in unacceptable behaviour that is out-of-character. The purpose of your Seeker Story is to face those delusions, see them for what they are, release the attachments and integrate that history into you as a complete person.

Now that you have pinpointed your key events, look at each one in detail. As step 2 you write about each key event in detail trying to understand what happened. You will be looking at causes – father repressive?, mother overbearing?, sibling bullying? Take your time, look at each key event in detail, and write these details down – trying to understand them.

Complete these detailed key events before reading further.

Now look at the details you have written, and ask yourself – are there any patterns? If you see patterns, can you go deeper into those patterns and write about them?

Write as much about those patterns as you can before reading further.

Step 3 Father-Mother images

Now write a detailed description of your father and your mother but not as who they are, but your image of them during your childhood. As a child how did you think of your father? Go back to yourself as a child, and think of events involving your father – how did he feel to yourself then? What characteristics did he have then? Try not to temper your description of who he was then by what you know now – but of course that is difficult. You will then have some kind of biopic of your father-image. Similarly you build up a biopic of your mother-image. If sibling issues are important to you build up a similar biopic of your siblings. How did your father react to mother love – her love for you, her love for her children? How did your mother react to mother love?

Now look back at the patterns of behaviour that came out in step 2, do your father/mother/sibling images help explain this.

Write about connecting those patterns to your father/mother/sibling images before reading further.

Step 4 Inner Child

Now that you have opened up your memories to the possibilities of the conditioning causes that have led to your blocks you are going to go back to the source, the time source when these happened. You are going to “talk” to your inner child. That sounds a bit preposterous but if this is done well it can feel as if such conversations take place. It can feel as if the conversation is real, and the results of the conversation can have a great impact in understanding your life and its conditioning.

Ideally you will read this book – "Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child" by Thich Nhat Hanh, there is far greater wisdom and much more technique detail than I am going to describe. Do you have an image of yourself as a young child? Recall that image, whatever image you think is important. Give the image a name, associate that name with the image, and in meditation try to start a conversation with that image – hi, little Bill, are you there? It might not happen first time but with your Seeker Story you have already prepared the groundwork for this conversation. In meditation look again; find the image, say hello and start the conversation. Have you exhausted the conversation? Ask your inner guide, have you finished? If you think you have, ask your inner child about mother love – how did your parents react to mother love? Then try to talk to a younger you. Have your conversations. Finished? Go back to a younger you. Finished the conversations? Even go back to the womb or the time you just emerge, does your inner child have anything to say? Whatever conversations you have, take time to write them down in an “Inner Child Journal”.

Take time to complete your Inner Child Journal.

Step 5 Completion and Collation

Much of the work of the chapter about your Seeker Story about childhood family has been completed. Go back to the beginning and go through the writing about your childhood family Seeker Story, collate them, bring them all together so that you now have your family story of your conditioning – your Seeker Story.

My Relationships – Lovers and Partners

Internalised pain from a traumatic loving relationship was my real introduction to inner work. I call it Nyanga because that is where the release occurred. I fell in love and this led to the two years of my life that gave me the greatest pain. I internalised this pain, and lived with it deep inside for maybe 7 or 8 years. Whilst I functioned reasonably well socially, I had been blocked internally by this pain. One night in a small hut I looked inside for this pain, found it and saw it for what it was, I lived through the pain again and released it. What a deep and resounding relief! It was at night and I fell asleep early morning; inside there was a chasm of relief from where the pain had been released. I used this Nyanga to lessening effect several times since – so beneficial. And eventually I learned to be grateful for that love. It was a romantic love that ended my search for cosmic love and laid the foundation for spiritual love (real love) many years later. For this I am grateful, truly grateful.

Warning:– if you are in a current relationship – including marriage, it might be best to avoid consideration of this relationship as possibly causing trauma. Instead you could work with Sharon Salzberg in her book Real Love. Through metta meditation and more Sharon uses mindfulness to develop personal connection spiritually - discussed throughout the book. Discuss this with your support person.

