Categories
Psyche and Mind Soul and Spirit

The Cynic: Fragility and Innocence

The cynic in us says: I am not letting that in, I am not letting anyone in. But why? Because our sense of self is fragile. I often think of someone tied to the mast of a small ship trying to weather the wind, waves, and salty spray. When the world feels like a storm at sea, how do we find our ground?

We are born into the world small and vulnerable. We have needs and rely on other more powerful people to fulfil those needs. We can alternate between feeling the omnipotence of being seen, adored, and fulfilled and the powerlessness our needs going unmet or even experiencing unkindness and abuse. 

During the course of this, it is the imperative of our development that we “pull ourselves together”. We cobble together a sense of self based on our relationships with caregivers, our inner feelings and sensations, and the overall environment in which we are raised. There is so much expected of little human beings, so much to learn about fitting in and surviving family, schools and the world at large.

Look at a small child: they are dependent, sensitive, vulnerable, and absorbent as sponges. In health they are also vibrant, creative, enthusiastic, and resilient. All throughout the process of their little bodies growing and maturing is an implicit and explicit directive: “Be somebody”. 

Distilling the infinitely complex course of self (ego) development down to a constant drum beat of “Be somebody. Be somebody” gives us a sense of how each “win” and each “loss” becomes very personal. In our culture in particular we have graphic examples of those who have failed (by cultural standards) to “be somebody”. They are sleeping on beds of cardboard on the sidewalks.

Some people have pretty good constitutional/environmental foundations for their sense of self while others are hanging on for dear life. Regardless of the seeming stability of our self sense, we are all on shaky ground. Change and loss, aging and death are inescapable. All of the “somebody’s” have at least an inkling of this truth: our selves are mostly imaginary, the ship of self is full of holes.

Again, some of us do a better job than others of filling those holes but it is a matter of degree. The cynic is an attempt to keep the ship afloat. Hide the holes by generating a force field of negativity in hopes that anything that might cause more damage or even sink our ship cannot get through.

It is really important to see the innocence of this operation. Of course we want to keep the ship afloat, it has been the imperative as long as we can remember. But what if it was a false imperative all along? What if we could allow this ship of self to go down and everything would be alright? What if sinking and even dissolving was exactly what we needed? What if it is under the turbulent waves, well beneath the wind and the spray that we find our nourishment, our rest, and most surprisingly and importantly our ground?

To be clear, this is not to suggest that one dip down into the ocean of our being is going to enlighten us forever, or resolve all our issues. It takes a lot of trust and almost certainly the support of skilled teachers and therapists to sink into that sea of nourishment. We will also need consistent practices of meditation, movement and more. What is truly amazing though is that our ship, our sense of self, can go under the waves, can dissolve and will emerge again albeit a little changed, with a little bit more of what is real and lasting. To be explicit, our self slowly becomes transformed into a soul and a soul is beyond life and death, beyond wins and losses.

So to the cynic: you have worked so hard, you have done wonderfully at keeping it together and keeping afloat, but this ship is not what you have imagined it to be. It can fly! It can soar! It can go submarine! And to you beautiful human being: The sky is your mind, the ocean is your heart, the earth is your belly. Let that ocean glisten in your eyes.

Categories
Meditation Psyche and Mind Soul and Spirit

Hacking enlightenment

I recently heard about a high tech “Master Program that brings you the benefits of 21-40 years of advanced Zen meditation in”—get this—5 days! To be clear I subscribe to the idea of “whatever works” and would happily try this combination of bio-feedback, diet, “pod-practice” etc. If I had the disposable $15K. 

It is not the program, but the claim that grinds against my sense of truth. First of all there couldn’t be anything less zen than distilling zen into a commodity.

Break open 

a cherry tree

And there are no flowers,

But the spring breeze

Brings forth a myriad of blossoms

~Ikkyu

We human beings are an ever unfolding universe. The Universe as humanity and as the unique human individual. Like nesting dolls we are within everything and everything is within us. We succeed or fail, shine or dim within the fabric of all things. The terrible and wonderful truth is that each soul has her own pace of growing and blossoming. 

Have you ever had your heart torn open? For those that have, the last thing they need is to be placed in a sleek pod with electrodes on their scalp. What we need is connection.  And just now:

Eclectic and comfortable cafe, writing in a cozy chair near a ceramic log fire and a large lounging tabby cat with his own leather armchair, the thud of a little girl falling to the floor behind me. Dad sweeps her into his arms and Mother says “that was scary wasn’t it?”. Moments later she is laughing once again.

