To be awake, it is necessary to investigate the various parts of our self that make up our humanity; because our humanity is often where we become deluded into believing we are something, that we are not. Our will is one of the major areas where we quickly become unconscious or lost in egoic identification. Yet, our personal will is a fundamental building block of our ego. Our will is most basically, the psychological force or program within us that wants to survive, maintain, assert itself, fight against, or fundamentally separate itself in order to create a separate sense of identity. In a healthy way, our will is what makes us want to have a career or have a family or be a part of a political party; our will is what drives us to succeed at sports or want to be right. From a psychological perspective, having a good strong will, creates a healthy sense of self from which an individual operates in the world.
Yet if we believe too much in our will, and mistake it for who and what we truly are, this will lead to more delusion within ourselves. We all have known times when we have fought persistently to be right, and as a result experienced intense separation. If we give our will too much power or authority over ourselves, then we will end up believing in it’s point of view exclusively. This point of view is generally some version of me against the world. And if we see the world from this perspective we will not be seeing Life from the perspective of Unity, of Oneness.
Naturally our relationship with our will must be investigated if we are going to be free. There are many spiritual practices and ascetic techniques that work to break down our will such as hours and hours of meditation, difficult yogic asanas; many spiritual traditions prescribe difficult labor without purpose or aim, such as racking gravel in one direction and then the other. These may be helpful if done with sincerity, but if they are done from the perspective of the will, they can actually reinforce the will, not exhaust it. But a wonderful space opens when the will is exhausted, and we become so open and raw that we have no choice but to surrender. This is where most spiritual practices try to bring us, to this point of exhaustion and eventual surrender. Although, we are welcome at any point, to fully surrender our will and to let go; right here, right now. This is the direct path; to step onto the direct path, we must be deeply sincere; and be more sincere than our attachment to our own will. Sincere surrender is by far the most direct way to let go of the will and to step into this huge Mystery that we are.
It is common for individuals to protect themselves against mental, emotional and physical pain by armoring ourselves, in a psychosomatic way in our physical and emotional bodies. This tends to happen at a moment of a real or perceived crisis, when our bodies instinctively go tense in an effort to brace oneself from being overwhelmed by feelings. As therapist and teacher, I have worked with many individuals throughout the years that hold heavy layers of protection around themselves; sometimes decades after an experience of pain or trauma took place. I learned how to work with others, from years of working with and healing my own armoring. To this day, I continue to work with liberating myself from years of holding my body tight from trying to shield myself from being hurt, by often imagined fears. Of course there are times when these fears are real and in the present moment. If this is the case, it is wise to take action, such as leaving the situation or getting whatever help we need.
But what I find amazing is that often, for years, we hold ourselves tense to protect ourselves from a person who is no longer in our lives or who we might only see 1% of the time. Maybe we will never see the person who originally hurt us again, and yet unconsciously we still armor ourselves against a one day chance encounter. We may continue to hold this protection simply out of habit, even though there is no longer a threat. It may even be that be that our body was once shocked by a sudden accident and that it habitually holds itself tight for years. Whatever the case, this unconscious psychosomatic phenomena can hold us back from fully experiencing the wonder of Life in the affected parts of our being. To be awake, means that we open and include all of our being in our experience of life. But if there are parts of ourselves that are unconsciously resisting life, it will be difficult to experience beauty in these parts of ourselves. After we discover this in ourselves, we can invite our body to open and relax. But for our body to relax, we must first be in a safe environment and feel emotionally and mentally safe. This might mean a change of relationship, or environment, or simply realize that we are perfectly safe right here, right now; that this moment is not the past.
After we have established a feeling of safety in ourselves, we can talk to our bodies or the various parts of ourselves that are in pain; and let them know that it is safe to relax. It is safe to put the shield down. We no longer have to hold tension in our bodies. If we speak in a way that our body can hear, then it will hear us and begin to relax. Although, if we speak to ourselves in harsh or judgmental ways, we will not feel safe and we might become more scared and become more tense. I like to think of talking to the places within us that are still hurting, like a good parent would talk to a child. This might be a soft reassuring voice or a voice that is calm and clear; when we talk in this way, it becomes easy for our pain to hear us. And our body may start to relax in a very gentle and natural way. Although if we have been through deep trauma and pain, much more work will be necessary.
