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A journey of a thousand miles can be altered by a single step. Most often, we don’t choose the steps that alter our trajectory – a chance meeting, a phrase absently spoken by a stranger, a quote remembered, something interesting that your partner stops to watch on TV. Sometimes you end up in a place where so many steps have converged that you can’t even remember where it started, or which one was the defining step. My wonderful teacher Billie Topa Tate says in her Loving Kindness Meditation: “All that I have done. All that has been done to me… has brought me to this sacred space in time.” And so it is!
Just before Christmas my husband got to a TV program he thought I’d enjoy. It was a comedienne who had become an atheist talking about the journey that had led her there. This I would enjoy? It turns out she was funny and I could relate to a lot of her issues with the Bible, the established Church, and even the New Age movement. What was most disturbing to me, though, was that in her conclusion she mentioned how free she felt after giving up the notion of “God.” I was so envious of her. I could feeling a small sense of her relief, and it was at the same time intriguing and frightening. You mean I’d have to give up God to be “free!?”
The yoga sutras talk about kaivalya – which is translated as liberation or freedom. I used to think that the key to my liberation (enlightenment if you will) was hidden in all that ancient knowledge. Somehow, if I knew more, studied more, practiced more, I would find the cure to this longing that, it seems, had always been here. Years ago I got angry at my husband because he said that all those books weren’t going to tell me what I needed to know. He said all the answers I needed were inside me. This week, and I guess through a series of steps over a lifetime, it has become clear to me that knowing more, learning more, or doing more will not get the answers I’ve been seeking.
As much as I hate to admit it (and I hope he never reads this entry!) my husband’s assessment was pretty accurate. It’s not that the knowledge in all these books I’ve read has not been helpful – a lot of it has been very helpful to me and to my clients and students. What I found, though, is that the more I read and the more classes I took, the more I realized I didn’t know and the more inadequate I felt. If gaining knowledge was the source of my salvation, then salvation was a long way away. Maybe I was broken beyond repair. Maybe there wasn’t enough time in this lifetime to get all the information I really needed. There was definitely no way I could read all those books on the shelf and the entire Sounds True and Hay House catalogs and all the books of esoteric knowledge yet to be purchased on Amazon.com. I realized that this collecting of knowledge had become a different kind of consumerism and that the void wasn’t being filled, it was only getting bigger. Maybe it was time to stop. That was the beginning of peace.
Everything can change in a minute. And then you realize that its been changing all along without you realizing – and that nothing changed at all. Thanks to a series of fascinating events I finally allowed myself this week to risk accepting the notion that I was never broken in the first place. I met my Self seemingly for the first time, and found she was delightful. There was nothing to look for, no more seeking necessary. This very place, this very me, is wonderful. How did I not realize this before when other people kept telling me? Because despite teaching about living in the present, I had been living in the future, constantly longing for a time when I would be fixed, perfect, realized. As long as I thought of myself as needing to be more, I always perceived myself as not enough. It was a subtle realization, prompted by the wise & loving words of others spoken at just the right time so that I could actually hear, and the refrain of my “higher self” repeating over and over Zora Neale Hurston’s famous quote “I love myself when I am laughing, and then again when I am feeling mean and impressive.” It’s a small shift and a big shift, and it has changed my world – but the me that was me is still the same me. It’s just now that’s okay.
I’ve been reading a lot about “Enlightenment” lately to the point where I may be actually getting tired of the word itself, if not the halo that seems to exist around those who discuss it, or claim to have it. Until recently I thought that this phenomenon was only something that existed in the East and that to “get” it you had to go “over there.” Even if I went there, I wondered, how would I ever know if someone was “enlightened?” A friend from the East (isn’t the “East,” actually West of us here in the U.S.?) told me that if someone was truly enlightened they wouldn’t be announcing it to everyone. Turns out that there is actually a whole menu of enlightened individuals here in the non-Eastern world for us to choose from. No need to travel overseas for enlightenment anymore. Our local Awakened Ones hold satsang and spend a lot of time talking and teaching that which apparently cannot be taught or described.