No diet, nor pod, nor brain scan can repeat or replace this experience, nor can it provide it for those who fell to the floor and sobbed without response in their own childhood. Forty years of meditation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Life and death are happening. Countries are rising and falling, great joys and calamities befall us. In most mystic spiritual traditions it is understood that the self is assembled and then dismantled only to reform and be scattered to the wind once again. Our lives are as much the turning of the leaves as they are winning a contract or securing a bank balance.

The culture that cajoles us to success and achievement is missing the point. The scriptural question of what it means to gain the world, but to lose our souls should bring us to our knees. Humankind could weep for a thousand years over this loss. There is no heart in seeing ourselves as a commodity. We desperately need an inner life, a place to be touched and from where to touch.

Sometimes I sit quietly, 

Listening to the sound of falling leaves.

Peaceful indeed is the life of a monk, 

Cut off from all worldly matters.

Then why do I shed these tears?

~Ryokan

Climbing out of our pods, the world needs our empathy more than it needs our success, our appreciation rather than our domination, and perhaps most of all our humility. To start, how about an intention to reclaim our hearts? Let’s do it fiercely. Not in a fawning, sentimental, or cloying way. How about looking at ourselves, the world around us and even our enemies and saying “I will never kick you out of my heart. Even if I fear you, am angry at you, rejected by you, or hate you, you will never be utterly out of my heart.” [a caveat here: in cases of abuse and deep inner work we might have to explore annihilating our abusers in order to reclaim our power]

Importantly we cannot leave ourselves out of this fierce heart embrace. In this case “ourselves” means the entirety of our experience, in particular our inner lives. Splitting away any part of ourselves is compartmentalizing reality. Good/evil, human/nature, God/devil ultimately divide us from the direct experience of life. 

In practical terms, think about which of your own experiences you describe as “positive” and which as “negative”. To go further, what do you do with the “negative” experience? Do you stuff it, talk yourself out of it, act it out on the world around? How about meeting it, nodding and saying “I see you there, I know there is a reason for you, and I also know your perspective is not the whole story”

Next we turn our fierce hearts towards truth. As confusing as truth has become in the world today, we can learn to stop and say “this is true for me now: I am hurting; I am sad; I am angry; I am alive and filled with wonder.” Frankly this is easier for some than others. This phase can be helpful: your feelings are non-negotiable. We can ask ourselves multiple times a day “where am I now, what is my experience now” right or wrong has no bearing on this. Your emotion may be based on a false reading of reality, or on a past experience superimposed on the present moment so it isn’t an ultimate truth, but it is a step toward deeper truth. 

Stopping and looking directly towards the center of any emotion, or feeling will inevitably reveal something deeper, something more true. Anger for instance is often a defensive emotion. To stop, acknowledge without judgment, breathe, and really feel that anger in the body will usually reveal something like . . . “I am hurt” or “I feel alone”

But why? Why the laborious truth telling? The secret is this: the passion with which you direct your fierce heart to truth is the flame that keeps you passionate for life. This is also a process through which you become an authentic human being, one who can touch and be touched. You become a dynamic core that radiates outward and receives feedback in a continuous cycle of creation. You are the universe dancing the unique form of your individual self, and that form can implicitly understand the dance of all forms.

If you cannot find the truth within yourself, where else do you expect to find it?

~Dogen

Categories
Meditation Psyche and Mind Soul and Spirit

The biggest secret about meditation

The biggest secret about meditation is that people don’t do it. They think it is a good idea, they know the benefits, they believe “everyone else” is doing it,  they beat themselves up for not doing it. And . . .they don’t do it. 

There are a lot of reasons. 

1.  Unrealistic expectation: One popular form of meditation directs practitioners to do an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. That’s great for the first week out of a life changing retreat, but it’s probably not going to stick. It is especially easy, perhaps we are even encouraged, to set ourselves up for failure. 

We need to master our strokes in the lap pool before we head out into the open ocean to swim the channel. I often suggest that people start with five mins a day. Same place, same time when possible. Let the habit start to form. it is less of a struggle that way

2. Uncertainty: people are often unsure that they are doing it right, if their experience is what it should be, or if they are “getting anywhere” with the practice. 

The truth is that like anything we come to meditation with what we have, not what we wish we had. A busy mind, impatience, distraction, unsettling feelings in our body and of course a demanding and sometimes demeaning inner critic. This cannot be said enough: it is not about doing meditation right or even what happens when you do it, it is simply that you do it. Yes you will learn things along the way . . .you may even get better at it, but overall the generosity of meditation practice is that all you have to do is show up.

3 Commitment and Support: Creating a new habit in our lives requires a surprising amount of commitment and sometimes we need the support of others to help us follow through. We also need a strong intention. 