After my divorce, I can remember the intense pain that I experienced and held in my body. I sat intentionally with this pain for over a year, and I did this each day. I used a very specific mediation practice for helping to release this pain. I sat down and relaxed my body. I became open and spacious inside. From this quiet, open and spacious place, I would locate the pain in my body, often this was quite easy to find. The wonderful thing about pain is that it is loud and undeniable. The practice was to fully sit with the pain and fully allow it to be in my body. The key words here are to fully allow it to be. When we first do this, our minds habitually, turn and run in the opposite direction. They do this by thinking of something very important that needs to be done right now. Or it fantasizes about some other place or person. Or it starts planning the day. The mind will try to do anything but sit with pain. It can be humorous to watch how quickly our minds go somewhere else when pain is in the room. It can find something else to do in a fraction of a second. Our minds will avoid pain at all costs, so it is quite a task to just get ourselves to sit with pain and allow it to be.
After we have opened and allowed the pain to be here fully, we might imagine that the pain is a child and it is sitting in our lap. As a father, I love this image. I can think of any time my daughter even got hurt, the first thing I wanted to do was to pick up her and hold her. We must cultivate this type of love for ourselves and the pain that lives within us. We have to want to hold it. Although most of us, want to get rid of this pain as soon as we feel it. But if we want to get rid of it, we miss our chance to be free. We miss our chance to know love. We miss our chance to transform pain into peace.
For this process to be truly healing, we have to totally be open and to want to sit with it. Another image that I like comes from the ancient Zen teachings on the angry bull. If we have an angry bull, and want it to calm down, then we let it run around in a big open field. We work with pain in the same way; as we open to the pain and allow it to fully be within us, it may even become louder, it may need to run around for awhile. What is helpful is for us to notice all the space in our mind and our bodies, in our awareness and to notice that this space has no end. From this spacious openeness we can allow the pain to spread out and unravel in our spacious awareness. This also, helps our ego to relax, once it knows that there is so much space for all this pain, and that we no longer have to contain it. As we open to our already spacious nature, which is always here, we may notice that our pain might make a fuss; it might send awful memories through our minds. To fully let go and heal, these memories must be seen, heard and acknowledged; but not believed. By this I mean, that we see in the present moment that it (the experience that is feared) is not actually happening any longer, it happened in the past and now that it is the present and we are safe, we do not need these thoughts and stories anymore.
If we continue to believe in the stories and thoughts, then we get stuck in the past and the mind is again successful in distracting us from sitting fully with the pain. And we don’t heal. Sometimes, we need to allow for these thoughts to go on and on until they wear themselves out. But it is very dangerous, if we believe in our stories and add to them in the present. We will continue the story and never free the pain from ourselves until, we go back and fully allow it to release.
If we can be this open, this willing, the pain will release, in a very powerful way, when it’s ready. And this is up to it, not us; the only thing we can do is fully accept what’s here and surrender. This is a very important point. The pain must feel safe and fully accepted and not denied in any way and then it will release. And as it releases we may experience a wonderful power or energy running through our body, or a terrify energy or emotions. Most people when they experience this terror or overwhelming sensations, get scared and quit this work. It is as if a wonderful dam broke inside and began to release and it was too much for the individual, so a person closes the gates, and stopped the whole process of letting go.
