Nuggets From Jacques Verduin & Lama Tsomo's Call
Posted by Rahul Brown on Sep 9, 2020
It was a timely conversation exploring insights, tools and practices to support ourselves and our communities in these times. For many of us, the pandemic has constrained our movements and confined our interactions -- turning our homes into seeming prisons. Many regions are also plagued with fires, hurricanes and other circumstances that force people into even greater lockdown in homes that may no longer feel safe. In conversation with Jacques Verduin, an expert in prison rehabilitation and Founding Director and Minister of Transformation of Insight-Out as well as the Founder of its GRIP (Guiding Rage into Power) Program, and Lama Tsomo, a Tibetan Buddhist lama, we’ll explore questions such as: How do we remain sane in lockdown? How can we remain lifted up when everything around us seems to push us down? How does this season actually serve us? How do we regain our freedom and liberation?
Below are some of the nuggets from the call that stood out for me. Some highlights from the transcript are further below ...
- Isolation, or voluntary retreat is a kind of crucible. It wavers from wonderful to terrible, but its possible to have a created sense of spaciousness within that condition. Tsomo's teacher himself was imprisoned and tortured for 9 years, and taught her some of these skills.
- The goal of freedom implicitly carries a desire to enable others to be free, whereas liberation is more about transforming the prison between our ears. In Jacques' program, they talk about leaving prison before 'before you get out'. Liberation is a state of mind, and geographic freedom may follow.
- Our freedom is connected to a mutuality. Connection is the new medicine, and also reveals the fallacy of "us vs them". Even nature demonstrates this i.e. we fire the coal plants here and the ice melts over there. There is emotional freedom in discovering your own work inside this interconnection.
- In Jacques' work, they identify 'imminent danger' as the moment when anger and the urge for violence arise together; or also the space between craving and using; and also between expectation and reality. We all would be served by identifying those moments for ourselves and enlarging or prolonging them, as the characteristic of those moments is that everything speeds up. They often ask 'who has experienced a moment of imminent danger?'
- In Tsomo's own experiences of containment, there are moments of bubbling up of the '3 poisons' aka emotions in the categories of anger, craving, and delusion. When you are on retreat or otherwise locked down, it intensifies everything, like a pressure cooker. Ironically, the very practice that causes these things to arise is also the medicine for them.
- "There is no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole" i.e. the intensity of containment creates an urgency that fosters breakthrough. Compassion is important for these moments, but compassion is not a sentiment. We can have both aspirational and engaged compassion, but its important to move toward greater engagement.
- There is a nahuatal saying of bad behavior as "acting as if you have no relative". So what people do in Jacques program is to look around and become eah other's relatives. One of the people in these programs said, "hurt people hurt people", yet its also true that "healed people heal people".
- We like to own certain qualities and disown others. That disowning creates what Jung calls a shadow, which is what the ego hides from the light. There are lots of dynamics of projection inside of all this, both projecting on ourselves and others. Yet at the end of the day, we all want to be seen. Can we look at when we're projecting? Inside some of these group dynamics, we have the chance to name those projections, and it allows us to see and pick up a piece of work to do within our own minds.
- Attempting to name and catalog our trigger moments is particularly important. If you can catch that flash inside a trigger moment, you can access a different choice. Jacques' program encourages people to touch and resolve their original pain. Secondary pain is what arises from people not processing their original pain. It often takes a lot of work in community to make this happen. They don't call it a group, they call it a tribe. Many carry a lot of energy of being unwanted. You have to address that in teh context of community and tribe. A lot of crime is rooted in an inarticulate cry for help.
- There are two types of pain: 'clean' pain & 'dirty' pain. Secondary trauma to oneself and others arises from dirty pain. Jung said all neuroses are an attempt toe skirt around a pit of despair. When you avoid that pit of despair, there is a great deal of hurting of self & others that happens. But you can choose to go through it as well. If you go through that pit of despair, you're free of that particular pit. There may be other pits, but that one is done. Don't indulge the pain, keep walking through. Hold the pain, feel the pain, but keep walking through.
