A Vacation from the Self

A vacation is a time of respite, recharging, and reflection – a time to shift from the laptop to the whitewater rapids. For my daughter and me, last week was a time to leave the gold-brown hills of New Mexico for the dripping green ponderosa pine and white-barked aspens of Colorado’s western slope. A road trip for dad and daughter.

Most of all, it was a vacation from the self.

The self owns the working week and the self runs the weekend. Needs, obligations, and commitments. Chores, connections, and meetings. This is how we live, this is how we serve, this is how we grow. This is our life as we take care of each other, serve the needs of those who need, and practice the reaching out again and again.

The self is the thread that runs through it all even when we’re unselfish. The energy is not mine, the energy flows through me. I’m the one who must put myself to the work, to call on the powers that I don’t possess, and direct them to the good at hand. Not my good, but the good at hand.

I’m the one who must caution all that is yearning to go haywire. As I put my shoulder to the work – with energy I’m able to muster from some place not me – I’m the one who wonders if it’s me that yearns for chaos and collapse even while I work to keep things steady.

And so, a vacation from the self. I’m with my daughter, but this week, I’m not dad. We’re equal beings in this astonishing world. We’re in the green, skin glistening with the morning mist of the high mountains, amazed we’re here at all, tossing stones into a glassy lake and listening to the crisp splash thunder across these granite hills.

Who Is the One Who Suffers?

A friend of mine was suffering – old wounds from childhood violence were opening. The pain she said was unbearable.

I told her I understand. I do understand. She was absorbed in the details, and in those details, what she experienced has never happened to anyone before. Nothing has happened to anyone before.

I understand that. I stayed in her presence and she stayed in her pain, not understanding how there can be so much pain.

I wanted to tell her, “You are not who you think you are.”

I wanted to say, “You are something else.”

I wanted to say, “You are the one who sees the one who suffers.”

I wanted to say, “You are not the one who suffers.”

I decided to not want.

I stayed in her presence, and her pain began to subside. The pain will return, perhaps less strong if she is willing to stay in the pain and feel it again. But who knows, maybe stronger.

I wanted to tell her, “The pain is not yours. It’s just pain.”

I decided to not want.

I am not the one who wants. I am not the one who decides.

The pain is hers, and the pain is mine, and the pain is alive in the one who suffers.

She is not the one who suffers, and I am not the one who wants or decides.

The pain is an instant, the pain is an endless road, the pain is a memory of a person who once lived but lives no longer. The pain is the entire world, and the world is nothing.

 

 

You Are the Guru You Need

Your spirituality is within. You already have all need to know and everything you need to learn. Your spiritual journey is to the inside. Right this very moment, you are where you need to be. You just have to realize it.

Who is your guide on this journey to yourself? You are. Who shows you where to turn when you’re lost in the dark woods? You will show yourself the way.

How far must you travel? You are already at your destination.

That’s easy to say, but how do teach yourself the way? It’s simple and difficult. You have to be willing and open. Plus, you have to be diligent in exposing yourself to teachings that prompt the recollection of oneness.

The key to willingness is nonresistance. We become resistant when we feel threatened, and without spiritual bearings, we feel threatened most of the time. That’s an illusion that closes down our ability to stay open and willing.

A truck barreling down the freeway is a threat if you cross its path. But a perceived slight in a social situation is not. Yet even a minor slight may close you down with reaction and offense. Then you lose connection with the source within. These soul cut-offs happen all day long, and they can keep us perpetually locked up. Willingness and acceptance are the tools to stay openm open.

Exposing yourself to spiritual teachings, readings, workshops, and more importantly, discussions with friends, will open you up to the source of the oneness within. Seek this exposure. The teachers and the people you meet in spiritual context don’t have something you don’t have, but they will prompt you to yourself.

That’s all you need for a grand spiritual journey. Willingness and spiritual exposure. They will lead you to the oneness within, and that’s everything.

 

Fear Was the Problem

Fear was my biggest problem. I had no idea.

I didn’t know anger was fear. I thought my anger was justified. I didn’t like being angry, but I thought I couldn’t help it. It was a natural response to a broken world and its broken people.

I didn’t know anxiety was fear. I thought my circumstances warranted anxiety. I thought the solution was to change the circumstances. The circumstances were impossible to change.

I didn’t know resentment was fear. I thought my feelings of resentment were justified. My resentments extended back many years. They produced anger, sadness, and discomfort. I was stuck with them.

I didn’t know jealousy was fear. I thought my jealousy was caused by others.