Preface the rest of this rant with the recognition that in recent years I’ve come to realize that “enlightenment/oneness/realization/awakening” is something that I’ve always wanted but wasn’t sure I could have in this lifetime. So much of this is the venting of my frustration that though we are all supposedly enlightened, I have yet to experience this awakening in the way it is written about and spoken about. View the rest of this therefore as the somewhat modulated temper tantrum of my wanna-be-realized inner child…
So, if you’ve never heard of enlightenment before, I’ll give a brief synopsis of what I’ve heard/read so far. Remember, I’m ticked off that I don’t have the real juice yet, I’m still a mere mortal, immersed in the illusion and using my mind, so if you want the full Monty from the horse’s mouth, you should probably get it from the Fully Realized ones at http://www.advaita.org or http://www.chicagosatsang.org or http://www.nevernothere.com or one of those enlightened places). First, nothing exists. At least, nothing that we seem to perceive as real (including ourselves) is real at all – it is all an illusion. If you can get past that you may be already reading A Course In Miracles, or a big fan of The Matrix. For most people, that’s the point where they go – “whatever!” and sign off. In real life their eyes glaze over and they start thinking of a reason to get away.
If you’re still here, then the essence of the teaching (depending on who you ask, and as my mind understands it) is that we all are just awareness. The notion of an individual “I” is based on a misperception. A yoga manual I read recently from Integrative Yoga Therapy describes an individual wave that arises from the ocean. If this wave had perception it might look around and see other waves, but without seeing the ocean imagine itself to be separate from the other waves. The waves in fact were never separate from each other or from the ocean. This is the essence of non-duality – no separate “other.” In the world of duality opposites exist. In the non-dual reality, everything is the ocean. Our “ocean” is described as “awareness” for want of a better word, because, according to those who perceive it, it is really hard to describe. Everything you see, all people and things, are part of this awareness (which my mind keeps referring to as “primordial ooze.” This is probably why I’m apparently enlightenment-challenged. Who would want to be one with “primordial ooze?”).
Apparently, the reason why everyone isn’t floating around aware of this ocean of apparently never-ending and awe-inspiring peace is the ego/mind – which I understand to be what the yogis describe as “asmita.” This creates a sense of “I” and automatically then a sense of “you” as well. It seems to be a side-effect of this earthly existence that we think of ourselves as separate from everyone and everything. Our minds are apparently designed for non-dual thinking. We are the ocean, but our minds think we are the waves. Some describe it as sleeping and dreaming the dream of duality. For this reason, enlightenment, or the realization of the one-ness of all being is also sometimes described as awakening.
Now, in the midst of my frustration, let me not give the impression that I think this is all nonsense. It actually makes sense in some deep part of me that may be not be my mind at all. It is like catching glimpses of something you think you see but then when you look closely it isn’t there. Another reason I don’t think its total BS is that in the presence of someone who says they really get it – not as a concept but as a fact of existence – there is a different energy, something palpable and difficult to describe. This is the purpose of satsang. When you attend a satsang – a meeting with an enlightened/awakened one – you experience what our “Eastern” friends describe as shaktipat – the transfer of that essence/energy, whatever it is. It is as if they are a doorway that you can begin to see through. Somehow their awakening creates a disruption/rift/shift in the illusion so that others can also experience a glimpse of the “truth.” For some this is enough to trigger their own awakening. Others begin to awaken but then on returning to everyday life. As one of my favorite teachers of non-duality Mooji says: “Stay awake. Don’t go back to sleep. Don’t stay asleep.”
So, to recap: we are everything but we think we are separate from everything. We can’t not be the ocean, but we don’t know that we are the ocean. It is alternately encouraging and maddeningly frustrating that those who claim to be awake also say that we are all enlightened, or that there is no-one who needs to be “enlightened” because all that exists is existence itself – awareness if you will – the ocean. Even more frustrating is that those who claim to have it also say that there is nothing you can do to get it, because there is nothing to get. There is no way to be more a part of the ocean than you already are. Add to that the frequently stated facts that the mind, by its nature, can only perceive duality; and that non-duality/oneness/enlightenment can’t really be described in words by those who have had the experience of it; and I personally am left completely confused. So why would nondual Awareness manifest itself into beings who are only able to perceive duality? When I asked that question (via my mind since I’m still using that until something better takes its place) the answer was: “Awareness becoming aware of itself.” For heaven’s sake (yes, heaven is part of the ocean too, and doesn’t exist) – did all this drama really need to happen just for awareness to realize its non-dual self? Couldn’t it just have pinched itself? Whoops! It would need a body for that I guess. Maybe all this was a side-effect of an experiment gone wrong. A pinch of DNA, a little bit of consciousness, some hormones… aw shoot! They’re beautiful, but they forgot who they are. No matter, budget cuts – let’s just use them as they are…
And so, this is the frustration of my mind/ego trying to perceive that which it apparently cannot possibly perceive, and I am left perplexed and somewhat aghast at the notion that I may never find the thing with which to perceive the imperceptible in this lifetime. Additionally, my mind ponders, if there is no individual self, then there probably isn’t an individual soul (a little thought I acquired while washing dishes) and so the notion of rebirth is thrown on its head. So this might be the only chance I get! How upsetting to think that I may experience an entire lifetime of being enlightened without ever knowing it. And then, I remind myself, as Suzanne Foxton said multiple times on NeverNotHere today – even that is just a thought.
