What Do We Want? And why is desire such a tricky guide?
Much of what we experience as desire is actually a yearning for connection, and the only connection that truly satisfies is spiritual connection. We desire something we already have: oneness.
As in the line from the country song goes, we’re looking for love in all the wrong places. We look outside ourselves for that which is inside. The connection we seek has always been inside, and it will always be inside.
Our passions and desires can go off the track so easily. Mine have. I’ve followed passion and desire off many cliffs – bad relationships, substance abuse, overeating. It’s not surprising that 12 step programs insist that the connection to a higher power is essential to overcoming the negative effects of desire gone haywire.
Passion is a powerful human force. Desire keeps us moving when all seems lost. Passion is the beating heart of creativity, the force that drives parents to sacrifice for their children. It is also the fuel that propels massively destructive human behavior, from a single brutality to horrifying wars across the globe. All passion.
The same passion quiets and nourishes when we realize we are not apart, we are not alone, and we are not threatened with annihilation. When that realization is true, the body is put to calm. We awake in peace, go through the day in wonder, and rest easily at night.
For the day is eternal and all our needs are met. We have no needs but connection, and we are always connected. We exist in connection because connection is all there is. There is nothing that is not connection. Our passion – once directed – brings us awake to this simple and eternal truth.
Did you have a childhood spiritual experience? Did you tell anyone? If you did, were you believed?
In the comments of this blog, a number of bloggers have described spiritual experiences they had as children. Most kept those experiences to themselves. One revealed her experience at church and was told it wasn’t real. Surprise, surprise.
I had a number of spiritual experiences as a child and never told anyone. For one, I didn’t think I would be able to describe the experience. To this day, I stumble over the telling. Secondly, I didn’t think anyone would want to hear about it.
When I was a child, spirituality was a narrow band of belief – basically Christian. Those around me believed the great spiritual experiences were in the past, many hundreds of years ago. If we were good, we would go to heaven and see Jesus and God. Other than that, there was no spirituality. It was only in retrospect that I even realized what I experienced was spiritual.
When my kids were young, I would quiz them about spirituality, trying to determine whether they were having spiritual experiences. Mostly, they said, “I don’t know, Dad. I don’t think so.” My autistic daughter said that God was with her. I asked her to explain, but she couldn’t go into detail. Finally she said she didn’t want to talk about it. She also said she had an imaginary friend.
As children, we are not less than adults. We simply have less experience in this world, at least by our recallable memory. But we are just as spiritual, just as one with spirit. We may be less articulate when we’re young, but we are not any less there, or any less capable of spiritual connection.
“We don’t need no stinkin’ belief system.” I’m riffing on the classic line from John Huston’s 1948 film, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, where a band of outlaws posed as Federales. When those being robbed asked to see badges, one of the outlaws replied, “Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.”
It’s a funny line, and it went on to become part of our cultural lexicon. And it’s true when it comes to spirituality – we don’t need a belief system.
When I experienced a spiritual coming to, I thought, “Gees, what do I believe?” I knew there was a presence about me, and I had started to learn how to increase the experience of that presence. It was changing my life remarkably. But what did that make me? A Buddhist? A Hindu? A New Ager?
I started combing books on spirituality to figure out what I believed. Since I was having all of these spiritual experiences, I must believe in something, right? Looking back, that seems a bit silly, but I truly did associate spirituality with belief or faith.
What I found in my search of world religions and spiritual practices is that the roots of most belief systems touched upon experiences similar to what I was going through. Yet once religions became well-established they tended to avoid or diminish these direct, raw spiritual experiences in favor of narrow doctrine. But when most religions were young, they tended to be a bit wild with radical awakenings.
I came away from my investigation with the sense that spiritual experiences or awakenings are quite different from belief systems, spiritual organizations, or religions.
That’s fine. While it’s a pleasure to spend time with people who are also experiencing spiritual breakthroughs – and I learn from every person I meet in spirituality – I don’t need to have no stinkin’ badge.
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.
