The heart and body know the way when the intellect flounders.
After years of intellectual seeking for a ‘breakthrough’ perspective, I came across Matt Kahn. Matt describes dimensions of personal experience I have no access to, can hardly imagine and have little interest in. He is the most ‘out there’ of anyone I’ve read, and I relate to his life less than to other teachers’. Yet… his simple message of loving whatever arises and his emphasis on the body as a gateway to truth have helped free me from a head-bound rut. He might do the same for you.
Matt’s approach strikes me as fundamentally psychological — based in the western therapeutic model as much as eastern wisdom traditions. Everyone has an innocent child within that had to contort and limit itself in search of love and security in an overwhelming world. We each also have many shards of self that our child hid along the way. Seeking attention, these arise in our own anxiety and acting out, or through our interpretation of external events and the actions of others.
In his programme of radical acceptance, Matt encourages us to welcome all of these — however painful, embarrassing or annoying they are — with the gift of our unjudging attention and the words, “I love you.” We should be as gentle with every aspect of ourselves as we would be with a frightened five-year-old child.
As “I love you” becomes one of the most popular phrases you either say to yourself or send as a blessing to others, your subconscious mind is rewritten to recognize love as a familiar experience. (351)*
Saying these words for yourself to hear is just one part of the self-love involved. Matt also advises to slow the breath and attend to the bodily sensations that accompany the uncomfortable thoughts you need to befriend and re-integrate. As you embed this practice, you show yourself that these thoughts and sensations are workable; they needn’t give rise to secondary agitation. With this growing realisation, your nervous system begins to relax.
No matter how many years you have spent immersed in spiritual discourse, the living realization of truth cannot be fully revealed until the nervous system is relaxed. (1,075)
This relaxation is your body demonstrating your release of rigid, outdated strategies for dealing with present events that aggravate childhood trauma. Both your mind and your body become more flexible, more attuned to current reality. You respond maturely to a broadening range of circumstances rather than reacting with unconscious childishness.
Above and beyond any degree of understanding, the greatest demonstration of your true divine nature is a body that feels safe enough to participate in life with openness and enthusiasm. (1,307)
This opens the door to the surrender we hear so much of in spiritual discourse. But here, at least for me, it feels more accessible and concrete, with the body as the connection to life’s unitary flow. It is to the body and life’s flow that we ‘surrender’. This is just the dissipation of a rigid self-image and the calming of an overstimulated nervous system that, in its agitated state, has assumed an imaginary identity.
When you allow your body to determine the most relaxed, loving, or exciting choices to make, you no longer have to feel the pressure of wondering what’s going to happen or overthink what you should do. (985)
Matt reminds us: although this path uses various special terms and may include numerous ‘a-ha’ moments, no concept or discovery is sacrosanct. As with science, progress involves releasing details of our earlier frameworks for more elegant ones that integrate all that has come before. Each awakening leaves a subtler, less bulky conceptual infrastructure as intellectual knowledge gives way to experiential understanding.
The recurring theme In a spiritual journey is awakening out of every conclusion, belief, and reference point, including those created out of your most-treasured moments of clarity. (1,400)
As your personal self and your mental world-view become less substantial, you see “your job” in life is not to acquire, achieve, solve or even cope. You are here to experience with ease whatever arises, and all things in your world, especially life’s most troubling ingredients, exist solely for your awareness.
Have you seen how quickly and effortlessly everything falls into place when you accept that everything is here to be blessed by the grace of your attention? (1,939)
But your recognition of your true, great Self doesn’t end your role as a person with an expanse of positive and negative life experiences. Instead, it makes you more able to engage with the whole range more intimately.
Even after you realize that you are the entire universe playing in physical form, with others doing the same, the play still continues. We’re not here to end the play but to transform it into higher vibrations of consciousness. (1,715)
One of the roles pain and other negative experiences play is to remind us of the limits of our control. It acts as an alarm, triggered by our clinging to something (a view, a demand) at odds with reality. Reality is always true. Honesty is about tracking with truth. Pain shows us when we are not.