If this happens, and it almost always does in the beginning, we don’t have to be discouraged, there will be another chance. When we are willing to again open to the pain, sit with it fully and allow for its release, there will be this wonderful and terrible feeling of being out of control. And our invitation is to allow ourselves to experience this fully; to fully embrace feeling out of control. This is what it feels like to let go of deeply held emotions; it will feel as if uncontrollable sensations are moving through our body. Any time we are deeply emotional it feels uncontrollable, this is very much normal and ok. It might be the scariest experience of our life; we may turn red or pale, and feel sick to our stomachs. This is all a part of the process of conscious letting go. Can we allow ourselves to turn pale, and to be terrified; in the end we probably will not die from this experience of letting go, although our minds may think that. As we fully allow the emotions and overwhelming sensations to fully be here, these very emotions will most often turn to pure energy and a rush of energy will run out of our body. And this movement, may last for a second, a minute and hour a day or longer. But when we open to the movement of emotions and see that it is just energy; and do not believe the thoughts that say we are going to die; we become free. This is what it viscerally feels like to consciously let go. We see that it is just energy running through our body and we allow for it to move in whatever way it needs. And depending on the depth of the pain, it may take just one meditation on pain or a hundred to heal. If we become comfortable with working with ourselves in this way, this fearlessness will become a way of life and we will come to love going into the unconscious parts of ourselves that are hurting. And we will find that the majority of the pain we experience, is nothing more than energy stuck in our body from the past.
One afternoon, I found myself listening on the web to interviews with many spiritual Masters and their students. As I listened to the stories of these great awakened ones, I began to ask myself, what is the difference between being awakened and being a Master or put a different way, what is the difference between being awake and being enlightened? It seemed that I had experienced a powerful and profound awakening, but I was not living up to the Truth that had been filling me. I could see that my inner life was rich and wonderful. My mind and desires have greatly calmed. Fortunately, I haven’t gotten in nearly as much trouble as I did in the past. But with many of the teachers that I studied with, it seemed as if they had two qualities that most of us lack, their actions followed their words and they were no longer fooled by their own minds.
When I am deeply honest, I see I have a great deal of work to do in these departments. What most of us find is that the habits of the mind are deep and when it comes to our outward expression; I, like many others often, habitually choose to live from the past. Which leads to this confusing experience of feeling and experiencing great freedom, yet being drawn back into the habitual nature of mind. As a teacher, I meet more and more individuals who are having deep spiritual experiences and yet still remain deeply entranced in their own personal delusion. This can be quite confusing for someone to be on the path and wake up to a vast perspective of Beauty, Oneness and Radiance, and yet to lose that vision and again struggle with the limited perspective of our habitual minds. Many deeply struggle with this, and experience a huge feeling of lose, as they find themselves being deluded again. Life can even be more painful to wake up to the ultimate Reality, and then find oneself back where we used to be. I often laugh at myself and this wonderful awakened perspective I have been given, and how quickly I choose to again act like an idiot.
What is more surprising than seeing myself fall into delusion; is how great spiritual Masters’ fall off the path or make painful mistakes like sleeping with their students, having affairs, or becoming power hungry. It wasn’t until I realized that they are human as well, that I understood. Because we are all human, which means we all have minds with habitual thoughts and desires and conditioning. This habitual nature, can come forward in any of us, and when it does, we act habitually or unconsciously. If we are honest, we can see that every way in which we are deluded comes from misinterpreting our thoughts as Reality.
Ultimately there is only one human mind and all of us, have this mind. And in this mind lives all the various thoughts of evolution, from fight and flight, to wanting to have a family, to desiring more power, and every imaginable thought. And because of this, all of us can fall prey at any moment to being deluded to mistake our thoughts for Reality. When we wake up, we see clearly the nature of things; we see clearly the nature of the mind. But this does not mean that all delusion will disappear from our being. The very programs of delusion are in our biology: fight and flight, desire, anger, jealously, all forms of ignorance, etc. When we wake up, we gain a vast perspective. But this does not mean that these drives spontaneously and completely disappear from our being.
