Click here for part 1 and part 2.
Jumping in with two feet
So, I hope it’s clear how easy it is to get lost in the mind and to miss life in it’s entirety. But the question is how do you get out?
First, you’ve to see that you’re in it. If you cannot see you’ll just do more mind stuff (this is unfortunately what’s happening to a large extent in the name of “spirituality”).
Second, you have to want to get out. Your intention has to be on ‘out’.
Third, you’ve to work on it (I know, I know…). But, the good news is if you’re sincere about 1 and 2, 3 will take care of itself. It’ll pull you. It’s like you’re threading water in a well and somehow a rope appears. That rope is grace. That’s my experience anyway.
Now, the work is really fun because you’ve a goal you have created for yourself that you want to reach: ‘out’. You don’t yet know which way it is but you want to go. You’ll eventually see there are obstacles in your way blocking the light. The more obstacles you remove the more light enters. These obstacles are your preferences for how life should be. This is your advice for how life should conduct herself, “You know, if you really saw it from my perspective, you’d agree that I’m entitled to have xyz”. Have you noticed she doesn’t care? She is just moving forward. You can either be along for the ride and arrange your life in harmony with this, or be miserable. These are your two options.
There are a million ways to get past these obstacles. The most common one that people recommend is meditation. Have you noticed, though, that you cannot meditate? These damn thoughts and emotions are bothering you, they’re just popping up uninvited. You’re doing your mantra, AUM, AUM and then bam your ex-girlfriend pops up. More AUM and then your colleague is there arguing with you about the argument you had yesterday. Wait a minute, I thought you were meditating?!
The very reason you cannot meditate is because these thoughts and emotions are bothering you. These are experiences that were making their way through this vast universe, much like the wind blows through the forest, but they didn’t make their way past you. No, you’re pushing the wind back because you don’t want it to blow your way. It’s a full time job on top of the full time job you’ve already. You had issues with these experiences and now you’re holding onto them. The more you hold onto them the more they’ll bother you. Things you liked, things you didn’t like…it’s the same thing.
People in the spiritual scene are really big on “energy”, so am vary of using this word, but all of this essentially just energy that hasn’t made it past you. When these old memories or future anxieties bubble up inside of you can you feel that it creates a certain kind of sensation? If something is making you anxious your body tightens up, your abdomen get’s tight, your jaws clench, your palms sweat and so on. If it’s a pleasant experience you might feel some tingling around your heart or your spine. It really is just energy moving and there is a palpable sensation within you.
As long as these are doing their dance in you, you’ll not be meditating, you’ll be watching your mind. The idea is to get behind them. You’ve the power to get beyond them. You’re the one that’s holding on to them, you can willingly let them go. Existentially you’re sitting on your chair with eyes closed, that’s all that’s happening, but to this experience of sitting you’re adding the noise of your mind. You could very easily meditate if your mind wasn’t bothering you. But your mind is bothering you because you’re getting involved with it’s drama.
When you meditate you’re told to keep your focus, awareness, consciousness (all the same thing) on a mantra or a breath or a candle light or something that’s relatively unchanging. Why? There is nothing particularly special about a candle or the breath but the idea is to not watch your mind and let whatever is bubbling up there pass. Otherwise your consciousness gets distracted by what happened with your colleague yesterday. But is the event happening as you’re meditating? No, you’re sitting alone on the chair, your colleague is somewhere else yet you’re still arguing. Do you see that you’re adding to reality? In reality there is no argument yet in your mind, in your beautiful mind, there is. You are adding to truth. If you stopped doing that you’d be meditating. It’s that simple.
The work itself is simple.
Stop telling life how it should be, stop telling her how she should be in this very present moment. You’re denying truth. The next one you can change but this one you can’t. And your problem is with the experience of this very present moment, not the next one, anyway. You might be anxious about something in the future, but you’re still anxious in the present.
I keep referring back to this beautiful quote from Viktor Frankl because he has captured the essence so perfectly. “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
The space he is referring to IS surrender.
Between the event that creates a trigger in you and you going with that trigger there is a split second where something in you goes, “I shouldn’t do this”, but as soon as you’ve had this thought you’re going with the trigger. The more you can increase this space the more free you are to choose your response. The more conscious your response the more in harmony your actions are with life.
How do you increase this space?
Meditation helps, yoga helps, pranayama helps, journalling helps, martial arts etcetera help. Any work you’re doing consciously whereby you’re dismantling your boundaries will help you live in truth and not in reaction.
When you encounter a situation, which creates discomfort within, you don’t give into the discomfort but go beyond it. You move you awareness off the discomfort, it’ll pass by itself, and onto your next step to craft your response. It won’t be easy at first but just breathe and stay present.
Let’s say you’re in a bakery and someone takes the last piece of hazelnut croissant you had your eyes on. Just watch your mind, “Hey, that’s my croissant. That’s unfair. How dare she take it.” But you relax in the face of this discomfort, let someone else take “your” croissant and you pick something else. Next time maybe you go earlier to the bakery or pre-order one. Start with the small stuff, don’t try to process your past wounds, you’ll end up in tatters.
Now, you’ll not be able to stay present moment to moment on a daily basis at first. It’s hard. I know, I’ve been trying (failing) for a long time. We’ve so many ingrained patterns that it takes time to work them out. But the more you do it, especially with the easier stuff like the croissant, the easier it’ll become.
The more you pay attention the more you’ll see that the outside world stimulates your inner experience and normally it’s not pleasant. For most people whatever happens on the outside is how they feel inside. I’m not talking about difficult life events like a sudden death of a loved one or a divorce. You’re not asked to fake your happiness. But feel what is happening, don’t try to push it away, don’t try to rationalise it, just feel what is happening. Just be with it. Don’t react, just watch it.
The inner discomfort is not happening because life is punishing you, life is trying to liberate you from your bondage. Whatever is the discomfort it will pass. Nothing lasts forever. In the wake of that passing lies your liberation, freedom and peace.
All of those energies that you used to keep and hold down are now free to move up. You’ll all of a sudden feel lighter inside, more joyful and loving. Eventually you’ll get to a place where the things that used to bother you don’t do so anymore. You’ll reach inner peace. Sounds nice, no?
People make a big deal about inner peace. It is a beautiful state but inner peace is not the goal. Far from it. It is just a marker that you’ve done some of the heavy lifting and your mind is not bothering you so much. There are many more higher states to go, infinitely higher, but don’t worry about these. If you do your work sincerely it’ll happen to you over time.
In a follow up piece we’ll look at what’s on the “other side”.