- Clean pain exists in that abyss or pit of despair. Tsomo remembers walking through one of those experiences while on retreat in Nepal. She was very alone in hone way, but still held by the nuns. Her practice was to sit in the fire as if her very soul depended on it. Despite how horrible it seemed, she woke up the next morning and was 'still there', feeling gratitude for how held she was by the universe.
- Holding is an operative word in prison. You're 'held' in so many ways. Yet you can also hold yourself, and hold yourself dear enough to 'face', as opposed to run, hide, or fight.
- Self-love and compassion is so foundational. Its a must to carry with you when you go through the abyss. Yet we're so terrible with this skill. We really have to build this capacity of love and compassion for ourselves. We're often missing it because we judge ourselves based on what we do rather than what we are. We have to first get clear about who we really are. Jacques also deeply underscores this idea.
- Developing a daily practice is vital, esp. in the context of multiple trigger points. When we're in fight or flight mode, our lizard brain dominates, and our training all flies out the window. In the practice of samatha meditation, we are learning to increase that gap between our rational frontal lobe and our reactive lizard brain.
- Jacques shared a 'sitting in the fire' tool - sitting in the intense experience of original pain and making peace with that. Learning to tolerate and befriend our original pain in 4 steps. Closing eyes and
- 1. Breathing in - feeling the pain & grief and welcoming it
- 2. Breathing out - Opening and softening into feeling and accepting this feeling in your body.
- 3. Place a hand on belly & hand on chest while Breathing in - saying I know that the ability of how I respond to this feeling lies within me.
- 4. Breathing out - I am willing and able to learn and understand the lessons that lie within this experience.
- Tsomo shared a vajrasattva meditaton practice, wherein we visualize a wheel of pure brilliant white light spinning in our hearts and dissolving all that is not truly us, as we repeatedly recite the mantra Om benza sato hun.
- A larger list of guided meditation practices is available on the Namchak website
- The goal of freedom is perhaps to enable other people to be free as well. And liberation, I think, connects more to a piece of transformation in which we get to address the prison between our ears. (Jacques)
- Them is the seat of projection -- everything I can't hold that I project on others. And us includes not only humanity but all other species as well at this point. (Jacques)
- “Imminent danger” is the moment between anger and violence -- usually a very small window, over before you realize it. And the moment between craving and using also tends to be a very, very small window. (Jacques)
- Compassion isn't a sentiment, and what it is instead is a capacity that we can develop through practice. (Lama Tsomo)
- The secret of compassion is getting past the delusion of us and them, the delusion that we're separate waves, separate from the ocean, and seeing truth as it really is, which is that we're all waves and we're all made of ocean and we're all in this ocean together. (Lama Tsomo)
- Compassion falls into two categories in Buddhism. There's “aspirational compassion,” which is when you're sitting on the cushion practicing, and then there's “engaged compassion,” and that's when you get up off the cushion and act. (Lama Tsomo)
- Those eight words really describe our program: “Hurt people hurt people” and “Healed people heal people.” (Jacques)
- There can be grief, there can be hurt, there can be fury: you don't indulge those things. You keep walking through. Yes, you hold those, you're aware of those, and you feel them, and you keep walking through. (Lama Tsomo)
- The self love and compassion piece is, I think, so foundational to what we're talking about. I think you need to carry that with you when you decide to go over the edge into the abyss and walk that path through. And yet we're so terrible at that -- all of us. (Lama Tsomo)
- Whatever we haven't owned as ourselves, then, is in our unconscious, and that means we don't have a lot of say over what it's doing. And it's going to come out and project this way and that way. So then we're shadowboxing, so to speak, with others who we have decided to call “other” when actually, it's all us. (Lama Tsomo)
- I think that violence is an effort to connect. … If you realize that somebody who is angry is actually trying to connect, then that can really inspire coming closer. (Jacques)
Lots of gratitude to all the behind-the-scenes volunteers that made this call happen!