Saturday, 30 June 2012

On Fully Feeling What We're Not

We believe that we are who we think we are. The co-existence of thoughts, images, emotions, and sensations creates a compelling and seemingly incontrovertible experience of me. And if that experience is painful or difficult – which is often the case – we spend a great deal of time and energy attempting to move away from it, in all kinds of subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

We each wear many labels, and each label has its own tone, its own unique content. Some labels we wear proudly, making sure they’re on public display as often as possible. Others, we shamefully keep hidden, fearing exposure. A few are so repellent, so unbearable, that we relegate them to the shadows, ensuring that even we can’t see them. Our identities are a carefully choreographed dance; protecting and defending, evading and avoiding. Whether we see ourselves as deeply flawed works in progress, or as the perfectly satisfactory finished article, there’s a sense of needing to hold up or maintain the structure. When someone contradicts or challenges or confirms our labels, we react. We’re hurt, angry, offended, pleased, defensive. Conflict arises, and we struggle. And it all feels very real; what we think, imagine, feel, and sense seems to provide all the evidence we need that things are the way they seem to be.

Rarely, then, do we ever take a peek behind the curtain to examine the assumptions that we live by. Instead, we do our best to mitigate the discomfort or suffering we feel, however slight or intense. As if our existence depended on it (which, on one level, it does) we find myriad ways to keep ourselves from fully feeling what lies at the core of each label. We’re all familiar with the more negative forms of self-medication – alcohol, drugs, loveless sex, endless television – but supposedly more positive activities, such as meditation, therapy, sport or spiritual practice can also be used in the same way. Underneath it all, we are terrified that the edifice of me will one day come crashing down, and we do everything in our power to stop that from happening, much as we simultaneously long for it.

However, it is the refusal to be with what seem to be our deepest truths that perpetuates them. As Sandra Maitri says, Paradoxically, at least to the mind, the more we immerse ourselves in our experience, the more we become disidentified with it. When we finally cease analysing, strategising, controlling, avoiding, and defending – even for a short while – we get to discover what the label has been covering up.

Over the last few months, I’ve spent many hours each week facilitating people (and being facilitated) in Scott Kiloby’s Living Inquiries. I’ve seen how, when we start to look into each identity, its true contents are revealed. We’ve opened boxes labelled I’m bad, I’m clever, I’m not good enough, I’m broken, I can’t, I’m a failure, I’m alone, I don't want to be me, and so many more besides, and found that each box contains words (thoughts), pictures (memories and images), sensations in the body, and emotions. We’ve looked carefully at each item, and allowed the sensations and emotions to be there, exactly as they are. Often, we feel emotions that have never been truly felt before; the raw, searing pain of grief, the raging energy of anger, the bittersweet despair of longing. No running, no hiding, no justifying, no mitigating, no making sense of it.

In that open space of looking, it gradually dawns that those collections do not, in fact, make up a solid identity. A few words here, a sequence of images there, some tingling, a little contraction, a flood of tears...and that’s all. There is no-one who is unlovable, or bad, or clever, or alone, or anything else. Ultimately, we can’t find the one that we’ve taken ourselves to be. But it is only by having the courage to open the boxes (even the ones that are surrounded with barbed wire fences, armed guards, and ‘keep out’ signs) that we’re able to discover the deeper truth of who we are. By fully feeling what we’re not, our hearts break open to the freedom beyond. Are you willing to look?

Monday, 18 June 2012

On Finding The One (Twenty Seven Times Over)

Like most of us, I long held the belief that if I found The One, I would live happily ever after. Although I had an early lesson in love disappointment when my parents’ marriage ended bitterly, I remained convinced that if I could somehow avoid making the same mistake, the promise of salvation lay in the arms of a beloved. The trouble was, I couldn’t seem to locate said beloved. A few years into adulthood, after three or four breakups, it began to feel like there was something wrong with me. Why was love eluding me? Why couldn’t I find The One?

In my early thirties, I had my first conscious experience of what Tim Freke calls Big Love. Standing in a Welsh field at a small festival, I met a sweet man. The spark between us was palpable; despite exchanging few words, there was an inexorable pull towards each other. A few weeks later, I described what happened between us:

We knew we needed to spend some time together, that there was some kind of attraction drawing us closer, but we didn’t know what. A day or so later, we did get the chance to spend a few hours together, during which time that not-knowing space was created; looking into each other’s eyes, I felt totally still, knowing that all the pain of the journey has been worth it, to be able to come to a place like that. It was so powerful, so healing, to connect on a soul level to someone whose personality I don’t know. I have no idea how things might be in the future between us; all I do know is that I experienced an incredibly precious few hours in which two people opened their hearts to each other in a way that I haven’t experienced before. Such love, such connection to the Universal, the transpersonal realm.

His recollection was similar. I was completely overwhelmed when I read the card that he sent after two months or so:

Thank you for being you and for sharing with me. You helped so much to make me well again. Now I am renewed. That which passed between us has given me such relief and power that I can now freely give my love to the world.

As it happened, we only met again once, very briefly. Whilst I sporadically yearned for him, I began to understand that it wasn’t actually about him, or me. Somehow, our connection had been a portal to a far deeper love, a love that completely transcends any idea of two separate people loving each other for a reason.