More Peaceful or Less Stressed? You choose.
Our holiday intentions of peace, light and goodwill to all can quickly be upturned by the hustle and bustle of family visits, event planning, shopping, and all the other activities that seem to burn up the last 2 months of the year. Yet, from a spiritual perspective, this could be a time to turn inward, giving ourselves time to review the year and take note of the lessons we have learned. Even the notion of having time to do this type of introspection might cause a moment of panic: “There’s no time for all that!! I’ll do it next year when things settle down and I’m less stressed.” How much of our time is spent thinking about that magical time when we’ll be “less stressed?” Maybe it is just an issue of how we structure our perspective – we tend to focus on becoming less stressed, when what we really want is to be more peaceful.
I wrote a blog entry last winter about Becoming Peace in which I mentioned that when we say “I want to be less stressed” we actually focus on the stress and indeed perpetuate the notion of our stressfulness. On the contrary when we say “I want to be more peaceful” the mind hears “peaceful” and there is a subtle quieting that takes place within the body without any additional effort. In this way, through simple focus of attention, we begin to change our perspective and our actions often follow. We focus our intention on creating a space of peace and the time opens up for meditation or relaxation.
The yogis say that peace is actually our essence. Unconscious fluctuations of mind are what keep us from experiencing ourselves as Peace. This is all well and good in theory, but finding that peaceful essence is what seems to elude most of us. A speaker I heard recently mentioned that we put more effort into doing than we do into being still, and so that which you practice the most becomes what you are good at. You might say: “I can’t be still – it’s too hard. My mind races because I have so much to do and my body becomes restless.” My new favorite teacher Mooji encourages us to watch all these fluctuations as temporary. As you watch all those crazy thoughts and to-do lists and judgments and fears go by ask yourself the question “Who is watching all of this?.” We identify with our thoughts but our thoughts are not who we are. The thoughts arise in the mind, change, or fade away. The mind creates problems by taking advantage of our unconscious vulnerabilities. Brought into the light of consciousness, we find that many of our fears and compulsions are based on shaky logic. We find that we are running away from the very peace that we seek through our actions and choices. Though our thoughts often seem very real, they are temporary fluctuations of the mind – smoke and mirrors.
The awareness, the essence that we are is inherently peaceful and unchanging. Underneath the smoke and mirrors of our habitual thoughts and emotionality lies a still and steady awareness that is not vulnerable to harm. We have glimpses of this peace at times – for me it is usually on a warm beach with my eyes closed hearing the sound of the waves as they ebb and flow… or in meditation. If we can allow ourselves to focus on this peace, we can allow it to expand in our lives. But if we only focus on all we have to do and the far-off future when we will someday be less stressed, then we’re likely to get more of what we’re training for.
A recent conversation about activism and self-righteous anger has got me thinking about how we really make change in the world. Many of us are “working on ourselves,” and at the same time, trying to make a difference in the world around us. As activists we are attempting to change the societal structures which promote inequity and injustice, to raise our children to be conscious and compassionate, to encourage our politicians & legislators to incorporate fairness and equity into our governmental systems. This can be frustrating work, bringing us face-to-face with opposition, rejection, skepticism and even abuse from people who would rather things stay the way they are. Sometimes in the midst of all this struggle, we can become judgmental and angry at the world and the people in it who seem reluctant to “see the light.” I have begun to wonder, if we do all the work we can toward making the world a better place, but do it from a place of anger, judgment and self-righteousness, what kind of change are we really affecting? Do we in effect cancel out any good we’ve done? Do we end up with a net effect of zero?
