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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 π’Šπ’ 𝒕𝒐𝒖𝒄𝒉 with themselves.

Although we see the world “outside” of ourselves π’˜π’† 𝒂𝒓𝒆 π’˜π’‰π’†π’“π’† π’†π’™π’‘π’†π’“π’Šπ’†π’π’„π’† 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 π’Šπ’π’π’†π’“ 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 π’˜π’† 𝒂𝒓𝒆 𝒃𝒐𝒕𝒉 𝒂 π’˜π’Šπ’π’…π’π’˜ 𝒕𝒐 𝒕𝒉𝒆 π’–π’π’Šπ’—π’†π’“π’”π’† 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒕𝒉𝒆 π’–π’π’Šπ’—π’†π’“π’”π’† π’Šπ’•π’”π’†π’π’‡. This is awakening, this is freedom, this laughter.

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Psyche and Mind

The thread of truth

What is your reaction when you hear the word β€œtruth”? 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 β€œT” 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 wordβ€”it may be that you have seen β€œtruth” used as a bludgeon i.e. β€œI know (or possess) truth and you don’t”.Β  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 β€œtruth” 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 β€œtruth” 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 β€œT”).  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 nowβ€”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 helpβ€”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 ourselvesβ€”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 developmentβ€”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 livesβ€”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 β€œIn this moment I am confused, I don’t know what is true” or β€œThe 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 π’˜π’† 𝒂𝒓𝒆 π’˜π’‰π’†π’“π’† π’†π’™π’‘π’†π’“π’Šπ’†π’π’„π’† 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 π’Šπ’π’π’†π’“ 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 π’˜π’† 𝒂𝒓𝒆 𝒃𝒐𝒕𝒉 𝒂 π’˜π’Šπ’π’…π’π’˜ 𝒕𝒐 𝒕𝒉𝒆 π’–π’π’Šπ’—π’†π’“π’”π’† 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒕𝒉𝒆 π’–π’π’Šπ’—π’†π’“π’”π’† π’Šπ’•π’”π’†π’π’‡. 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 β€œone”, 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 β€œyour” 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 β€œstole 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 β€œflaws, 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 β€œI can” and β€œI will”. Here something more than mental understanding is needed, we need to β€œfall 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.