What role does Samadhi have to play in our modern lives? Is it something we should be concerned about?
In looking back, I can see how much of my draw to samadhi and enlightenment for the first 10 years of practice were driven by a desire to escape my own pain and suffering. It seemed like the perfect way to get out of pain. Stories like ones that are shared in Autobiography of a Yogi are so enticing! They're wildly blissful, otherworldly and speak of experiences of feeling connected to God/the Divine (whatever you want to call it), being filled with light, seeing visions etc. Any rational thinking person who’s experienced trauma and suffering will hear stories like that and think: Omg, that’s the answer! And then as yogis we’re told to “Practice and All is Coming” (Iyengar) and so we get to work trying to perfect our practice, often just reenacting the same habits of self-criticism, perfectionism and control that we do in the rest of our lives to try to feel safe and secure. Unfortunately we find that those strategies don't work! Our suffering remains.
In a Path with Heart, Jack writes about how when teachers from the East came to the West, they were shocked by the level of self-loathing, trauma and self-hatred that their students were suffering from. They had never seen or experienced this kind of suffering in all their years of practice and teaching. Severed homes, abuse and lack of safety weren’t as much a part of the fabric of their communities back home and they couldn’t understand the idea of people hating themselves. “But everyone has Buddha nature… it doesn’t make sense,” the monks would say. Jack goes on to explain that foundational healing must be done to develop first a healthy sense of self before the work can be done of transcending the self. Karl Jung wrote that the “first half of one’s life will be spend creating a healthy sense of self and the second half will be spent dissolving it.” Of course, that isn’t to say that it will ever be that sequential. In reality it’s more layered and winding an experience as we form healthy habits and let go of unhealthy habits.
I guess that is to say that it’s normal and understandable that we want to seek out experiences that will remove our suffering and offer us peace. The tricky part is that we cannot bypass the suffering and escape into Nirvana! I’m learning that suffering lessens when I do the tough and courageous healing work of feeling my feelings, gently releasing old coping mechanisms and practicing self-compassion. I’m less and less interested in transcendental experiences that take me out of this world because my experience of this world is so painful and I need to get out. If you're doing this work right now, just know that I see you and I celebrate you and your efforts.
Now I’m more and more interested in the enlightenment of washing the dishes. The enlightenment of listening to my partner with my whole heart. The enlightenment of watching the sunrise or the birds sing. I’m more interested in living well with my two feet in this moment rather than grasping at an altered state of being or slipping into escapism. If those altered states of consciousness happen… great! I’ll open to those when they come. I think I’m just much more satisfied and have built up enough inner wisdom now to know that they’ll arise when the time is right and I have more capacity to integrate those experiences back into the life I’m living now instead of trying to get somewhere better than here.
For anyone wanting to explore these concepts further, I highly recommend the book A Path with Heart by Jack Kornfield. It helped me in many ways to reframe my understanding of enlightenment, samadhi and the awakening journey.