Lately in circles that I travel in people have been discussing "Codependency," and trying to figure out what the word means. Whenever we attempt to understand something we haven't previously noticed, or experienced denial... something that's been below our conscious level of awareness, that's now viewable there's a natural "What is this? How does this apply to me? What what I be without what I had before? Can I live with this, or do I really need to change?" And more aptly, someone might ask, "How could codependency apply to Zen Buddhist practice?"
Most of these are pain tolerance questions, or what I call settling for the crumbs, thinking one's getting fed, yet not understanding they're still starving and weak. In this, I can only offer my experience.
First, my definition based on experience. Experientially, codependency is a symptom of addiction. Addiction is the use of some outward person, place of thing that offers physical, mental, emotional, and/or spiritual relief for inward thoughts and feelings that can seem intolerable. What can seem "Intolerance," has symptoms of restlessness, irritability, disconnection, and discontent. I used to refer to this as the "Hole in the soul." It was the sense something was wrong and because of the internal discomfort I wanted to "Fix," my thoughts and feelings. Strangely the mind makes the assumption it's easier to get the particular fix... the relief... from the outside, instead of the inside.
Addiction manifested as codependency at the end of the day is using people to fix our thoughts and feelings about ourselves. I can come in it's most common for of approval and validation seeking. It can show up as people telling us 99 things that we did "Right," and they point out one thing that we could have done perhaps better, and it sends us into a tailspin of obsessing on it, that then transforms into some version of doubt, which then introduces the idea that we must "Prove," ourselves to win that person or group of persons over to think and feel "Okay," about ourselves.
Another experience is that someone has to be "Okay," or "Happy," or "Successful," for us to personally feel okay. A long time ago my sponsor described it as "My partner gets cut, and I bleed." This is a result of overly conflating our experience with that of others. My personal way of describing this experience is that it's literally putting our internal sense of gravity in other people. They fall down, we fall down. They're mad, we're mad. They happy, we're happy. They're sad, were sad. They're going through something rough, and we think and feel obligated to "Fix," their thoughts and feelings, putting them back together, because we're experiencing discomfort within ourselves. At that point the focus is really hyper focusing on a person, and the wider reality becomes blurred out.
Enter Zen practice and the Eightfold Path. We begin is what is described in the west as "Concentration," but in truth this falls very short of the original term "Samadhi." In Japanese we use the word "Joriki." I describe it's mean as one-pointed undivided stabilized Presence; physically, mentally, emotionally, and aspirationally. When combined with Mindfulness, it's a find of rooted or immovable clarity. Next is sincere effort with regards to awareness of what our personal values are and our proximity to them.
There's sincere effort and livelihood, in the sense that, how are we in our communities is of supportive in nature, rather than predatory in someway wherein we experience people as products to be bought, sold and traded up so that we can "Cash-in," rather than human-beings that we're in mutual solidarity with. What to we give, what do we take, and what do we share? Is there an understanding of autonomous interdependence that's expressed in healthy ways? When codependency is turned up to a high level, this is noticeably absent.
Next is sincere or wise communication and intentions... not in just what we're saying, but doing within ourselves and others. Unwise communication is shaming, guilt tripping, devaluing, minimizing, cruel or harsh speech, shunning or ignoring others that's used as a method of attempting to gain dominance or "Control," over others. Oftentimes when I was caught in the grip of my own codependency, a simple question emerged when someone close to me was int he depths of their active addiction. Did I want to have power over my child, or share power with? The response determines the result.
When there's depth, kindness, and harmonized action with these seven practice of the Eightfold path, the natural result is "Sincere" or "Healthy," understanding. In the mid-west, they refer to this as being "Right-sized." I kinda like that expression, as it implies being without distortion, and healthy. The symptoms is that of what I call "Intuitive flow." There's nothing to figure out. There's nothing to fix, mis-manage, or control. There's just being with the moment as Buddha (Universal Identity of Loving Presence), rather than bumpkin that's another way of saying codependency.
The above said, this is my personal experience in relating to codependency, which as I said is another experience of addiction mind. Please check verify and confirm through you own experience. This many of practicing Zen does indeed offer an opportunity to if not end suffering, at a minimum it could turn down the volume level on it.
一Dignity and Grace