As a catalyst of divine will, part of pain’s role is to make you more honest with yourself about the things you can’t control. (2,323)
This brings us back to loving all that arises, particularly to loving the discomfort that spotlights where we are not letting go. Discomfort is a guide, pointing us toward the next thing we need to work on. And we ‘work on’ it by accepting and loving it. Doing so adds one small chunk of territory to the domain of our mature living.
When pain and confusion can be viewed as allies instead of enemies, you are able to feel safe in your body under any circumstance. (2,404)
But we don’t befriend pain to make it go away. Matt doesn’t promise a threshold beyond which we will be free of pain and other negative experiences. These are integral aspects of life. Once we master the art of loving all that arises, we then practice that art for the rest of our lives. There is no winner’s lounge in which we put our feet up and celebrate spiritual victory without disturbance.
…your most profound insight. This insight is an acceptance that there is no way out of pain or judgment. As you relax into this healing mantra, you might be surprised to see how quickly your war against life comes to an end. (2,567)
In preparing this article, I had to winnow an initial list of more than thirty powerful quotes to this set of ten. If this taster resonates with you as Matt’s words have with me, I recommend you read his book, Whatever Arises, Love That.
* All citations are Kindle locations in Matt Kahn’s Whatever Arises, Love That.
Walnut and brass protect this homely space
From streets beyond, those others and events,
But the stranger still presents unwelcome face,
Reminding me of wages yet unspent.
Oak and glass afford a garden view
Where this child played ‘neath parent’s shaping eye,
And learned love’s debt to right behaviour’s cue.
Make them proud, with no disturbing cry.
Pine panels seal the stairs that lead below,
Where lessons frozen long still filter light.
Unlived, neglected feelings stealthy go,
Here to help but conjuring a fright.
These shadows drape o’er portals, asking me
To grant attention’s love and set them free.
Can I support how they feel, not force how I want them to feel?
These are difficult times for families and friends spread across households, especially if older loved ones are on their own. Relationships stumble into uncharted territory, with shared drinks, coffees and hugs on hold. When you and I most need one another, we must stay apart. Although I know why, that doesn’t make it any easier. Humans didn’t evolve to handle this extreme isolation.
I have to be careful to keep my stress and anxiety from making things worse for the remote loved ones I most want to help through this. I may be reaching out to a relative to help them. They are depressed, afraid or lonely, so I want to cheer them up, to fix them. But beneath the surface, my contacting them could be about dealing with the discomfort their vulnerability triggers in me.
Am I supporting or demanding?
It’s not bad that another’s plight makes me uncomfortable. This is a natural and admirable empathetic reaction. And I am not weak because I seek to reduce my own unease by lifting their spirits. This too is understandable. But I need to be aware of what’s going on inside me to avoid crossing the line that separates supporting my loved ones from demanding that they feel well.
When I share a coffee with a friend who is angry, sad or fearful, I want her to be happy. We’ve known one another for a long time, and I care for her and her well-being. I’d like her mood to improve, for her sake. As we speak, I’ll look for a way to cheer her up or calm her down.
All the while, and independent of my altruism, as I sit with my friend’s emotional disturbance, I pick up her feelings. It’s not so much that I absorb them and feel those same things myself, but I do experience an agitation or discomfort. A sense of unease creeps into what might otherwise be a buoyant mood. I’d rather not be agitated. Like you, I prefer comfort to pain and relaxation to trouble. So I have an urge to act, to do what I can to alter my circumstances, to control any variable — including my friend’s mental state — that might improve my experience.
Both this unconscious selfish impulse and my altruistic one urge me to find a way to change my friend’s state of mind. I offer her different, more positive interpretations of her reality. When that doesn’t lift her spirits, I point out silver linings to tough truths. If necessary, I go on to tell a funny story to lighten the atmosphere.
