I arrived into the spiritual conversation when the debate was gathering steam: the debate around there is no one here (and therefore our human experience is an illusion) and becoming embodied is where the real work out is. What it really means to have life live through you, to be fully human.
I want to look at the space between these apparent distinctions.
In particular, the phenomena of spiritual bypass and the phenomena of getting stuck in the psychology of the human experience.
The space between.
There is no escaping the suffering we humans experience. Whether we acknowledge it or attempt to send it packing, suffering, or perhaps more to the point, pain, is a fact of life. Living in an ever changing world, with everything and everyone coming and going at some point in time, we are subject to fear, loss and disappointment.
Living in a world where we are convinced there is an “other” (do not experience our interconnectedness) and our well being and even our relative survival appears dependent on ‘holding our own’, on our either coming out on top or avoiding oppression we are subject to fear, aggression and hostility.
We humans, in contrast to animals and nature, can pretend to be something other than we are, can be unaware of our feelings, ignore our body’s impulses and sensations. We can don masks, close off our hearts, and believe we are alone, small, disconnected, and impervious to suffering.
We pretend, most often, to avoid pain and strong emotions. We pretend, even more often, to not feel vulnerable, naked, tender to the touch. No wonder we are often afraid of living, of entering into anything real.
A certain understanding of spirituality, awakening to our true nature, can, and often does, add to this desire for avoidance, to the illusion that we can, in one way or another, avoid the challenges of being human.
I remember, pretty clearly, having this semi-conscious belief. Like most of us humans I wanted to not feel pain, to not suffer and to not feel hateful. I carried wishful, magical thinking that bliss and nothing-would-bother-me was always just around the corner, courting, begging for certainty, for security. The more I read about spiritual awakening the more I strengthened the belief.
There is a deep and abiding contentment that comes with the visceral being of emptiness, of life itself. The message from many spiritual teachers, directly or indirectly, can easily persuade a seeker that waking up means not feeling the pain of loss, not feeling the constrictions of a conditioned mind, or not being subject to the stomach lurch that comes when you fall off a cliff. After all, if there is no-one here, who would be at the mercy of such things?
And yet, and yet, waking up to our true nature, in fact, brings us smack into the full force of feeling and aliveness. When there is no buffer, when all of reality, all of life, is directly engaged, there is no avoidance, there cannot be avoidance. There is full bore being whatever is happening. Always. The contentment we are pulled towards comes from a deep acceptance of what is happening right now, right here.
What does it mean then, that there is no-one here?
Since a profound shift in consciousness I watch and notice kindness dancing and moving. It seems to be coming from me; at least it shows up as my gestures and smiles as I naturally offer a helping hand. I listen as some wide open spacious wisdom puts words on my tongue, clear and insightful. I marvel . . . really does seem like a marvel . . . as an invisible and gentle force of love contains and permeates me as conditioning and constrictions attempt to flood my being.
The kindness, the intelligence, the love . . . these vast, infinite, neutral qualities are formless, tasteless, and invisible to the naked eye . . . they come through me but they do not originate from me – they are not a product of my personality – left to its’ own devices my conditioned “self” would opt for safety, pleasure, and personal survival. More often than not!
Instead these embracing and enduring qualities come from some unfathomable depth and appear to have no beginning and no end. I sit in a field of openness that has no boundary.
And from this perspective my psyche and my body are motes of dust, here one moment and gone the next.
And from that perspective it does, indeed, reveal no one here.
But something is here – this mote of dust breaths and walks. When we look at ourselves we can see that we have bodies, we think, we feel, we want to love and be loved, we grow and we die.
We are nothing and we are something.
Why would we ignore something so mysterious, something so close and seemingly familiar? Why wouldn’t we want to be intimate, deeply and abidingly intimate with every part of this being?
Here’s the thing about spiritual bypassing – it comes out of a deep assumption – an assumption that your human pain and discomforts will kill you and that the humiliations and horrors you often experience are an indication of who you think you are.
It comes out of a deep forgetting that you are whole . . . you are one . . . and that you are alive and kicking – alive in this blue, pulsating planet of interconnectedness (we really are all in this together) and impermanence. You are alive and able to be conscious of being alive. You are alive and if you are not keeping your head in the sand you know you have a limited time on this earth.
It seems to me that one of the biggest miracle is that we have the capacity to be awake to ourselves – every single part of ourselves – every unknown part, including everything left behind, unrecognized and undesired. The upside of such devotion is being wholly alive; vulnerable, tender and soft, open to the touch of right here and right now.
Spiritual awakening, inner self/Self-knowledge invites and supports us to turn towards, listen to, attend to, and surrender to to every bit of our wholeness, our being, our oneness . . . with unabashed love.