I didn’t know sadness was fear. How could sadness be fear?

The negative feelings were with me for years. I thought they were a permanent part of me and intrinsic to all life. I prayed that the negative feelings would not manifest into illness. They felt like illness. They also produced negative behavior. I worked hard to separate my behavior from my feelings. I didn’t want to behave poorly just because I felt poorly. But I did.

I tried to be positive, but I worried I was simply putting a bright blanket of untruthfulness over the darkness. Wasn’t it better just to accept the negative? I didn’t want to be phony. I took pride in my ability to face the inky black void.

All the time, I was surrounded by light. I couldn’t see it. I thought this dark world around me was the entire world. But my dark world was a delusion. I was the problem. Remove that dark me, and the world goes light. So I removed the dark me.

The Diminishing Ego

Some remarkable things happen as you practice the presence within. Some of the painful needs that seemed so hard to fill in this world, those needs that haunted you for years, will lose their edge. Either they become less important, or, you’ll discover they are becoming satisfied.

Let’s look at the need for companionship. Loneliness results when this need goes unfilled. But two things begin to happen as you become more aware of the presence within. The need for companionship begins to ebb as the presence produces a sense of health, comfort, and belonging. What can be more companionable than the feeling of oneness and connectedness?

Also, the barriers to companionship begin to crumble. Often it is the ego – ever hungry, ever unsatisfied – that stands between our true self and the sense of connection. After all, the need for companionship is simply the need for connection. Without the edgy, needy ego in charge, we become more companionable. We become more accepting of others, more forgiving of ourselves. We become less of a problem.

Feeling the presence within does not eliminate the ego, but it does take it down a notch in its control over our self-perception and its control over our behavior. Without the ego so much in charge, we begin to see the dwindling of self pity, self loathing, and fear.

The ego holds and feeds our fear. The ego is terrified of death, and for good reason. The ego will die. But our true self won’t die. It cannot die. It is oneness. As we experience that oneness, the bitter needs of the ego become less pressing. In time, those needs will pretty much go away. And even if they don’t vanish altogether, they will become so unimportant as to not matter any longer.

The Presence Who You Are

What is the presence that we feel during spiritual moments? I’ve experienced this presence while using hallucinogens, while meditating, during spiritual meetings, out in the mountains, during marathon runs.

While it’s hard to explain the feeling of a presence, I’ll try. It can feel like a hum that is both inside and outside. A warmth. A sense of well being. Connectedness with – I don’t know – spirit, the divine, whatever you call the ethereal that seems more real than real. Connectedness with everything. Calm. The absence of anxiety. The absence of emotional pain. The absence of fear. Peace.

For many years I only experienced the presence in rare moments. Then, I reached the point when I could feel it pretty much whenever I meditated for more than five or ten minutes. My breathing would reach that place where it didn’t feel like breathing. My thoughts would grow quiet or go away altogether. And I would feel the presence.

For a very long time, I believed I was connecting to spirit (God, higher power, the angels, whatever). For a very long time, the feeling of the presence was proof to myself that the divine is here on earth, at hand, with us, available.

What I came to realize much, much later is that the presence was me. The real me. Not the little me walking around in the world bumping into stuff, hurting and getting hurt. The presence was who I was. Who I was was the presence. Going on and on and on and on.

That ended the intermittence. The presence elongated into everything. You are the presence, and I am the presence, and my dog is the presence, and this laptop is the presence. When I think that something is not the presence, my thoughts are mistaken. And on and on and on and on and on.

Is Faith Required for Peace?

What do you need to believe in order to experience peace? Does faith take you there? Many use faith to find peace. They experience peace through faith. Have faith in God, and God will take away your troubles and calm your mind.

For many faith becomes a blanket of divine substance and calming protection.

Yet faith in things unseen is not required for peace. Peace is at hand, in all of us at all times. In your true essence, you are peace. When you let go of the world, peace is what remains.

You do not need a belief system to find peace.

We can experience peace in meditation. In the breathing. In the exhale and the pause before the inhale. Peace becomes a presence.

For a long time, I thought that presence was something outside myself. Something I was reaching. Or something that was reaching me. Spirit. God. The divine consciousness.

No. The presence is not something outside yourself that comes to visit, then goes away.

You are the presence. The presence is your true existence. Your essence. Connected to everything.

We don’t have to struggle to connect. We are connected. We don’t have to work to find peace. We are peace. All that is required is awareness. Not religion. Not a set of beliefs. Not faith.