If, after all this, my friend doesn’t cheer up and relax, my altruistic drive may begin to tire. Why is she wrapped so tightly? Does she have to be such a downer? My own discomfort from being near her imbalanced state erodes my compassion. Even if I keep a smile and an understanding look on my face, I drift toward desperation. I must improve this situation! Otherwise, one of two things will happen: I’ll need to escape or I’ll (unconsciously) create a drama that overrides my friend’s and distracts me from my vicarious unease.
Somehow, I’ve ended up failing to support my friend, instead demanding that she change her mood to one I find more acceptable, one that doesn’t unsettle me.
Picture this scenario played out not in person over coffee but in the even more strained circumstances of a video call between two self-isolating households. Add a potentially deadly disease prowling the streets and unprecedented economic uncertainty looming over everyone. Imagine that on my screen is not my friend but my aunt— getting on in age, at particular risk and struggling to make the video technology work. Perhaps I’ve already spent the day trying to complete an overdue report while juggling the home-schooling of my children.
That’s a lot of potential angst! Can I keep the selfish urge for comfort at bay while helping my loved one? Is this possible without breaking myself?
Let’s feel what we need to feel
It’s a tough ask. I have a habituated drive to fix the unattractive feelings of those around me so that I can be untroubled in their presence — even if that presence is remote on a phone or video call. The first step toward being more helpful for my aunt is to recognise that this drive exists in me, to notice it, to feel it.
The second step is to consider my aunt’s true needs. Unless she is in acute overwhelm — overloaded with intense negative experience — she doesn’t need distraction or redirection from her current mood.
We each fluctuate through a wide range of feelings daily and through our lives. When my aunt faces less pleasant parts of these cycles, the most important thing is for her to be with that experience. If she participates fully in the low periods, they will pass as all things do. If she fights them, pushes them away or buries them, the rejected feelings stick and find sneaky ways to leak into other aspects of her life. Society puts tremendous pressure on her to avoid and deny these low periods, suggesting she has a duty to be up, perky and with-it like everyone else seems to be. This is a sham and a great disservice; it applies to both my aunt and myself.
In these strange weeks of isolation and insecurity, I have a choice when reaching out to her and to other loved ones. Will I reinforce the societal pressure for them to hide negative feelings and deny painful experience, contributing to the neuroses that this creates? Or will our discussions be the space in which they can feel what they have to feel, be what they really are, in that moment?
The greatest gift I can give my loved ones is to choose the second option. But this is not be easy because I’m still learning to handle (stay with and participate in) the full range of my own feelings. I am getting better at this, but it takes consistent practice. Through the learning and even as an adept practitioner, I will experience pain and discomfort, but I’m coming to realise that I can bear and work with these sensations. A selfless task I can take on is to bear them for the duration of a call supporting someone who is struggling. I can live for those minutes with my discomfort, not demanding that the person get better, not insisting that their feelings be other than they are.
After doing this, I may need support myself. I know who I can reach out to, someone who stays with me without judgement as I speak and feel what is real for me in that moment. In this way, we can support one another. When I am more ‘up’ than you, I provide the space for you to participate, with no filter, in your ‘low’. When you are up relative to my low, you do the same for me.
As I connect in these extraordinary times, to be most helpful, I resist trying to lift my loved ones. Instead, I love and accept them as they are, providing the safety in which they can ignore the societal pressure to always be okay. This is a rare gift in our age and an invaluable one when many are fully facing their own vulnerability for the first time.
It's okay to not be okay.
Photo via Pikrepo
Will this novel coronavirus reach you? Will you contract its disease, COVID-19? Might your parents? Other loved ones? If so, who will survive? Who won’t? Will you be able to pay your rent or mortgage in the coming months? When things return to ‘normal’ again, will you have a job? What will that new normal look like?
The enormity of these questions and the obvious strain they place on us can have a liberating silver lining.
No one is secure
We are swamped by more uncertainty today than we’ve ever encountered. Isolated and half-informed, we face a deep insecurity that was unimaginable only weeks ago.
