Who Changes ? An Interview with Luke Anderson from the Lotus Guide / Jan 08
Born in South-East Asia, raised in Asia and England, Luke Anderson is an internationally published author and counselor who has worked with non-profits and grassroots groups in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Canada and the United States. Luke now lives in Chico, CA.
Lotus Guide: Luke, in addition to your work with social and environmental movements around the world, over the last two decades you’ve also been training with teachers from zen, mystical christian, advaita vedanta, indigenous shamanic, and western therapeutic traditions. Do you feel encouraged by the growing mainstream popularity of personal growth issues here in the United States?
Luke Anderson: To the extent that this popularity points to an authentic desire to look more deeply, a willingness to turn to ourselves for answers about our lives and our world, then yes. To the extent that it represents yet one more product to be consumed by a hungry ghost that will never be satisfied, then no.
LG: Could you say more about what you mean by this?
LA: ‘Hungry ghost’ is a metaphor for the craving that is felt when we believe that we are incomplete, separate from that which we need to be fulfilled and at peace. The more we feed this belief by looking to add something to ourselves in a search for completion, the hungrier we become. This metaphor is perhaps especially apt here in the United States. North Americans consume on average five times more than people in Latin America, nine times more than people in Africa, and twelve times more than people in India. But all of this consumption doesn’t seem to be making people happier. Nearly a million people in the US attempt suicide every year... it’s the third leading cause of death for young people aged between 15 and 24. This is very sad.
Some believe that material abundance will lead to happiness, others search for the magical other who will complete them. And some turn to self-improvement: “If only I could change this or that about myself...if only I could become less negative...if only I could get rid of my ego....” Unfortunately, as long as we’re focused outside ourselves for completion (whether that be a big pile of cash, the next relationship, or a new and improved spiritual ‘me’) we miss that what we need, what we are searching for, has already been given.
LG: Here in the present moment?
LA: Yes, right here in the present. But it’s easy to overlook the significance of what the present moment really means. It’s easy to turn it into a concept: “Oh yeah, the present moment. I know. Be here now and all that.” There’s an ocean of difference between thinking about the present and actually embracing its reality. A concept doesn’t usually cut it when your back is up against a wall and everything is falling apart.
Even though deep awakening to the freedom of the present does not require time, it can take a long time to integrate and acknowledge the whole truth of what is seen. It’s one thing to know something, it’s another to actually live it.
LG: How do you see your role in a counseling relationship?
LA: My role in counseling is to facilitate an inquiry in which each person is invited to come home to her or his own authentic experience and wisdom.
People inevitably come to their edge, whether that edge is seen as spiritual, psychological, or some other. My task is to be like a midwife to the new growth at whatever edge is presented. And from a place of presence, my end of the conversation happens by itself. Like a painter or musician who trusts the creative process without needing a mental picture of the end result, I don’t need to have someone all ‘figured out’. Thankfully, healing has nothing to do with squeezing people into another’s mental map of how they should be. Healing is an organic process which directs itself.
LG: What about counseling with people who are going through a crisis such as the breakup of a relationship, or some other major life challenge?
LA: I find that these kinds of situations can be the most fertile. It sometimes takes a crisis for a person to have the juice needed to make a real shift. A lifetime can be spent trying to perfect defenses against the deep fear that underlies someone’s sense of self. Some are so defended that they don’t even admit to being afraid. But in times of personal crisis life breaches these defenses, and we have the opportunity to become more curious about what’s really going on.
There’s a humility and openness that comes with recognizing that our strategies have failed to deliver on their promises. It’s not necessarily such a bad thing when we lose hope in something we think we have all figured out. Whenever we lose faith in whatever it is we have pinned our hopes on, a space opens for authentic insight and awareness to enter. Some words by the Persian poet Rumi speak to this:
When water gets caught in habitual whirlpools,
dig a way out through the bottom
to the ocean. There is a secret medicine
given only to those who hurt so hard
they can’t hope.
The hopers would feel slighted if they knew.
If, instead of resisting the gravity of our hardest feelings, we allow them to be just as they are, surrender draws us into the hidden depths of our being. There in the darkness, gifts of profound inspiration and healing are to be found. The stagnant suffering of some kinds of depression can be a signal that we are being resistant to that call—unable to rise above the pain and unwilling to drop down into it. But if and when we do drop down, there is a path leading directly through our fear and pain to the fearless presence of peace that radiates at the heart of each one of us.
Once fully present with a feeling, it can then be traced toward its genesis. It may be, for example, that close to the root of a habitual contraction is a heavily defended or numb territory of being that fragmented in response to an overwhelming or traumatic experience as a child. When children are faced with experiences they don’t have the capacity to integrate, this kind of shutting down can be a necessary protective strategy. But it has consequences.
As an adult, for example, that person could have a tendency to avoid certain levels of intimacy because of the pain felt when this old wound is triggered. In some people this shows up as aggression, an attempt to defend against feeling a vulnerability that they unconsciously believe would destroy them. But an experience that could indeed have overwhelmed a child is very unlikely to have the same impact when revisited as an adult. As long as this revisiting is done skillfully, with enough presence and the right kind of support, one can bring the transformational light of conscious awareness right into the center of the pain.
This is ineffective if it is a purely mental process. It is a meeting that takes place in the guts of our being and it includes a felt, often quite physical, reintegration of the energy that has been fragmented. There is a true alchemy that takes place when so-called negative states or shadow aspects are released from their contracted forms. After all, even the most negative state is still at its heart made up of vital energy, pure gold, the creative essence of life itself.
LG: How do you view the relationship between self-change and change in the world?
LA: The world, by which I’m assuming we’re referring to the societal world of human construction, is a reflection of all that we believe about ourselves. Authentic self-change never involves changing who we actually are but rather a dropping away of all that is false so that our true being—that which connects us all—is freed to create a world aligned with the sanity of the heart rather than the insanity of a fragmented mind.
As the pressure of our times increases, outdated forms, inside and out, are becoming more and more unstable. Maybe it’s worth taking a good look at our foundations to see where our feet are planted. Do we know who we really are, the ground of our being, even in the midst of personal and planetary chaos?
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