This article is adapted from the Dharma Ocean podcast of a talk given by Dr. Reggie Ray at the Blazing Mountain Retreat Center in Crestone, Colorado.
Spirituality is about the life force itself. It’s about the energy that expresses itself as human beings and human life; it’s the deep call we all have for fulfillment. Everything in creation has a reason for being. Every atom, every molecule, every star, every galaxy, every acorn, every tree, is here for a purpose; to fulfill itself and be what it is. Humans are no different. There is an inborn call to each of us to fulfill what it means to be a human being. It is at the very basis of our sense of being human, and it can never be fully erased or destroyed.
In the history of our species, populations grew exponentially after agriculture was developed roughly ten to twelve thousand years ago. We humans began to organize into highly complex communities and then societies. These social organizations were very different from the way in which our species and its primate forebears lived for the previous millions of years. The end product is that the more complex societies are, the more limited and restricted the people who live in them are in terms of self-understanding, their experience, their relation to nature, their possibilities, and their relationship to their lives.
All known human societies, including pre-agricultural ones, share to some extent the kinds of limitations, separations, and restrictions that we find in such an extreme form in the agricultural cultures of the past 10,000 years. For both pre-agricultural and agricultural societies, spirituality has been a way to recover the totality of who we are and the vastness of our lives.
But the situation of our complex, agriculture-based societies is much direr. Organized religion has developed in our societies, but it often seems to be serving the opposite purpose of genuine spirituality. Commonly, it has become subservient to systems of power and privilege and a means of intimidation, shaming, and social control. Many of us have come to see religion as far removed from tapping us into the sources of our being, our true human purpose, and the vast potentials of our lives. Even so, within each of our human lives, there is a flame of life that never really surrenders the possibility of fulfillment.
We live in an age where the way we’ve been doing things doesn’t really work on the collective level anymore, and it doesn’t work on a personal level either. Some have estimated that 50% of us in the world today have some degree of mental dysfunction and even illness. It’s not a good situation, and it doesn’t work, as I say, at the levels of the individual, families, villages, or societies. It certainly doesn’t work in terms of the planet. So we’ve hit the wall.
Humans are extraordinarily sensitive and aware. And we are, at least theoretically, nearly infinitely adaptive. We, as a species, are now starting to respond to the fact that the ways in which we’ve been doing things are no longer viable. But where are the methods to tap back into the sources of life and spirituality? We must look back to ourselves and realize that all of the creative things that have ever happened in human culture have come from people.
All of the adaptive changes at times of crisis have come from people. Within us are all the resources needed. The more we look into ourselves and trust ourselves, the more we’re going to find the way through. And first, we need to do it personally. We need to cultivate a kind of open-ended relationship with our own state of being and listen to the deep, vast wisdom within each of us — in every cell of our body. There are no answers outside anymore and none of the things that have worked in the past are viable. Our only choice is to look back into ourselves. Ironically, that and that alone is where the future is truly found.
The Buddha concluded that the only answers were to be found within his own experience, his own state of being. His enlightenment was nothing other than realizing that everything he needed for his own life and for his people was already within him; it was a matter of uncovering and discovering it. We’re at a new point now, and we have to look forward. We can’t look back anymore.
It’s interesting that the teachings of the Tibetan tradition, and particularly the Somatic Meditation practices, don’t give us direct answers; instead, they give us the key to unlock them ourselves. There’s no one who knows what your journey is better than you do. We’re not in a situation now where people can come in and sit on high thrones and dispense answers.
We are returning to an earlier time in human history when every individual held what it means to be human in their heart. Prior to 10,000 years ago, there were no organized religions. The previous hundreds of thousands of years, maybe a million years, there were no organized religions. Humanity was small groups of people wandering around and joining together periodically with other groups. When you became an adult, you went through an initiation to have your own direct relationship with reality; an unmediated relationship with what this world is.
That’s the job of the human, to realize that all of the plentitude of what it means to be human is already here. We step into our adult role and make our own unique journey. And it is precisely in that way that we serve the human community, that we serve the Totality. We have our own relationship to reality and everything that we’ve ever wanted unfolds in us. What does an acorn want? It wants to be an oak tree, and it does that, given the right conditions. Humans are the same way.
With the right conditions, we have not only the capacity, but the duty to realize all the dreams of childhood and the intuitions of how beautiful this world is and the love of others that we want to express. We have all these feelings because that’s who we are and who we must become. This was realized by the Buddha and within the Tibetan traditions—also in yogic practices, meaning working in a somatic way with one’s spirituality, approaching spirituality as a somatic discipline, not as a mental exercise.
Working somatically, or with the body, shows us all the places where we have not been able to grow fully as people; where our confidence has been undermined, where the natural joy of being alive has been smothered—these natural parts of who we are. But because of what we’ve been through in our lives, because of the many assaults on our tremendous sensitivity, we’ve gotten the wrong message about ourselves. People have said they love us but really didn’t because they couldn’t. But we discover that all of these things are superficial disturbances; they’re not fundamental.
One of the things that we learn through the Buddhist tradition, especially the Tibetan tradition, is that there’s no fundamental damage to the human soul. The human soul, which means the body, is never fundamentally damaged. The things that we identify as our traumas and our difficulties and our psychological problems, are all superficial impediments to realizing our own fundamental healthiness and joy in being human.
This is called Buddha-nature. The Buddhist tradition has all these texts and commentaries and different languages, but it all circulates around this point of our natural perfection as humans, which is not a big deal. And yet, it is a huge deal. Oak trees are perfect. The stars are perfect. And so are we. That natural perfection is always there. And no matter what happens to us in our life, including death, that natural perfection is never disturbed or compromised.
The purpose of Somatic Meditation practice is to begin to take off these layers of trauma, which is the language that we use to describe suffering. By removing these layers, we come into our fundamental state of being, which is joyful and open, and free. The work is challenging—we’re called to be willing to open ourselves to the difficult parts of our psyche. When we are willing to experience ourselves and our own pain without trying to shut it down or medicate it or distract ourselves from it, it’s resolved.
My own teacher said, “The way you resolve trauma is very simple. You have to simply but fully and completely experience your own life.” Whatever traumas, whatever terrible things happen to any of us, and a lot of terrible things happen to all of us, all of them are present in our experience, which continually offers us opportunities to resolve karma. But we turn away from what actually comes up. We’re not willing to be present and experience our lives fully.
But when we are willing to do that by working with our body, when we’re willing to remain open-hearted in the face of everything and abide in our bodies and experience our lives fully and be willing to see the shadows and the sunlight, be willing to be sorrowful and be willing to be joyful; when we have that open attitude towards our experience, then our whole life changes.
And all of a sudden, our journey becomes at the center of what we’re doing as humans. And that in and of itself is an incredibly joyful experience to be open to one’s own life and to see it beginning to unlock and unfold. In modern culture, we’ve developed mechanisms for shutting down. A large part of what we’re doing in the somatic practices is letting those go and opening. To do it, we need to tap into our own strengths, courage, and confidence. When we can rest in our own openness, our own freedom, and our own fundamental health, then working with the dark parts isn’t a big deal. It is simply the natural process of our life, freeing itself and becoming more and more what it actually is, which is Life itself.
About Dharma Ocean
Dharma Ocean is a non-profit global educational foundation that focuses on somatic meditation as the way to help students – of any secular or religious discipline, by teaching them the importance of embodiment in both meditation and their daily lives as taught in the “practicing lineage” of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. The foundation was established in 2005 by scholar, author, and teacher Dr. Reggie Ray, and is located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Southern Colorado.