The threats and risks before us remain unevenly distributed. This disease is particularly harsh toward the older and less well among us. Our sudden economic contraction hits some sectors harder than others. Those individuals and families who’ve only just been scraping by are most likely to fall behind as resources run short.
Still, in a sense we’ve not felt before, this crisis threatens everyone. With a virus this nimble and an economic shock this comprehensive, neither fame nor family name guarantees immunity. COVID-19 respects no border, favours no religion, exempts no employment status, makes no credit checks. Nobody knows what next week or next autumn holds for them. You do not have personal security, but you are not alone. No one is secure.
No one has ever been secure
It’s true; the world is different than it was at the end of 2019. In their details, our lives have shifted immensely in just a few months.
But drawing back, we see that our reality, writ large, is much as it has ever been. Any sunrise might be the last for us or our loved ones. The comforts we’ve counted on can slip away or be taken from us at any point.
In any one of those thousands of showers we’ve taken, we might have slipped and cracked our skull. We’ve driven countless miles and could have crashed spectacularly through no fault of our own (or through a single silly mistake on our part). Among our many stormy nights, a lightning strike could have found us. Triggered by who knows what, a mutation in our cells could have set off a cancerous cascade. Our employers could have gone under despite our best efforts at work, casting us into the ranks of the unemployed. Flood could have taken our homes. Our investments might have gone sour, evaporating our retirement dreams. In fact, most of these things have befallen people we’ve known.
Even the prospect of global destruction is not new to us. We lived for decades with the threat (still very real) of nuclear war consuming our civilisation. NASA and others have long scanned the skies for asteroids that could do to humanity what we suspect one did to the dinosaurs.
You see, we’ve never had security. None of us. No matter how much we want some things to stay the same, everything changes. No pleasure we enjoy is guaranteed to continue. We can beaver away to create small niches that seem secure and within a certain range of conditions might make us more secure than others. But whether we call it Life, the universe, reality or God’s will, there is a whole of which we are a part. As a part, we can’t bend the whole to our will. Neither can our intelligence wrestle the unfathomable complexities of nature to certainty. We can’t chart an untroubled life, let alone deliver on the plan.
You have never been secure. No one has ever been secure.
Now, you can drop the mask of security, the pretence of certainty
This coronavirus is not a gift, but there may be silver linings. One is that the health and economic threats posed by the virus are so in-your-face that there is no way to pretend, even to yourself, that things are fine.
We spend so much of our lives in this charade of okay-ness, but we don’t realise the enormous energy we waste on it. It’s a self-perpetuating force in our society. Why?
We see our friends and colleagues projecting an image of strength, solidity and well-being. Yet we have an underlying sense of doubt, anxiety and malaise. “I must be messed up,” we tell ourselves, “The one misfit who feels this way.” This thought that everyone else is okay while we are not magnifies our unease. We put on an act to hide our vulnerability and look as with-it as others appear. We reach a point where we can’t even admit many of our weaknesses and insecurities to ourselves, so we expand the make-believe to deceive not just those around us but also ourselves.
But very rarely, something truly awful and overwhelming on a global scale emerges. This novel coronavirus is one of those events; the last of this magnitude was the Second World War. In the face of such cataclysmic threat, few of us can keep our mask in place.
Here is the silver lining. We see the mask slip on others. What has always been true becomes obvious: no one is secure. As we recognise that, we realise we are not solitary screw-ups in a world of comfortable and self-assured people. We are just like everyone else. As the masks around us start to falter, we might invest less in our own. We may begin to re-capture and divert the energy we’ve spent maintaining our projected image. Where might we apply it, as we admit insecurity and uncertainty, as we face our own vulnerability?
We might direct this energy toward dealing with our situation and helping those around us. We can tend to our own mental health. Recognising the importance of connection, we might reach out to those we love and to people most at risk. We can share our vulnerability and in doing so invite them to do the same. This invitation helps them free the same energy we’ve rediscovered, energy crucial to their surviving this crisis and thriving after it.
