The rain sneaks past the curve of the umbrella and with each step, the dampness of my clothes increases. Mud underfoot accumulates and makes movement difficult. I let the wind blow me to the pavement walkway. It is covered in so much water; it looks like I’m walking on a glassy black river. The raindrops hit the surface and little splashes bounce back up towards the sky. I turn around. My son is so small beneath the expanse of his adult sized umbrella that I can only see him from the knee down. The cartoon red of his sneakers against the gray hues of the landscape is captivating. It’s like a moving painting. Living art. His steps are small and contained. Trying to stay dry, he walks so slowly that I am left waiting again and again for him to catch up. Today, I am walking in the rain with no feeling of whether it is good or bad to be walking in the rain. No good or bad about being wet and cold. The cold of the metal umbrella handle against my hand has turned my fingers white. I am neither enjoying nor not enjoying the experience. I am so intensely present with the experience that I have gone beyond the judgment of the experience as pleasant or unpleasant.
In the Hindu tradition, there is a title of honor that is awarded to those who have attained enlightenment. The title is “Paramahamsa”. It literally means “Supreme Swan”. The Hindus believed that a swan was in home both in water and on land and could also fly between the dimensions. Just as the awakened one is equally at home in the realm of spirit and in the realm of matter and is awakened to all realms.
Many people think that my name, Teal Swan is 'made up'. It isn't. My parents named me Teal, after a lake they deeply loved while working as forest rangers in the Uinta Mountain Range. I inherited the name Swan when I married a Sikh man who was once my close protection officer. Today, I have decided that it will be the name I live and die by. It is the name I will have for the rest of my life. It was given to me by those waiting to bestow it upon me in the thoroughfares of my life; and today, I have decided to accept it.
Over the past few months, I have tasted the flavors of my every emotion. I have felt the prick and the softness of the rose of life. I have met my mind and watched my thoughts for hours on end. I refuse to align with the conventional idea that the mind is your enemy. It is a part of you. And nothing that is a part of you could ever be your enemy.
The mind in a state of pain is frantic. It is hypervigilent for anything that might hurt. But the focusing there causes a state of permanent doom. The only hope of peace is to shed the heavy husk of the identity… the ego as we have collectively called it for years. And integrate it. The only peace is to make a practice of stepping outside the experience so instead of thinking, we are watching ourselves think. Instead of unconsciously being yanked this way and that by our feeling, we are consciously exploring the felt aspect of our lives.
You will find that thought leads to more thought, like a chain. One links to the next and the next until there is momentum in the chain of thoughts, like an out of control train. If you observe the thought, the thought chain fizzles out; there is no momentum. And if you observe and consciously experience emotion, it does not build. Instead, you find yourself in a place that is disorienting in its familiarity and yet disorienting in how alien it feels. It is a place where no movement occurs. The space between thoughts. It is the canvass upon which the ego is painted. There is a timeless peace that transcends opposites. At first, it feels a bit frightening. You ask yourself “Is this what it is like to be dead?” and the answer is yes, but there is no deadness in death. It is in many ways a state of aliveness that is even more alive than life itself. It is a state of infinite potentiality. As you acclimatize to it, you find that the stillness is alive. All of consciousness is awake within you. Most talk about spirituality is pointless because we are using words to describe something that can only be experienced. And yet spiritual talk is infinitely meaningful because we are using words to set ourselves up for the mind to allow us to have that direct experience. As a spiritual teacher, all I am doing is peeling back the layers of all the various things that separate people from themselves.
I am watching a woman in this library I have come to with the intention of reading to my son. She drags the heaviness of her body to the chair beside me and in a voice that is mouse-like, she asks me if she can sit down. I tell her “yes”. She sits with great effort. The black of her eyeliner is sprinkled haphazardly on her cheek. It also winds its way along the length of her eyelid in a lazy squiggle under a flash of blue eye shadow. I can feel the desperation in the way that it is drawn onto her face. “Like me” it says. “I must be something more than what I am,” it says. This woman is a self sacrificer. She has learned that to have anything for herself, is a sin. So the only way she can protect herself from the taking and taking by those around her, is to wall herself off with fat. I can feel the desperate attempt her body is making to keep her safe. I am thinking while watching her about the intensity of the identification we have with our sense of self. This woman is asleep. Like a sleepwalker, she is going through the motions of her life, unaware that anything exists outside of it. She is not yet even asking the questions. Sleepwalkers have a certain feel to them. It is best not to wake a sleepwalker before he or she is ready to wake up. It is better to provide a safe place for them to come to when they begin to wake up of their own volition. It is better to love them and let the awakening shine through you and onto them so that you can clearly see the dormant consciousness within them… The potential. The Buddhists call this the “Buddha within everyone”. Sitting beside this un-awakened Buddha, I am acutely aware of the imprisonment of unconsciousness. It is not a pity that I feel, It is a compassion, which blooms for her the same way it does for myself.
The ego is like a painting that the eternal ‘self’ (what many call soul) began painting before your birth. Your soul continues adding strokes to that painting over the course of your life. But as soon as it began panting it, your soul stepped into its own painting. That painting became its world and it is living the experience of being IN and OF that painting. And as more time went on, your soul identified with the painting to the degree that it was no longer IN the panting, instead it WAS the painting. We soon forgot that anything existed outside the world of our soul’s painting. We forgot the soul beyond the souls’ creation. And the work of spirituality is about remembering ourselves beyond the painting. Our work is about choosing whether to experience life through the perspective of being the painting or being in the painting; or being the painter outside the painting. The truth is, the Ego is not bad. In fact, the Ego is the means by which awakened consciousness is possible. It is the call to ripen. All ‘negative’ experiences are like an alarm bell ringing in the darkness, trying to wake you from slumber to the truth of yourself. The strong emotional reactions we have are an alarm bell ringing in the darkness, trying to wake us from slumber to the truth of ourselves. I wonder how many wars we will wage with one another until we can embody that truth.
I do not want to see another war. Too many of my lives have been lived out in the desperate fray of war. I do not want to see it stain the life of one more person in existence. The beauty of experiencing your worst fear is that there is nothing more to fear. I can be present in communion and I can be present in war and in either state, peace is always available. The more I make it a conscious practice to live into this peace, to live into this living stillness, the more awake I become to the world. This world is a reflection of the self. The self is a reflection of the world. To find peace in oneself is to create it in the world. And so I will. And so I will.