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.
I entered into a dark night of the soul months ago. Whereby my own spiritual practice was tested… there was no other option than to surrender to the experience. There was no more room for theorizing. There was only one door to walk through and that was the door of practice. Practice as if it was the only oxygen left for my soul to breathe. Meditate. Observe the thoughts. Sink into the emotion. No escape. In a way we become addicted to the way we cope with our life. And when we can’t live our life that way anymore, there is literally no way to escape our true selves anymore. We can’t escape ourselves with a bottle of alcohol, we can’t escape ourselves with other people, and we can’t escape ourselves with any distraction that might have worked before. Nothing that usually works, works anymore. We are at a crossroads between facing ourselves and taking our own life. This is the gift of the painful experience. Take a moment to think of pain, even physical pain. When pain is happening, you can’t focus on anything else. Pain… makes you focus. Pain makes consciousness have to show up where it is needed. And the more you resist it, the more it nose dives from pain into suffering.
We all have that one thing that we fear most. Ironically, the thing we fear is always something we have already experienced; an unresolved trauma. What we fear is the re-experiencing of it. My fear was to lose closeness, consistency and connection with my primary attachment figure. I have avoided this experience literally for years. Each time the universe presented me with the opportunity to confront that fear, I would find a way to patch the wound. But this time was the straw that broke the camel’s back so to speak. This time, I could no longer patch the wound. And the seams broke. I lost my primary attachment figure and this time, I did not sedate the experience with another substitute attachment figure (usually a man). This time I did not use anyone or anything to buffer me from the cankerous wounds that reside in my being. I fell into the blood and sinew of them. And what I find after much suffering is that I am reaching a new state of waking consciousness. A purity I have never touched before. I have been saying again and again at my workshops over the last months that much of our suffering is caused by the idea that whatever is happening is not supposed to be happening. I have had to repeat this like a mantra for months in the dark… having no clear idea of why this is supposed to be happening. It sure as hell did not feel as if it were for my highest good. And what I find is a deepening. The pain of the experience of losing my marriage has drug me into the depths of myself, like an anchor. It has deepened my spiritual practice. I have hit the ground hard enough that a layer of my ego could shatter. And in the shattering, an aspect of me has been set free. On the other side of the immeasurable pain I have experienced, I now see exactly why the universe celebrated our union to such a degree. The universe loves you sometimes in ways that initially feel the opposite of love. This last marriage unknowingly caused me to face myself completely. The universe knew he would be the one to ‘set me free’. The universe knew we would be the ones to set each other free. And that setting each other free was what we needed to do in order to get to the things we have been asking for (in my case wishing on every first star for). My soul knew he would be the reason I ended the pattern that was keeping me from embodying my true self. And he has given me my name, the name that I was always meant to have. Like a foreshadowing and now a branding that has been burnt into the identity I hold in this life.
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. And so, it is fascinating that the very one who gifted me this name that I was always meant to have is also the one who pushed me into my next level of enlightenment.
Over the past few months, I have become even more intimately acquainted with myself. Not the concept of myself, but the self beyond the self. The self that dreamed me into life in the first place. 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. Like a tiny bud, compassion has sprouted within me as I see that my mind was in a constant state of pain. 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. I have practiced a genuine presence with my mind over the past few months. It is a relationship that will only grow deeper over the years to come. I have seen it for what it is. This process has matured me. Instead of running from it or trying to control it as if it were a demon out to get me, I have seen it as the child that it is. I have seen it as a child that is doing the best it can. As a result, I have begun to parent it. And it’s crying has begun to cease.
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. 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. This has been a graduate level course in the practice of presence. I have said many times that unconditional love is no different than unconditional presence. And the closer I come to true presence, the more I can feel unconditional love flower within me. Like the fragrance from a flower bud, it diffuses through the tissues of my body. It makes life sweet. Even moments that would have previously felt ‘bad’ (like standing in the freezing rain, waiting for a five year old to catch up), feel perfect. They are imbued with a deep peace that is quietly available to all who dare to notice.
When you are fully present, the ego is provided with no consciousness to use. Its mind cannot snowball. 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. And to do this, I must never stop peeling back the layers that separate me from myself… The self beyond the self; the truth beyond the illusion.
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 because I believe her to be just as capable of becoming conscious as myself. It is a compassion, which blooms for her the same way it now does for myself.
What I have found this last three months is that the identity that you call by your name in this life is sticky; like a cockle burr. It sticks to you so firmly; you can’t tell the difference between it and you. It is a sticky skin, a sticky perspective to live out your life through. The goal is to develop fluidity, a slipperiness of spirit so that you can take off the perspective of the ego (dis-identify- with it) as easily as you can put it on (identify with it). Perhaps true integration is a state where both states coexist simultaneously. The complimentary flavors of identification and oneness that is absent of identity; in one dish called life.
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 it’s 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; of 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. But I now feel in the moments that my ‘practice’ is embodied, that I have the resources necessary within me to experience anything. This is the beauty of experiencing your worst fear. 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.