Dharma Ocean Foundation on Learning to Trust Our Experience

This article is adapted from the Dharma Ocean Online Course in Somatic Meditation, Awakening the Body, with Dr. Reggie Ray, Dharma Ocean Spiritual Director.

Dr. Reginald “Reggie” Ray is the Director of the Dharma Ocean Foundation, dedicated to the evolution and flowering of the somatic teachings of the Practicing Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.  He teaches in the lineage of Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche. The author of many books, audio courses, and online series, Reggie’s work and teachings draw from his background as a Buddhist scholar and practitioner. With a Ph.D. in the History of Religions from the Divinity School of the University of Chicago (1973),  he was the first full-time faculty member and chair of the Buddhist Studies (later Religious Studies) Department at Naropa University. Over nearly four decades, he grew the department and played various leadership roles at Naropa, developing with Trungpa Rinpoche many of the initiatives and projects that became part of Naropa’s unique identity as a Buddhist-inspired university.  He began working with dharma students in 1995 and now devotes all his time to transmitting the teachings of the Vajra dharma of his teacher.

One of the things about the practice of Somatic Meditation is that once we get into it, and once we go to some depth, we might feel a little bit out of step with our culture. We look around at the Mindfulness Movement. We may look around at some of the other traditions and we may look around at some of the other religious and spiritual traditions. We might look at psychology, and we might feel really that what we’re doing is kind of strange, kind of outlandish. And I wanted to say something very brief about that by talking very briefly about our own culture.

We have what is called the Pre-Modern Age, with its characteristic that templates or maps take precedence over empirical data. We know about the great physiognomist, Galen, was interested in actually looking at the interior of the body. Empirically minded thinkers, all kinds of people, particularly in the Middle Ages got in a lot of trouble for challenging certain templates of the culture, certain maps that culture insisted on as being a superseding reality. People were burned at the stake. People were harassed. People were chased. People were exiled simply because they didn’t believe in the maps and were more interested to look at the reality, the actual territory.

The Modern Age represents a time in our culture when the hold of the church began to weaken, and people began to really look at the actual, in terms of science, the actual data. They began to revise maps, and started to realize that the maps and the templates are not reality, and they need to be corrected by direct observation and experience.

So that’s kind of the genius of the Modern Age. They created new maps and the maps were more up-to-date and people felt we live with better maps and everything’s going to be okay. And then we hit the Postmodern Age, which is very interesting. And we still live in that where there was the recognition that any map that you make is made by a certain person with his or her own, and mostly his, political and social agenda. And that maps are not just depictions of reality, they are or can be instruments of suppression and control at the same time.

And that every map is relative to the person, to the language, to the culture, and to the time in which it was made, leading to the insight that they’re really not general depictions of reality. They’re weapons from a certain point of view, by certain gender, certain social class, certain cultures, certain race, whatever it may be. And that led us into a tremendous depth of nihilism—that everything’s relative. There is no absolute truth. There’s nowhere to stand. And we’re sort of lost in this post modern universe. We have no reference points that we believe in anymore. To a very large extent, that’s where we’re at. Cultural relativism, ethical relativism, there are no absolutes, moral relativism, philosophical relativism. Everything has kind of fallen apart, and there’s nothing we can look to. That’s the post modernist view.

This had led to a lot of depression, despair, and hopelessness. Many professional philosophers have kind of given up. It’s like, “Let’s just go get a job because we’re never going to find our way out and, if we do, no one will believe us anyway.”

In the work that we are doing, with meditation and somatic spirituality, is where we have what we could say is “After Postmodernism.” One of the problems with the current Modern Age is there’s no trust in experience. It’s like we have to create a map that’s going to work, or we have nothing. And the approach of Post-Postmodernism, which is us, is that there is a truth. There is a reality. There is a ground. And in fact, we have direct access to what is ultimately real, but it’s not a map.

In Western culture we’ve been struggling with this whole issue of maps since the very beginning. And now, in the Post-Postmodern work that we’re doing with Somatic Meditation, we begin to realize that there is a guide. There is a source of truth. There is a deep reality, but it’s not conceptual. It can’t be labelled.  It’s experiential. It’s not a thing. It can’t be pinned down. It’s a process. It’s nothing that can be objectified and set up. It’s the deep inner truth of our own unfolding life that can be discovered in and through the body. What we are seeing is that when we prioritize direct, naked experience over all the maps and charts, we discover an immediacy and depth to our human life that can never be given by the thinking, map making mind. In pure experience itself, unprocessed by the thinking mind, we find profound meaning in our actual life as it unfolds moment by moment and, strangely, an intuitive, instinctive sight that guides us in what we do in the most unerring way.

About Dharma Ocean

Dharma Ocean is a global educational foundation in the lineage of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, focusing on somatic meditation as the way to help students – of any secular or religious discipline, who are genuinely pursuing their spiritual awakening.  Dharma Ocean provides online courses, study resources, guided meditation practice, and residential retreats at Blazing Mountain Retreat Center in Crestone, Colorado.

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