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Lions Roar : November 2018
DARK NIGHT OF THE MEDITATOR Although my meditation practice has undoubtedly reduced my suffering, it has sometimes come at a high cost, because meditation has brought on some very painful and unstable psychological states. How can I meditate without leading to another destabilizing “dark night”? JOSH BARTOK: Buddhist meditation—though powerful, transformative, and liberating—is not a cure-all. It is not, for instance, a reliable treatment for diabetes, and it has limited utility for setting a broken leg. Similarly, don’t imagine you can use meditation as a replacement for the psychological work of therapy or for lasting management of a psychiatric illness with biological underpinnings, like bipolar depression. Trying to apply meditation in these ways is “spiritual bypassing.” It is ineffective and dangerous, and can actually amplify suffering— for both yourself and others. When destabilization arises out of meditation (or when you’re using meditation to forcefully clamp down on destabil- ity), this is an indication of important work to be done in other domains. If such things arise for you, take great care—and don’t try to go it alone. Seek out and be open with a reputable, psy- chologically sophisticated meditation teacher who appreciates the value and differential role of psychotherapy and does not teach (or practice!) spiritual bypassing. And seek out a therapist who will not encourage or collude with it. Practice moderation in meditation, in both intensity and duration. You may benefit from taking a break from medita- tion for some period of time—even years—as you metabolize psychologically charged challenges and your karmic history in the context of therapy. Don’t imagine that intensive retreats or monastic-style meditation is the only way to live a dharma life or to actualize the bodhisattva’s vow to save all beings. And practice patience: this path ultimately unfolds beyond space and time for all of us. JOSH BARTOK is a Zen teacher, Buddhist pastoral therapist, and con- tributor to The Handbook of Zen, Mindfulness, and Behavioral Health. ONE TRADITION OR MANY? I find myself attracted to all kinds of Buddhist teachings and practices, so I go from one to the next without sticking with any of them very long. I enjoy sampling different types of Buddhism, but should I just choose one and commit to it? REV. ANGEL KYODO WILLIAMS: As the world changes and our awareness evolves at a faster pace, we have more access to information, practices, and teachings from different Buddhist schools than ever before. It feels as difficult to stick to one tradition as it does to stop checking your Instagram feed. I myself have grown up within one tradition: that is to say, the core reference point of my practice has been Soto Zen. But my lineage also has distinct elements of another tradition, Rinzai Zen. When I found there were qualities of being that Zen teach- ings didn’t addressed in direct ways, I looked toward the wisdom of Tibetan schools. And when the concerns of twelfth-century Dogen felt incomplete in relation to my faster, non-monastic, modern life, I immersed myself in Shambhala teachings. Through my search for insight that could meet my reality, I’ve come to hold indigenous, abolitionist, black womanist lib- eration and complexity theory alongside my buddhadharma. That said, it would be hard not to recognize also the Zen ways that time has infused into my bones. If you truly love and are made more whole by engaging with multiple traditions, perhaps take a page out of an inten- tional polyamory manual: have a primary, make sure all parties (and teachers of your traditions) are in consent, and should a breakup be required, don’t disparage the tradition just because one relationship didn’t quite fit. REV. ANGEL KYODO WILLIAMS, SENSEI is founder of the Center for Transformative Change, and author of Being Black and Radical Dharma. PHOTOBYLEANDERNARDIN/STOCKSYUNITED LION’S ROAR | NOVEMBER 2018 52