Step 2 Describe your relationships

You have already completed step1 – overview details. Now consider this overview and describe which relationships are important to you. Go into them in some detail.

Complete your relationship descriptions before reading further.

Step 3 Examining the hurt

How much have you internalised the pain of your relationships? Look at each of your important relationships, and examine the hurt and pain through writing about them. Try to avoid blaming the other. As a Seeker Story you are looking to heal yourself, blaming your partner – no matter how emotionally satisfying and even true – does not heal you. Look at yourself and how you accepted being hurt.

Take your time examining your relationships.

Step4 Releasing the hurt internally

This is the equivalent of my Nyanga, and given that I explained what Nyanga was you might have done this already. But if you have avoided looking for the internalised pain of your love, now is the time to end that avoidance. In meditation prepare yourself for pain and release, have your support person at the end of the phone. Go inside and look for your lover (L), I found L buried deep in my stomach; s/he might also be buried in your joints. Look for L, look for the pain, live the pain of your love again, and finally release it. Is there more than one lover whose pain you are living, then release the pain of L1, L2, L3 etc.

Release the pain of each lover and journal that pain before reading further.

Step 5 SEEing your ex-lovers

Now that you have released your pain, you are in a position to SEE your lover. Now that there is no pain, look at your lover, and see them for who they are. Did you love the person they are or an image of who they are that you loved? Write down the differences between your lover’s image and who they actually are. Did you love them or the image?

Do this for each lover who has caused you pain?

Is it possible for you to have loved who they really are? For a lifetime?

Step6 Recognise Real Love?

This is a step we will look at after considering your Seeker Story of awakening.

My Identity

Step2 Delve deeper into identity

You have examined your identity as an overview in Step 1, perhaps it could be encapsulated in a blasé comment such as my own “upbringing of middle-class conformity” or the other example I used – “I had a difficult childhood because I had an alcoholic mother”. Delving deeper, I want you to consider what were the key factors of this identity.

The main basis of your identity was established during your upbringing, at different times in your adult life recalling that identity helps you understand how you are coping with your adult life. At the time of my upheaval understanding my identity with regards to middle-class conformity was essential in helping me understand what was happening in my work life. When I was writing my dedication to bell hooks, understanding my MAWP identity was essential in making sense of the patriarchy - imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy.

Examine key moments in your adult life in which your personal life interacted with your identity – even confronted it.

Step 3 Categorise your identity

When you consider your adult role in society then the characteristics of your identity are often clear, and can be broken down into the 3 characteristics of race, gender and sexuality, and class. It is important for seekers to recognise that the conditioning you have received in your upbringing are still a part of you as an adult, no matter how far along the path you have gone – or think you have gone.

When I consider my own history with the path:-

I often thought I had gone beyond conditioning, but on closer examination of my personal history it has become clear that conditioning has impacted on my life yet I was not conscious that it was doing so. For a seeker being conscious of what impacts our lives are important, and the further along the path we go the more we want to be able to say “my conditioning has little impact on my life because of my mindfulness”. For this statement to be true we have to work on being sure that conditioning has been released, and that is a purpose of your Seeker Story.

Categorise yourself in terms of race, gender and class. Now write down other aspects of your identity that you feel are important.

Step 4 Recognise and release your identity

This is the step which is the nub of your work on identity. Unfortunately by nature I cannot help many of you with this. However as a seeker you are already likely to be equipped with the knowledge to deal with this as you will in some way be conscious of your identity, and as a seeker you are likely to have recognised your identity, and partially released the clinging to it by a younger you.

In my own case I have many times revisited my identity as a MAWP – Male, Arrogant, White and Privileged. As I have already described myself as conforming middle-class, this is an identity description that sufficiently completes the categorisation of step 3. Looking at my upbringing and personal history with regards to this categorisation is deeply releasing. But you need something to measure that categorisation against. To begin with I looked at my own understanding of the relationship between MAWPs and society – calling it “embracing the MAWP”, but I gained a great deal when I measured that MAWP against bell hooks that I called “Embracing the MAWP by engaging with bell hooks”. This identity process of my Seeker Story is very personal if the engagement is allowed to push the boundaries, so do be careful. Few people like to see the level that their identities are a product of conditioning even seekers, SEEing conditioning is essential to following the path.

