Freaking Out – And Spirituality


I got very interested in spirituality my sophomore year of college.  

I had a bad back and I thought yoga might be a good approach as a therapy.

I studied at the Integral Yoga Institute in Dallas.  Steve Futral was the head guy and he handed me “Autobiography of a Yogi”.  The book had a profound effect upon me and reignited my interest in spirituality.

I attended a Thanksgiving yoga retreat my Junior year.  It was a silent retreat.  Swami Satchidinanda was there.  

Someone handed me a copy of the “Tibetan Book of the Dead” and I started reading it.

Something about the atmosphere of the retreat freaked me out.  I hardly knew anybody.  The silence, strange food, everything just sort of drove me off the deep end.  I completely freaked out, hitchhiked home, and really came unglued.

In the Mahamudra school, they say one makes one mistake after another until one attains enlightenment.  The mishap lineage, we call ourselves.

One could just as easily say one freakout after another until one attains enlightenment.

The mistakes get more and more subtle and the freakouts get more and more subtle also.

I continued to have fairly major freakouts, often associated with practice centers or intensives.

Less and less intense all the time also.  Or maybe one’s capacity to let go and just go straight forward gets much better.

There is a desolate, alone quality to reality.

Over time one gets a taste for it.

One learns how to handle it.

Twice I went to Shambhala Mountain Center having quit smoking and I was smoking within just a matter of minutes.

Often going to the Mountain center would be associated with the initial 5 days of not moving my bowels.

I once said to my friend after shocking him beyond belief, “Akio, just don’t freak out.”  The point somewhat is to try and not freak out but in the beginning one does not even have that much control.  One can gain mastery, though; although it’s really just one freak out after another until you attain enlightenment.  One can start to handle a lot more but reality always tests one as a process of purification.  One can get really good at just going forward and meeting every challenge.  And discovering spirituality as a sword and a shield and a suit of armor.

the freak show.

Naropa is undergoing his minor trials.  

He meets a man who asks him to kill a handful of lice (representing thoughts).  Naropa can’t bring himself to do it and the man says “Tomorrow I visit a freak show” (and disappears).

“Dejectedly Naropa got up and continued his search.  Coming to a wide plain, he found many one-eyed people, a blind man with sight and an earless man who could hear, a man without a tongue speaking, a lame man running about, and a corpse gently fanning itself.  When Naropa asked them whether they had seen Tilopa they declared:

We haven’t seen him or anyone else.  If you really want to find him do as follows:

Out of confidence, devotion and certainty, become

A worthy vessel, a disciple with the courage of conviction.

Cling to the spirituality of a Teacher in the spiritual fold,

Wield the razor of intuitive understanding as the viewpoint,

Ride the horse of bliss and radiance as the method of attention,

Free yourself from the bonds of this and that as the method of conduct.

Then Shines the sun of self-lustre which understands

One-eyedness as the quality of many, 

Blindness as seeing without seeing a thing, 

Deafness as hearing without hearing a thing, 

Muteness as speaking without saying something, 

Lameness as moving without being hurried, 

Death’s immobility as the Breeze of the Unoriginated (like air moved by a fan).’ 

In this way the symbols of Mahamudra were pointed out, where after everything disappeared.”

I would say for me a tiny part of the understanding of the freak show is that letting go is kind of the opposite of what we were expecting when we came to spirituality.  Fear and fearlessness is a bit of a freakshow.  And the closer you get to the Guru the wilder it gets.  We just want to hang on to our little ego and a big letting go can feel like one is going nuts.  Knowing that we are just going to visit a freak show helps.  We know we are not going nuts.  It just feels like that.  Then we will not run from it.  We even start to get a little taste for it. 

Craig Thompson is a long time dharma student with a background in Tibetan Buddhism, Shambhala Buddhism, Tai Chi Chuan, Kyudo, Alexander Technique, golf, weapons, and jin shin jyutsu (energy medicine). My teachers are Chogyam Trungpa, Osel Tendzin, Sakong Mipham, and Will Johnson.

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