Participant: Can you describe what the Intrinsic Freedom course is about? (Now called Radi- ant Mind Course)
Peter: Essentially what we do in a course is create an ideologically neutral environment that allows your own individual way of constructing the experience that “something is missing” to express itself. We don’t impose a philosophical, spiritual, or psychological ideology that will skew or condition how this belief expresses itself for you. The course is a microcosmic expression of how you construct the experiences of “lack” and “fulfillment” on a day-to-day basis. It lets you experi- ence at a very fine and deep level, the structures that produce the experiences of being “on track” or “off-track”, in “breakdown” or “breakthrough”, and so on.
Penny: Because the course is neutral in the sense that it doesn’t validate or invalidate any particular system of belief, it accommodates people who interpret their lives from a spiritual, reli- gious, psychological, or new-age perspective. The course doesn’t “collude” with any particular orientation or perspective. In fact, it very clearly reveals people’s preferences and assumptions.
Participant: How do you create the space for revealing these patterns?
Penny: Well, we begin by inviting participants to follow some very simple guidelines. For example, we suggest that people become aware of, and correct, their tendency to either make hard work of the course, or just cruise through it, as though it was a vacation. People become aware of their preference to adopt a hands-on, or hands-off approach. In terms of how people interact with others, we simply suggest that you observe any energy or impulse to invade other people’s space, or create artificial distance, either through fear of offending others, or by indulging a need for privacy. In a group setting we suggest that people neither try and draw attention to themselves by hogging the floor, or divert attention away from themselves by keeping a low profile. This dimension of the work is done very much at a “feeling” level. For example, people become sensitized at a bodily level to how they are attracted towards some situations, and repelled from others. These gentle guidelines help to create a lovely social environment in which people are neither defensive, nor out to validate their own opinions. The guidelines produce a creative balance between sharing and privacy.
Peter: With this as a platform we are then able to reveal and dismantle the specific fixations that arise during the course. Quite a bit of this disclosing and dismantling occurs in group dialogues. These dialogues work with people’s constructions in the here-and-now. They work in a very precise way with fixations as they manifest. So the content is relevant to what people are experiencing. It isn’t theoretical. Also, because we impose very little structure, people clearly see how they construct meaning and meaninglessness, purpose and lack of purpose, loss and gain, “not getting it” and “getting it”. These dialogues bring energy and clarity to people’s experience, so in between the group dialogues you continue to explore and experience the relationship between beliefs and feelings. Also, sometimes we set up specific exercises designed to dismantle our fixations around “doing” and “not doing”, “getting it” and “not getting it”, and so on. In many ways the course is like a natural koan, in that is stimulates a profound inquiry into the very structure of our existence. Participant: I do a lot of sitting practice and have reached a place that seems fairly much like what you’re talking about, and then the retreat’s over and I go back into a life and all my “stuff” comes back again. Any number of times I get to this place where I feel there is no completion or incompletion, but then it comes up again-this feeling of being wounded or damaged at some deep level. It seems to me this past conditioning is very strong, and the level of fear is so unconscious and inaccessible that I can’t get rid of it. I think this is true for most of us. How is this approach going to be any different?
Peter: In order to give you a taste of how we approach your question, I’ll just point out that what you are doing now is constructing an interpretation on the spot, that validates the loss of a valued experience. Moreover, you are empowering this interpretation by using terms like condition- ing, unconscious, wounded, inaccessible, and so on. Also, notice how you implied that your interpre- tation essentially applies to everyone. As soon as we activate such a belief we can readily find any number of sources-individuals, books, systems-which validate this interpretation as being real and valid. Believe me, it is very easy to get people to agree with any interpretation that makes life diffi- cult. Look at the amount of literature that just assumes that our present problems stem from parental influences, or “weighed down” by past karma. I’m not denying that the past can impact the present. But the point is that you are sharing your interpretation as though it’s a reality-as though this IS how things are. And to the extent that you expect, or invite, others to share that interpretation it can become a reality.
Penny: We tell ourselves stories, and earnestly share them with others. We say: “Don’t you think these things are very deep?” And our friends say: Yes, they really are, aren’t they.” We say: “I think they even go back further than our childhood. Don’t you think?” And our friends respond: “Yes, it really feels like that.” (Group laughter)
Peter: An alternative is to re-enter that space that transcends a feeling of incompletion (or even completion) by inquiring into what that experience was. We ask the question: “What, or where is that space that transcends loss and gain? But we ask it not with the intention of producing an explanation or theory, but rather in a open mood of wondering what that could actually be. “What am I talking about when I say that my experience was neither complete nor incomplete?” “What was that thing that I thought I had, and then lost?”
Participant: It seems like you’re asking us to take a leap into enlightenment. I agree with everything you’ve said, but at the same time this “conditioning” does seem very real and solid. It is in the very structure of our bodies. All the fears, and tensions and reactions have impacted our nervous systems and this is why the same stuff arises again and again.
Peter: Perhaps, but again just notice your commitment to your interpretation. We offer our “interpretations” as “canonical truths”. In fact, these days people have a short-hand way of saying what you are saying. If you want to say that something is intractable, and really can’t be shifted you just say, “You know, I think its genetic.” (Laughter) I’m sure you have noticed how people now say that all sorts of personal patterns and problems are “genetic.” People’s shame is genetic. Their anxiety is genetic. Their infidelity is genetic.
Participant: I see what you are saying. We figure that we’re referring to a real situation, some- thing that’s solid-and we are unwilling to really look into it.
Peter: Right. Because remember, there are times when you are feeling good when this preoccu- pation with conditioning just doesn’t seem relevant-or this interpretation even correct. So, the skill is in being able to see how we solidify and consolidate the belief that something is bad, wrong, or missing. We become sensitive to the thoughts that seed a limiting and constricting interpretation of our experience. We recognize the beliefs that kick-off a new “fix” on how thing are.
Participant: But what is it about human beings that produces this experience of lack in the first place? I mean, it isn’t just a personal experience, it’s a universal phenomenon.
Peter: This is just what I am talking about. You see, if you begin to talk about a sense of lack in this way, it is very easy for it to become a nearly intractable problem. If we move in this direction, even for just a minute or so, we could find ourselves believing that it is impossible to ever escape the feeling that something is missing. The skill is in catching ourselves right when we begin to lay down the first brick of a limiting interpretation. The alternative…
Participant: (Laughing) I’ve got it!