THE MAP IS THE TREASURE
by Gillian Treacy
A description of a recent four-day intensive with Tess Hughes and friends at Parvani Hall, Co. Galway, Ireland.
I chose the above title for a description of the work undertaken, not only at the intensive but at meetings, retreats, online group work, and life itself, for seekers of Truth. What became crystal clear during the intensive is the level of guidance always available from the SatGuru, or inner teacher, spiritual friends and teachers, and specifically the TAT method of methodically working to clear away obstacles to Truth. As I overheard one friend say during the weekend, to peel the onion you have to know where to begin to peel. I think this is the treasure the TAT work offers to sincere seekers who have been working away for years, but who need the generous guidance of one who has successfully peeled away the layers and who knows where each one needs to be picking away at right now. This map is a great gift.
We met for dinner on Friday evening, those of us who already know each other delighted to be reconnecting ‘in the flesh’, and to meet newcomers who proved to be such great gifts during the weekend. After dinner we discussed housekeeping issues and had a round robin of introductions where each person iterated why they were present and gave a brief, spontaneous account of their spiritual path to date. This always produces new insight into people one already knows, and gives a lead as to where they are now – what may come up for them during the intensive, and gives new friends an opportunity to introduce themselves and to clarify (for themselves) where they are currently at. This information kick starts where the onion peeling will begin, further sessions serving to deepen the process.
The theme, and effect, of the intensive centred around transmutation and to this end, Tess gave us handouts, one, Bob Fergeson’s Thoughts On The Limitation Of The Finite Mind, which describes the ethos of transmutation, or allowing oneself to be pulled back to The Self, by working hard at self enquiry while simultaneously surrendering to the process.
“The men who have made the leap into the Infinite speak not only of having made a relentless enquiry into their own nature, but also of a surrender. The ball (referring to a metaphor Bob used earlier in the piece, describing the relationship of a ball making its way to the ground, whereby the ball refers to the finite mind and the ground to the infinite; the ball must make the entire journey back to the ground, merging with it) may find that the Ground of All Being will come to it, when all is said and done.”
It was quite fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable, to watch The Self orchestrate the entire weekend through a process which might be called Magical Chairs whereby I, for one, always found myself sitting next to the exact right person with which to engage in a process. Oftentimes that meant hearing just the right thing at the right time to trigger a new level of understanding.
The second handout concerned the SMAARP and Dialogue. The SMAARP stands for Self-Maintaining Automatic Reaction Pattern, the conditioned finite mind, or ego. The Dialogue Process provides a way of observing it, of watching it in action. This is the onion peeling process that guides the ball (the finite self) towards a full merging with the ground (The Infinite Self). The handout provided guidelines for the most beneficial approach to take to the intensive and the following sessions. As the ‘exercises’ practiced in the various sessions proved to elucidate and embody the pointers so effectively, I feel it will be of use to provide them here as they appeared:
Dialogue is a space where we learn or come to see:
- How we listen and how we process what we hear through our individual and unique set of filters. We are attempting to recognise our own habitual filters (beliefs, motivations, assumptions, fears etc.,)
- Where we learn to suspend our certainties and look at ways we create meaning using data around us.
- Where we learn to display – not just our opinion and ideas but also the thoughts/beliefs/assumptions and feelings out of which our opinions and ideas emerge.
- Where we learn to inquire with increasingly genuine curiosity, into our own thoughts, motivations and assumptions as well as into the thoughts, motivations and assumptions and ideas of others.
- Where to “not know” is safe, safe enough to ask innocent naive questions and to get in touch with our genuine feelings and confusions. It’s about our sincerity and simplicity with ourselves and others. It’s the opposite of needing to be right or smart or anything else.
- It’s about learning to “hold the tension” generated by polarities, paradoxes, thwarted impulses. This holding tension within ourselves is how inner transformation happens. Crude energies are distilled into refined energies.
- It’s about leaving ourselves open to feedback, whether we judge it to be positive or negative, whether we agree with it or not.
In the following days we would directly experience each pointer listed above in a manner that succinctly and effectively provided us with tools we have now integrated, and know to be transformational when utilised.
We were also invited to choose books we wouldn’t normally gravitate towards; to read these over the course of the weekend, not looking to get through them, but to meditate on whatever resonated deeply with us, be it even a single sentence. We would be giving feedback on this the following Monday.
After breakfast, Saturday morning began with a short meditation followed by a Bucket Question session in which we each in turn, took a question from a bucket in the centre of the room. After pondering the question, which always appears to be uncannily relevant to the one who chooses it, an answer is provided and friends in the group then ask questions of the responder, in order to facilitate a deeper consideration of the question and the answer. As each one responds with honesty to the question they have received, everyone is right there with the question, not only for the one answering it, but also for themselves. The peeling has begun in earnest.