I’ve been reading Thich Nhat Hahn’s books as required reading for a meditation teacher training with the Elesa Commerse, and his work has me thinking about how much activism in the world must be combined with a deep self-inquiry and mindfulness. If our ultimate goal is peace and harmony for humanity, then the very notion of “fighting” for something is incongruent. Fighting implies aggression, and aggression may result in surrender and domination, but these are not the same as peace. Anger met with anger breeds more anger. Aggression met with aggression results in more aggression. Judgment of another feeds a sense of separation. Besides the obvious effect on others, anger, aggression and judgment also constrict the individual who is expressing them.
In his book “Anger” Thich Nhat Hahn describes the chain of effects that occurs when one person acts out their anger. I yell at you, you carry your anger to the next person who upsets you and yell at them, then they act angrily toward someone else, and pretty soon your anger has multiplied itself – grown wings and launched itself into the world. Am I saying you should hold it in and allow it to burn you up? Not at all. There is a middle way – mindfully and compassionately acknowledging your anger, making friends with it if you will, and allowing it the space to exist as a valid emotion so that you can learn from it without needing to direct it at others. Then you can release it, just let it go. Emotions can be very deceiving, and anger is often a way of resisting that within you which needs to be welcomed, acknowledged and released. Our anger toward others is most often the projection of anger toward ourselves. Taken as a mirror, the object of our anger can be a valuable teacher.
I’ve heard people say that anger is a good thing. For myself I know it isn’t. When I’m angry my perspective constricts, I stop being reasonable and I become caught in what the yogis call “asmita” – a pre-occupation with “I,” “me,” and “mine.” In essence, when I’m angry it’s all about me. I have no desire to see the other person’s point of view or even to think of them as deserving a point of view. In fact, I have no patience for anyone at all. Moreover, this anger blinds me to the fact that what has made me angry is probably the reflection of some issue or trigger within me that needs to be compassionately addressed. When I’m angry there is very little room for reason or compassion. Beyond this, I can feel that it is a state that is not good for my body – I feel a crawling sensation on the skin of my neck, my breathing becomes shallow and I feel my blood pressure rising. Therefore, in this state, not only am I at risk of hurting others through my words and deeds, but I am also limiting and hurting myself and creating unnecessary suffering.
The Universal Law of Resistance states that you attract that which you resist. This is also consistent with the premise that “energy flows where attention goes.” If we are constantly focused on that which we oppose then we are actually allowing it to have a hold on us and feeding it energy. How often are we in opposition to something without creating an equally strong vision of what it is we are for? As a simple example, I think of working personally on being less judgmental. I tried to be less judgmental, but every I’d find myself being judgmental my mental noise would be something like this: “Oh, I’m being judgmental again, that’s terrible, I have to stop that!” So I judging myself for being judgmental! Rather than being opposed to my judgmental-ness, I see my judgment as an opportunity to see myself in that person, to practice being compassionate and understanding. In the end, this is really what I want – not to be less judgmental, but to be more understanding.
So back to this notion of net effect. A Course In Miracles teaches that whatever affects us most in the world outside is a reflection of our deeper inner self that is in need of healing. As we work with our causes can we use that which we oppose as mirrors of our own processes? If we are opposed to political aggression against the opposition, can this be a mirror to the ways in which we are aggressive or opinionated in our own ways of dealing with others? In our willingness to heal the world, can we be also conscious of the need to care for our own inner wounds? Sometimes this is the hardest work – to see ourselves honestly and with compassion. It is easier to deny that which is in us and fight against it in the world. If you believe, however, that we are all somehow connected, then that fight is actually still against ourselves. All the work in the world outside will bring only superficial change if the inner self still has not been changed. Perhaps if we were all willing to face our inner selves with courage and compassion there would be no need to “fight” for anything at all.
Have you ever noticed how when you’re supposed to get a message it just comes at you from everywhere? The last few days of working with The Sedona Method I’ve really had the opportunity to observe the vrittis – the fluctuations – of my mind. If it wasn’t so surprising it’d be funny (OK, it actually is funny) to see how a mind that gives the impression of being settled can be holding on to so much discontent & silliness. I thought I was good with being with what is. Apparently – not so much. So yesterday, in the midst of my impatience about not being fully enlightened after 7 whole weeks of letting go, I had the clear intuition that it was time to stop and just be.
