Complexes and Meditation

Buddhist teacher and practitioner Reggie Ray discusses complexes and how they can arise in meditation in a Sounds True interview called Dark Retreat with Tami Simon. You can subscribe to Sounds True podcasts via iTunes, or you can listen online from your computer (you may have to sign up for a free membership to listen).

Reggie Ray: “The purpose of meditation is to help us make a transition in life, beginning with us being locked up in our habitual patterns, and in the pettiness of our whole self-maintenance project. To be a human in the ordinary sense is to be looking for comfort and survival and to ward off whatever pain there may be out there. In the service of that project we construct this idea of a self-identity that we’re always trying to promote and protect. We use everything in our environment to try to feed our desire for pleasure and we’re fending off an awful lot of what life brings to us, pushing it away and trying to avoid it. The purpose of meditation is to help us dismantle our armor and the self-protection that we put around ourselves so that we can experience our lives in a much more open and naked way—much deeper, much faster, much fuller—so that we can develop in ourselves, really, a sense of freedom from this ego prison. . . .

We have to dismantle the patterns of pettiness that are activated when we’re in our ordinary life. What happens in the darkness is, once the mind really starts opening up, you start meeting some very interesting people. These interesting people are people from your past who are affecting you and actually taking you over right now as you live your life. They are undeveloped or incomplete parts of ourselves—what Jung called complexes. They are little bundles of conditioned response that have developed in relationship to all kinds of situations throughout our whole life going back to probably when we were in the womb. . . .

As children, all of us have this experience of being very little and having these big people in our environment. The problem with the big people is, in our estimation, they were supposed to take care of us, and they had the power to resolve things that we couldn’t resolve—pain, hunger, fear, whatever—and they often didn’t do it. That experience is in us and the resultant response of resentment and anger and even rage, is activated all the time in our lives. It comes up all the time in relation to anybody we perceive as big. The problem with that response coming up is that we shut down and we actually live in the emotional state of that two year old.

. . . That’s what we call samsara: that we live from one limited state to the other, depending on which external situation is going on out there. Do we feel betrayed? Do we feel undermined? Do we feel undernourished? Do we feel abused? Whatever it may be, we never get out. That’s what the prison is: It’s the kaleidoscope of these inferior parts of ourselves.

What happens in darkness practice is something will come up and take over the field of consciousness, and I become the two year old. The interesting thing is, usually in life when that starts happening, we go call a friend, or we’ll turn on the TV, or we’ll eat some chocolate, or we’ll have a drink, or we’ll get in the car and go shopping, but in the darkness, there are no breaks.There’s nothing you can do about it. You’re stuck! Amazingly enough, that’s how you resolve that person: by becoming that person and living through the experience that person had from the beginning to the end.”

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The NWA Friends of Jung meets the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of the month in the library at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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