The details of the z-quest where I engaged with bell hooks are described in this blog, but where I personally went inside is not for public consumption – it is not just about you when it is identity and involves family. Please respect the privacy of others whether you consider they are following their paths or not. Choosing an elder who repects this privacy is important.

Choosing your identity z-quest:- Whilst this Seeker Story is part of a spiritual path, the book (media?) you choose to engage with in releasing your identity is not specifically spiritual. Identity is concerned with the wellness of the vehicle (vihara), and the lack of wellness arises from conditioning within society – the defiled world. I chose the book "The will to change, men, masculinity and love" because it was a book that addressed the patriarchal conditioning of this defiled world – the defiled world of imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. This book of course would not be suitable for different identities. Bell herself went through her own identity awareness when younger, an awareness that led to her feminism, perhaps people whose identity is black and female would choose to follow the awareness that came from the type of groups bell engaged in.

Beyond pointers I cannot detail suitable choices for different identities (different to my own) because that choice needs to be experiential. I would welcome suggestions as to different choices that seekers have worked with on their z-quests and found useful; I will record any suggestions here:-

Step5 – How much of you is your identity?

This is a step we will look at after considering your Seeker Story of awakening.

My Societal Life – Career and Education

The interaction between my path and my career and education was very significant to my upheaval – firstgrace. So it is a section in my Seeker Story that was very significant. As you could imagine middle-class conformity was concerned with career and education so for me as a seeker this section was significant.

When you consider Fogle’s people, New Lives in the Wild, it is not unusual for the path to show itself in major changes in societal life. I love watching and listening to the people Ben interviews, people who have left the rat race; leaving the rat race was also significant for the development of the Ascension people in 5 Gateways (see Seeker Story of Awakening). Not all of Fogle’s people have been aware of “following the path” or at least Ben never got to that in his interviewing.

Batgap is completely about people’s paths, and in the personal histories of those seekers conflict in societal life and ensuing suffering has been significant in their development. If conflict with societal life (career and education) has been significant in your personal history spend time with this section. For some it might not be appropriate.

Step 2 Highlight the suffering

So far in step 1 there is an overview of your societal life. In this step I want you to try to recall the details of the conflicts and suffering that were part of this overview. If like me there was a break with your conditioning (in my case the job of middle-class conformity), examine the factors in your identity and in your path, look at the suffering you were experiencing that led to this break.

Examine in detail the suffering and the factors that were in conflict. How much of this suffering can be associated with the patriarchy - imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy (eg middle-class conformity and capitalism) - in your career?

Step 3 Path and career

At the time of my break, my personal upheaval, there came a big path decision. Because of what I learned during upheaval I knew there was writing in me. But at the same time compassion came to the forefront. With my path I chose compassion first becoming a houseparent and then a teacher. The writer in me says I took the easy ride having at least some secure finance, the compassion in me says I was too immature to have been a writer. Whatever, I am now a writer and my 30 years as a teacher has left me with a pension to live comfortably where I live – not with enough money to live in the financial west where I was born.

Because of my immaturity it was necessary to gain experience in a second childhood that lasted just over 30 years as I moved to an early retirement where my writing path came into being. Was my path teaching? Outwardly it was but in truth life as a teacher was more a question of compromising my compassion with the limitations of the so-called education system. In a sense it was an outer path, but whilst there were obvious times of inner journey (and solitude as discussed in Viveka-Zandtao) my adult life was not as spiritual as it might have been; after all I was an alcoholic for a while.

Examine the key decisions in your career. What connection were those decisions with the path?