Being part of a meditation group and or working with a teacher as well as setting well defined, achievable, and verifiable goals with a meditation partner(s) can be of tremendous support.

4.  Intention: Sometimes a part of you really doesn’t want to sit still. Maybe we subconsciously don’t want to be told what to do. Perhaps our inner animal is hungry for connection, nourishment, or excitement and we look to others, to food, to phones to meet those desires. Maybe we are physically tired, in flagging health, or even pain. Sitting alone with ourselves is a hard-sell if the above conditions are present.

We really have to want to meditate. This means we have to connect it to our deeper heartfelt intentions for ourselves. It is not enough to want to meditate in the way that we think we should eat more kale. We need to find the place where we really want more for ourselves than just survival. This may mean therapy or working with a spiritual teacher. It leads directly to our next reason.

5. Dispiritedness: This can be at the root of any of the above impediments. There are variations on this theme, but essentially deep down we feel that we are alone in our lives, that there is no greater meaning or value, no deeper nature. To use a popular phrase: we feel empty inside.

At the core of so much human heartache is our disconnection from spirit. When we look at the state of the world (especially through the lens of media), when we see our own shortcomings and failures, it can be hard to feel connected to a deeper sense of goodness and meaning. Our innate sense of wonder and mystery gets ground down under the weight of survival and productivity. Our worth becomes reduced to what we have or what we achieve. We lose what we love and we face mental, emotional, and physical pain. 

This dispiritedness, even when it is hidden beneath a veneer of positivity and optimism runs deep, so deep that it dissuades us from doing the very things that might return us to a sense of connection. Not surprisingly it can take a dramatic turn—a loss, a chronic disease, broken relationships, social upheaval to wake us up enough to do what we know we have needed all along. To sit down, slow down, focus our attention, and be with ourselves.

To boil this down to one thing, it is about engaging our lives with heart. Our hearts are the vehicles that deliver meaning into our lives. My work here at Being Real is to help uncover and rediscover your true heart.

Categories
Psyche and Mind Soul and Spirit Trauma and Embodiment

Trauma and Spiritual Integration

The meaning of life is to live it ~Joseph Campbell

The awakening is this: Our bodies must not be left out of the healing process. Our bodies are the storehouses of every unresolved/traumatic experience in our lifetimes. These living organisms must be held, encouraged and understood. Their expressions and communications may be shaken out, danced or vocalized. Body regions that have been hardened, numbed, or gone slack need the reinvigoration of conscious breath and movement, in such a way that the light comes through our eyes as reflection of the fire in our belly, and soft easy smiles on our faces radiate from our warm hearts.

Spirituality, psychology, and neuroscience are waking up. There is no enlightenment, no actualization, no optimization of potential without addressing trauma. This stands of course for single incident trauma but is equally true for developmental trauma or as it is being called, the trauma of everyday life.

The consequences of trauma: anxiety, depression, panic attacks, addictions, unstable relationships, personality disorders, physical ailments, and chronic shame are overwhelming our personal lives and our culture. It is increasingly clear that abuse (physical, emotional and spiritual), neglect, abandonment, enmeshment and witnessing tragic events in young life is crippling not only to the individual, and the society, but is even passed onto future generations through DNA [Wiki ACE study and transgenerational trauma]. 

Our bodies and our stories.

You cannot talk your way out of trauma  ~Peter Levine

Trauma is increasingly spoken about synonymously as fragmentation. We are torn apart, go to pieces, heartbroken, shattered . . . we lose coherence,  we are no longer integrated. Our senses of wholeness and belonging are compromised.

Trauma is stored as two types of memory. We have both explicit memories and implicit memories. Explicit memory deals with our conscious sense of the past. Essentially it is our story, and is also referred to as narrative memory. The narrative can be more or less accurate or coherent. Talk therapy often involves working to create a coherent narrative memory and although some modern spiritual teachings advise dropping the story, having an accurate and coherent narrative is an important capacity of a functioning adult.

Implicit memory is the raw sensory data of memory below the level of conscious thought—the body memory. These are the memories that are stored not only in the lower brain but in the muscles, fascia, cells and even DNA. Implicit memory not only holds your capacity to walk or drive a stick shift but also our beliefs about reality—the safety of the world and others, our lovability, capacity for expansion and abundance etc. Complex constellations of memory become unconscious schema or maps for our behavior, this is why in spiritual traditions we are often invited to awaken from the dream. These schema are the basis of our reactivity: responses programmed into our implicit memory. Fight, flight, freeze, or faint or some combination form the basis of our reactivity. These basic survival impulses drive a diverse array of human behavior in the form of rigid or chaotic coping strategies.

