Tackling the Medusa Within.
published in Osho Viha March/April 2004, California USA
How every seeker has to deal with the Inner Judge if he wants to find true freedom.
In all my years as a seeker, I have never come across a workshop or course that deals directly with the Superego. It is certainly present in therapeutic approaches like Primal or Fisher-Hoffmann, and it is always one of the main obstacles to be overcome in radical processes like Satori and the Path of Love, but in not one of these groups is the presence of the Judge addressed, investigated, and uncovered directly.
Superego, or as Osho calls it, conscience, is the internalized combination of our parents and all the authority figures in our past, including the Master. It serves us well in guaranteeing our survival and the basic sanity of our minds, but – as we know – surviving and living are not the same. The experience of “space” that we can have at times is the breaking down of a specific boundary and a momentary disappearance of the Judge. In that experience of space and emptiness, Existence, Being, the Absolute, God…rushes in and fills us up, and we reconnect momentarily with our true nature.
Working with people, and sharing with friends, I could see very clearly that even after years and years of meditation we were still imprisoned, weighed down, and reduced by the constant presence of this coercive and controlling agency inside. All this I also discovered slowly (very slowly) while looking at my fear and aggression when
practicing Martial Arts, during many years of working with the hara, and finally after becoming involved with Faisal Muqaddam, who co-founded the Diamond Logos Teachings with A.H. Almaas.
The need to create a specific type of work to tackle the Superego became obvious to me. So, in 1997, I created a new type of therapy, done in groups and in sessions, in which the presence of the Judge can be unveiled, understood, and dealt with.
The four steps to this process are:
Step 1: Accepting that the judge is running our life by its judgments, standards, prejudices, and opinions. Becoming aware of the quality of the constricted environment we live in, and the strategies of control. Step 2: Understanding why we have a Superego, how it came to be, what its functions are, and how, where, and when we need it.
Step 3: Learning skillful means to defend ourselves against the attacks and manipulation of the Superego, and to disidentify both with the Superego (the parent attacking) and the Little Child (the reactivity to the attack).
Step 4: Turning attention to the real guidance inside. Reconnecting with objective knowing. Reclaiming what the Sufis call our Diamond Body. As Osho puts it: moving from Conscience to Consciousness.
In Greek mythology, Medusa is a monster with snakes growing from her head. She is the monster of judgment and prejudice, who prevents the possibility of experiencing oneself, and reality, directly. She uses things like guilt, shame, opinions, standards of behavior, comparison, and more.
I remember when I was 12 or 13, and I first felt the presence of the monster in me. I was just walking in the streets of Venice when I sensed something like a wall surrounding me: a wall that was creating an invisible barrier between me and all the others, and a torment within its boundaries. I later came to understand that that wall was just a symptom of the presence of Medusa.
Many years later I had developed enough skill and understanding to be able to recognize the presence of the Inner Judge: its attacks, its strategies, its function, and more than anything else, all the pain and separation it creates.
How does this monster – also known as the Superego, the Judge, the Inner Critic, or the Top Dog – keep control?
We can experience the monster by just watching this moment and noticing what we are experiencing. You can try it now: Perhaps it is the way you are sitting, or the feeling of the magazine in your hands, or the letters you see on the page, or the light, or the sounds around you. Whatever it is, you might notice that there is a comment attached to your experience: I like it, I don’t, it’s nice, it’s not, it feels
good…or any other judgment, evaluation, or comparison. The monster is in action: It never leaves us alone. It is always there to elaborate on “what is.”
We deal with one judgment and make some space, and then another comes up. We erase one prejudice and then a new comparison arises. In the myth of Medusa, when the hero cuts one snake from the head, another one immediately grows back. Perhaps, like in the myth, we can only be free if we cut off the head. And yet, we don’t do it. Actually, we do all that we can to not take notice of the judge. Why? Survival is the simple answer. We are convinced, in our deepest core, that we cannot survive without it.
So then, Medusa’s head needs to be cut. We need a sword. Luckily enough we don’t have to look very far, as we already have it: our awareness. But having a sword is useless if you don’t know how to use it, so you need to practice. This practice is Inquiry.