Often with a powerful awakening or shift in perspective, various programs of the ego simply fall away. This is one of the wonderful graces of awakening. Yet for most individuals, much of the ego, if not all of it remains untouched and as the awakened perspective fades, delusion creeps back in its place. But what waking up can gives us is a wonderful new space to work with delusion from the outside; instead of being stuck in it and trying to fix or heal our ego with the ego. To have this vast perspective stay vast or become more permanent, we must be willing to resist the temptation to believe what we think. And this is precisely how we unenlighten ourselves; by believing the stories in our heads. And this can happen to anyone, who believes the next thought that is not the truth; whether they are a Master Being or simply us.
Our challenge here is to live up to our realization. To walk the razor’s edge of freedom, which means to not give into the habitual nature of our mind. It means that we resist the temptation of taking our thoughts and feelings to be true; to be Reality. It is a big job to live up to our realization and to not give into egoic games or programs. To walk this razor’s edge, we do not do this from the self-righteousness of the ego; it has to come from the sincerity, strength and humility of our True Self or it will just be another movement we are deluded by. And so this is our challenge, can we embody the Truth of who we are as us, instead of embodying the past as us, instead of embodying an unconscious habit of mind as us? Can we give ourselves to this and allow the Truth to live us, as Us?
When most of us think of freedom we think of being able to do what ever it is that we want. This is the kind of freedom that the ego wants. If left unchecked, the ego wants to be able to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants to. But spiritual freedom is vastly different. Spiritual freedom is about giving up ego, (our wants, desires, opinions, beliefs) and being in total alignment with who and what we are, which in our deepest sense, means being in alignment with the will of the Divine. Spiritual Freedom ironically, is the giving up of all our egoic wants, desires and agendas. Our ego actually gets nothing out of the deal, except its own disillusionment; and when we allow ourselves to be disillusioned, we begin to see clearly for the first time. We begin to see the True nature of Reality, and we wake up and see that we are one with all of Life. We experience this Beautiful oneness, when we stop believing in the dividing nature of ego. Because when we allow the walls of ego to drop or put a different way, when we stop believing in any thought or feeling as the truth of our direct experience, and simply begin to directly experience life outside the lens of egoic division; we discover that we are one with all of life.
But to allow for the great disillusionment of our self created reality of our minds, we must be willing to let go of everything we hold onto and believe in. We must be willing to let go of our cherished ideas and opinions, our likes and dislikes, and our self image. Most of us though, are unwilling to give up all of this. For most of us our thoughts and ideas and self image are what we think we are. But this is not the Truth of what we are. And when we hold on to these things, what we get in return is a limited self created by the mind and a limited experience. This is what our mind does; it creates itself again and again through building a world—a self—out of thoughts and ideas. When we believe this image or movement of thoughts to be ourselves, we suffer. We suffer because we go from being big, open spaciousness to being a conditioned movement of mind, a limited image; a me who doesn’t like this person or that person. We go from silent and free awareness to “Look at me. Look how successful I am. Don’t I look good in this new car?” And when the new car doesn’t drive in the snow, or rusts, we suffer.
As long as we identify with the contents of our minds as reality we will experience pain. But if we are willing to live and be more than the contents of our minds, we can be free. We become free when we identify with the hugeness of Reality instead of the coming and goings of our mind. When we identify with our sky like perspective, it is much more difficult to identify with having a problem or with wanting this or that. The sky is open to everything and does not complain if this comes or that goes. Our mind, on the other hand is made up of dualistic right and wrong, good and bad thinking. As we step into our true nature, we step into an all embracing unity. As we step into our minds, we step into divisiveness and as a result we suffer. In a sense the more meness we have or the more self we have, the more we suffer; because there is more self present to argue with what is. We have all seen individuals with big egos, they tend to suffer more. And the opposite is true; the less ego or self or meness we have, the less we suffer. Ironically the less self we have, the vaster we become. It is actually that we are already vast, yet our vast or sky like nature is covered up, by our egoic sense of self. The good news is that we are already this, and as we let go of ego, our hugeness is what is already here, and has always been here. Our freedom comes from stepping out of our self created illusion of mind and into who and what we are.