Like our narrative memory, our implicit memory can be clarified. The result in this case is not a clear and accurate story of ourselves but a capacity to respond to life situations in a way that is appropriate to the moment rather than what our bodies have come to “believe” from the past. 

This embodied liberation is where healing can happen most quickly. As we regain connection to our bodies, the potential is to realize our true spiritual nature: boundless love, luminous awareness, immanent presence or vast emptiness. The body however is more than just a portal, it is living spirit. The following steps may prove useful to awakening to body as our spiritual ground.

  1. Physical practice: Consistent physical exertion is incredibly potent for our well-being. Cardio and weight-bearing exercise as well as, dancing, singing, drumming or quiet walks in the woods are regulating and sustaining. Professional methods like Myofascial release, structural integration, breathwork, etc. also access the body as do yoga and EMDR. The key is interoception: attunement to the inner feelings of the body both gross and subtle.
  2. Self investigation: As the capacity for interoception grows we must also come to know the meaning of our feelings. What is the guidance within feeling? What emotion or physical movement is the body wanting to express? What action, growth or development needs to happen? Sensing our inner experience can guide us to actualizing our potential . . .whatever that may be, doing a triathlon, digging a garden, or starting a business or a family.
  3. Shadow work: Feeling ourselves more deeply and understanding these feelings will reveal old wounds that need attention and compassion for healing. We need to see how we are are living out our past in present day schema or enactments. This will likely require the help of a skilled teacher or therapist but it will support the next step.
  4. Building trusting relationships: With good fortune even those of us with difficult childhood relationships can find safe and secure relationships in adulthood, it is also important to be realistic about our expectations for healing within our intimate connections, there are limits. Relationship with a teacher or therapist can provide the openness to explore and unravel contractions and dive deeper into healing presence. Engagement in an open and supportive community is also a support for the unfolding soul.
  5. Connection to the ineffable: Meditation, mantra, music, satsang, sky gazing, silent retreat or anything that takes us beyond our limited sense of self while remaining connected to our interoceptive vitality can be a vehicle for healing. There is also growing body of research to support the use of psychedelic medicine in working with both single incident, and developmental trauma [maps.org].
  6. Cultivation of the subtle: For those that connect to ineffable presence there is a bottomless well of subtle qualities and capacities, a spacious inner world of love, compassion, power, intelligence, fortitude and value. Ultimately to know our innermost being is to know ourselves as timeless, loving and indestructible radiance.

While we certainly live in challenging times many of us have access to support and freedom for being our true selves that is unique to this time in history. Even taking the time to read an article like this is a testimony to your drive to be true and free. Of all that has been mentioned above by far the most powerful “tool” you possess is your heartfelt and sincere desire to be real and to be liberated from soul-limiting beliefs and reactions. Take a moment to feel inside . . . what it is like to desire freedom? Allow the breath to enter that feeling . . .let it expand, let it grow. 

You cannot talk your way out of trauma  ~Peter Levine

Categories
Psyche and Mind Trauma and Embodiment

Hatred as a vehicle for love

Hatred is perhaps our most taboo human emotion; this can be especially true in spiritual traditions. Often easy to identify in others, it can be near impossible to see or feel ourselves. There is good reason for this taboo—acting from hatred has led to some of the greatest human atrocities, but it is a great loss to dampen our capacity to feel hatred directly and thereby understand and experience the underlying life force that lies within this universal emotion.

It is quite common for people to claim that they have no hatred within themselves; however, when we recognize the manifestations of this icy emotion—coldness of heart, hardness in the eyes, shutting others out, resentment, bitterness, and more intensely the desire to annihilate—it becomes clear how pervasive it can be in our lives. Think for a moment about someone you see as hateful . . . how do you feel toward them? How do you feel toward those who are violent, racist, destructive to nature, or cruel to animals or children? Can we be very honest and see how we wish that certain people, corporations, governments, would just disappear . . . forever.

When we begin to see that our contempt, aversion, and antipathy are all forms of hatred, and that this feeling has earliest precedent in our vomiting out what repulses our infant organism, we can begin to admit and normalize this socially undesirable feeling of hatred.

“Feeling” is the key word here. Human beings for very good reasons learn to suppress, repress, or over-express feelings to such a degree that simply “feeling” certain emotion seems undesirable or downright impossible. The collective emotional body of humanity dearly needs to learn that whatever the feeling may be—it is just a feeling. Our bodies have stiffened and densified, our breath become short or shallow in attempts to control the flow of feelings. On a very physical level it is hard to accept that it is just a feeling and that feelings come and go and they don’t mean anything about us. Nor do they need to be acted out.