The charade of security we’ve played throughout our lives is, in a way, the pretence that we can hold the perpetual change of reality at bay, that we can secure ourselves against it. Of course we can’t. When we realise that it’s okay to be insecure, that we are not weirdos for feeling not-okay, we can stop the deception. No longer putting on our act, we can instead face and deal with this frightening and ever-changing reality. Then we’re able to help others do the same, simply by sharing our vulnerability, letting our mask fall.
It’s okay to not be okay. Take this chance to stop pretending. Instead, connect, share and cope.
In fact, you are not broken.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
So much about us seems beyond our control. On one hand, we inherited our parents’ DNA. Our genes play a huge role in how intelligent, sporty, musical, sociable and healthy we are. They are our raw material.
On the other hand, as innocent, immature little children, we were shaped by the way our parents and others treated us. What did they encourage? What did they forbid? How present were they? How consistent were their moods? Did they protect or harm us?
Much of my reading tells me I long ago settled into who I am. My character was largely decided by the time I was seven years old. But what if I feel broken? If I’m not coping with things, if the world and I just don’t get along? Am I stuck in the rut that was dug for me by my parents and other childhood caregivers? Am I fixable? Are you?
I think the answer to this has three parts: 1) a tough truth, 2) a reason for working on ourselves and 3) the prospect of a liberating perspective.
A tough truth
You will not eliminate pain from your life.
The situations that create disturbing — sometimes overwhelming — feelings in you will likely affect you throughout life. If you do manage to avoid circumstances that act as triggers, new troubles and disturbances will replace them to launch the same feelings.
Uncertainty, insecurity, failure, anger, loneliness and sadness populate every life. These negative aspects come and go, but we can’t wash them from our experience in favour of more enjoyable ones.
So, when you examine yourself and yearn for positive change, best not to aim for the unreachable. Although it might strike you as negative, I suggest you look at yourself in the mirror and face some tough truths:
You might say, ‘Of course that strikes me as negative, because it is! It is dreadfully pessimistic and negative.’ I can only reply that whatever label we apply to these dark aspects of life, I’ve met no one who has managed to escape them.
So, if we consider ourselves broken because certain negative emotions keep finding us, then broken we shall remain. If fixing ourselves requires stripping these elements from our experience, then we are not fixable.
Why we should work on ourselves
But maybe our inability to escape these feelings doesn’t mean we’re broken. What if these feelings don’t need fixing? That would be nice, since they don’t seem to be fixable, anyway. Perhaps what needs fixing is only our strategies for avoiding their discomfort.
Most of us react to our most intense feelings in ways we learned as children and formed into habits over time. Although we now have access to much more skilful means of responding when these experiences arise, our autopilot kicks in, replaying immature reactions as if we’ve travelled to our preschool years. I see it in those closest to me and (after the fact) in myself. Articulate, reasonable adults resort to wilful misunderstanding, name calling, denying the obvious, believing the ridiculous and sulking in a mood, all because the intensity of an emerging sensation presses ‘Play’ on their pre-recorded childhood avoidance programme to protect their vulnerability.
The habits we unthinkingly act out when we find negative feelings too intense tend to involve creating a drama. We orchestrate it — in our head or in our behaviour toward those around us — to distract ourselves from the intensity that we fear will overwhelm us. Someone’s actions are inexcusable. An urgent problem needs fixing. Some condition in our life is unacceptable. Our self-created dramas can distract us from what we are afraid to experience. Unfortunately, these dramas put the very thing we are desperate to avoid at the centre of our lives. Our dramas organise our world around what we refuse to feel directly.
As an example, I might be susceptible to strong feelings of pending abandonment. These are likely rooted in my distant past, but a wide range of circumstances can trigger them in my sixth decade of life. Although current triggers may be minor events, my reaction is often grossly disproportionate, because it stems from the sense of existential threat that accompanied my early experiences of abandonment. My drama — all that is available to my conscious mind — may be about my partner returning home late, criticising something I’ve said or forgetting something she promised to do. I get wrapped up in commentary about this and likely have a fight with her, all in an unconscious effort to avoid a powerful emotion that I’m experiencing anyway.