Part 2 Awakening

As a seeker understanding our conditioning is only important because that conditioning is what creates the blocks to awakening. From birth our path is with us but it is blocked off. Initially that path is blocked off by nature as we develop identities in our childhood to help survive to adulthood. At some point during adulthood there is the possibility of an awakening where the path breaks through the blocks.

Awakening experiences are diverse, and I am far from capable of describing all possible awakenings. In Batgap Rick Archer interestingly investigates awakenings through conversations with “Ordinary” spiritually awakening people. Any seeker can listen to this to find similarities to their own Seeker Story.

There is a spiritual movie that I recommend people watch, I like it because of the enthusiasm shown for the path; it is called 5 Gateways. I mentioned this movie to a friend, and he told me his girlfriend had cried as she recognised awakening in herself; sadly it appeared that the tears were because she had not developed this awakening (my perception). In our defiled world awakening can be ridiculed and is usually dismissed as it is not part of conditioning, seekers need to recognise and embrace their own awakenings. [Note – With the movie I am applauding the awakening experiences but am not advocating the formal ascension stages discussed in the movie. Paths are different, the awakening experiences can be so similar.] Listening to the awakening experiences (through all 5 Gateways) can help the seeker recognise awakenings in themselves.

Despite the divine nature of awakening, awakenings that occur amongst the “ordinary” are often mocked. Instead of being celebrated as a sign of maturity, ridicule is common-place because for most people especially the establishment-famous (as opposed to creatively-famous) their conditioning has created so many blocks they are unlikely to ever access their paths; this inability leads to blaming and ridicule. Because awakenings can be powerful and can often lead to a rejection of former conditioned lives, people undergoing awakening experiences can initially feel vulnerable when their conditioning is confronted. When there is ridicule the vulnerable stay quiet. It is difficult to assess but in my view many people undergo awakening experiences without being conscious that what they feel is awakening. Instead of these experiences being a platform for a happier life these experiences are shelved away as if they are shadows.

A seeker embraces awakenings in all their forms. A seeker actively seeks awakenings in all their forms. In the Seeker Story the seeker records their awakenings in all their forms. Recording their awakenings gives a sense of solidity to the awakening process that goes on in all of us; the path is always there, it is just blocked by our conditioned egos.

For me awakening is the path shining through but our conditioned egos block the shining light. In this Seeker Story I am not asking for awakening to be seen as Great Enlightenment – whatever that is, I am not asking for you to think of awakening as permanent perfect bliss. I am asking that you record all awakenings of whatever level of insight. Have you attended a public talk on the path and had a shared meditation experience? Above, I described the path of compassion, insight and creativity. Were there great insights that affected your life? What about your creative process? What about ah-ha moments? Have you been out alone in nature and experienced unity – a moment of natural bliss? Have you looked at the sea watching the waves rolling in and thought that the sea is unity? Have you sat beneath a powerful tree and thought of the significance of your own ego? What about those poems and writings during your adolescence – the ones not done for school?

Have you had meditation moments? I am not talking about those moments that come to daily meditators, but those moments that come to “ordinary people” (not meditators), those moments when a deep silence or a deep stillness comes to you in a moment of solitude, a moment so unusual you run and hide amongst people. These are all moments connected to possible awakening. Record them, they are the real you. To help with unlocking your own brainstorming here is what I wrote as my own awakening story; I digress into non-awakening anecdotal details you can do this in your story if it helps you to write so long as you know the purpose is recounting awakening and not indulging sanna-khandha.

Step 1 Brainstorming

Record all awakenings, insights, creative moments, meditation moments; just record them as they come to you. Take a break taking your mind off awakenings. Now go back and see if there are any more awakenings to record.

Step 2 – Categorise your Awakenings

Nature – As in 5 Gateways awakenings often occur when we are away from our routines, in nature – on cliffs, up mountains, deserted beaches watching the sea. These awakenings don’t have to be full blown as described in 5 Gateways. Being in harmony with nature can be considered a form of awakening. Walking on coast paths away from towns I would often feel alone but in unity with nature (no bells and banjoes). Record such feelings of harmony with nature.