So suppose that for a moment we can suspend our bias toward the feeling of hatred. It might help to understand that emotions are action orientated feelings meant to help our organisms maintain regulation—much like the infant vomiting above. So what is the action that hatred is trying to accomplish? Hatred seeks to remove obstacles that keep us from feeling states of equilibrium—namely peace and love. How many times have we wanted to quiet our environment or spend some time in nature to experience peace? How often have we wanted someone we love to frankly just shut up and listen to us so that we could re-establish a sense of loving connection?

While the examples above seem a far cry from the bitter fangs of hatred that make our blood run cold, they give us a hint at what action the severe feeling is attempting. We want to feel safe, at peace, loving and loved. Throughout our lives we experience all manner of obstacles and downright insults to our sense of peace and love. While it is easy to identify trauma and grave injustice, it can be harder to see the effect of relatively minor mis-attunements, neglect, or invasiveness repeated throughout our lives.

Almost universally somehow or other, we have become disconnected from our deep sense of love and peace—qualities we see so openly available in babies and small children. This leaves us cold, at least parts of us. We want to get rid of what is in the way—we hate it. Here’s the rub: we feel powerless to do anything about it. We cannot make the world come to peace; we are hopeless in our attempts to make others love us when they don’t.

Powerlessness is a key ingredient to the emotion of hatred. The more powerless we feel to change a situation the more the natural energy of assertiveness and volition begin to compress within us. Without relief the feeling of needing to take action becomes compressed as surely as coal into diamond becoming hard and with loss of hope; cold.

You may be able to feel this as you read. So what to do? First if you have followed to this point you’ll see the importance of normalizing the feeling of hatred, removing the taboo. That can be a relief in itself but now we are faced with feelings and thoughts that are disturbing and difficult to tolerate. (Powerlessness being a prime example) I will suggest now that you go further and see if it is possible to bring love and understanding to your hatred. Whether it shows up as contempt, resentment, revenge, or outright desire to annihilate, this is your feeling—it belongs to no one else. It can only be addressed with kind attention, self-care and time.

This kindness may need to come as a regular meditation practice or private work with someone who can hold and help to understand the communication of this powerful force within. It may be that changes are needed in your life, perhaps some retreat from daily life or a mediated reconciliation. It may seem cliché but the world really does change from within you.Finally to the point above about changing the world—often we can’t. The deepest and most powerful discovery that can be made within feeling our hatred is that peace is your own presence, love abides. Situations are always changing there is war and conflict as well as pain, as well as broken heartedness. Again hatred is simply a frustrated need to remove obstacles to peace and love. Our desire for peace is really about returning to our deepest self—our sacred nature. Our longing to be loved isn’t wrong but it misses the mark—love is our innermost being. No one can do it for you, but sometimes a door opens. May you have the courage to step through that door.

Categories
Psyche and Mind

Being in touch

My foremost function or purpose as a guide and the way that I can be most helpful is in pointing people back to their own experience, helping them to 𝒃𝒆 𝒊𝒏 𝒕𝒐𝒖𝒄𝒉 with themselves.

Although we see the world “outside” of ourselves 𝒘𝒆 𝒂𝒓𝒆 𝒘𝒉𝒆𝒓𝒆 𝒆𝒙𝒑𝒆𝒓𝒊𝒆𝒏𝒄𝒆 𝒉𝒂𝒑𝒑𝒆𝒏𝒔. Discoveries and insights are found by slowing down and making contact with our direct experience. As a person becomes more attuned to her own experience, inner guidance comes online. We become adept explorers of our own inner worlds. It is not an exaggeration to say we are a portal to the entire universe. This is perhaps what Joseph Campbell was referring to when he wrote of 𝑻𝒉𝒆 𝒊𝒏𝒏𝒆𝒓 𝒓𝒆𝒂𝒄𝒉𝒆𝒔 𝒐𝒇 𝒐𝒖𝒕𝒆𝒓 𝒔𝒑𝒂𝒄𝒆.

So in this sense how important is it to be in touch? It is everything–quite literally. If we live only in the surface reality it is like being located only in the dry and brittle skin covering the onion. To be in touch is to take a bite right out of that onion, to take one’s place as the majesty of creation. To find that 𝒘𝒆 𝒂𝒓𝒆 𝒃𝒐𝒕𝒉 𝒂 𝒘𝒊𝒏𝒅𝒐𝒘 𝒕𝒐 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒖𝒏𝒊𝒗𝒆𝒓𝒔𝒆 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒖𝒏𝒊𝒗𝒆𝒓𝒔𝒆 𝒊𝒕𝒔𝒆𝒍𝒇. This is awakening, this is freedom, this laughter.