Fleeing the intense sensation, I throw a drama over it, but it doesn’t go away. I still experience discomfort while creating more problems and suffering for myself and others. So I make more rules for my partner or for myself, looking to change her behaviour or immunise myself against the triggers that elicit my feelings of abandonment. I’m now organising my life around my denial, to no one’s benefit. And worst of all, I’m not escaping the discomfort!
The childish avoidance strategy, correct as it may have been when I was young, doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked for decades. My intense feelings of abandonment are anchored in the past, and I can do nothing to escape them. My modern behaviours are also replays of old strategies, but might they be more addressable than the feeling itself? Is there something here I can work with?
One thing I might do is build a better understanding of my triggers. What circumstances should I seek to avoid? How could I ask my partner to change? There may be small, short-term gains from this effort, but it involves organising my relationship and life around a fear of abandonment. This can’t be the whole picture.
Another avenue might be to investigate my history. Where are the roots to this sense of abandonment? I can visit memories to see what gave rise to this intense sense of vulnerability in the first place and why it has the force of existential threat.
Any understanding I gain from this backward looking does not keep the feeling from arising; I can’t do that. The forces behind this emotion are much greater than any I can summon based on my human intellect and personal will. But I may begin to see it differently, recognising that my current intense feelings flow not so much from immediate triggers as from deep connections to far distant events.
What if the best work I can do is to show myself that this feeling of abandonment doesn’t require an avoidance strategy — or any other strategy — at all? I have a childhood-based association between this intense sensation and serious threat. That association drove the initial formulation of my juvenile strategy. Even if the association was valid when I was four years old, is it still? An actual threat would certainly warrant a strategy to address it, but does this feeling, experienced today, constitute or accompany a genuine threat?
I can investigate this myself, as long as I am willing to bear the intense discomfort of the sense of pending abandonment when it arises. To bear it, to stay with it, I make a choice not to launch into my childhood avoidance strategy and the dramas it produces. This is not the easy option. It is much easier to keep re-enacting the dramas but far more skilful and effective to refrain.
How do I do this? Hopefully, my investigation into my past and into the nature of my abandonment feelings creates space for just the sort of choice I need. It takes the briefest instant as a gap between trigger and reaction. Next, I need courage. As a child, I put a strategy in place to avoid pain. My work now will involve experiencing that pain.
The other crucial element is to attend as fully as possible to this feeling at the level of its immediate body sensation, not becoming seduced by the mental narrative that accompanies it. Both are legitimate aspects of my experience, but the sensation is much simpler and easier to work with. Some of the sensations I might find are a tightness in the throat, a seizing in the gut or a clenching in the chest. Examples of the things not to fixate on are the labels I might apply to those sensations or the stories I might tell myself about why they are there or what they mean. I notice the strong sensations and stay with them, seeking to do nothing to them.
At first, I may be able to endure the intensity for only a few seconds. But over scores, hundreds, maybe even thousands of experiments, I prove to myself that the sensation never kills me. I always outlast it. Each time, it arises, swells, recedes and departs. Its duration varies, but it always — always — passes. The feeling, despite its strength, bears no existential threat. I have learned through my direct experience that I don’t need to manage this emotional state. It ‘manages’ itself through a short lifetime and then leaves of its own accord. My many years of avoidance and neurotic organisation have been redundant. The energy I have spent on maintaining my dramas and struggling with the ‘problem’ of this feeling is now available to me.
So, I discover that it is worth working on myself — not because I can eliminate or reduce this intensity, but because I can integrate it with the rest of my life without harm. Fewer dramas to clean up after. More energy for my life’s pursuits.
Relating to brokenness and insecurity
Life is a complex process, and humans are a complex form of life. Your childhood self had multiple vulnerabilities. So do you. The work we’ve been examining can apply to each of the strategies you’ve operated through to protect those vulnerabilities, to avoid the intense feelings that seem unbearable.