What Inquiry gives us is understanding – understanding not about the rightness or wrongness of judgments and comments, but about the mechanism in our psyche that manifests and supports the Medusa and its functioning. Through inquiry comes the recognition that every time that we are “our true selves” the mechanism turns on. Through various forms of punishment (guilt, shame, self-deprecation, etc.) it pulls us back to what we are “supposed to be” (good, beautiful, intelligent, successful, spiritual, skinny, loving, enlightened, and all the rest).
Once we really understand how the mechanism works, and how we get attached to it, we can stop wasting time with all those judgments. We are now ready to swing the sword and cut off Medusa’s head.
The last thing that we need is alertness, so that we can see the Medusa when it is attacking. To be alert you need to be present, and the easiest way to be present is by being in your body. Again, we can use inquiry to learn “embodiment” by simply asking ourselves as often as possible: “What is my experience in the body right now?” Every thought, every emotion, every feeling or perception will be recognized in its physical experience, in the famous here-now.
And then, one day, it happens: I am here, present in my body, alert, holding the sword of my awareness, shining and sharp, and I feel grounded and confident because I have trained with love and dedication. I see Medusa approaching with fire in her eyes, and everything s l o w s d o w n w i t h m y b r e a t h. Then everything becomes so clear and defined, like a clear morning in the mountains, and I can sense all of me – my determination, my fear, my compassion, my surrender to this moment, and that well-known passion to be myself – and I swing my sword, and stop in midair…
Medusa then becomes just an excuse to practice presence. The very practice of coming back to this moment, the very cultivating of alertness, takes us to the place where we do not even need to swing the sword. Zen Masters call Medusa The Barking Dog. When we are present and alert, the dog can bark, but no ripples appear in us or
any need to interact with the dog. Barking is its nature, just as judging and prejudice are the nature of the Superego. We do not need to change it, and we do not need to listen either. A relaxed presence takes the place of denial, and alertness the place of reactivity. We transcend by integrating.
“There is no need to develop a conscience at all. What is needed is consciousness, not conscience. Conscience is a pseudo thing. Conscience is created in you by the society. It is a subtle method of slavery. The society teaches you what is right and what is wrong. And it starts teaching the child before the child is aware, before the child can decide on his own what is right and what is wrong, before the child is even conscious of what is happening to him, before the child is even awake…. All these ideas- from parents, from priests, teachers, politicians, saints - all these ideas jumble together inside him. They become his conscience.
And because of this conscience he will never be able to grow consciousness - because conscience is a pseudo consciousness. And if you are satisfied with that pseudo you will never even think of the real. ……. Whenever you do something that your conscience says is wrong, you feel guilty, you suffer, you feel inner pain. You are afraid, you are trembling…it creates anxiety. And the fear about heaven, that you may lose heaven, and the fear of hell, that you may fall into hell … This is conscience. Conscience is artificial, arbitrary. Conscience is needed because the society does not want you to be intelligent. Hence, rather that making you intelligent it gives you fixed rules of behavior: do this don't do that…. Yes, in the beginning it will be difficult because you won't have any map. The map is contained by the conscience. You will have to move without map, you will have to move into the uncharted, with no guidelines. Cowards cannot move without guidelines, cowards cannot move without maps. And when you move with maps and guidelines, you are not really entering into new territory, into new realms - you are going in circles. You go on moving into the known, you never take a jump into the unknown. It is only courage that can drop conscience.
Conscience means all the knowledge that you have. And consciousness means being empty, being utterly empty, and moving into life with that emptiness, seeing through that emptiness - then action has tremendous grace. And then whatsoever you do is right.
Osho, The fish in the Sea is not Thirsty, #11
The Sheep, The Tiger and Inquiry.
In this article we talk of false identity and transformation using the old story of a tiger that believed to be a sheep.
You are probably familiar with the story of the tiger that believed it was a sheep.
The story goes that a motherless puppy tiger is raised by a flock of sheep and grows up absolutely convinced that it is a sheep.
This situation of mistaken identity is not rare, actually it is the norm.
We all live in this basic misunderstanding about our nature. We do have a name, we do have a gender, we are born somewhere, we have certain parents and culture or religion, we do have likes and dislikes, we do have “our life”, our “personal history” and we believe – often even after years of meditation – that that’s who we are.
