Is it true, as Advaita Vedanta teacher Rupert Spira suggests in one of his yoga meditations, that thought arises as an avoidance of the seemingly unbearable now?
I don’t know. Let’s see.
See whether there is some physical sensation labeled “pain” or whether there is a feeling labeled “suffering.” In the first case, there may be an itch or there may be the experience of a stiff back. In the second case, there may be the experience of sorrow, grief, anger, etc.
Once you attend to the particular sensation or the particular feeling, what do you notice? According to Spira, the mind (we might say) takes flight: it goes in search, via activity undertaken in time, for what will alleviate the seemingly unbearable or intolerable sensation or feeling.
Yet if he is also right, no thought on its own can actually alleviate the sensation or the feeling. But is he right? For don’t we think that we can make sense of (say) grief and, in doing so, we can come to rest, to peace?
Perhaps. Yet perhaps–take anger–we had better distinguish between the felt understanding of anger and a mere conceptual understanding of anger. I’ve seen that the former can dissolve anger, yet that discussion goes beyond the scope of this post. The latter, surely, will not do. The energy behind the anger may temporarily subside the more you immerse yourself in other activities (such as thought), yet does the impulse or tendency to get angry when X or Y is the case go away? See for yourself that it does not.
Therefore, consider what he suggests. If most forms of thought anyway are avoidances of (for example) the unbearable dullness of this situation, then what? Are we doomed to suffer? A Tantric Yoga approach of the kind he recommends involves asking,
- What is this feeling? (Say, anger.)
- Can I get closer and closer to this feeling, or can this feeling be brought closer and closer to me? (Feel, sense, and/or imagine coming closer to anger.)
- If I can still give it a name or if I can still label it, then let me draw it closer still. (Come to see that there’s no difference between you and anger.)
- Once it loses its separateness, can I caress it, kiss it–in short, love it? (See whether you can. See whether you can surrender yourself to this de-labeled energy.)
Then see that there is just rest after this. Just dwelling. Just abiding as what one truly is.
If the mind, accustomed to being unquiet and therefore agitated, takes flight after another feeling or sensation seems to it unbearable, then one can ask about this feeling, draw it closer, de-label it, and love it. Then rest.
Spira calls this yoga meditation “Kissing the Toad.”