butterfly’s dream

(W)e do not suffer in the abstract; our suffering is experienced, which is to say we grieve the loss of a friend, we are anxious about our health, we are depressed about lack of gratitude, and so on.  Because we can only know our suffering through experience we believe it comes from experience.  However, traumatic incidents merely provide the trigger and not the cause of the suffering, the cause being the initial separation from ourselves and the longing to return to wholeness.

The Butterfly’s Dream: In search of the roots of Zen by Albert Low


4 thoughts on “butterfly’s dream

  1. Thank you for posting this pointer. I wonder about the last clause (“the cause being the initial separation”).

    The Buddha didn’t use this kind of language, to my knowledge, preferring to focus instead on a specific function of mind: clinging.

    Clinging functions to move us away from “what is” – the direct perception and response of each moment. Perhaps Albert Low uses the poetic, psychological language of separation and wholeness to refer to this process of clinging and movement away from “what is.” What do you think?

    • Thanks for the thought-provoking question, Barry! I’ll preface my answer by saying, I had a minor twinge reading that clause – only because it seemed to emerge out of many assumptions. The longing for wholeness, the “initial” separation give the impression of pre-existing conditions of suffering. Yet I felt it would be disingenuous to select a quote that did not show the roots of the author’s thoughts.

      Low identifies himself as a psychotherapist (or did when I used to attend ZCM) so it’s not inconceivable that he would use psychological constructs to convey his message. Whether that is what or how the Buddha would have said it, I don’t know. (Remembering that everything we think the Buddha said was actually written down by an rather obnoxious monk ;-))

      Personally, I would feel it a stretch to say that last clause mirrors the Buddhist model in and of itself because it harkens to a Western (Greek?) philosophical ontology of human development: original wholeness split by a fall from grace. I also don’t see that “wholeness” in this context points to “what is” – because as you and I often write: what is ain’t wholeness a lot of the time!

      I think this is the muddiness we get into by trying to meld psychological views that are in some ways antithetical to each other. i.e., I don’t believe the Buddha’s philosophy touches on pre-existing wholeness – with all respect to Jack Kornfield, the concept of original goodness is a recent conceptualization.

      Just my muddy thoughts so feel free to stir them up some more!

  2. This is a really interesting quote. I have some sense that certainly a part of it rings true for me, the part where he says the outer circumstance is merely the “trigger” rather than the cause of suffering. If I watch myself I am aware that I tend to “suffer” over the same things and so I do see those things as the “trigger”. Whether the real cause of suffering is a result of separation I wouldn’t say I know this to be true or untrue.

    The quote reminds me of a phrase that Ezra Bayda uses “the uncomfortable quiver of being” which I recognize in myself. And perhaps it is in that experience of the uncomfortable quiver that we grab onto these “triggers”, if that makes any sense. I think of the mind scanning the landscape for trouble or something to worry over and settling on those habitual triggers.

    • Thanks, Carole! I’d love to manhandle the “separation from initial wholeness” term to suit my needs but really can’t. But I resonate with the idea of suffering as experienced.

      Now this: the uncomfortable quiver of being! Wow! I also had an image of a “quiver of arrows” which I carry and causes me discomfort.

      I do think in our “quivering” (as a sensation of dis-ease), we train ourselves to be hyper-vigilant to the things in our environment that may cause us harm. Now if only I were not such an Olympic champion about that training! 😆

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