So we talk the sheep talk, we dress in sheep clothes, we do sheep jobs and when we are in trouble we go for sheep therapy and we listen to people telling us that yes you have problems and that if you breathe more or do some emotional release or few years of psychoanalysis you will be a better sheep and possibly solve your codependency issues with other sheep.
When nothing works we then run to a psychic and have some tarots read or, even better, a session of channeling: anything that can tell us what to do, where we are and, ultimately, WHO we are, so we can breathe again for a little bit.
Unfortunately, that deep sense of misplacement, that feeling of not belonging and that lostness, don’t leave us, no matter how many plasters we put on top of it.
All along, somewhere in our deepest heart we have known that there is something off with this sheep business but we never had the time or the clear intention to figure it out, once far all.
Yes we do know that we have been conditioned, programmed, wounded, used and abused and all that story that goes with being born in a family in this world and we do have spent lot of time, energy and money to look into this and get some understanding and yes our lives are perhaps fuller and happier and we have accepted some of what we are but: WHO AM I?
When we can look at our stories, at all the things (including being a seeker) that make “my life” and very simply recognize that we do not know, that we have no clue of “who I am”, there and then the journey takes a quantum leap. The realization that I DO NOT KNOW WHO I AM immediately implies that I do not know who is the other, or life, or love, or freedom, or truth and that I am living with a false identity within others who live the same illusion, trying to solve false problems and finding false solutions. Immediately comes the understanding that all that I believe is “ME” and “MY LIFE” are concepts thinner than the air that you are breathing now.
So the story goes that a very old tiger sees the young tiger moving with the flock, chases him and pushes him in a lake so that he can see his own reflection and recognize that the old tiger and himself are alike.
That’s what the Master does. With his words and his silences, with his stripping you of all ideals and concepts, with pushing or seducing you into looking at your image and the false personality that we wear.
And the final goal of all this is to take us to the basic ground: WHO AM I?
When finally the not-knowing is accepted and digested then INQUIRY becomes the basic fuel of every moment, an openness to what is our experience in the here/now, free, spontaneous, full of innocence.
Inquiry is not an attitude of analyzing everything that happens to us trying to make sense of it, inquiry is the juice of our very presence, it is intrinsic to our being present. It is a wonderment and a curiosity and a desire to be so close to what is that we do not need to hold on to prejudices or judgments or positions, we are open and available to experience. Inquiry does not look for answers, systems, final revelations, inquiry opens us up to DIRECTLY EXPERIENCING who we are, moment after moment and teaches us to relax in it and enjoy.
Then a deep roar of satisfaction will come out of your throat when you less expect it.
“A crowded United Airlines flight was canceled.
A single agent was rebooking a long line of inconvenienced travelers. Suddenly an angry passenger pushed his way to the desk.
He slapped his ticket on the counter and said
"I HAVE to be on this flight and it has to be FIRST CLASS."
The agent replied, "I am sorry, sir. I'll be happy to try to help you,
but I've got to help these folks first, and I'm sure we'll be able to work something out."
The passenger was unimpressed.
He asked loudly, so that the passengers behind him could hear,
"DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHO I AM?"
Without hesitating, the agent smiled and grabbed her public address microphone: "May I have your attention please, " she began,
her voice heard clearly throughout the terminal.
"We have a passenger here at Gate 14 WHO DOES NOT KNOW WHO HE IS. If anyone can help him find his identity, please come to Gate 14."
With the folks behind him in line laughing hysterically, the man glared at the United agent, gritted his teeth and swore "Fuck You!".
Without flinching, she smiled and said,
"I'm sorry, sir, but you'll have to get in line for that too!”
……………AND WHAT ABOUT MY DAILY LIFE ?
Yes, what about my problems, my issues, my passions, my love and longings, my relationships and all that we call life? All those wonderful things I am attached to?
The strange thing is that they become friends.
When I slowly detach myself from the ideas and the concepts of who I think I am and I openly engage in questioning and inquiry, a lot of the heaviness -of what in desperate moments we call: “my shit”- disappears. All these THINGS that seem to clatter my life pulling it to here and there start appearing not any more as obstacles and impediment but rather as opportunities and possibilities, doors to a deeper intimacy with myself.
