– Know Your Soft Spots –
Humanity has been going through a strange season of hatred and isolation. The divide is widening not just in the U.S. but across the globe.
But if we slow down and look, can’t we see that you and I really aren’t so different. Your skin may be a different color than mine. You may have Hindu or Catholic roots while I was raised in a Mormon culture. You may pee sitting down and I standing up. Your passport may say Peruvian and mine American.
But let’s not forget some basic facts here. We are each children of the Sun and Earth. We each want to be free from suffering, to be free from fear, hatred, and anxiety. We want to be safe, warm, and comforted. We all want a person and a place to call home. We want to be felt and seen, to share our tears and our laughter with someone. We want to love and be loved. We want justice and freedom — freedom to act on our own impulses and interests, freedom to seek truth, beauty, and goodness for ourselves. We want to know joy, to know peace directly.
The Human Condition
Has the world forgotten? You and I are human – the most sacred of blessings. Where is our reverence, our compassion, our awe for our fellow humans? When you get back in touch with your own humanity, when you really take a look at your Self, when you try humbly and honestly to understand your Self, how can you look at and treat your fellow human beings with anything less than the utmost admiration and respect?
I think much of the problem currently in the world has arisen because so many of us have not had the fortune to bring to Light our deepest nature. We live in a place and time where the conditions encourage us to build an entire universe around our ego, around our ‘self,’ around that little person we imagine to be up in our heads, directing our attention and will out at the world.
“He who seeks only himself brings himself to ruin, whereas he who brings himself to nothing for my sake discovers who he is.”
To heal the hatred and anger, the toxic and divisive political landscape, the fear and anxiety in the world, each of us must start at home. Each of us must take a good look at ourselves and try to understand what it means to be human. In the words of Thomas Keating, “If we have not experienced ourselves as unconditional love, we have more work to do, because that is who we really are.”
My intention in this article is to invite you to look through the window of your suffering into the ultimate ground of Being — that invisible and formless space which connects you and I to all things; that place of infinite creation, of no-birth and no-death; that boundless spring of goodness, of unconditional Love.
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
“The hidden well-spring of your soul must needs rise and run murmuring to the sea; And the treasure of your infinite depths would be revealed to your eyes. But let there be no scales to weigh your unknown treasure; And seek not the depths of your knowledge with staff or sounding line. For self is a sea boundless and measureless.”
The Human Condition
Despite its fluidity, despite the ever-changing nature of Awareness, there is so much each of us tries to grasp tightly to in a desperate attempt to establish some kind of permanency, some solidity — most of all, our own.
This, of course, is a part of what it means to be human. Like all animals, we need to survive. So, Life wove together the human ego with an impulse for safety and security, for affection and admiration, for power and control.
This, however, without reason and contemplation, moves us through the world based on the false assumption that the ego — our small sense of self which we believe to be our sole identity, separate and isolated from the rest of Existence—can find lasting peace and joy in a transitory and fleeting world, in the River of Awareness.
Our aims, then, are hopelessly unstable. Our entire moral framework is built on a shaky foundation. Where can we find lasting lasting security or safety? How long can you hold onto that compliment you felt flow through you? Do you feel in control? Can you control the weather, the seasons, other people? Can you control your own inner life — your thoughts, feelings and emotions, your interests and impulses, your desires and aversions? Do you have control over death, yours or a loved one’s?
All suffering is conditioned on the ego’s desperate resistance to the flow of Life, on it’s desire to establish its own permanency.
And depending on our upbringings, we may have built up a stronger grip or hardened the walls of the small self around one or more of these specific human vulnerabilities or impulses — security, affection, or control. And because we are habitual creatures, these vulnerabilities gain a kind of momentum — the energy builds — over time. And this conditioning happens almost entirely unconsciously — that is, when our awareness is lost in its contents.
For me, growing up with diabetes, epilepsy, terrible allergies, and a strict cultural arena has left me with an excessive vulnerability in all matters of control. When things slip out from under of my (illusory) control, I can be certain to find myself up in my head instead of my heart, cut off from Reality, anxious and afraid, and even angry at times.