You might think of each of these strategies and the secondary sets of behaviours that have accumulated around them as fortresses, erected by a vulnerable child when doing so made sense in a world that threatened to overwhelm them. With courage and self-kindness, you can demonstrate through direct experience of your bodily sensations that each of these fortresses is now unnecessary and even harmful. Each time you stay with an intense experience instead of launching into drama, you remove a block from that fortress.
In fact, the more you integrate this approach into your life, the more you begin to realise that you don’t need to knock these blocks away. Life will do that. Reality will do that. Only the immense effort you’ve put into years of maintaining the walls have kept the fortresses standing. Without your active role, they will dissolve as life’s waves wash against their bases. Your model of reality may undergo a subtle but powerful shift as you see that your most intense moments of discomfort are the very ones in which life is trying to help you escape outdated, frozen strategies and live based in current truth.
Your battle hasn’t only been against strong, uncomfortable feelings. It has actually been against reality, a reality that contains both positive and negative, both pleasure and pain. That fight has taken the form of dramas that have cost you tremendous energy and effort.
You can now settle into a life of ease rather than struggle. That life contains pain, anger and uncertainty, yet you see that these are bearable. You may even come to love them, although you do not enjoy them. Participating in them opens you to a level of vitality and vibrance unreachable in your dramatic struggle. You let go of your childish desire for your experience to be only happy, confident, peaceful and secure. You open yourself to all of life, stepping into the truth of your vulnerability, the truth that there is no certainty, no security.
What is life like with this openness? Your work does not stop; it is the work of a lifetime. You engage with your immediate embodied experience with kindness toward everything that arises. You participate fully and equally in the good and the bad, the attractive and the repulsive.
The elements you used to take as yourself now appear instead as aspects of your experience. Thoughts, feelings, preferences, judgements, decisions, intentions and memories all arise and pass, ever changing. Perhaps as the particulars of experience change with each instant, you notice that the only continuity is the awareness of them. This awareness makes a moment ‘Now’. You find no other ground for your own being than that very awareness, the process of experiencing. This is the ground for everything.
With this shift, all struggle eases. You are not trying to make something of life. Life has no problem for you to fix. You are not outside of it, not separate, not isolated. You see that you are and have always been undivided, whole and free. Your vulnerability becomes the source of your confidence.
No, we cannot discard our most sensitive vulnerabilities and their intense feelings. They are messages from life, reminders of the full range of our aliveness. Vulnerability and full-spectrum vitality are two sides of the same coin. We can use careful, kind engagement with our immediate body sensations as the gateway from our struggle to recognising our freedom, life’s ease. The discomfort we fear and flee is the path to what we seek and truly already are.
We need love. Our quest for it shapes our lives. Psychotherapy tells us that much of our unexamined behaviour comes from unconscious strategies we formed to secure love as young children. We want to be loved without conditions, for who we are. If we had love, even with little else, we would be happy.
The feeling I enjoy when I receive love from another is a blissful one. It radiates safety, validation and understanding. These components sum to what strikes me as happiness. But the buzz of this received love is erratic, even in a stable, loving relationship. Feelings of pain, misunderstanding, rejection and betrayal interrupt it. I can’t guarantee others will give me the love I need.
The soap operas package this troubling truth and serve it back to us. The search for unconditional love is rich in drama. Sometimes the villain wears the face of another, one who sometimes but not always gives us what we need. How could they be so unreliable? We cast ourselves as the baddie in other scenes, undeserving of the very love we crave.
Might there be another take on this, a way out of this neediness, this dependence?
Consider the moments when you receive the love of another. What if it is not the love of the other that you feel? Could it be that in those moments of being loved, you stop asking reality to be different; you accept what life, in the guise of this loving person before you, sends your way? Perhaps in those magic scenes, bathed in the light of the love you’ve craved, you stop fighting life; you stop withholding your unconditional acceptance. In other words, in those instants, you love.