In the felt sense of my emptiness, in the void of what I am, all these things are just stones that pave my path, flowers along it, gates to new potentials, reflections that Being offers me to come to know myself. And each one IS UNKNOWN and each one can be experienced and each one is part of what/who I am this moment.
A great integration happens through Inquiry.
An integration that includes the sheep and the tiger and the mouse and whatever else manifests and all of that is me, you, us.
Finding the Heart of the Warrior.
published in Osho Viha June/July 2009, California USA
In my journey I started believing that I didn't have an heart and then I found it along the way. And it had always been there!
I am sitting in a train travelling through the North of Italy as I am going to visit my family. Yesterday, at the end of a group that I was leading, I wore my black Gi and Hakama ( Martial Arts’ kimono and pants) and I used my sword again for the first time in 7 years. It was like sliding inside a well known skin with familiar feelings, body sensations, a particular posture and a certain way of looking out: the warrior.
I love that feeling! Grounded, solid, alert, so fully aware of the space I move in as if every pore of my skin is scanning/detecting the environment while my breath naturally gets slower and deeper.
I started practicing Martial Arts at the end of 1969 and in the middle of the strongest phase of the Students’ Movement in Italy. I started because I liked the idea of practicing Karate, I had a romantic view of myself as a warrior and also as a mean of self-defence and empowerment. I was nineteen years old, had a lot of energy, a lot of anger and the desire to change the world, possibly with a good fight. I was growing up in the time of Che Guevara and with the passion for a better world, more freedom, more fun and more sex. As I was living in the middle of a city known for its strong fascist organizations, I had to face various situations of physical violence so that fear and excitement were my companions most of the time.
The revolution never happened and disappointment sunk in together with a deep feeling of being lost and without direction: I found myself being a warrior without a cause and questioning my whole understanding of what a warrior was about. Was I one or I had just been a street fighter? Was it possible to change the world while I kept feeling so much hatred and violence in me? What did the great Masters mean when they where saying: ”Conquer yourself”? and Who was that Self that I was supposed to conquer?
Something started turning inwards: the falling apart of dreams and ideals pushed me to a place where I had to reconsider and recognize the nature of my search and the longing of my soul: I was looking for me!, that’s what I really wanted: me! In that light all the learning that were happening through the fighting started revealing a different meaning: I had been and I was actually travelling into the dark side of my personality: the fear, the aggression, the competitiveness, the pride, the domination and I was looking for grounding in the Self and dignity and presence and that fluid state of spontaneous intelligence that is at the core of a true warrior.
In the middle of those realizations I started reading Carlos Castaneda’s books and the words of Don Juan became like a fire in my spirit: ”The path of the warrior is the path with a heart”. I realized that I had no clue of what that meant. Heart? Somewhere, unconsciously, I felt that I didn’t have the courage to reach for my heart – even less open it- and that I first needed to find my roots and my strength. ¨The first book by Osho appeared one day and yes, it touched my heart, and my mind and my guts and made me feel seen and heard and wow! This man says all the things that I have felt all my life…I started feeling like water, luminous water…Tantra: the Supreme Understanding. Every word was flowing in my blood, in my nerves, in my muscles like a river of gold.And yet, I also felt that I was not ready for that and not willing to surrender my “NO” which I believed was my deepest freedom.
In the following years I lived in Mexico, worked with shamans and witch doctors, experimented with different kind of “power plants”, looked for my animal soul and practiced Tae Kwon Do -a Korean martial art- where I was the only Gringo in my school so the combats got tougher and more macho. In all this I had to learn to be really alert and very flexible, to trust my instinct and open my senses. Near everything in my life started turning around “Being in the moment” and letting go of prejudices, expectations and the need for security. I felt that my whole perception and experience of life was coming down from my head to my guts. Once in a while I would pick up my Osho’s book and nurture my heart as my secret little garden, but than I would go back to a much more dense world.