Life continued, and I had a few other, very occasional, glimpses. I entered into relationships, each time aware that I was not experiencing that deep love, but nevertheless drawn to even pale imitations. Eventually, I could no longer tolerate such numbing compromise. I became single once again.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been stumbling across Big Love in unexpected places; it suddenly shows up for no apparent reason, and without an object. Times of intense struggle, pain, and doubt have been interspersed with uncaused joy, wonder, and love. One morning earlier this year, I was sitting on the bus on my way to work, when it became obvious that everything is miraculous. Effortlessly miraculous. I looked down at the thin hairs straggling across the head of the old man sitting on the seat in front and welled up with love for everything and everybody. The idea that love is given and received, and can therefore be taken away, now seems ridiculous. It is no longer about finding The One; it is about the dawning realisation that I am The One.

So I guess when I entered Tim’s Mystery Experience this weekend I was ripe fruit, as it were. Nevertheless, as we began the process, I fleetingly feared that I’d be the one who didn’t get it. As our time together unfolded, and that space of limitless connection was created, it became clear that there is no it to get – because it’s what we all are. Over and over, we sank into the eyes and the arms of the beloved. A beloved with twenty seven different faces, all of them unutterably, breathtakingly, beautifully perfect. Twenty seven facets of being, all gloriously unique, and all of them glittering beyond description. Each connection was love, and each connection was subtly itself. Some playful, expansive, delicious. Some fragile, tender, heartbreaking. Some intense, still, steady. Some a sudden explosion, the instant knowing of all that we have ever been or ever will be.

A few words appeared, remaining unsaid, their meaning silently conveyed. You are the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. All of you, every last thing about you. This is it. This is home. This is all we’ve ever wanted. Bathed in love, we also saw ourselves as we were being seen, we loved ourselves as we were being loved. Our hearts broke open, again and again, and we returned to Big Love. We became what we are. We know that we will never be the same again. Love. It really is the be all and end all.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

On Thinking That We've Arrived (Or Not)

When I was a teenager, I yearned for the independence that being even a year or two older seemed to promise. I wanted to make my own decisions, unimpeded by adult intervention. I vividly remember the desperate desire to leave home, to put away childish things. The lyrics from Gerry Rafferty’s 1978 hit Baker Street seemed to sum it up: Another year and then you’ll be happy. Just one more year and then you’ll be happy. I wanted to be there, not stuck here.

The feeling that there is a destination to be reached, somewhere to get to, permeates our lives. Our societies are deeply aspirational; we’re encouraged to want more, bigger, better. We carry around within us an impossible-to-achieve image of the ideal self, and then we set about trying to create that self. No matter whether our route to this idealised perfection is via slimming products, make-up and haute couture, or affirmations, meditation or yoga, the movement is the same: we’re here, and we want to be there.

In my thirties, I embarked on an intense search for healing. Talk of being on the journey abounded, and I loved that idea. I saw myself as a traveller, making my way courageously through difficult terrain, guided by intuition and the maps that my fellow travellers – those many miles further on - had created. It was very clear; there was a path, and I was on it. At the end of the journey, I’d find the Holy Grail; peace, clarity, wellness, the end of suffering. I’d arrive home, my final destination. Occasionally, I’d have the sense that I’d made it. For a while, I’d feel calm, well, happy. Inevitably, before too long, I’d be off again, searching intently, longing to get there, to not be here with this – whatever this was.  

I felt that I shouldn’t be here in more mundane ways, too, particularly in relationships and social situations. Sometimes, it was possible to get up and leave, but on other occasions I was paralysed, unable to move for fear or doubt. One boyfriend memorably said to me, If you don’t fucking like it, fuck off. Eventually, I did.

Over the years, I began to encounter spiritual concepts. Words like oneness, awakening, and enlightenment entered my vocabulary. Like nearly all spiritual seekers, I frequently fantasised about enlightenment. I imagined states of eternal bliss and transcendence, a complete absence of any kind of pain. Most of all, I imagined awakening as being completely other than this-here-now. It felt like there was distance – sometimes a yawning void – between here and there. There was the place that others talked about in books and videos. There was the Shangri-La I wanted to get to, the end of suffering, the place inhabited by the Lucky Few. But how, exactly, was I supposed to get myself from here to there? I looked for instructions, prescriptions, suggestions, to no avail.

I would constantly monitor my experience for signs that I may be nearing the destination. Ooh, I’m feeling incredibly calm and peaceful. Maybe this is it? Oh my god, I must be so far off if I’m like this, irritated and upset. Like children on a car journey, the seekers’ refrain seems to be, Are we there yet?

One day, whilst walking my dog, I suddenly saw that there is only here. There does not exist. It is only ever a fleeing image, an idea which is happening here, just as everything else does. By conceptualising enlightenment (or happiness, or peace) as a state or place to be reached – by objectifying it – we create a separation that doesn’t actually exist. We place it outside ourselves, creating imaginary distance. We believe we have to find a way to bridge the gap, to get from here to there.

Recently, I looked for the self that shouldn’t be here. Taken through Scott Kiloby’s Unfindable Inquiry by one of my fellow facilitators, I touched on the pain that has been bound up in that life-long story, and sobbed. Sweet release. I saw - yet again - how the story of separation is created by belief. It is not that we’re in the wrong place. It is simply that there is nowhere else to go. We’re here. That’s it. We’ve arrived, whether we know it or not.