Go back through your brainstorm, and list the times in nature when you have felt the harmony/unity. Any other times? What does being alone in nature mean to you?

Step 3 – Ah-ha moments

Ah-ha moments – insights – come from the path. In teaching I would encourage an insight process. Homework – kids stuck on a maths problem. Try, leave it. Come back to it, no good? Leave it overnight waking up with the solution. Sometimes you can wake up in the middle of the night. Or you can have a Eureka moment.

Look at your brainstorm. Which of these are ah-ha moments? Can you think of others you haven’t recorded? Have you developed techniques such as “sleeping on it” to develop these insights?

Step 4 Grander Awakening Experiences

I talk of my upheaval as firstgrace:-

I like Eckhart’s idea of a firstgrace freebie, that at some point in your life the path breaks through and gives an earth-shattering experience. In my upheaval this experience was over an intense period of time – weeks and months. Many people on Batgap talk of personal moments of awakening. For some people awakening to become enlightened might be a reality, it is not this that I talk about even as a Grander Awakening Experience. But there are powerful awakening experiences, powerful religious experiences that people have spoken of over time.

If you have had such an experience, record it in detail – from start to finish. Once you think you have recorded all the detail, leave it – do something else. Come back and see if there is more detail you can remember. Revisit this experience often, remember it, relive it, relive the details. It is the experience of your life.

Warning:- If you have been fortunate to have a Grander Awakening Experience even as firstgrace, be careful not to try and recreate it. Accept the grandness (the bells and banjoes) as a one-off experience. Awakenings will continue to arise if you are following your path, they do not arise because you recreate the circumstances where it has happened before. It is not the circumstances of the event that creates the awakening but whether you are following your path – after the freebie of firstgrace.

Step 5 Moving your Awakenings on

We have looked at details of awakening events. Based on the warning we are not looking to recreate the circumstances of those events because we have moved on. Our paths have developed so awakenings will happen as rewards for getting closer to our paths. Such rewards as awakening experiences can simply be affirmations that you are following your path. Awakening experiences as insights can be that path showing you how to learn – by putting flesh on the bones of an insight. Awakening experiences in nature can be telling you to get out and centre yourself more.

Celebrate your awakening experiences but remember they are not the path. Look at my descriptions of the path, what do you think of them? In light of conditioning? Of awakening?

Part 3 Ongoing

Hopefully you have gained from writing your Seeker Story, why not revisit and add to it from time to time.

Through your story of conditioning you have released the conditioned egos and developed a state of wellness towards your best vihara. Through your story of awakenings you have come to know the path and have faith in it, as you detach from conditioned egos so that faith can bring more awakenings.

Does your Seeker Story ever end – is there an end to seeking? Zandtaomed does not answer this question, as an elder his teaching is for ongoing seeking. But that state of seeking is pure – free from conditioning, free from attachment. It is this pure state of seeking that Zandtaomed encourages, this is doing the best you can to be the best you can be – free from conditioning and attachment, a state of seeking that is pure and free from the angst of the intellectual better - the intellectual not enough.

With your understanding of the conditioning in your upbringing it will be easier to recognise any new conditioning that you have previously attached to. Understanding your own identity and the conditioning that has led to it means that you can leave the egos behind and follow your compassionate path. Understanding the egos that can arise through romantic love you can develop real love, the real spiritual love that comes from following the path.

With ongoing seeking there is a recognition that there is always conditioning but following the path we do not have to attach. Awakenings lose the power of “newness” as experienced in firstgrace; this pure state of ongoing seeking has increasing awakenings but because of this equanimous state there aren’t the “bells and banjoes”. With this ongoing pure seeking, maybe the seeker will revisit their Seeker Story, fine tune it and move on. Maybe the seeker’s meditation or inner journey will be sufficiently purifying for their own vihara that there will be no attachment to conditioning. Zandtaomed hopes this tool of the Seeker Story will benefit.

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