Categories
Psyche and Mind

The thread of truth

What is your reaction when you hear the word “truth”? Whether you cringe or swoon I would like to ask that you put your previous impressions aside for a moment. It may be possible to liberate capital “T” truth from our positive or negative connotations about the word and place our feet on the trail to something limitless and unexpected. 

For those who draw back at the word—it may be that you have seen “truth” used as a bludgeon i.e. “I know (or possess) truth and you don’t”.  Some who resonate with the word may believe that they have the one and only truth which can provide a sense of security. Others may find “truth” to be a heart-warming aspiration.

We are also living in a time where doubt, skepticism, and even paranoia cloud even our most taken-for-granted facts. In whichever way this word/concept lands with you, I would like to introduce “truth” as first and foremost: unknown

Any definition we hold about truth is relative and conditioned. While some formulations may be more or less accurate when reality tested, I am inviting an understanding of the word that is paradoxically both ungraspable and infinitely more substantial.

William Stafford says in his poem the way it is:

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among

things that change. But it doesn’t change.

You have to explain about the thread.

But it is hard for others to see.

While you hold it you can’t get lost.

Tragedies happen; people get hurt

or die; and you suffer and get old.

Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.

You don’t ever let go of the thread.

On a cosmic scale this thread of truth can be seen as a dynamic living presence that is the source of all that is happening and all that has or will happen. A theist might call this the invisible hand of God.

On a personal level the thread includes your entire life experience: work, relationships, feelings, thoughts . . . even your breath and the beating of your heart. The truth is both in you and is you. When you are attuned on every level you are a pure self-aware expression of Truth (capital “T”).  Even when you are confused or doubtful you are one living, dynamic presence of truth experiencing yourself with doubt or confusion.

What I am pointing to is that Truth is non-dual . . . not two. As we become more intimate with truth and more trusting we discover a wholeness that is simultaneously loving, aware, vibrant and vast and most importantly: the stuff we are made of. For those who have tasted this experience of unity there is ecstasy, however for most of us it is still rare or unheard of to experience our lives as a living dynamic wholeness. So how can truth help us now—precisely where we find ourselves today?

To start we’ll have to take a couple steps back from the cosmic oneness and see how everyday relative truth shows up in our lives. Our investigation has to come alive with curiosity and wonder. We also need the courage to face what may be challenging and even destabilizing to our view of ourselves and the world. Here are a couple questions you can ask: [you can use a journal and this question can be repeated] How important is truth in my life? In what ways do I avoid telling the truth and why?

You will likely discover that you soften or deny the truth to avoid feeling pain or causing it for your loved ones. On the flip-side it may be that telling the truth would threaten some coveted pleasure or challenge you in an uncomfortable way. When we numb ourselves to the truth we dampen our own life force, we lose vibrancy and clarity. What other discoveries happen when you ask these questions? What does it feel like inside?

Exploring your relationship to truth will inevitably call forth the attention of your Judge or inner critic and that can be distracting or downright derailing. This is not a situation where you need the help or criticism of the Judge so I would invite you to disinvite this help—firmly if necessary. Separating from the judge is imperative and deserves more attention than can be given here.

I wrote above about attunement which means that you are functioning optimally at all levels: head, heart and body (some will see this as all chakras open and aligned). Being bold with our personal truth helps to resolve conflicts within ourselves—as a practice it begins to heal the rifts between what we feel in our bodies, what we know in our hearts and what makes sense in our heads. The pain of being divided within ourselves is always greater than the pain revealed by truth or the pleasure that is lost. Remembering this gives us strong incentive to be true. The feeling of being united or more whole emboldens us toward the next step: Loving the truth for its own sake.

When Mary Oliver, in the poem Summer day asks: Who made the world?  She is not asking us to provide an answer in words. She begins to paint wonder and mystery on to the page. She is inviting us through poetry to drop what we know about the world and our own lives and open. Our practice of telling the truth begins to erode our fortified positions. (I will pause a moment and say explicitly that I am not advocating unskillfully speaking whatever comes to our minds, but rather being available to the sound of our authentic inner guidance) This will make us both more vulnerable and more human. Commitment to truth begins to wear away our unkind belief systems, our hidden resentments, as well as our shortcomings and lack of development—which have for so long needed to see the light. Truth begins to clear the earth of our souls for new growth and life.

In this clearing we see that truth is not just something we speak, but a force in our lives—a source of support and guidance. It is at the heart of our own conscience. Our love of the truth for its own sake strengthens and clarifies our conscience; it brings more heart and caring to our lives. As the force of truth matures, our discovery of Oneness comes alive. We come to realize that our distance from truth is identical to the pain of being disconnected from ourselves; compassion for ourselves and others grows more potent and meaningful.

