Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Duality and the Power of Participation

Yesterday I received an email that contained this: "The word "participatory" comes close to defining the highest good in African society. It is the core meaning of the word ubuntu and is enshrined in the Xhosa proverb, ‘A person is a person through persons.’ Ubuntu affirms the organic wholeness of humanity: that one realizes one's full potential only through other people. Life together is the quintessence of an African understanding of what it means to be human.”

Later I had a conversation with a psychiatrist who will interview me about depression on her radio show tomorrow, May 26. She said she had read The Depression Book and is eager to talk about the use of exercise in moving through and beyond depression, something she said was certainly not part of her medical training. I asked her if she’d read There Is Nothing Wrong With You. She said she read it several years ago, and we spoke a bit about the relationship between self-hatred and depression. My comment was, “How could anyone go through life listening to constant criticism and abuse without being depressed?” She told me that when she asks patients questions of that nature the response is invariably along the lines of “Look at how I am. How could I not hate myself?”

The juxtaposition of ubuntu with the isolation of self-hatred and depression caused me to reflect again on the critical necessity of recognizing the illusory nature of a self that is separate from life. Until we get it, grasp it in that life changing oh-I-see-and-the-seeing-has-opened-my-eyes-forever way, it is not possible to move out of a primary I-truly-believe-this-is-who-I-am relationship with egocentric karmic conditioning. And, without seeing though the illusion of a separate self, it is not possible to step free of self-hate or to experience ubuntu.

The great news for us humans is that the door conditioning has labeled exit is really the entrance and the entrance is really the exit. Depression is a perfect example. I am depressed. I have no strength or energy for anything. The voices that talk to me alternate between reporting how awful I feel and beating me up for being a person who feels so awful. I feel awful and clearly it’s my fault. This can continue unabated for a very long time because nothing interferes with that loop. The conversation robs me of energy; the lack of energy supports the conversation in that the conversation matches perfectly the sensations in my body—or lack thereof! It all makes perfect sense.

However, if I get up and start moving, the sensations in my body change. Now I’m getting different information. The voices of self-hate will attempt to push me back into my chair, predicting yet another failure, reminding me of past failures, etc., but the sensations in the body are no longer supporting that conversation. If I keep moving, the sensations will continue to change. After a time, the sensations in the body are so altered that only a great deal of effort on the part of the voices can siphon off the energy released through the exercise and return me to a state of depression.

How do I keep that from happening? Ubuntu. Participation. All of the misery-producing experiences of a human being happen in isolation—isolation from everything except the voices of egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate that have made their way inside a human’s head.

This world of karmic conditioning is often called “the world of opposites.” Usually that term is meant to refer to the fact that conditioned mind is maintained through duality—hot/cold, yes/no, us/them, right/wrong, etc. I like to use it to indicate that just about everything karmic conditioning comes up with is the opposite of what is so, that what we’ve been taught to believe is the opposite of what is true. This even applies to the notion of duality itself. Hot and cold are not opposites; they are two ends of a continuum, two sides of a coin that do not exist without one another.

Once we understand what’s actually happening, we can free ourselves! All we need is to understand the principle, and what has stopped us will free us. There is a little trick here, which is why it’s so important to grasp the principle: Only from center can we see this and accept the solution.

So, the application goes like this: I’m told I have no energy, cannot move, cannot do what I need to do. That belief keeps me in an immobile state, which reinforces and perpetuates the belief. From center I find the willingness to get up and move. I go in the direction opposite to that belief, feel better, have more energy, and can do what I need to do. From center I replace the voices of self-hatred with voices of compassionate support. From center I can see that staying in isolation and not participating keeps me vulnerable to voices that prey on me when I am alone with them. So I go against the voices, reach out, get involved, participate with others who are practicing waking up and ending suffering.

The moral of the story: Explore the opposite of what you’re being told. Keep in mind that in the world of karmic conditioning, the exits are marked entrance and the entrances are marked exit. Once you understand this trick, you can out-fox conditioning. You can go where you’re being told you cannot go and do what you’re being told you cannot do, sprinting past the gateless gate. And you’re free.



  1. Amen! Beautifully and succinctly stated.

  2. This is the most profound principle I have ever embraced and the greatest freedom I have ever experienced. Thank you.

  3. Thank you. "Explore the opposite of what you are being told" is now a sign on my desk.

  4. My idea of practice is sitting in lotus position, hour after hour, lonely, until miraculously, I am enlightened. After that I will never be anything but ecstatically happy--and independent of other people, needing nothing from them. I have been, and will continue to explore the opposite of this.

  5. And now a sign reading, "Explore the opposite of what you are being told" is on my desk too. Homage to the Sangha.

  6. Saint Augustine, man of letters, father of the early Church: "My mind withdrew its thoughts from experience, extracting itself from the contradictory throng of sensuous images, that it might find out what that light was wherein it was bathed... And thus, with the flash of one hurried glance, it attained to the vision of That Which Is."

    Amen to that, brothers and sisters...

  7. I share one kind depressing that I have witnessed: A person becomes depressed rather than making the difficult decision to leave an unwanted situation or relationship. Their depression affects those around them to the point that others force them out of the situation or relationship. The depression evaporates.