The Cure – Mindfulness
To break down these prison walls, which divide and separate us from the rest of existence, and which continue to create a greater potential for suffering in our lives, it may be extremely useful to simply see them so that you may begin to understand them, so you may hold them with love and compassion.
One of the most tried and proved methods to cleanse the unconscious from its deeply conditioned neural patterns is one that can be found across the world’s wisdom traditions: the contemplative journey. When we sit in contemplation or silence, or when we surrender ourselves to god, or practice vipassana for extended periods of time, many of our deeply conditioned vulnerabilities, our strongest unconscious neural patterns, begin to expose themselves.
(Traditional ayahuasca ceremonies, though not as stable or reliable as building a formal practice, are an alternative or supplementary route to exposing and understanding these deep patterns.)
And often this is all it takes to begin your healing process — awareness takes care of itself. These conditioned vulnerabilities are patterns of energy in our subconscious that need to be seen and released. And where better to let them go than to the boundless open space of Awareness? Here, we can give them back to God, to the infinite and formless space of unconditional Love, so we can once again find peace within ourselves, so we can dissolve the borders between ourselves and the rest of existence, so we can once again be Whole.
Father Thomas Keating
“Contemplative prayer is a deepening of faith that moves beyond thoughts and concepts. One just listens to God, open and receptive to the divine presence in one’s inmost being as its source. One listens not with a view to hearing something, but with a view to becoming aware of the obstacles to one’s friendship with God.”
Try sitting for 10–30 minutes each day with the intention to befriend, to become one with, Love. Don’t expect to loosen the grip of your ego in one sitting, of course. Make it a practice. Build your concentration, your marvel and awe, your equanimity and peace by committing yourself to a formal practice.
“We have the choice of two identities: the external mask which seems to be real…and the hidden, inner person who seems to us to be nothing, but who can give himself eternally to the truth in whom he subsists.”
Sin, Forgiveness, & Repentance
The human spiritual journey isn’t to anywhere. It isn’t a job or a success story. It’s not the attainment of some peak experience or mind-state. It is a life of humility, a continued cycle of sin, forgiveness, and repentance.
By sin, I don’t mean the common understanding of sin I grew up with — that is, “Sorry bishop, I jerked off again.” And by forgiveness, I don’t mean by some bearded god. And, by repentance, I don’t mean some penance or process you must go through, like confessing your sins to your religious leader or giving three Hail Marys, to be forgiven by god.
No. By sin, I simply mean that process where we become fractured, when our Awareness gets lost in its contents. And by forgiveness, I mean recognizing that you cannot be reduced to the objects of Awareness, that there is no separation between you and the rest of Existence. It is the recognition that Love is without conditions. It is the space that allows you to repent — to come back to the Whole, to let go and begin again.
So, though you may find peace and love through contemplation, and though contemplation may help you to move and navigate more stably through peace and love, contemplation is not like a prescription of medicine which you take for two weeks and then stop. To sin, remember, is to be human. So, be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself. Don’t beat yourself up every time you lose Love.
Father Thomas Keating
“God has not promised to take away our trials, but to help us to change our attitudes toward them. That is what holiness really is. In this life, happiness is rooted in our basic attitude toward reality… Every human pleasure is meant to be a stepping-stone to knowing God better or to discovering some new aspect of God. Only when that stepping-stone becomes an end in itself – that is, when we overidentify with it – does it distort the divine intention. Everything in the universe is meant to be a reminder of God’s presence. God is existence. In everything that exists, God is present.”
Sin, Forgiveness, & Repentance
Remember, you and I are human — the most sacred of blessings. Look deeply into yourself, look past your shadow, the illusory self, until you find Life itself, fully awake, active, and aware that it is alive. Be that eternal spiritual wonder, that mystical awe whose gaze blankets the sacredness of existence. See and feel your own grace. Reflect always gratitude for life, for consciousness, for being. Understand vividly the invisible and infinitely abundant source of Creation. Understand your true Self.
And when you inevitably lose your Self to that superficial ‘I’, that’s okay. You are human. This ‘individuality’ is a necessary part of the Whole. It is a window through which we can see Love’s everlasting embrace. But it itself is only a mask, a disguise draped over the mysterious and unseen Self. So, when you realize you have been fooled by your shadow, forgive yourself and repent.
May you live with lasting peace.