This begins a new journey: no longer seeking or finding truth but living it and being it. This is unique to each person and can look very different in every circumstance. It could be as simple as “In this moment I am confused, I don’t know what is true” or “The truth is that when I binge watch television I feel disconnected from myself, what I really want is comfort and connection” It can be as profound as recognizing that all forms of matter are transparent to a living, loving light of presence.

The continuity, dynamism, and flow of truth show up in human beings as resilience, malleability, and evolution. There is no stagnation. Alignment with truth places us in a current that feeds into ever deeper, more profound realization.

We hold on or let go or simply admit when we don’t know. There is no stopping point or finished product. Remember we are talking about wonder! Life, the universe, and everything are constantly revealing Truth. Why should you or your life be any different?

The journey of Truth makes no promises; rather it walks us deeper into mystery. As we work through the fears and blockages that are bolstered by our own fantasies, beliefs, and half-truths we challenge life to reveal its splendor. Life in her infinite creativity steps up in the form of Truth and delivers in spectacular fashion.

Although we see the world “outside” of ourselves 𝒘𝒆 𝒂𝒓𝒆 𝒘𝒉𝒆𝒓𝒆 𝒆𝒙𝒑𝒆𝒓𝒊𝒆𝒏𝒄𝒆 𝒉𝒂𝒑𝒑𝒆𝒏𝒔. Discoveries and insights are found by slowing down and making contact with our direct experience. As a person becomes more attuned to her own experience, inner guidance comes online. We become adept explorers of our own inner worlds. It is not an exaggeration to say we are a portal to the entire universe. This is perhaps what Joseph Campbell was referring to when he wrote of 𝑻𝒉𝒆 𝒊𝒏𝒏𝒆𝒓 𝒓𝒆𝒂𝒄𝒉𝒆𝒔 𝒐𝒇 𝒐𝒖𝒕𝒆𝒓 𝒔𝒑𝒂𝒄𝒆.

So in this sense how important is it to be in touch? It is everything–quite literally. If we live only in the surface reality it is like being located only in the dry and brittle skin covering the onion. To be in touch is to take a bite right out of that onion, to take one’s place as the majesty of creation. To find that 𝒘𝒆 𝒂𝒓𝒆 𝒃𝒐𝒕𝒉 𝒂 𝒘𝒊𝒏𝒅𝒐𝒘 𝒕𝒐 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒖𝒏𝒊𝒗𝒆𝒓𝒔𝒆 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒖𝒏𝒊𝒗𝒆𝒓𝒔𝒆 𝒊𝒕𝒔𝒆𝒍𝒇. This is awakening, this is freedom, this laughter.

Categories
Psyche and Mind

Enlightenment in Tatters

Enlightenment in tatters: a primer in spiritual maturity

In an instant all your illusions fall to the ground. All karmas, attachments, and life challenges are swept away. You, the awakened one, realizing yourself as pure love, awareness and emptiness walk through the world carefree, joyful and at ease. Flowers bloom in your wake.

So the enlightenment myth would have it. Reality dances differently. A moment in the mountains or meditation hall reveals that all of reality is luminous awareness . . .immersed in a group chant or in the presence of a guru we fall in love with everyone and everything. . .peace and equanimity can blanket us so completely it as if we never had a chattering mind at all.

And then in time or suddenly the suffering and the calamity return. We struggle in relationships, lose a friend to addiction, suffer illness or financial collapse. Loss, dysfunction, agitation or depression can wash away our precious enlightenment making it seem as if was all an illusion. 

So what is spirituality all about anyway? Often it can seem as if we stand between two lines of trumpeteers, one blowing the tune of growth and personal evolution, the other the sweet sounds of instant enlightenment–the realization that we are already whole and complete as we are–perfect spirit. 

Should we head for the mountains and find a cave, perhaps we should just master manifestation? Maybe resolve our mother issues, or conquer a yoga asana? The spiritual marketplace can be as loud and disorientating as any other arena of life.

If however, we can begin to grasp that there are two sides of the coin (at least) that is spirituality: 1. Our innate and perfect nature from which we have become estranged and 2. Our unique manifestation as a human being which is always growing and changing, we can more easily determine which areas of our lives require diligence and attention and where there is a need for surrender. Of course for the purist this coin is ultimately “one”, but for the sake of sanity let’s make a discrimination.

Spiritual practice is mostly geared to giving us experiences of the ineffable, invisible reality of love, unity, peace, universal truth, etc. Ultimately we can come to realize that these are not simply experiences that we have, but the essence of what we are. 