In those years and in the following ones it became more and more clear that I was learning about living in my Hara and preparing the soil for my heart. Back in Italy I finally came in touch with the Martial Arts that were to become my passion and foundations of my path: Aikido and Iaido (a sword technique). My Aikido teacher was the most humble and gentle man I have ever met, a carpenter and a fisherman in a small village in the South of Italy. As I saw his complete ordinariness in day-to-day life, I also saw and experienced the beauty and the fierceness of the lion when he was stepping on the mats. My sword teacher was a Japanese artist and a healer, a true samurai with great personal beauty and refinement who could move with the sword with the rhythm of a poem and the intensity of a wild wind. For the first time I felt I had found what I needed and wanted and for the first time I could sense the heart of the warrior.
One day, after a very demanding week of full time sword practice and zen meditation with another very famous Japanese Aikido Sensei, I felt like a tree that had been pruned to the core, I felt raw and to my limit. I felt that I had to take some kind of jump and that I was ready for it even though I had no clue of what it was. In the following week I received money from a magazine for and old photo article, I bought a ticket and I found myself on a plane to the Ranch, Oregon, USA. I arrived - as Osho said later-, “in spite of myself”, wearing all blue clothes, my warrior armour, my NO and with the secret longing in my heart.
Second day, afternoon: I am waiting by the side of the road for drive by close to the University. I am on my own – the closest person at 10/15 meters. I am filled with resistance, expectation, hope, desire to be seen, arrogance and all the rest…and my body feels stiff. As I see the car approaching my anxiety grows: I long for this to be at a turning point in my life and I hate it too. When the car is at few meters from me I feel like a very strong wind hitting me and I fall on my back and while I am falling a big mouth opens in my belly and I start laughing like I have completely lost my mind. My resistance is evaporated and I feel light and joyous. After few days I ask for sannyas and I get the name Samarpan Avikal: surrender and non-action.
From 1988 to 1999 I practiced and taught Aikido and Iaido in the ashram in Pune. I loved to wake up in the early morning and drive my Bullet to the Ashram and start the day in the Dojo. I don’t know how many thousands of people passed through the classes and how many nationalities but for sure all that diversity was wonderfully challenging. Also such a big turn over obliged me to stay a lot with the fundamentals of Martial Arts: centering, grounding, the dissolution of resistance and the practice of presence. As I was teaching I learnt to let go of any technique and concept. And the Arts became what they are supposed to be: meditation in movement.
I have found my heart. With the constant support of Osho and the holding of the commune, I have found my heart.
Now, even if I do not wear the paraphernalia of the warrior, I know that I am one and that I walk the path with a heart. The fear of making mistakes, of being hurt and rejected do not hide in my heart so I don’t need to defend myself anymore and I can surrender to the moment and watch in awe the mystery unfolding. I have learnt to love my aggression and honour my weakness and, hidden within them, I have found my strength and my integrity. As the discipline of many years recreated the connection with my body and a capacity to stay centered and grounded, I have learnt to open my heart and allow the vulnerability intrinsic to all sensitivity. Since 2000 I don’t practice or teach Martial Arts anymore as in my personal process it came the moment when it was clear that I had to face my attachment to the warrior-image and the only way that seemed right was to let go of it totally and watch what was happening. As the external and internal images disintegrated I felt the warrior core become more clear and fluid and I started finding non martial ways to embody that and share with others so, for example, I started working with the Inner Judge and teach people how to defend against the constant internal and external pressure of judgement and prejudice; I started working with the Satori process and share the fullness/emptiness of the Hara in the experience of sudden realization: I started working with Essence and teach how to build Peace, Love and Curiosity on the foundations of Will and Strength.
In the Zen tradition they say that if you have the courage to fall in the abyss of your soul you will abandon the sword that takes life and find the sword that fosters life. Right now my life is that sword and its core are compassion and joy.
"Every program and retreat I have done with the Integral Being Institute has been an incredible adventure, full of profound growth and learning."
"The way Avikal teaches is compassionate, joyful and humorous, holding me accountable in a firm and warm manner. I feel changed, renewed, and privileged to have been a participant in his programs and teachings."
"Avikal's approach has taken us on a journey where we have all experienced a process of growing to meet each new challenge."
Notes on The Inner Judge