After Lunch the question session continued, then, following tea break we had a very interesting and profound talk by Catherine, a personal Seeker story from one who has travelled the world working with spiritual teachers. This was very elucidating concerning the SMAARP, as Catherine’s talk was entitled From Psychopaths To Saints. As a psychotherapist and seeker she has had ample experience along the spectrum and the insight and wisdom she provided proved to be profound, enlightening, and extremely useful to all of us present, not only to observe our ‘own’ SMAARP but that of those with whom we come into contact in every sphere of our lives.
Following Dinner that evening we began The Dialogue Process. I won’t describe the session as I think not knowing it when beginning it is more useful than knowing it would be, and I found it so effective I wouldn’t like to spoil it for anyone else. What I will say is that all of us experienced what it means to “hold tension” and how that very effectively transmutes energy from cruder to finer states.
Sunday after breakfast began with a short meditation session followed by a second Bucket Question session led by another member of the group. This again facilitated a deeper session of unravelling the SMAARP. I received the exact same question from the day before and was fortunate in that my friends in the group drilled into my answers to such an extent that (following on from the previous evenings Dialogue session) I felt a core obstacle dissolve. The vacated space was filled by the most beautiful, soft, peaceful energy. The transmutation became ever more evident.
This session continued after lunch as one by one questions were chosen and honed in on, with profound shifts and outbreaks of hilarity in some cases. There’s always plenty of room for humour in this sincere quest!
The following session, again facilitated by a member of the group centred around focussing as we were led through the process of tuning into what the body is communicating. Short of time, we didn’t manage to get to the process of working using this method with a partner, but the process of focusing one on one with a partner is, in a sense, an extension of the question sessions. In the one on one focussing sessions one person focuses in on their body, tuning in to what needs to be seen in the moment. They express this to their partner who is listening deeply, with their whole being, from the infinite space they too have tuned in to. The role of the listener is to listen without agenda and to reflect back to the speaker what they heard them say in order to further clarify what it is that is coming up to be seen. There is no questioning by the listener, no challenge, or confrontation. This is a role of listening from a clear space and reflecting back what has been heard to that clear space in the speaker. It is a process of describing and resonating and may entail long periods of silence where silence is what is required. It is a process of relaxation and trust. From the handout:
“Don’t try to work out what needs to happen. Be clear with yourself that neither you nor the focuser needs to work out how something moves forward – remember the resolution is within what comes and only needs our company.”
After tea break another member of the group led a session based on Douglas Harding’s experiments in Seeing. The session began with a story, once read, in which a monk described the moment of his Enlightenment, that occurred, (after many years of training) when he heard a dog bark. He described it, when questioned, as “like the roof coming off the house.” Harding’s simple experiments are designed to ‘visually’ cause such a shift in perception, and are based on his initial discovery that he had “no head”; his very effective description of realising one is The Whole, not bound and finite, but boundless infinity itself. The experiments also clarify the maxim or Truth, that Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.
The after dinner session involved instruction on two way seeing, or observing; a continuation of the process begun during the Saturday evening Dialogue Process session. This time we watched a film and simultaneously observed and noted our thoughts and emotions throughout. This was thought to be less successful by Tess as a number of the men tuned out (one fell asleep) as they didn’t care to engage with the subject matter….She thought it interesting that the men chose not to engage, also noting that a new film needs to be sought to prove a more effective prop for this process.
Monday morning began with meditation after breakfast, followed by a feedback session on the books we had chosen on Friday evening. Each person in turn reflected on what they had read and the same kernel of Truth inherent within various spiritual disciplines and approaches emerged as the feedback circled the room.
The Group Feedback Session followed on from this, broke for tea breaks, dinner, and went on to the early hours of the following morning as each person in turn, received feedback from every member of the group. This proved to be a very powerful end to the intensive and was very intensive in itself, as everyone contributed so generously to the progress of everyone else. It is truly an example of the whole working for the whole as we each received genuine feedback on our qualities and potential obstacles on the path. It was a treasure in itself providing enormous support, encouragement and goodwill from all to all.
The previous sessions had prepared each friend in the group to be open and welcoming to feedback, and to perceive whatever was offered as treasure to be mined. Despite the length of the session everyone remained totally engaged and all were moved and uplifted by the energy generated. It was an open hearted and fitting closure to the days we spent together.
Goodbyes occurred after breakfast on Tuesday morning with people reluctantly parting. One friend announced: “I’m usually first out the door after retreats but I don’t want to go at all.” Then she gathered herself up, and smiling, left with her treasure.