A few of the many pitfalls of spiritual practice are worth mentioning here: 

1. The idea that spiritual experience will solve all our problems (or make us indifferent to and above them), 

2. The dilemma of attaining lasting realization rather than a series of beautiful glimpses. 

3. The ease with which we can become lost in the dogmas and dysfunction of our particular spiritual path. 

4. Not to mention the difficulty that some have even attaining a glimpse of their true nature i.e. satori. 

If we are lucky enough to find our way to an abiding or at least consistent realization of our spiritual nature, other challenges will arise.

Pause for a moment to consider one particular but fairly universal spiritual realization: unity. The realization that all forms of reality are the same fundamental nature or substance. This is usually a lovely and relieving  concept and even more powerful experience. The implications however are beyond mind-blowing. YOU sitting here reading THIS are the universe–EVERYTHING–all that is, was, or ever will be! 

You are the big bang, the supernova and the black hole, you are the setting sun, the cool breeze, the ocean of life and the lava flowing from the core of the earth. Once we begin to see through the veils of the separate person who has to earn a living, put her clothes in nice piles in drawers, and get along with other people, and we realize the immensity of what we ARE, the wild aliveness that animates everything starts to take over “your” life. All the tidy piles, all the gnarls and knots that have been swept away or bundled in the basement begin to demand recognition.

Fortunately all of these unresolved aspects of yourself are none other than spirit wanting to live, thrive and be creative. Unfortunately it can be a real hell of a ride. The Greeks knew this all too well in telling the story of Zeus sending Pandora with her jar of chaos down upon the family of Prometheus who “stole fire from heaven”. If you are going to realize yourself as everything, you are going to have to deal with everything!

This brings us to our unique individual self. One caveat here: we can endlessly philosophise about how oneness can also be an individual self or we can suspend our disbelief and simply admit that it happens. Each of us is the universe walking around as a little four limbed version of ourselves. 

Some new tools emerged in the twentieth century to deal with unpredictable and elusive self: psychology and psychiatry. As rife with quackery and charlatanism as the spiritual traditions before them, these fields nonetheless offer tremendous insight into the human psyche. In particular: understandings of the subconscious mind, ego development, and more recently trauma and the body/mind connection.

The practice of self understanding rivals any spiritual discipline in liberating the conditioned self and goes further than most spiritual practices in helping us cultivate a self that is capable of channeling the powerful forces of life into a coherent, creative individual; aka a self-actualized human being.

Psychological illumination can give us a clear and accurate understanding of who we are as a person. We can uncover the hidden motivators in our behaviour and learn to tolerate the strong emotions that lead to reactivity in our lives. With a skilled practitioner we can come to trust intimacy and  embrace vulnerability. Psychology gives us an understanding of how corrosive our judge and inner critic can be to our growth. The therapeutic relationship can cultivate a profound compassion for our “flaws, faults, and mistakes” and see them rather as coping mechanisms needed for survival. With tenderness and attunement even the most contracted knots and  traumas can soften, open and integrate into a mature adult self.

Unity will once again be useful here as we begin to recognize that spirituality and psychology are not really two disparate fields, but rather a continuity–the spectrum of our human experience.  One portion of the spectrum inevitably informs the other. For example someone who struggles with financial insecurity and worry despite never having been in actual poverty can begin to understand the psychological roots of this insecurity in their history. Perhaps their grandparents struggled during the depression and this was passed on through mother as scarcity behaviour around food, clothing, and expansion in general. 

From the spiritual end of the spectrum this may be felt as a painful lack of capacity or support. It may feel as if one is weak, devoid, and even empty of the ability to support oneself. This reveals a spiritual disconnect–an absence of the sense of trust that life itself will has endowed us with the capacity that we need–the sense of “I can” and “I will”. Here something more than mental understanding is needed, we need to “fall through” the beliefs, self images, contractions, and fear into a deeper sense of reality. A reality that is holding, abundant, positive, creative, and intelligent. Ultimately we need not only to feel this, but know it as the indivisible core of ourselves.

The takeaway here is that there is an important distinction on the spiritual journey. The distinction between the ascending journey, the movement of transcending ordinary thoughts, emotions, and desires and the descending journey, the process of  developing, and cultivating ourselves as a person. 

We ascend to touch the transcendent love, peace, wisdom and intelligence of our true nature, We descend or embody our capacity for growth and learning in relationships, vocation, and play. The flow of ascending and descending, expanding and contracting, forming and unforming is really life at play as YOU. The inner work, the practices, the nitty gritty of daily life are nothing more than the universal energy of life finding the best way of being the unique individual that you are. 

Spiritual maturity to the degree that such a thing exists is a consistent connection, a feeling of being at home in ourselves. It is also an acceptance of and compassion for our quirky and sometimes clunky humanity. We see ourselves at the surface, we see ourselves at depth and we love what we see.