So how do you find the presence within? The answer goes back a few thousand years: Be still and know that you are God. That’s the oneness. Much comes through the simple awareness that we are not separate, we are not apart, and we do not inherit pain, suffering, tension, or fear. They are part of the illusion. Our true life is in the reality of the presence. If we are in the Now, we’re in the presence. If we are still, we’re in the presence. If we truly realize we are not separate, then we are in the presence.
This shift in awareness can be prompted by a number of practices: meditation controlled deep breathing, yoga and other forms of stillness within.
Your meditation can be very simple. Sit in a place where you won’t be disturbed. Use silence or natural sounds. Natural sounds work better than music because any form of music comes with a point of view or intention from the composter or musician. Natural sounds are not encumbered by intention.
Try to quiet your thoughts. If your thinking goes on like a buzz saw, try repeating a set of words – some call this a mantra. The mantra works to block out thoughts prompted by worry, concern for the future, or simple to-do lists that rattle our brain when we’re trying to be quiet. You can simply say, “I am one with the presence; the presence is one with everything.”
Relax. Breath slowly and let your breath all the way out. Don’t over-burden your breathing. Let it become forgettable. In time, you may begin to feel a presence. It make take 10 minutes, it may take 30. You could meditate every day and not feel anything for a month. But in time, if you keep it up, you will feel something.
In the next blog we’ll look at how an awareness of the presence changes our experience of this life.
In the past two blogs, we looked at the nature of the presence within and explored the different ways people have experienced it. Let’s now look at ways to reach an awareness of the presence within.
I spent years wondering how to reach the presence inside. I believed it was real, even though I felt only a hint of it occasionally. The spirituality texts I read seemed intuitively true – the Upanishads, The Way of Life by Lao Tzu, The Bhagavad Gita, and many books by Alan Watts. Even mystical Christianity and the New Thought of Unity and Religious Science talked extensively about the presence of god or spirit within.
I believed it was real; I just couldn’t figure out how to experience it.
Interestingly, my first experiences in feeling the presence were through psychedelic drugs, including as LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, and DMT. That’s a rough way to feel the presence. For one, these drugs don’t always bring a sense of comfort or wellbeing. Some of these drug experiences can be frightening. Looking back, it seems odd to experience a mixture of the presence and outright terror. But indeed, that can happen.
Yet I am convinced the presence I felt on these drugs was real, even if the feeling of the presence came with a disquieting pinch of self destruction.
Drugs are drugs. They can blast the doors of perception open – as Aldus Huxley observed – but they leave behind a ragged legacy that’s often accompanied by painful anxiety. A couple friends of mine turned to heroin to relieve the uncomfortable after-edge of psychedelics. As you can imagine, that didn’t turn out well.
There are certainly healthier ways to bring about the awareness of the presence within consistently. In the next blog we’ll look at how you can reach the presence through meditation and breathing exercises.
There is a place within where there is no fear and no worry. There is a place that sooths the ragged edge of sorrow and takes away loneliness. A place where pain cannot enter.
Our lives are so easily filled with hand-wringing concerns as we dash from one problem to another, never fully solving the underlying anxiety. The worry and fear just moves from one difficulty to the next.
Some of us try to calm these fears and worries with prescription pills or alcohol. Or we try to extinguish the dark discomfort through escape into TV, into food. Some use sex and emotional attachment to find relief. The respite from the pain feels real, but the rough emotions return as the chemicals wear off or the escape comes to an end. The then darkness comes back stronger.
Some try to face these difficulties straight on, believing that problems are for solving, and to some extent they are. But how can you solve regrets, resentments, or the gnawing feeling that something is not right, that some trouble is about to encompass you?
We were not created to live in endless pain and fear. We are created to live in the realm of happiness, joy and freedom. Deep on our bones we know this. And yet the pain persists, leaving us with the bitter conclusion that happiness us not possible in this broken world. We may come to believe that we are what’s wrong and broken in the world.
From this sad place, it can be hard to let go and find the presence within, that place of wellbeing that is not an escape from life’s tangles but rather a returning to the acceptance and peace that is available to all of us. It is the essence of who we really are.
In the next blog, we’ll look at ways to reach the presence.