* * * * * *
Psychology, a relatively new kid on the block, is a godsend for anyone sincerely looking for self knowledge.
The inner and outer conditions of modern life are such that is has become difficult, if not nearly impossible for many of us to hear the the small quiet voice within. In therapy offices and retreats, with skilled therapists and facilitators, we are able to look deeply into our interior, in a safe, contained and inviting atmosphere. We can look at, we can touch, and we can feel our sorrow, our pain, our despair, our shame, our joy, our misgivings, our confusion, our loneliness, our happiness and our doubts – in a nutshell, our vulnerability.
We can examine the roles we play, the masks we put on; we can look honestly at our self absorption, our wounds and betrayals, our deepest desires and longings, our unrequited love, and the myriad disappointments in how life appears to be “treating us”. We can, with understanding the young parts of ourselves, become more conscious of defenses and walls we put up to protect ourselves. We can learn what triggers us, what we need and want, when we feel safe enough to feel and we can become aware of what we are thinking. We can learn to take care of ourselves without drama or manipulation and we can develop inner resources, allowing us to hold tender space for ourselves. We can be self-aware!
All . . . all with compassion, with true acceptance and with a tender heart.
It appears to me, in looking back over the years I spent in analysis, it was instrumental in helping me remember the love that lives within all of us. Until I trusted life enough to surrender into and rest in that deepest truth, I needed a “person”, a kind, understanding, patient and skilled person to reflect that love. I needed that containment in order to drop defenses and identities.
Sometimes we need someone to hold our hand. Sometimes we feel very little and very young and we need someone to tell us it is okay. Sometimes we feel alone and need someone to remind us we are connected.
The world of psychology, the world of therapy and self reflection, has given humanity the gift of being able to define our personalities, our intricacies, our faults and our genius. It has given us a place to discover a precious gift . . . to “know thyself.”
But psychology and therapy are profoundly limited. As they are designed, as they are commonly practiced, they cannot bring us home.
The underlying premise to every psychological viewpoint is - we are broken, in some fashion or another, we need to be fixed, we need to be other than we are. Within the walls of most therapy offices fear and lack are validated, even if subtly. This reinforces what families, cultures, societies and religions have more often than not believed and taught. The belief that we are incomplete.
But . . . we are not incomplete. We are not lacking, really we are not.
There are deeper questions calling you. The question of who you are and what it is like to be alive and fully present. To be fully alive and fully present to now, it is important to look beyond the boundaries of self knowing and open yourself to the vast, unknowable Self. It is important to be aware of the limitations of knowing your self, knowing not to stop there or get caught up there for too long. Recognizing the truth of there being so much more, vastly more.
I am indebted to psychology. All that I have learned from my years in analysis, in addition to being healing and transformative, also helps me understand the patterns and quirks of how I move in the world and how I relate to everything and everyone. I am grateful that I can, when necessary, see through neurotic or dysfunctional behaviors and with insight take a step in a new direction. I am grateful I know, when things go south, to look within for my reaction and not waste my time blaming the circumstances.
But none of that can hold a candle to simply noticing! Simply noticing in a kind and non-judgmental way. Simply feeling without interpretations and without the knee-jerk reaction to fix something.
Noticing the sensations. Noticing the feeling. Noticing the thoughts. Noticing the impulses. Noticing the behavior.
Over and over again I bear witness to the power of noticing. Awareness, like a fully attuned parent, neutrally and gently breathes fresh air in and around and through every aspect of what is happening . . . whatever is happening within me or whatever reaction I am having to some external event or person.
I notice that Life seems to feel great joy when I come up against some snarky feeling or thought – something so, so familiar – and simply notice what I am thinking or feeling . . . simply pay attention to it, with a mixture of tenderness, curiosity and detachment. What used to strangle me when I fiercely believed something was terribly wrong (with me or the world) now moves right along (energetically) . . . blows away like the mote of dust it really is.
The deep patterns that used to define me and drive my life are now seen through, again with tenderness and detachment, as if they are knots in a rope that are being loosened and unwound.
The expansiveness I feel from noticing and from experiencing awareness is freeing, is restful and tastes like nectar. This freedom, this rest, this nectar is the very thing I looked for in psychology and in relationships and in activities and interests all through my life.
The visceral experience of expansiveness reminds me, again and again, of my underlying knowing that there is always more to the picture than I can fathom. The visceral experience of expansiveness affords me the bigger perspective I have always intuited. The vast ocean of endless love and well-being within is something we all intuit, sense, and long to remember.
I am grateful and humbled by the space between. I feel awe at the mystery of this crazy, messy, beautiful, stirring life, this seeming juncture of being something and being nothing, the challenge of living my full humanity with the profound awareness of it being but a mote of dust!