As I was reading Facebook status updates yesterday, of course the topic of resting in awareness came up multiple times. Then today, the Facebook app “God wants you to know” told me:
“It’s okay. Just rest for a moment. It’s OK. Yes, things are crazy, yes, the world is going nuts. Yet, deep underneath the stormy waves, there, in the core of your being, there is pure silence, pure love. And … it’s … just … OK.”
She must really be keeping an eye on me!
A little while ago Byron Katie tweeted: “All sadness is a tantrum.” That really hit home for me. These last few days of watching my monkey mind I’ve realized how any act of not being with what is, is really a tantrum. Think about it. Babies cry when they’re hungry, tired or bored. Other than that they’re pretty much content to just be in the world. Fluctuations come and go and they’re quickly back to just being. Then they turn 15 months or so and suddenly, tantrums. What’s a tantrum? A tantrum is wanting something other than what is. More specifically, a tantrum is wanting things your way. So after all this time, I find out I’m spiritually still a 2 year old!
Yoga teaches that all suffering is based on ignorance – i.e. the unwillingness or inability to see things as they are. Having now truly recognized the workings of this discontent in my own mind, yesterday as I walked to my class, I practiced noticing what came up in awareness. Then, instead of letting go of anything I simply let go of wanting to change whatever came to mind, and whatever sensations or feelings came up in my body. By the time I got to class there was a deep feeling of settled-ness. Ahhh. No more tantrums – at least for that moment! Maybe there’s hope for me yet 😉
(On a side note, I love, love, love the way my students teach me & keep me in check – thanks! You are great blessings on my journey).
I’m pretty sure I own about 300 books, not counting my kids’ books. Most of my books at this point are non-fiction. I have books about yoga, spirituality, feng shui, cooking, energy healing, women’s health, parenting, psychology, counseling, metaphysics, mythology, butterflies, gardening, butterfly gardening, spirituality and gardening, physiology & psychology, spirituality and psychology, yoga and psychology, yoga and physiology… you get my drift. How many of these books have I actually read? A lot of them, but there are lots with the binding pretty much intact, waiting until I have the time to actually take them off the shelf and get acquainted. Why do I have all these books? Because I’ve been addicted to knowledge.
I remember reading once that humans are the only species that collects information just for the sake of having it. Until that point, I didn’t view my accumulation of knowledge as frivolous, but as essential. After all, the more I knew the more informed choices I’d be able to make, right? Well… maybe. As it turns out, I’ve found that the main impact of my thirst for knowledge was that there never seemed to be enough. Not enough time to gather more knowledge, and the more knowledge I accumulated, the more I realized I didn’t have and therefore the less I thought I knew.
One of the abstentions prescribed by yoga is non-greed (aparigraha). I came to recognize my “thirst for knowledge” as just another form of consumerism. As the unread books and yet-to-be-heard audiobooks began to accumulate I began to question my motives. Collecting more information was supposed to make me feel more competent, wiser, and therefore more in control. But I found myself feeling oppressed and overwhelmed by all these other people’s words, pronouncements, condemnations and conflicting points of view. I felt as if I had gone out to a buffet and eaten too much but was still putting more and more food on my plate because it all looked soooo good! Someone out there had to have the answer to this mystery of life!
As someone who has a hard time making decisions in the first place, more knowledge just added to the number of permutations I had to keep afloat in my brain. This had the effect of keeping me “in my head” and leading me to distrust or disregard my intuitive center, my inner knowing.
After a while I began to crave silence. I got tired of words. My husband always said that he didn’t think I would find out anything in all those books that I didn’t already know. But I enjoyed reading all those books, and I think I learned a lot from many magnificent authors. And after all that reading, though I think I’ve realized that what I really want is not going to be found in any of those books. It is not a fault of the books themselves, but of my use of them. I read to accumulate knowledge to fill a void that I perceive exists in my own inner knowing. I am searching outside for something that can’t be found outside – myself.
Working with the releasing techniques of The Sedona Method after the recent death of my friend has helped me to realize just how much I feel the need to understand and explain the twists and turns of life. I also realize that this craving, this need to know, to understand, to have it all make sense, will never be satisfied. What I really want is freedom, which is beyond knowledge.
So, I am formally releasing my need to know, (and the need to know what will happen when I fully release my need to know!). It may take a while, or it might be quick. We’ll see. I’m also allowing for the possibility that there is a knowing beyond knowledge that is enough.