Over time, the connectedness becomes easy to experience outside of meditation. For it is you in your essence, as close as anything you can experience. Intimate. Essential. Here now. In every breath.

You cannot get this peace wrong, for it is you, and it is always with you. The peace is you. Your troubles are not real. Your thoughts are not real. And yet, you don’t need to let go of your troubles or your thoughts to experience your essential peace. For it is you, here, now, and it cannot be otherwise.

Peace of Mind Is Not Peace

Most people believe calming the mind is the path to peace. Per the quotation by Mahatma Gandhi in my last post: “There is no ‘way to peace,’ there is only peace.” And peace is not in the mind.

Peace is all around us. Peace is our natural state. The mind is naturally busy with all of its worldly worries, excitements, and plans. Deeper inside each one of us is true peace, the eternal peace that goes on regardless of the comings and goings of the world.

In time we can begin to see that peace really isn’t inside us. It’s all around us, everywhere. It only seems deep inside because at times it can be so hard to find. In the past, I have gone years with no awareness of the natural peace within and without.

We can work on calming the mind and not find peace. We can have a very busy mind and still experience peace. The mind has nothing to do with peace. It doesn’t matter if we feel good, bad, or indifferent. We are in peace at all times. If we just realize it.

This is what Jesus meant when he said “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” and “The kingdom of heaven is within you.”

That’s peace, and it is always with you. It has nothing to do with your mind. Many of those in spirituality work to calm the mind in order to feel peace more fully. For many, working with meditation and breathing helps.

But the mind doesn’t have to be calm in order for you to experience peace. Peace is simply not of the mind. Calming the mind does not necessarily bring peace, and a noisy mind does not necessarily disturb peace. The mind is temporary, while peace is eternal.

Kindness to Strangers

Last year, the writer George Saunders delivered the convocation at Syracuse University where he talked about the importance of kindness. Yet he believes kindness doesn’t come naturally:

“Each of us is born with a series of built-in confusions that are probably somehow Darwinian. These are: 1 – we’re central to the universe, 2 – we’re separate from the universe, and 3 – we’re permanent (we believe we won’t die). We can see these beliefs as we prioritize our own needs over the needs of others.

While pointing out that we know better than this intellectually, Saunders noted we still tend to live by these perceptions viscerally. I agree. You can watch these beliefs play out in our behavior. How we act is the “tell” that reveals our true level of understanding. Gandhi put it well:

Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.

In Saunders believes kindness is hard. As we struggle to put our spiritual beliefs into action, this becomes very clear. Kindness asks that we override the belief that we’re central, that the self is real, and that it must be protected. Getting out from under the domination of the self requires that we surrender to the good of the universe even as the universe offers no visceral evidence of good.

Most of us live in the delusion that the self is real and its interests must be paramount. This belief affects our behavior profoundly. It prevents us from taking care of each other except inasmuch as the care for another extends our own self forward – as in parenting or mentoring. We are not naturally inclined to show kindness to someone who isn’t an extension of our self.  For that kindness, we must overcome the delusion of self.

 

Is Spirituality Experienced or Learned?

Where do our spiritual beliefs come from – experience or study? The answer will likely evolve over time. As we have more spiritual experiences, our beliefs will naturally lean to the philosophy or religion that best reflects those experiences.

When we’re children, that doesn’t quite work. Children don’t often recognize spiritual experiences because they are so foreign to the beliefs they learn at home or at their family’s place of community worship. When I was a kid, I had a number of spiritual experiences that I didn’t recognize as spiritual. The experiences were alien to the Presbyterian church we attended. They were beyond everything I was taught.

Those childhood experiences seemed like a form of madness rather than spirituality. Many involved the natural world, though at the time, I didn’t realize the natural world was spiritual. I also had childhood experiences of being someone other than myself. That certainly didn’t seem spiritual. Looking back, it very much was.

As an adult, I’ve followed spiritual paths that felt warm and encouraging – Unity, Science of Mind, Self-Realization Fellowship. Those were positive learning centers that helped deepen my spiritual understanding.

In recent years, I have been drawn to Hinduism and Taoism, especially the teachings from The Upanishads and Lao Tzu. I am not attracted to these teachings just because they are beautiful – they are – but because they explain what I’ve been experiencing.

Spiritual experiences can be simple – life just showing us who we are. Or they can be a matter of noticing that the world appears quite different than it used to. The world I see now is more like the world I saw as young child – before I was taught that what I thought I was seeing was not there.