What if that amazing cocktail of positive feelings that we wrap up and call happiness is what arises when we love, when love flows from us? Consider the possibility that happiness is what loving – giving love – feels like. Well, that puts real power in our hands (or rather, in our hearts)! When we are loved, we give love in return, and this brings happiness. But are we confined to loving only in response to being loved by another? No! We can love when others do not grant us the love we crave. If so, would this act of unilateral love yield happiness too? Seems worth a try.
Taking this further, can we love only other people? Is it only in another person that we can recognise this deep connection, this reflection of something that resonates in us? Can only another person receive the blessing of our attention and the unconditional acceptance of exactly what they are, right now? This recognition of ourselves in the other can happen not only with lovers, family and friends, not only with strangers and even enemies. This love can arise with animals, plants, with any event that life brings. In fact, love doesn't ever arise, because it is always there, even when overlooked - ignored - by us. Love, this resonance, this recognition of oneness, is the human experience of wholeness and unity. It is always there and always available.
So none of us needs the love of another. The love we need is ours to give. We can grant it to all of life, and life includes (in fact life is) ourselves. The love each person needs can only come from one place - within. The same unreserved acceptance and embrace we can bestow on all external experience is available to grant to our own thoughts and feelings. Our love can welcome even the feelings outlawed in those childhood strategies that we adopted to win the love of others from when we first experienced the sense of separateness.
This is the human journey. The Fall is the innocent child’s passage from the undifferentiated immediate experience of being to the sense of separation from life's flow. It is not a sin nor a fuck up. It is humanity. The child's self-division ensues as she looks for the love she needs outside herself and casts into darkness any bits of herself that lead others to deny her. Every human story is unique, but all are at heart the search for love and the re-integration of our disowned selves. The climax is the chance to recognise the truth so close as to be invisible - that the love we seek is within us and is the key to re-integrating what the Fall and our immature response to it severed.
What Vedantins call Ananda, what to Buddhists is Nirvana, what Christians see as Heaven is always within reach. In fact, we needn’t reach it, because we hold it already, although we prioritise security and comfort over it, too often keeping it locked away. We get glimpses of it when we love another, when we bless a moment with unconditional acceptance, when we recognise our essence in another. These moments of happiness are fleeting sights of the peace and ease that rest within us. The more we truly love, the more frequent and lengthy our views of its radiance.
Your phone rings. You answer and hear your friend's voice. Without evening seeing the contact info, you know who it is. The sound of her words is instantly and unquestionably recognisable. Your partner asks from the kitchen who it is, and you reply. You know your partner's voice as well as your own, you tell yourself.
Let's pause right there. 'You tell yourself.' How do you tell yourself? Oh, yes. It's the voice in your head saying, 'I am as familiar with my partner's voice as well as I am with my own.' Just as you know your partner's voice, you recognise this internal one to be your own. In fact, if you are like most of us, you take this voice to be you.
Without stopping to consider it, we accept the inner voice as ourselves. Maybe we should stop and consider this. This is the voice that so often says things much less helpful than the example above:
If you had an actual person following you around all day pouring that negative stream into your ears, you would tell them to get lost! And if they didn't leave, you'd ignore them. But because we take the inner voice to be ourselves, we put up with it. We literally identify with it.
If you observe this voice carefully for any length of time, you'll realise that you have no more control over its utterances than you do over your friend's, your partner's or your mother's! These statements in your mind simply arise. You don't ask for them. Okay, you can sometimes wrestle them to your will for short periods, but before long, the voice takes off on its own again.
This voice is no more you than are the perceptions reaching you from the outside world. The inner voice is a stream of thoughts arising just as the sounds of others' voices, the smell of coffee or the sight of a traffic light turning red arises to your senses.
None of this is suggests that the thoughts are not real. You experience them. But they are not what you normally take them to be. You don't have to chase them away or keep them from arising in the first place. But you might want to treat them like you would a persistent, annoying person spouting often contradictory opinions.
Don't assume what this inner voice says is true. Don't believe the thoughts have any reliable tracking with the rest of the world or that they in any way compel or bind you.
You can't stop the inner voice from chattering, but you can recognise your freedom from it.